National Geographic : 1899 Nov
THE ALASKAN BOUNDARY briefly stated, was (1) a claim by Russia to exclusive jurisdic tion on the high sea extending 100 miles from the coast of Asia above latitude 450 50' north and from the northwest coast of America above latitude 510 north; and (2) a prohibition to all foreign vessels to land upon or trade with the natives on any part of the coasts indicated.* This ukase brought forth a prompt and vigorous protest from both the United States and Great Britain, which was soon followed by negotiations between Rus sia and the two latter governments. It was early made known that Russia was prepared to withdraw its claim to exclusive jurisdiction in the Pacific ocean and would not insist upon its territorial claim to the coast of America below latitude 55 0.t As the United States was advancing no serious claim to the terri tory north of that line, it found little difficulty in reaching an accord, and a treaty between Russia and the United States was signed April 17, 1824, nearly a year before an agreement was reached with Great Britain. The chief object had in view by Great Britain in its protest and subsequent negotiations was to secure the withdrawal by Russia of her claim to exclusive jurisdiction in the Pacific ocean. At that period Great Britain was the rising power of the world in maritime commerce, the United States being its next competitor, and it made good use of the latter to aid in bring ing about this withdrawal. At that day the vast territory of North America lying between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific ocean above latitude 55° was almost a terra incognita, and, with the immense areas to the east of the mountains still unoccupied except by a few trading posts, the country was held in little estimation by Great Britain. A few navigators had skirted the coast and enterprising American traders had held some intercourse with the Indians living immediately on tide water, but none but the Russians had penetrated any distance inland. Only one British trading post was established in this region west of the Rocky mountains, on the line of 55°, and that 120 miles from the ocean, and there was not one above that line.t But we are not left to infer from these historical facts what was the ruling motive and object of Great Britain in opening and prosecuting negotiations with Russia, for these are explicitly stated in the instructions given by the Secretary for Foreign * Fur Seal Arbitration Papers, 1893, vol. iv, p. 370, for full text of Russian ukase. t Ib., p. 390. f Ib., p. 383.