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WHATEVER Concerns our foreign relations is viewed with a more lively interest in this country, partly from the popular character of the government, by which every man is converted into a politician, and partly, perhaps, from its federative character, whereby the interest which in most countries is divided among the numerous objects that must be cared for by a single executive and legislature, is here concentrated on the few that are exclusively cognizable by the federal government. It thus happens that our foreign concerns, which are among the few thus cognizable, are often regarded with a sensibility far exceeding their importance. Of all this, the recent correspondence between Mr. Clayton, the secretary of state, and the French minister, M. Poussin, and M. de Tocqueville, affords an apt illustration. Under the influence of this undue interest, it was predicted by that class of persons who are prone to apprehend evil, as well as those who habitually excite alarm, whether they apprehend danger or not, that points of difference which were of a personal character, and which, therefore, should be suffered to end with the individuals with whom they originated, would bring about a serious misunVOL. III.-DEC., 1849.
derstanding between two great nations bound together by so many ties of amity and mutual interest. It was even asserted that the diplomatic altercation, which ended in M. Poussin's distnission, would afford a pretext to the French government not to receive Mr. Rives, the new American minister, for no greater offence than that he had obtained for his country the best treaty that France was willing to grant; and, though he had shown his homage to liberal principles by being the first foreign minister to acknowledge Louis Philippe, after the revolutions of 1830, and had continued on the most friendly terms with the French government as long as he remained in France. His formal reception by the President of France, soon after Mr. Rush, the late minister, took his leave, has dissipated these evil auguries so far as France was concerned. The claims on the American government, preferred by M. Poussin, and which afforded him the occasion for the discourteous language complained of, are comparatively insignificant, and no doubt admit of a ready adjustment that will be satisfactory to both parties.
The controversy between the republic of Nicaragua and the king of Mosquito, whose interests the United States and Great Britain have respectively espoused, and which seemed greatly to exceed the other in difficulty and importance, has given rise to similar apprehensions; but we trust they will prove equally unfounded.
Of the precise merits of this controversy we are, as yet, very deficient in information. The exclusive right to the navigation of the river San Juan, may be found to be beyond all dispute, or it may be dependent on facts that are involved in doubt, and are now scarcely sus ceptible of proof. The substance of our present information on the subject may be thus stated.
When five communities, inhabiting that portion of the Mexican isthmus which lies between the 8th and the 18th parallels of north latitude, formed a federal republic under the name of "the United States of Central America," it is alleged that the greater part of the eastern coast of the isthmus within those limits was occupied by several Indian tribes, who formed no part of the new republic, but remained in the same state of savage independence as before. Even there, however, the whites had a few settlements, and among them were Matina, in Porto Rico, and the fortress of San Juan, on the northern mouth of the river of that name.
Among those tribes were the Mosquitos, a mixed breed, descended from Indians and the negroes whom English adventurers had introduced into the country when they made settlements there, but which they afterwards surrendered by their treaty with Spain in 1786, for their present colony of Honduras or Belize. By reason of this early connexion, the Mosquitos have always been under the protection of the British government, and they are said to be more advanced in civilization than the other Indian tribes. But the country originally oc
cupied by the Mosquitos lies north of the river Gracias à Dios, which is itself more than 200 miles north of the river San Juan, and it is not known how they acquired a right to the territory occupied by other Indian tribes south of the Gracias à Dios, or how, indeed, any tribe had a claim to the San Juan, which had so long been in the exclusive possession of the whites of Nicaragua. The king of the Mosquitos has set up a claim to it, and the British government seems to have decided on upholding that claim.
In October, 1847, the Nicaraguan government declared that it did not recognise the king of Mosquito as the legitimate representative of that tribe, and still less their rights to the territory in question. They asserted their own right to the north bank of the San Juan, and added, that they would regard as an act of war on the part of Great Britain the occupation of any part of that river by the Mosquitos under its protection.
The council of state of the Mosquitos responded to this declaration that they would take possession of the territory in dispute on the first appearance of a British man-of-war. Two British ships soon afterwards arrived, and removed the Nicaraguans who were in possession of the fort at the mouth of the San Juan. The ships, passing up the San Juan, entered the Nicaragua lake, and a treaty was made between Great Britain and the Nicaraguans, by which the latter engaged not to interrupt the peaceful inhabitants on the San Juan. They refused, however, to surrender their claims to the territory. The Mosquito king, subsequently, granted to the British government the exclusive navigation of the San Juan, and he refuses to allow the Americans to execute the projected communication between the two oceans, according to the grant made by Nicaragua during the present year.
For the purpose of removing these difficulties in the way of their claims, the Nicaraguans sent an envoy to London, Señor Castellon, who also represented the republic of Honduras. A correspondence took place between this envoy and Lord Palmerston early in the current year. The British minister then declared that the British government would do nothing to indicate a doubt that Grey Town-a name they have recently given to the place formerly called San Juan -belonged exclusively to the Mosquitos. The Nicaraguan minister replied, that the Mosquito nation had no existence, and though it had, it possessed no claims to Port San Juan, which had been immemorially in the possession of Nicaragua. He was, however, willing to submit the question of right to arbitration. This offer was peremptorily rejected by Lord Palmerston, who declared that his government having come to a definite resolution on the subject, it was now impossible to recede. It has been further stated in the public journals, that the British government had negotiated for a colony of Germans to be established at fort San Juan; against which measure the Nicaraguan government was able to make no other resistance than a protest. Lord
Palmerston had previously declared that the Mosquito boundary extended from Cape Honduras to the southern mouth of the San Juan, and he instructed all British agents in America, that the British government "would not view with indifference any encroachment on their territory."
In July and August last, a correspondence took place between the secretary of the supreme government of Nicaragua, and Mr. Chatfield, the British consul general, on the subject of this grant, in which the latter states that having seen the notice of a contract between the Nicaraguan government and Dr. Brown, of New York, for a canal through the San Juan, he informs the secretary that the British government will object to any arrangement that does not provide for the debts to British subjects, which Nicaragua, in common with other states of Central America, had assumed to pay. The Nicaraguan minister protested against this invasion of his country's independence, and also against the declaration repeatedly made by the British government that it would sustain the claims of the king of Mosquito. He again declares that the Nicaraguan government does not recognise the right of the tribe of Mosquitos to erect itself into a sovereign state.
When this point of disagreement between the United States and Great Britain first occurred, it seemed not improbable that a new element would be introduced into the controversy that was much more likely to irritate and prolong it, than to soothe and settle it. This is the right which grows out of the celebrated position assumed by Mr. Monroe in his annual message to Congress in 1823, "that the American continents were no longer to be regarded as fit subjects for colonization by a European power," and "that any attempt to introduce European systems of government into any portion of this hemisphere, would be regarded by the United States as dangerous to their peace and safety." The right of President Monroe to make these declarations has been questioned on more than one ground; and though they met with an approving response from the American people, they have never yet received the formal and deliberate sanction of the national legislature. It must, however, be admitted that if such colonization or intervention should put in hazard our safety or peace, as Mr. Monroe's claim assumes, that claim would have a foundation which has always been deemed valid in Europe, and which none of its sovereigns ever failed to assert when they had sufficient power to enforce it. The only difficulty in the argument is to show that our peace or safety would be thus endangered, and that may be no small one when we regard our present strength, and the gigantic strides by which it is advancing. It is probable that this controversy will be adjusted without the necessity of resorting to a topic of so delicate a character, and so prolific of irritating discussion. We can scarcely doubt that the very lively interest which Great Britain has taken in the projected communication between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has arisen from the
fear that her great commercial rivals would endeavour to monopolize the vast commerce which that communication will call into existence; but when she finds, as she will find, that no such claim to monopoly is asserted-that no one has had the boldness even to propose it, and that the projected canal is stipulated to be open to the ships of all nations, she will no longer deem it expedient to assert a right which is certain to be contested, and is in so many ways assailable.
The increased importance of Nicaragua, induced the government of the United States, some months since, to send a Chargé d'Affairs, Mr. Squier, to that republic. He was very cordially received by its President, and in his reply to Mr. Squier's first address he said, that "Nicaragua had long felt the necessity of sheltering herself under the bright banner of the North American confederacy." Don Herman Gildos Zepede was soon afterwards appointed a commissioner to negotiate a treaty with Mr. Squier on the subject of the proposed canal, and early in September such a treaty was concluded.
According to the principal provisions of that treaty, the contract made with David L. White, successor to Dr. Brown, on behalf of the citizens of New York, with Nicaragua, was sanctioned and confirmed. The right of the grantees to the use of the canal was to continue for eighty-five years from the time it was completed. Twelve years were allowed for its completion. The sum of ten thousand dollars was to be paid immediately to Nicaragua, and the same sum annually during the twelve years. This sum was to be afterwards increased, first twenty per cent., and then twenty-five per cent. The canal to be open to the commerce of all nations on the payment of the prescribed tolls. Thus, in consequence of the several grants by the Mosquito and Nicaraguan governments to Great Britain and the United States of the exclusive right to the navigation of the San Juan River, those nations have now become parties to this territorial question, which, at first merely local and of little seeming moment, has swelled into one of national importance.
The commercial consequence of the proposed canal has not, on the whole, been overrated; but its principal value will probably not be in that way which was first supposed. A water communication between the two oceans was long most anxiously desired, from the facility it would afford the trade with China and India; but it does not seem likely that such trade admits of a very great increase, since a small number of ships are sufficient for the transport of all the commodities that the Atlantic states would probably buy of them, or sell to them. But of the traffic between the ports on the Atlantic and those on the Pacific the probable future increase is incalculable; and for every ship which now doubles Cape Horn, to carry on such commerce, there might, in no long time, be twenty, or even fifty, if they could find a passage through the Isthmus; and the number would continue to increase with our increasing population. Our whalers, too, would be