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Canadian Fisheries Commission And The Deep Waterways Commission

( Originally Published 1911 )



IN October, 1887, I was invited by President Cleveland to serve on an International Commission to adjust the difficulties which had arisen between us and Canada in respect to the fisheries in the waters near the eastern coast of Canada. More or less trouble had been experienced almost ever since the Treaty of Independence. It had often become serious since the negotiation of the Treaty of 1818, by which our privileges were greatly curtailed. Laws, which had seriously embarrassed our fishermen, had been enacted by Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and later by the Dominion Parliament, and they had been administered with unfriendly severity, and, as we thought, in violation of the Treaty of 1818. The temporary relief furnished by the Treaty of 1854, and a part of the Treaty of 1871, was lost by the abrogation by us of the provisions which afforded the relief. The friction between our fishermen and the Canadian authorities had become a menace to the continuance of friendly relations between us and our neighbour. Congress had gone so far as to authorize the President to execute retaliatory laws of a severe nature. They declined to authorize a commission to negotiate on the subject. There was hot blood on both sides.

In the early autumn of 1887, correspondence with the British government led the President to hope that an international commission might reach a peaceful and satisfactory settlement of the controversy by amending the Treaty of 1818 or by making a new treaty. The two governments agreed to submit the problem to such a commission. The British government appointed Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Charles Tupper, the Premier of Canada, and Lord Sackville West, the British Minister at Washington, as Commissioners. President Cleveland appointed Hon. Thomas F. Bayard, the Secretary of State, Hon. William L. Putnam, who had been for some time the counsel of our government in the fishery cases, and myself. I was led to accept, partly by the urgent request of Hon. E. J. Phelps, our Minister to Great Britain, through whose hands the correspondence of our government with Lord Salisbury had passed.

Lord Playfair told me he himself would probably have been appointed on the Commission if Iddesleigh had lived.

Some of my friends among the Republican Senators soon made it clear to me that we should take up our work under the heavy handicap caused by the fact that the President paid no regard to their recorded opposition to the appointment of a Commission. As usual, however, he followed his own judgment.

The Commissioners held their meetings at the State Department. Mr. John Bas-sett Moore, then Assistant Secretary of State, was our Secretary, and Mr. Henry Bergne, of the British Foreign Office, was the British Secretary. We held meetings two or three times a week, from November 21 to February 15, except for a few days at New Year's, when Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Charles went to Ottawa to confer with the authorities there. I shall not dwell on the details of our prolonged discussions.

From the very outset we were much embarrassed by a misunderstanding on the part of the British Commissioners concerning the scope of the conference. They claimed that we were met to consider the fisheries only as a part of our commercial relations, including in fact the tariff. If this were not understood to be the case, neither Great Britain nor Canada, they said, would be represented here. Although Mr. Bayard read his correspondence with Lord Salisbury in refutation of this assumption, and showed them that Congress alone could change the tariff, more than once, when hard pressed in argument on the details of our work, they returned to this statement, and with much apparent feeling. Our constant aim was to hold them to the consideration of the indisputable fact that much of the Canadian legislation concerning our fishermen had been of an unfriendly and unjustifiable stringency, if not in direct violation of the Treaty of 1818, and that some change in their policy was absolutely essential to the continuance of peaceful relations between Canada and us.

We finally presented a draft of a treaty which provided for delimitation of the exclusion from the common fisheries and for a liberal and just interpretation of the conditions, under which, by the Treaty of 1818, the "four purposes" for which fishing vessels were to be admitted to Canadian ports could be made available to us. It secured the free navigation by our vessels of the Strait of Canso, the purchase of sup-plies on the homeward voyage, and the liberty to unload and sell cargoes of fish from ships in distress. It stipulated that if duties on fish should hereafter be removed by us, the purchase of bait and fishing tackle, the transshipment of cargo and the shipping of crews, should be allowed by the Canadians. After prolonged discussions, in which on several occasions it appeared that we were at a deadlock and that no agreement could be reached, an agreement was reached on substantially the above provisions on February 14, 1888, and on February 15 the treaty was signed.

As the fishing season was soon to begin, the British Commissioners offered in behalf of Canada a modus vivendi for two years, by which on receiving a license an American fishing vessel could have the privileges accorded by the treaty, even though ratification of it had not been secured. This was presented in a separate communication to our government after the treaty was signed. The Treaty was soon ratified both by the Canadian government and by the Queen. But in our Senate it was opposed by every Republican and so failed of ratification.

The modus has continually been renewed by the Canadians: therefore in a sense we have been living under the Treaty. And no better proof of the worth of the Treaty could be asked for than is found in the fact that not for years previous had there been so little friction on the Canadian coast as there has been since 1888.1

The fate of the Treaty in the Senate con-firms the belief that it is unwise to submit an important treaty for approval to that body when a Presidential election is at hand. A party in power is reluctant to have its opponent get the credit of settling a long and bitter controversy on the eve of an election.

During the winter I met many interesting men, of some of whom I may say a few words. I prize especially the acquaintance and friendship I formed with Mr. Bayard. A man of singular personal charm, I have never known one in public life of higher and nobler sense of public duty. He scorned the mean arts of the mere politician and whatever was unworthy in the spirit and policy of his own party. He was so magnanimous to his opponent, that to a certain degree his generosity unfitted him to negotiate with so keen a man as Chamberlain. He was tempted to concede too much. He was gifted with wit which was never ungenerous or bitter, but always most enjoyable. Perhaps I may be permitted to give an illustration. Lord Sackville West, during our three month's discussions, never said anything except to move to adjourn. In reply to my inquiry, if in his official relations with the Secretary he ever volunteered any remarks, Mr. Bayard said, "No, he simply communicates to me in writing a message from Lord Salisbury, and acknowledges in writing my reply. That is all." And then he added, "I can hardly understand why the British government keeps a minister on a salary of $25,000, and then reduces him to the function of a postage stamp."

I saw not a little of President Cleveland. I was impressed with the readiness with which he apprehended all the bearings of the discussions which we reported to him, and the promptness and soundness of his conclusions. I remember being in his office once at midnight, when he had a great pile of papers before him. He said he must go through them all before he slept. His capacity for work was prodigious.

In company with Mr. Putnam, I saw much of the Judges of the Supreme Court, ith all of whom he had an intimate acquaintance. Two good stories I heard at dinner at Judge Gray's are worth recording. One Judge Gray told of the English Judge Jessel. He had a very loquacious barrister before him one day. When the latter was pouring out a flood of words, the Judge asked, "Have you been before any other court with this argument?" "Yes," he replied, "but the Judge stopped me." "He did," said the Judge, "how did he do it?"

William Allen Butler, who was at the table, told of a judge who complained of insomnia. He said he had been unable of late to sleep on the bench.

Mr. Chamberlain displayed his well-known acuteness in discussion, but in repeatedly affirming that Mr. Bayard had given ground to suppose that we were to consider general commercial relations, in spite of Mr. Bayard's assertions and proofs to the contrary, he pushed his remarks to the verge of discourtesy.

Sir Charles Tupper, with bluntness de-fending the unjustifiable Canadian procedures, often found himself without any apparent disturbance by his inconsistencies in advocating measures one day which he opposed on the next day. In his fervour of debate he could not conceal the fact, though he often denied it, that his great aim was to compel us to remove the duty on fish so that his countrymen might have access to our markets.

The British Commissioners, after the completion of the Treaty, wished us to take up with them the Alaska boundary and the Behring Sea questions. We were not prepared to do so, and therefore declined.

On the initiative of Senator William F. Vilas of Wisconsin, on March 2, 1895, an Act was passed by Congress authorizing the President to appoint three Commissioners to confer with Commissioners to be appointed by Canada or Great Britain concerning the feasibility of the construction of canals which would enable vessels engaged in ocean commerce to pass from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

On November 4, President Cleveland announced the appointment as Commissioners of myself, as chairman, Hon. John E. Russell, of Leicester, Massachusetts, a former member of Congress and Lyman E. Cooley, C.E., of Chicago, Illinois, an engineer of high repute. The Dominion of Canada appointed as its Commissioners, Oliver A. Howland, M.P.P., of Toronto, Thomas C. Keefer, C.E., of Ottawa, and Thomas Monro, C.E., of Coteau Landing. The last two were engineers who had long been in the service of the Dominion government.

On January 15, 1896, the American Commissioners took the occasion of the annual meeting of the Lake Carriers' Association to hold its first meeting in Detroit. We took a large amount of testimony from shipowners, masters, and merchants, who were much interested in our work.

On January 18, we held a joint meeting in Detroit with the Canadian Commissioners and marked out as far as was possible the plan which we proposed to pursue. We afterwards held another joint meeting at Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Canadian Commissioners co-operated with us most heartily there and afterwards, and furnished us from the public offices at Ottawa a large amount of valuable material, and made some special surveys to assist us.

As the problems to be studied were largely problems of engineering, Mr. Cooley was authorized to establish an office in Chicago and secure competent assistants to gather from all available sources the data required and prepare maps and plans. As only $10,000 were appropriated for the expenses of the Commission, we could not make special surveys, but merely collate and study the information which could be gathered from various sources, and draw our conclusions. This work of course fell mainly on Mr. Cooley, who proved most competent.

The investigation proved to the Commissioners of deep interest and, in their opinion, of great importance. It convinced us of the practicability of establishing deep-water communication between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic, and of the immense value to our nation and to the world of accomplishing the task. Whoever reads the interesting report prepared for us by Mr. Russell and examines the facts set forth by Mr. Cooley in his Exhibits, appended to the Report, will, I think, be also convinced.

President Cleveland transmitted the Report to Congress with warm commendations and recommended further appropriations for the continuance of the work. The Report with accompanying documents was published by the Government in 1897. But as no appropriations were made, the Commissioners proceeded no further. Perhaps the task may be taken up after the Panama Canal is finished. If so, the work of our Commission may prove of service.



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