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Webster-Ashburton Treaty: Map & Summary

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The Webster-Ashburton Treat of 1842 helped to settle disputes over the northern boundary between the United States and Canada, which was controlled by Great Britain. The treaty signaled a strong partnership and diplomatic success for the two nations.

Introduction

Disputes between the U.S. and Great Britain extend back to the American Revolution. Following the Revolutionary War, the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, ended the hostilities between the two countries and firmly established American independence in the eyes of the world. The Treaty of Paris also served as a means of negotiating various borders between the United States and Great Britain. It established a western boundary for the United States, as well as northern boundaries along the provinces of Canada, land still held by the British Crown. While the treaty laid out specific borders, not all were happy with them, and disputes raged over specific parts of the borders for many years.

A Whig President

In 1840, one of the most colorful presidential campaigns in American history occurred. Whig Party Candidate William Henry Harrison, a popular general from the War of 1812, ran for the presidency against incumbent President Martin Van Buren. With the help of an energized campaign, complete with catchy campaign phrases such as 'Tippecanoe and Tyler Too' (alluding to Harrison's victory over the Shawnee at Tippecanoe in 1811), Harrison became the first Whig to win the presidency. However, partially due to an extraordinarily long Inaugural Address, Harrison did not live to be president for long. The Whigs had taken the presidency, yet their new president died roughly one month into his term, making Vice President John Tyler the 10th President of the United States.

Tyler was also a Whig, but of a much less predictable nature. Tyler wanted to run things his own way. As a result, much of the Cabinet originally formed by William Henry Harrison resigned from their posts, with the notable exception of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, one of the most important leading figures in the Whig Party. Webster did not resign with the rest of the cabinet because, at that time, he was working on an important treaty with Great Britain regarding the northern most boundaries of the United States.

Webster-Ashburton Treaty

Along with British diplomat Alexander Baring, the First Baron of Ashburton, Webster was working to finalize portions of the border between Canada and Maine as well as to the west along the northern boundaries of Minnesota. In Maine, small disputes had arisen regarding various portions of land that lumberjacks wanted possession of at the same time that the British claimed ownership. Some adjustments were made to the Maine border, finally establishing the northern boundary for the Eastern United States.

Maine borders settled by the treaty

To the West, in Minnesota, the British and Americans had been disputing the boundaries near Lake Superior. A new central line was drawn to clear up the disputes, with each side meeting partway in deciding the matter.

Additional issues addressed by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty included matters of extradition between the two countries. There were several crimes that were listed as being eligible for extradition, including murder, assault, piracy, arson, robbery, and forgery. Having an extradition agreement with Great Britain went towards establishing a better working relationship between the two nations.

It is worth noting that despite the United States having numerous fugitive slave laws that authorized slave owners and catchers to retrieve runaway slaves in the North, and despite thousands of slaves having fled into Canada to escape for their freedom, the extradition agreement said nothing of returning fugitive slaves to slavery. This is likely because Daniel Webster, the U.S. Secretary of State who negotiated the treaty, was a Whig from New England and was thus not beholden to slave interests or Southern slave power.

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