The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE RETENTION OF THE WESTERN POSTS

BOTH Britain and the United States violated the Treaty of Paris from the very beginning. Each side entered upon this unhappy course quite independently, and then tried to cast the blame on the other. The result was a bitter controversy which might easily have involved British North America in a war with the United States. Fortunately, after several years, the quarrel disappeared from official view without recourse to arms, the causes being partly settled by a new treaty, partly removed by unilateral action, and partly abandoned. Unfortunately, even to the present day, many historians have not been as wise as their governments. Both British and American writers, with a national bias unbecoming to those who profess objectivity, have too often repeated the old recriminations, thereby renewing ill feeling that should have died long ago.

The violation of most immediate concern to Canada was Britain's refusal to surrender territory she had signed away in the treaty. Article VII stipulated that "His Britannic Majesty shall with all convenient speed . . . withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every port, place, and harbour within the same." The British commander-in-chief in America punctiliously evacuated New York before the ratifications of the treaty had been exchanged, but the advent of peace brought no order for the withdrawal of the British garrisons in the interior, which were now on the American side of the line. The chief of these posts thus held were Oswegatchie ( Ogdensburg, N.Y.), Oswego, Niagara, Presque Isle ( Erie, Pa.), Sandusky, Detroit, and Michilimackinac. They were only a few isolated forts on the edge of the United States and their total area was a negligible number of acres, yet they enabled Britain to retain effective control over many thousand square miles of American territory. For eleven years, Britain refused to fix any date when she would deliver these keys of the West. Until the negotiation of Jay's Treaty in 1794, which provided for their surrender in 1796, it looked as if Britain was determined to keep them indefinitely, in defiance of her pledged word.

Americans, then and since, leaped to the conclusion that this violation of the treaty sprang from a British desire to preserve the valuable fur trade that depended on these posts. The belief was natural. English and Canadian merchants interested in the trade had done their utmost to procure a more southerly boundary for this very purpose; and though this effort of big business to affect high politics failed, the merchants were

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