Clayton-Bulwer Treaty

Clayton-Bulwer Treaty


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Unlike the Democratic Party, which advocated an aggressive position on expansion in the Western Hemisphere, regardless of the risk of international conflict, the Whig Party maintained a consistent attitude of compromise and peace. One example of this attitude was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, signed by the United States and Britain in April, 1850.Zachary Taylor’s secretary of state, John M. Neither party was prepared in 1850 to undertake the massive project, but wanted to ensure that one country would not act in the absence of the other.Under the terms of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, the two parties agreed:

  • Not to seek exclusive control of the canal or territory on either side of such a canal
  • Not to fortify any position in the canal area
  • Not to establish colonies in Central America

Like the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the Clayton-Bulwer pact showed the American inclination to concede points to achieve compromise. For instance, between the signing and the ratification, the British interpreted the pact to exclude Belize, then known as British Honduras, and certain dependencies. In effect, the British simply agreed not to use their possessions to dominate any future canal.The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was ratified in the Senate, but was viewed in a negative light by the public, which regarded it as a renunciation of the Monroe Doctrine. The Democrats made political hay. Although it's possible to argue that Clayton gave up more than necessary, most historians of diplomacy today view the agreement more positively, arguing that the United States did about as well as could be expected at the time. Britain was a great world power; the United States was not. The treaty prevented an immediate rush for influence in Central America and acted to strengthen relations between the two counties.Later secretaries of state would attempt to modify the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, but without success. It was not until 1901 that this agreement would be superseded by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.


Clayton Bulwer Treaty History

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The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850)

The discovery of gold in California and the immense territorial gains by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo magnified America’s interest in securing a quick commercial route westward. A trans-isthmian canal or railroad was a promising option, but the British had seized/occupied/established protectorates over much of the Central American territory assumed to be the ideal location for such a venture. President Monroe had declared in December 1823 that “the American continents . . . are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power,” but Britain’s actual presence in the Bay Islands, the Mosquito Coast, and parts of present-day Honduras had to be taken into account.

Secretary of State John M. Clayton and Henry Lytton Bulwer, the British Minister Plenipotentiary to Washington, produced a agreement that became known as the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty after both parties ratified it. Clayton-Bulwer established the principle that neither nation would have exclusive control over any future canal both would protect the canal and guarantee its neutrality, and neither would “occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over . . . any part of Central America.” The treaty was immensely unpopular in America, as it seemed to reward Britain for its outright defiance of the Monroe Doctrine. The restriction on independent American initiative was lifted a half-century later with the Anglo-American Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (1901).

President Zachary Taylor’s message urging the Senate to ratify “an arrangement so well calculated to diffuse the blessings of peace, commerce, and civilization”:

The Senate resolution proposing that the Senate advise and consent to the ratification of the agreement between Clayton and Bulwer:

The treaty was ratified by a vote of 42-11. Here’s the sheet on which the roll-call vote was taken:

A piece of correspondence from Secretary Clayton to Bulwer:

Lastly, my own Bulwer autograph:


Clayton-Bulwer Treaty - Encyclopedia

CLAYTON - BULWER Treaty, a famous treaty between the United States and Great Britain, negotiated in 1850 by John M. Clayton and Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer (Lord Dalling), in consequence of the situation created by the project of an interoceanic canal across Nicaragua, each signatory being jealous of the activities of the other in Central America. Great Britain had large and indefinite territorial claims in three regions - Belize or British Honduras, the Mosquito Coast and the Bay Islands.' On the other hand, the United States, without territorial claims, held in reserve, ready for ratification, treaties with Nicaragua and Honduras, which gave her a certain diplomatic vantage with which to balance the de facto dominion of Great Britain. Agreement on these points being impossible and agreement on the canal question possible, the latter was put in the foreground. The resulting treaty had four essential points. It bound both parties not to "obtain or maintain" any exclusive control of the proposed canal, or unequal advantage in its use. It guaranteed the neutralization of such canal. It declared that, the intention of the signatories being not only the accomplishment of "a particular object" - i.e. that the canal, then supposedly near realization, should be neutral and equally free to the two contracting powers - "but also to establish a general principle," they agreed "to extend their protection by treaty stipulation to any other practicable communications, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America." Finally, it stipulated that neither signatory would ever "occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito Coast or any part of Central America," nor make use of any protectorate or alliance, present or future, to such ends.

The treaty was signed on the 19th of April, and was ratified by both governments but before the exchange of ratifications Lord Palmerston, on the 8th of June, directed Sir H. Bulwer to make a "declaration" that the British government did not understand the treaty "as applying to Her Majesty's settlement at Honduras, or its dependencies." Mr Clayton made a counterdeclaration, which recited that the United States did not regard the treaty as applying to "the British settlement in Honduras commonly called British-Honduras. .. nor the small islands in the neighbourhood of that settlement which may be known as its dependencies" that the treaty's engagements did apply to all the Central American states, "with their just limits and proper dependencies" and that these declarations, not being submitted to the United States Senate, could of course not affect the legal import of the treaty. The interpretation of the declarations soon became a matter of contention. The phraseology reflects the effort made by the United States to render impossible a physical control of the canal by Great Britain through the territory held by her at its mouth - the United States losing the above-mentioned treaty advantages, - just as the explicit abnegations of the treaty rendered impossible such control politically by either power. But great Britain claimed that the excepted "settlement" at Honduras was the "Belize" covered by the extreme British claim that the Bay Islands were a dependency of Belize and that, as for the Mosquito Coast, the abnegatory clauses being wholly prospective in intent, she was not required to abandon her protectorate. The United States contended that the Bay Islands were not the "dependencies" of Belize, these being the small neighbouring islands mentioned in the same treaties that the excepted "settlement" was the British-Honduras of definite extent and narrow purpose recognized in British treaties with Spain that she had not confirmed by recognition the large, indefinite and offensive claims whose dangers the treaty was primarily designed to lessen and that, as to the Mosquito Coast, the treaty was retrospective, and mutual in the rigour of its requirements, and as the United States had no de facto possessions, while Great Britain had, the clause 1 The claims to a part of the first two were very - old in origin, but all were heavily clouded by interruptions of possession, contested interpretations of Spanish-British treaties, and active controversy with the Central American States. The claim to some of the territory was new and still more contestable. See particularly on these claims Travis's book cited below.

binding both not to "occupy" any part of Central America or the Mosquito Coast necessitated the abandonment of such territory as Great Britain was already actually occupying or exercising dominion over and the United States demanded the complete abandonment of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Indians. It seems to be a just conclusion that when in 1852 the Bay Islands were erected into a British "colony" this was a flagrant infraction of the treaty that as regards Belize the American arguments were decidedly stronger, and more correct historically and that as regards the Mosquito question, inasmuch as a protectorate seems certainly to have been recognized by the treaty, to demand its absolute abandonment was unwarranted, although to satisfy the treaty Great Britain was bound materially to weaken it.

In 1859-1860, by British treaties with Central American states, the Bay Islands and Mosquito questions were settled nearly in accord with the American contentions.' But by the same treaties Belize was accorded limits much greater than those contended for by the United States. This settlement the latter power accepted without cavil for many years.

Until 1866 the policy of the United States was consistently for inter-oceanic canals open equally to all nations, and unequivocally neutralized indeed, until 1880 there was practically no official divergence from this policy. But in 1880-1884 a variety of reasons were advanced why the United States might justly repudiate at will the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.' The new policy was based on national self-interest. The arguments advanced on its behalf were quite indefensible in law and history, and although the position of the United States in 1850-1860 was in general the stronger in history, law and political ethics, that of Great Britain was even more conspicuously the stronger in the years 1880-1884. In 1885 the former government reverted to its traditional policy, and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1902, which replaced the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, adopted the rule of neutralization for the Panama Canal.

See the collected diplomatic correspondence in I. D. Travis, History of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1899) J. H. Latane, Diplomatic Relations of the United States and Spanish America (Baltimore, 1900) T. J. Lawrence, Disputed Questions of Modern International Law (2nd ed., Cambridge, England, 1885) Sir E. L. Bulwer in 99 Quarterly Rev. 235-286, and Sir H. Bulwer in 104 Edinburgh Rev. 280-298.


Disagreement

The interpretation of the declarations soon became a matter of contention. The phraseology reflects the effort made by the United States to render impossible a physical control of the canal by the United Kingdom through the territory held by the British at its mouth, just as the explicit prohibitions of the treaty rendered impossible such control politically by either power.

British view

The United Kingdom claimed that the excepted "settlement" at Honduras was the "Belize" covered by the extreme British claim that the Bay Islands were a dependency of Belize and that, as for the Mosquito Coast, the abnegatory clauses being wholly prospective in intent, she was not required to abandon her protectorate. [2]

U.S. view

The United States contended that the Bay Islands were not the "dependencies" of Belize, which were the small neighboring islands mentioned in the same treaties, and nothing else that the excepted "settlement" was the British-Honduras of definite extent and narrow purpose recognized in British treaties with Spain that the United States had not confirmed by recognition the large, indefinite and offensive claims whose dangers the treaty was primarily designed to lessen and that, as to the Mosquito Coast, the treaty was retrospective, and mutual in the rigor of its requirements. The claims to a part of Belize and the Bay Islands were very old in origin, but were heavily clouded by interruptions of possession, contested interpretations of Spanish-British treaties, and active controversy with the Central American States. The claim to some of the territory was new and still more contestable. See particularly on these claims Travis's book cited below. [3]


The History of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty

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US Senate rejects Clayton-Bulwer treaty, 1850

"After prolonged diplomatic fencing the famous Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was signed on April 19, 1850. By its terms both parties agreed to cooperate in the building of an Isthmian canal both bound themselves never to fortify or exercise exclusive control over it. As regards clashing territorial ambitions in Central America, the pact was less clear. London was dead set against relinquishing the Mosquito Coast, and had no intention whatever of abandoning British Honduras. Secretary Clayton knew all this, yet he could not make specific concessions on these points for fear of arousing a partisan clamor from the Britain-haters in America. Both negotiators therefore deliberately consented to the use of ambiguous language to conceal their official differences otherwise, a treaty probably could not have been concluded." Thomas A. Bailey, *A Diplomatic History of the American People (tenth edition), p. 275.

The result was the much-disputed Article I of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty which provded that neither the US nor Great Britain would "occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America. " http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/br1850.asp When Bulwer consented not to "occupy" any part of Central America, he understood that Britain was not to occupy anything *further.* Clayton, OTOH, hoped to make the provision retroactive. *The Times* (London) remarked that the negotiation was a struggle "for generalship in the use of terms." https://books.google.com/books?id=WFURAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA92

Anyway, the treaty eventually became one of the least popular treaties in US history because of the obstacle it presented to a US-run isthmian canal. In the 1880s, the proposed Frelinghuysen-Zavala Treaty for a US canal and virtual protectorate in Nicaragua was a clear-cut violation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. (True, the Senate's vote for ratification was only 32-23, short of the needed two-thirds but the majority was large enough to show that the 1850 commitment's days were numbered.) There was general relief in the US in 1901 when Clayton-Bulwer was finally nullified by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (to be more precise by the *second* Hay-Pauncefote Treaty the first version of the treaty ran into trouble in the Senate because it denied the US the right to fortify the canal). In 1850, however, the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was ratified rather easily (42-11) by the Senate after only a brief debate. Even such a reputed Anglophobe as Lewis Cass voted for it.

According to Bailey, "this surprisingly speedy action is not difficult to account for. For one thing, the Senators had been consulted during the negotiations for another, they were able to read their own meaning into the ambiguous language of the document. Before the final ratification, Clayton and Bulwer exchanged confidential notes which attempted to clarify their interpretations of what the treaty was really intended to accomplish. Clayton resorted to these under-the-table tactics primarily because he feared that the Senate would throw out the entire pact if the reservations were made public. At best, such stratagems were a questionable way of circumventing the regularly constituted treaty-making authority." Bailey, pp. 275-6.

(To quote an old Encyclopedia Americana article: "Before the ratifications were exchanged, however, Lord Palmerston wrote to Bulwer that the British government would interpret the treaty as not applying to [British] Honduras 'or its dependencies.' This could include Mosquitia, and it was Clayton's duty to settle that point before proceeding but in fear of having his statesmanlike plan wrecked, and confident of no practical evil resulting, he assumed that it referred only to the islands, did not press Bulwer for assent to this construction, concealed the three quoted words from the Senate and the attorney-general, and the ratifications were exchanged."
http://books.google.com/books?id=f2tMAAAAMAAJ&pg=PT31)

Even in 1850, US support for the treaty was by no means unanimous. In particular, it was bitterly condemned by expansion-minded Democrats like Stephen Douglas and James Buchanan. If the Senators had been aware of Great Britain's interpretation of the treaty in its confidential notes to Clayton, the treaty would very likely not have been ratified (or ratified only with amendments or reservations that the British would have treated as a rejection). So let us say that the confidential notes are leaked, and the treaty is rejected. Consequences?

I don't think there would have been a British-US war in the 1850's, just as there was not in OTL over the divergent US and British interpretations of the treaty. To be sure, Americans were angry when the British not only refused to abandon the Honduran Bay Islands but made them a crown colony in 1852 and US-British relations became tense after the US bombardment and total destruction of Greytown in 1854 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Juan_del_Norte which took no lives but destroyed the property of British subjects. The British, after their initial anger, took a moderate line they dropped any demand for compensation from the US, and said that British subjects must seek their compensation from the Nicaraguan government which had tolerated the disorders which led to the bombardment. Of course this moderation may not have been unrelated to the fact that the Crimean War had broken out. William Walker's temporary seizure of Nicaragua complicated things further, but as Bailey notes (p. 278) "fortunately for relations between the two English-speaking nations, Walker's ambitious plans were finally ruined by disease, bad liquor, treachery, the opposition of Cornelius Vanderbilt's transit company, and British and French hostility."

IMO what prevented a British-American war over Central America in the 1850's was not the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (which each party interpreted differently and accused the other of violating) but the fact that a war was not in either nation's interest. Great Britain had obvious naval supremacy, but was worried about the potential vulnerability of Canada, and of course there were also the troubles on the Continent. The US, especially after 1854, was largely preoccupied with the sectional dispute
over slavery, which made Northerners increasingly dubious about southward expansion. So despite all the tensions, having no violent changes in the status quo made sense. It is true, however, that the formal guarantee of the neutralization of any future isthmian canal did make it easier for the British to eventually abandon their Mosquito protectorate, since securing such a canal was the main objective of that protectorate. But even without a treaty it would be obvious that neither the US nor Britain would consent in the 1850s to sole control of a canal route by the other power, so the protectorate (which had come in for considerable criticism in Britain) would probably not have lasted long, anyway.

OTOH, after the ACW the treaty may have had a real effect, at least to the extent that I can see something like the Frelinghuysen-Zavala Treaty (perhaps a more modest version, without the protectorate provisions) being ratified in the 1880s if not for the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. This was a transitional period, when the US felt much stronger relative to Great Britain in Central America than it had been in 1850 and therefore resented the restrictions of Clayton-Bulwer OTOH, it was not yet strong enough (as it would be in 1901 with the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty) to more or less force Great Britain to abandon Clayton-Bulwer.


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Bible Encyclopedias

A famous treaty between the United States and Great Britain, negotiated in 1850 by John M. Clayton and Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer (Lord Dalling), in consequence of the situation created by the project of an interoceanic canal across Nicaragua, each signatory being jealous of the activities of the other in Central America. Great Britain had large and indefinite territorial claims in three regions - Belize or British Honduras, the Mosquito Coast and the Bay Islands.' On the other hand, the United States, without territorial claims, held in reserve, ready for ratification, treaties with Nicaragua and Honduras, which gave her a certain diplomatic vantage with which to balance the de facto dominion of Great Britain. Agreement on these points being impossible and agreement on the canal question possible, the latter was put in the foreground. The resulting treaty had four essential points. It bound both parties not to "obtain or maintain" any exclusive control of the proposed canal, or unequal advantage in its use. It guaranteed the neutralization of such canal. It declared that, the intention of the signatories being not only the accomplishment of "a particular object" - i.e. that the canal, then supposedly near realization, should be neutral and equally free to the two contracting powers - "but also to establish a general principle," they agreed "to extend their protection by treaty stipulation to any other practicable communications, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America." Finally, it stipulated that neither signatory would ever "occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito Coast or any part of Central America," nor make use of any protectorate or alliance, present or future, to such ends.

The treaty was signed on the 19th of April, and was ratified by both governments but before the exchange of ratifications Lord Palmerston, on the 8th of June, directed Sir H. Bulwer to make a "declaration" that the British government did not understand the treaty "as applying to Her Majesty's settlement at Honduras, or its dependencies." Mr Clayton made a counterdeclaration, which recited that the United States did not regard the treaty as applying to "the British settlement in Honduras commonly called British-Honduras. .. nor the small islands in the neighbourhood of that settlement which may be known as its dependencies" that the treaty's engagements did apply to all the Central American states, "with their just limits and proper dependencies" and that these declarations, not being submitted to the United States Senate, could of course not affect the legal import of the treaty. The interpretation of the declarations soon became a matter of contention. The phraseology reflects the effort made by the United States to render impossible a physical control of the canal by Great Britain through the territory held by her at its mouth - the United States losing the above-mentioned treaty advantages, - just as the explicit abnegations of the treaty rendered impossible such control politically by either power. But great Britain claimed that the excepted "settlement" at Honduras was the "Belize" covered by the extreme British claim that the Bay Islands were a dependency of Belize and that, as for the Mosquito Coast, the abnegatory clauses being wholly prospective in intent, she was not required to abandon her protectorate. The United States contended that the Bay Islands were not the "dependencies" of Belize, these being the small neighbouring islands mentioned in the same treaties that the excepted "settlement" was the British-Honduras of definite extent and narrow purpose recognized in British treaties with Spain that she had not confirmed by recognition the large, indefinite and offensive claims whose dangers the treaty was primarily designed to lessen and that, as to the Mosquito Coast, the treaty was retrospective, and mutual in the rigour of its requirements, and as the United States had no de facto possessions, while Great Britain had, the clause 1 The claims to a part of the first two were very - old in origin, but all were heavily clouded by interruptions of possession, contested interpretations of Spanish-British treaties, and active controversy with the Central American States. The claim to some of the territory was new and still more contestable. See particularly on these claims Travis's book cited below.

binding both not to "occupy" any part of Central America or the Mosquito Coast necessitated the abandonment of such territory as Great Britain was already actually occupying or exercising dominion over and the United States demanded the complete abandonment of the British protectorate over the Mosquito Indians. It seems to be a just conclusion that when in 1852 the Bay Islands were erected into a British "colony" this was a flagrant infraction of the treaty that as regards Belize the American arguments were decidedly stronger, and more correct historically and that as regards the Mosquito question, inasmuch as a protectorate seems certainly to have been recognized by the treaty, to demand its absolute abandonment was unwarranted, although to satisfy the treaty Great Britain was bound materially to weaken it.

In 1859-1860, by British treaties with Central American states, the Bay Islands and Mosquito questions were settled nearly in accord with the American contentions.' But by the same treaties Belize was accorded limits much greater than those contended for by the United States. This settlement the latter power accepted without cavil for many years.

Until 1866 the policy of the United States was consistently for inter-oceanic canals open equally to all nations, and unequivocally neutralized indeed, until 1880 there was practically no official divergence from this policy. But in 1880-1884 a variety of reasons were advanced why the United States might justly repudiate at will the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.' The new policy was based on national self-interest. The arguments advanced on its behalf were quite indefensible in law and history, and although the position of the United States in 1850-1860 was in general the stronger in history, law and political ethics, that of Great Britain was even more conspicuously the stronger in the years 1880-1884. In 1885 the former government reverted to its traditional policy, and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1902, which replaced the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, adopted the rule of neutralization for the Panama Canal.

See the collected diplomatic correspondence in I. D. Travis, History of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1899) J. H. Latane, Diplomatic Relations of the United States and Spanish America (Baltimore, 1900) T. J. Lawrence, Disputed Questions of Modern International Law (2nd ed., Cambridge, England, 1885) Sir E. L. Bulwer in 99 Quarterly Rev. 235-286, and Sir H. Bulwer in 104 Edinburgh Rev. 280-298.


See also

    at the Yale Law School'sAvalon Project
  • I.D. Travis, History of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1899)
  • J.H. Latane, Diplomatic Relations of the United States and Spanish America (Baltimore, 1900)
  • T.J. Lawrence, Disputed Questions of Modern International Law (2nd ed., Cambridge, England, 1885)
  • Sir E.L. Bulwer in 99 Quarterly Review 235-286
  • Sir H. Bulwer in 104 Edinburgh Review 280-298.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Clayton-Bulwer Treaty". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press . http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Clayton-Bulwer_Treaty .  

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