Page images

Daniel Webster, Secretary of State of the United States, in a report made to the President, May 24th, 1841, and in a report upon the nature and extent of American commerce and the restrictions upon it by foreign nations, made to Congress in March, 1842, expressed the same opinion of this • Danish sea-mail or tribute. This eminent civilian considers this unfounded claim as reposing upon usage and not upon right. A reasonable and equal charge on all ships passing to defray the annual expense of lights and buoys to insure their safe passage would be reasonable and just. But the Danish sound dues are so heavy as to resemble customs levied for revenue. In this point of view their exaction is unjust, as straits connecting seas are like them common and free to all mankind. We have considered maritime curtilage appurtenant to the shores of continents and islands, and we come now to regard straits and its application to them. Some of the principal connecting straits or canals are those of Magellan, upwards of 300 miles in length, and varying from less than half a league to several leagues in width, and connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; the straits of Gibralter about 15 miles wide, through which a constant and strong current flows into the Mediterranean; the Dardanelles and Bosphorus uniting the sea of Marmora or Propontis with the Mediterranean and Black Seas, varying from 750 yards to two miles and upwards in width. From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean is about 170 miles. Xerxes, in his Grecian war, threw a bridge of boats over the Dardanelles 750 yards long, and Darius in his Scythian war constructed one over the Bosphorus 3300 feet long. The waters of the Black Sea run to the Mediterranean with a strong current. The Sound, a strait between the Danish island of Zealand and the Swedish province of Schonen, forming the usuals passage for ships from the North Sea into the Baltic, is at Elsineur, its narrowest point two and a half miles wide, and is under the guns of the Danish Castle of Cronburg on Zeeland. The French, English, Dutch, Swedish and American vessels, have paid, and we believe still pay one per cent. toll on the value of their cargoes to the Danish government, and other nations one and a quarter per cent. The straits of Babel Mandel leading into the Red Sea, of Messina, of Otranto leading into the Adriatic, and other narrow ones are found in Europe, and in America the pass between Florida and Cuba, the canal strait or river St. Lawrence joining the inland seas of the West with the Atlantic, strikingly resembling the straits from the Euxine to the Mediterranean and other

connecting passages, are examples of straits to which our remarks will apply as well as to all similar waters in all parts of the globe. These canals, made by the hand of God in his wise providence for the happiness of all men to facilitate commerce among distant nations, manifestly partake of the freedom of the seas, and all ships sailing thereon have a perfect right freely to pass from sea to sea thereon. The Sound is contiguous to Swedish and Danish territory, the Dardanelles, the Propontis or Sea of Marmora and , the Bosphorus, are inclosed by the Ottoman territory, but all these canals connecting seas are by the law of nature and the moral law of nations, open to the free passage of all vessels of every sort, except perhaps ships of war. (1st Azumi's M. L. 226 and 7.) If two nations own opposite sides of such canal, the maritime curtilage of each ought and of right extends to the distance of a marine league from the shore where the strait or canal is two leagues wide, and in places where it is less to the centre. The same rule applies whether one or many states own the adjacent shores, but this marine curtilage is in all cases subject to the paramount right of all merchant ships of all nations to pass freely, paying only reasonable tolls for lights, buoys and other artificial facilities of passage. So in passing ships around the rapids of the St. Lawrence on ship canals now constructing by Britain upon a noble and magnificent plan, and upon the Welland canal around the falls of Niagara, reasonable tolls may rightfully be demanded of American vessels as well as British to remunerate the government for interest on their cost and expenses of repair and attendance. This exposition is sanctioned by right reason and sound morality. The passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euxine by the treaty of Adrianople, between Russia and the Ottoman Porte was declared for-. ever free to the merchant ships of Russia, and those of all nations at peace with the Porte. This treaty was made in 1829, and in 1830 a treaty between the Porte and the United States secured to the merchant ships of our Republic in perpetuity the free navigation of the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmora or Propontis and the Bosphorus. In the Russian treaty the Ottoman government engages that Russian vessels shall not be “subjected to any visit on board by the Ottoman authorities neither at sea nor in port;” that they shall enjoy “full liberty of commerce and navigation of the Black Sea.” By the treaty the Porte also “solemnly declares that she will never throw any obstacle in its way, and promises never to permit herself to detain any vessel either Russian, or of any other

nation at peace with the Porte, in the passage of the Bosphorus or of the Dardanelles.” Here is a solemn recognition of the principle, that straits connecting seas partake of their freedom, and are subject to the common use of all maritime nations, and of all merchant vessels of every State. By Article 7th of the treaty between the United States and Great Britain made in 1842, called the Ashburton treaty, all the passes of the straits or rivers Detroit and St. Clair, connecting the Lakes Erie and Huron, are declared free to both parties. Here is an assent of the two most leading commercial nations of the globe to the doctrine that a common right to the use of seas draws after it a similar right in all straits connecting them. The free and common use of the St. Lawrence to both parties, to and from the ocean, seems to follow from the above cited precedents and from sound ethical principles. The application of these doctrines to the Sound leading into the Baltic is obvious, and it must be deemed free to all nations, We hold, therefore, as a principle of the moral law of nations, that all nations entitled to the common use of seas, have a perfect natural right to the same use of connecting straits,

« PreviousContinue »