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M. de Poletica to Mr. Adams.


WASHINGTON, January 30 (February 11], 1822. The undersigned, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, in consequence of orders which have lately reached him, hastens herewith to transmit to Mr. Adams, Secretary of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs, a printed copy of the regulations adopted by the Russian-American Company, and sanctioned by His Imperial Majesty, relative to foreign commerce in the waters bordering the establishments of the said company on the northwest coast of America.

The undersigned conceives it to be, moreover, his duty to inform Mr. Adams that the Imperial Government, in adopting the regulation, sup. poses that a foreign ship, which shall have sailed from a European port after the 1st of March, 1822, or from one of the ports of the United States after the 1st of July of the same year, can not lawfully pretend ignorance of these new measures. The undersigned, etc.,

PIERRE DE POLETICA. [The inclosure referred to is the ukase of September 4, 1821. It is in the English language. An exact copy appears at page 16 of this volume.]

Mr. Adams to M. de Poletica.


Washington, February 25, 1822. Sir: I bave the honor of receiving your note on the 11th instant, inclosing a printed copy of the regulationis adopted by the Russian American Company, and sanctioned by His Imperial Majesty, relating to the commerce of foreigners in the waters bordering on the establishments of that company upon the north west coast of America.

I am directed by the President of the United States to inform you that he has seen with surprise, in this edict, the assertion of a territorial claim on the part of Russia, extending to the fifty-first degree of north latitude on this continent, and a regulation interdicting to all commercial vessels other than Russiani, upon the penalty of seizure and confiscation, the approach upon the high seas within 100 Italian miles of the shores to which that claim is made to apply. The relations of the United States with His Imperial Majesty have always been of the most trieudly character; and it is the earnest desire of this Government to preserve them in that state. It was expected, before any act which showd define the boundary between the territories of the United States and Russia on this continent, that the same would have been ar

ranged by treaty between the parties. To exclude the vessels of our citizens from the shore, beyond the ordinary distance to which the territorial jurisdiction extends, has excited still greater surprise.

This ordinance affects so deeply the rights of the United States and of their citizens that I am instructed to inquire whether you are authorized to give explanations of the grounds of right, upon principles generally recognized by the laws and usages of nations, which can warrant the claims and regulations contained in it. I avail, etc.,


M. de Poletica to Mr. Adams.

WASHINGTON, February 28, 1822. M. de Poletica replied on the 28th of the same month, and after giving a summary of historical incidents which seemed to him to establish the title of Russia to the territories in question by first discovery, said:

“I shall be more succint, sir, in the exposition of the motives which determined the Imperial Government to probibit foreign vessels from approaching the northwest coast of America belonging to Russia within the distance of at least 100 Italian miles. This ineasure, however severe it may at first appear, is, after all, but a measure of prevention. It is exclusively directed against the culpable enterprises of foreign adventurers, who, not content with exercising upon the coasts above mentioned an illicit trade very prejudicial to the rights reserved entirely to the Russian American Company, take upon them besides to furnish arms and ammunition to the natives in the Russian possessions in America, exciting them likewise in every manner to resist and revolt against the authorities there established.

“The American Government doubtless recollects that the irregular conduct of these adventurers, the majority of whom was composed of American citizens, has been the object of the most pressing remonstrances on the part of Russia to the Federal Government from the time that diplomatic missions were organized between the countries. These remonstrances, repeated at different times, remain constantly without effect, and the inconveniences to which they ought to bring a remedy continue to increase.

Pacific means not having brought any alleviation to the just grievances of the Russian American Com. pany against foreign navigators in the waters which environ their establishments on the northwest coast of America, the Imperial Government saw itself under the necessity of having recourse to the means of coercion, and of measuring the rigor according to the inveterate character of the evil to which it wished to put a stop.

“ I ought, in the last place, to request you to consider, sir, that the Russian possessions in the Pacific Ocean extend, on the north west coast of America, from Behring's Strait to the fifty-first degree of north lati. tude, and on the opposite side of Asia and the islands adjacent, from the same strait to the forty-fifth degree. The extent of sea of which these possessions form the limits comprehends all the conditions which are ordinarily attached to shut seas (mers fermées), and the Russian Government might consequently judge itself authorized to exercise upon this sea the right of sovereignty, and especially that of entirely interdicting the entrance of foreigners. But it preferred only asserting its essential rights, without taking any advantage of localities."

(A full copy of the above letter will be found in the North American Review, volume xv, p. 376, (1829).]

Mr. Adams to M. de Poletica.


Washington, March 30, 1822. SIR: I have had the honor of receiving your letter of the 28th ultimo, which has been submitted to the consideration of the President of the United States.

From the deduction which it contains of the grounds upon which articles of regulation of the Russian-American Company have now, for the first time, extended the claim of Russia on the northwest coast of America to the fifty-first degree of north latitude, its only foundation appears to be the existence of the small settlement of Novo Archangelsk, situated, not on the American continent, but upon a small island in latitute 57°; and the principle upon which you state that this claim is now advanced is, that the fifty-first degree is equidistant from the settlement of Novo Archangelsk and the establishment of the United States at the mouth of the Columbia River. But, from the same statement, it appears that, in the year 1799, the limits prescribed by the Emperor Paul to the Russian-American Company were fixed at the fiftyfifth degree of latitude, and that, in assuming now the latitude 57°, a new pretension is asserted, to which no settlement made since the year 1799 has given the color of a sanction.

This pretension is to be considered not only with reference to the question of territorial right, but also to that prohibition to the vessels of other nations, including those of the United States, to approach within 100 Italian miles of the coasts. From the period of the existence of the United States as an independent nation, their vessels have freely navigated those seas, and the right to navigate them is a part of that independence.

With regard to the suggestion that the Russian Government might have justified the exercise of sovereignty over the Pacific Ocean as a close sea, because it claims territory both on its American and Asiatic shores, it may suffice to say that the distance from shore to shore on this sea, in latitude 51° north, is not less than 90° of longitude, or 4,000 miles.

As little can the United States accede to the justice of the reason as. signed for the prohibition above mentioned. The right of the citizens of the United States to hold commerce with the aboriginal natives of the north west coast of America, without the territorial jurisdiction of other nations, even in arms and munitions of war, is as clear and indis. putable as that of navigating the seas. That right has never been exercised in a spirit unfriendly to Russia; and although general complaints have occasionally been made on the subject of this commerce by some of your predecessors, no specific ground of charge has ever bcen alleged by them of any transaction in it which the United States were, by the ordinary laws and usages of nations, bound either to restrain or to punish. Had any such charge been made, it would have received the most pointed attention of this Government with the sincerest and tirmest disposition to perform every act and obligation of justice to yours which could have been required. I am commanded by the President of the United States to assure you that this disposition will continue to be entertained, together with the earnest desire that the harmonious relations between the two countries may be preserved.

Relying upon the assurance in your note of similar dispositions reciprocally entertained by His Imperial Majesty towards the United

States, the President is persuaded that the citizens of this Union will remain unmolested in the prosecution of their lawful commerce, and that no effect will be given to an interdiction manifestly incompatible with their rights. I am, etc.,


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WASHINGTON, April 2, 1822. Mr. Poletica replied on the 2d of April following, and after again endeavoring to prove the title of Russia to the northwest coast of America from Behring Straits to the fifty-first degree of north latitude, said:

“ In the same manner the great extent of the Pacific Ocean at the fifty-first degree of latitude can not invalidate the right which Russia may bave of considering that part of the ocean as close. But as the Imperial Government has not thought fit to take advantage of that right, all further discussion on this subject would be idle.

* As to the right claimed for the citizens of the United States of trad. ing with the natives of the country of the north west coast of America, without the limits of the jurisdiction belonging to Russia, the Imperial Government will not certainly think of limiting it, and still less of attacking it there. But I can not dissemble, sir, that this same trade beyond the fifty-first degree will meet with difficulties and inconveniences, for which the American owners will only have to accuse their own imprudence after the publicity which has been given to the measures taken by the Imperial Government for maintaining the rights of the Russian American Company in their absolute integrity.

“I shall not finish this letter without repeating to you, sir, the very positive assurance which I have already had the honor once of expressing to you that in every case where the American Government shall judge it necessary to make explanations to that of the Emperor, the President of the United States may rest assured that these explana. tions will always be attended to by the Emperor, my august sovereign, with the most friendly, and consequently the most conciliatory, dispositions."


Mr. Middleton to Mr. Adams.

ST. PETERSBURG, August 8, 1822. Sir: Í am desirous of giving you a full account of what has occurred here upon the subject of the N. W. Contestation, because I conceive it to be important, on account of the impending negotiation upon that subject, that you should be furnished with all the information attainable respecting the views and feelings of this Goveir ment upon it; and also because I wish you to understand the reason of the very muderate tone of the note I presented upon receipt of the instructions contained in your No. 12.

Having premised thus much, I proceed to state that from the time of the publication of the ukase respecting the N. W. Trade, although I retrained from taking any official steps until I should receive in. structions so to do, yet I omitted no proper occasion of making known my private opinion upon that subject in conversation with the secretaries and with all such persons as I knew were babitually consulted upon questions of a similar nature. To Mr. Speransky, Governor General of Siberia, who had been one of the committee originating this measure, I stated my objections at length. He informed me that the first intention had been (as Mr. Poletica afterwards wrote you) to declare the northern portion of the Pacific Ocean as mare clausum, but that idea being abandoned, probably on account of its extravagance, they determined to adopt the more moderate measure of establishing limits to the maritime jurisdiction on their coasts, such as should secure to the Russian American Fur Company the monopoly of the very lucrative traffic they carry ou. In order to do this they sought a precedent and found the distance of 30 leagues, named in treaty of Utrecht, and which may be calculated at about 100 Italian miles, sufficient for all purposes. I replied ironically that a still better precedent might have been pointed out to them in the papal bull of 1493, which estab. lished as a line of demarcation between the Spaniards and Portuguese a meridian to be drawn at the distance of 100 miles west of the Azores, and that the expression “Italian miles” used in the ukase very naturally might lead to the conclusion that this was actually the precedent looked to. He took my remarks in good part, and I am disposed to think that this conversation led him to make reflections which did not tend to confirm his first impressions, for I found him afterwards at different times speaking confidentially upon the subject.

For sometime past I began to perceive that the provisions of the ukase would not be persisted in. It appears to have been signed by the Emperor without sufficient examination, and may be fairly consid. ered as having been surreptitiously obtained. There can be little doubt, therefore, that with a little patience and management it will be molded in a less objectionable shape. But in this, as in other matters, the revocare gradum is most difficult. Since the receipt of your dispatch No. 12 I have had several conferences with the secretaries of state and we have discussed fully and freely the state of the question as left by Mr. Poletica with your letter unanswered in his pocket. At length, on the morning of the 24th of July, having learned that preparation was making for the departure of the Emperor for Vienna, I had a conversation with Count Capodistrias, in which I informed him that I intended to ask a formal interview with Count Nesselrode before his departure, for the purpose of taking up this subject and urging some decision upon it, as I never had been able to ascertain officially whether the offensive provisions of the ukase would be revoked. I felt the more anxious, too, because I had learned that a Russian Frigate was shortly to sail for the N. W. Coast. I informed him further that I had prepared a note verbale to leave with Count Nesselrode, which I begged to be permitted to read to him (Count Capodistrias), as I was wel assured of his auxious desire that all things should go on smoothly between us. (See paper No. 1.)

After hearing this paper with attention he said to me: “Puisque vous me faites l'honneur de me consulter, je vous dirai franchement mon avis. Si vous voulez que la chose s'arrange, ne donnez point votre note-l'Empereur a déjà eu le bon esprit de voir que cette af: faire ne devrait pas être pousée plus loin. Nous sommes disposés à ne pas y donner de suite. Les ordres pour nos vaisseaux de guerre

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