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US Territorial Map US Territorial Map including details in land ceded by both the US and the UK in 1818

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The Anglo-American Convention of 1818
200 years since the signing of the Treaty of 1818, Anthony Arlidge looks back at the start of US-UK relations that would flourish into the Special Relationship
Published on October 15, 2018

James Monroe The 5th President of the United States, James Monroe. Portrait dated 1819, by Samuel F.B. Morse. Image: White House Historical Association

The Convention was signed in London on October 20 1818. It was a washing up exercise dealing with issues left over from the Treaty of Paris in 1783, in which Britain recognised the United States government, and the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 which ended the hostilities of the 1812 War. By now the Prince Regent had become George IV; Britain was wearied and impoverished by war in Europe. In 1815 Napoleon had been finally defeated. Madison's administration, which had declared war on Britain in 1812, had failed to capture any significant territory in British North America and the British had failed in an attempt to seize parts of Louisiana. James Monroe won the presidential election of 1816 by a landslide majority. There was an appetite for compromise.

The northern boundary of the United States fixed by the Treaty of Paris was irregular. At one point it dipped sharply south to the 45th parallel and further west it followed the northern shore line of the Great Lakes; it followed watersheds. Its position was complicated by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the United States purchased large areas of the midwest from France, a small portion of which penetrated territory which aligned with British North America. The 1818 Treaty fixed the boundary for all intents and purposes at the 49th parallel irrespective of particular ground features. This had the virtue of simplicity and would be relatively easy to survey. When this occurred there were very slight deviations. Changing the boundary involved both nations in ceding territory, Britain more than the United States. The boundary was drawn up to the Rockies; beyond them the wide area known as Oregon stretched up into Canada beyond modern Vancouver. It was occupied by First Nation tribes and exploited by fur trappers. This was put under joint control with both sides having the right to settle. The boundary beyond the Rockies was settled later.

The United States were also granted fishing rights in the territorial waters off British North America by New Foundland.

After the War of Independence and the War of 1812 many black recruits to the British army were left in British territory or as sailors on British navy vessels. Their former owners in the United States regarded them as their property and now claimed their return or compensation for their loss. No agreement was reached on this point, but provision was made for a third party state to mediate a settlement. This was a period of growing support in Britain for the abolition of slavery. In 1819 a treaty with Portugal banned the slave trade and one soon after did the same with Spain. Canada pronounced former slaves free. No mediation seems to have taken place.

Monroe was keen to use his large majority to promote reconciliation between the various interests in the United States and travelled the country establishing an era of peace. The way was open for industrial expansion on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Lawyers Who Mde America

Anthony Arlidge has been a Queen’s Counsel for over thirty five years, appearing in many high profile cases. He has submitted written amicus briefs to the Supreme Court of the United States and the Santa Monica Court of Appeals.

A lifelong interest in legal history led him to co-author Magna Carta Uncovered in 2014, ahead of the document's 800th anniversary in 2015. More recently he authored the book The Lawyers Who Made America, a book which traces the story of the creation of the United States of America through the human lives of those who played important parts in it: amongst others, of English lawyers who established the form of the original colonies; of the Founding Fathers, who declared independence and created a Constitution; of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Justices of the Supreme Court and finally Barack Obama.


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