Saturday, November 21, 2009

"And running up that river to the southern line of New Mexico"

In his introductory remarks of January 29, 1850 on his compromise proposals, Henry Clay next unveiled both his third and fourth resolutions, “which having an immediate connection with each other, should be read and considered together.” Both concerned Texas: the third, its boundaries; the fourth, assumption of its debt:
3d. Resolved, That the western boundary of the State of Texas ought to be fixed on the Rio del Norte [the Rio Grande], commencing one marine league from its mouth, and running up that river to the southern line of New Mexico; thence with that line eastwardly, and so continuing in the same direction to the line established between the United States and Spain, excluding any portion of New Mexico, whether lying on the east or west of that river.

4th. Resolved, That it be proposed to the State of Texas that the United States will provide for the payment of all that portion of the legitimate and bona fide public debt of that State, contracted prior to its annexation to the United States, and for which the duties on foreign imports were pledged by the said State to its creditors not exceeding the sum of $_____ in consideration of the said duties so pledged having been no longer applicable to that object after the said annexation, but having thenceforward become payable to the United States; and upon the condition also that the said State of Texas shall, by some solemn and authentic act of her Legislature, or of a convention, relinquish to the United States any claim which it has to any part of New Mexico.

As the final clause of the fourth resolution makes clear, both resolutions in fact were designed to resolve the festering dispute over the border between Texas and New Mexico territory. As I have discussed before, Texas claimed that the Rio del Norte formed its western border all the way up into what is today the State of Colorado (and thence further north into what is now southern Wyoming). This area encompassed a large portion of New Mexico territory, including virtually all of the territory's populated areas.

Before examining Clay's discussion of these points, I'd like to return to a topic I've mentioned before: the location of Clay's proposed boundary. In particular, in an earlier post I noted that uncertainty and disagreement existed concerning what Clay meant, or thought he meant, when he referred to "the southern line of New Mexico." Some assert, and I tentatively endorsed the idea that, Clay must have believed that the southern boundary of New Mexico lay far north of its actual location. I'm now having doubts about that conclusion.

Article V of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo described the boundary between the United States and Mexico as follows (emphasis added):
The boundary line beween the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte, or opposite the mouth of its deepest branch, if it should have more than one branch emptying directly into the sea; from thence up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel, where it has more than one, to the point where it strikes the southern boundary of New Mexico; thence, westwardly, along the whole southern boundary of New Mexico (which runs north of the town called Paso) to its western termination; thence, northward, along the western line of New Mexico, until it intersects the first branch of the river Gila; (or if it should not intersect any branch of that river, then to the point on the said line nearest to such branch, and thence in a direct line to the same); thence down the middle of the said branch and of the said river, until it empties into the Rio Colorado; thence across the Rio Colorado, following the division line between Upper and Lower California, to the Pacific Ocean.

The southern and western limits of New Mexico, mentioned in the article, are those laid down in the map entitled "Map of the United Mexican States, as organized and defined by various acts of the Congress of said republic, and constructed according to the best authorities. Revised edition. Published at New York, in 1847, by J. Disturnell," of which map a copy is added to this treaty, bearing the signatures and seals of the undersigned Plenipotentiaries. And, in order to preclude all difficulty in tracing upon the ground the limit separating Upper from Lower California, it is agreed that the said limit shall consist of a straight line drawn from the middle of the Rio Gila, where it unites with the Colorado, to a point on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, distant one marine league due south of the southernmost point of the port of San Diego, according to the plan of said port made in the year 1782 by Don Juan Pantoja, second sailing-master of the Spanish fleet, and published at Madrid in the year 1802, in the atlas to the voyage of the schooners Sutil and Mexicana; of which plan a copy is hereunto added, signed and sealed by the respective Plenipotentiaries.

In order to designate the boundary line with due precision, upon authoritative maps, and to establish upon the ground land-marks which shall show the limits of both republics, as described in the present article, the two Governments shall each appoint a commissioner and a surveyor, who, before the expiration of one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty, shall meet at the port of San Diego, and proceed to run and mark the said boundary in its whole course to the mouth of the Rio Bravo del Norte. They shall keep journals and make out plans of their operations; and the result agreed upon by them shall be deemed a part of this treaty, and shall have the same force as if it were inserted therein. The two Governments will amicably agree regarding what may be necessary to these persons, and also as to their respective escorts, should such be necessary.

The boundary line established by this article shall be religiously respected by each of the two republics, and no change shall ever be made therein, except by the express and free consent of both nations, lawfully given by the General Government of each, in conformity with its own constitution.

Henry Clay presumably had access to both the treaty and to a copy of the Disturnell map referenced in Article V. That map, a copy of which appears at the top of this post (click to enlarge) is quite clear as to where the southern border of New Mexico is. Consistent with the treaty, the maps shows that boundary as running slightly north of El Paso.

It is true that the map appears to be inaccurate in one respect. The map identifies the 32 degree north latitude line (which I have drawn in red on the Disturnell map). It shows the southern border of New Mexico (which I have drawn in blue on the Disturnell map) as lying somewhat north of 32 degrees north. Furthermore, it shows El Paso as lying north of 32 north latitude, but south of the southern border of New Mexico.

In fact, El Paso is slightly south of 32 degrees (according to this site, it is 31 degrees 48 minutes north).

Comparison with a contemporary map may make the slight discrepancy clearer. The northern border of west Texas, which is also the southern border of the State of New Mexico in that area is the 32 degrees north latitude line. El Paso lies just south of that line. The Disturnell map shows the 32 degrees north latitude line just south of El Paso.

This discrepancy, even if noticed, could hardly have confused Henry Clay (or anyone else) into thinking that "the southern line of New Mexico" lay at 34 degrees north latitude (the northernmost line on both the Disturnell and the contemporary map). As you will see, that line lies far to the north, pretty close to the base of what is now the Texas Panhandle.

Obviously I cannot know what geographic misconceptions Henry Clay may have had. But it really stretches credibility to think that he was that far off.

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