No. 33
12 August 1859
I have the honor to forward to you herewith the Copy of a Despatch which I received late on the evening of the 10th Instant from Brigadier General HarneyManuscript imageHarney of the United States Army, Commanding the Troops in Washington Territory, referring to the subject of the occupation of San Juan Island by a body of United States Troops, and acquainting me with the reasons which induced him to undertake such a movement.
2. It will be noticed that General Harney does not touch upon the question of sovereignty. He states that heManuscript imagehe placed a Military Command upon the Island of San Juan to protect the American Citizens residing on the Island from the insults and indignities which the British Authorities of Vancouver's Island, and the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company have recently offered them, by sending a British Ship of War from Vancouver's Island to convey the Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company to San Juan, for the purpose of seizing an American Citizen, and forcibly transporting him to Vancouver's Island to be triedManuscript imagetried by British Laws.
3. It is therefore evident that the occupation of the Island is owing solely to orders issued by General Harney.
4. Did the reasons for the movement, which he alleges, exist, they would not justify him in acting as he has done by placing American Troops upon San Juan without giving me the slightest previous intimation; but the reasons do not exist; the tale which has been imposed upon him isManuscript imageis a fabrication. No British Man of War was sent from Vancouver's Island, with the Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, to seize an American Citizen, and to transport him to Vancouver's Island; nor has any act of a like nature ever happened. On the contrary although numbers of American Citizens have recently squatted upon San Juan, no interference with them has occurred, or has even been contemplated. They have been allowed to remain unmolested, out of respect and considerationManuscript imageconsideration for the friendly Government to which they belonged, and which Government we felt well assured would readily atone for any wrong done by its Citizens.
5. It being, therefore, clearly established that the military occupation of San Juan has been undertaken without the knowledge or authority of the Government of the United States, and upon grounds that are entirely false, both in fact and in principle, national courtesy demands that the question should be referred to the Federal Cabinet; Manuscript imageas we have no right to presume that they will for one moment support the course adopted by General Harney.
6. Under that course it would be very easy for me, in following no more than the ordinary line of my duty, to plunge the two Countries into all the agonies of a deadly contest—indeed the greatest prudence is required to avoid it—but I can scarcely presume that Her Majestys Government would desire or approve of such a measure, and now I conceive, under the circumstances, it would not be the most dignifiedManuscript imagedignified mode of action that could be adopted.
7. Her Majesty's Government may rest assured that I will act with all discretion and forbearance to prevent a collision, but the danger is imminent, and we know not at what moment a collision may be forced upon us. One Hundred and fifty additional United States Troops were landed upon San Juan the day before yesterday, and it is confidently rumoured that Five hundred more are on their way thither from the Columbia River.
IManuscript image8. I would observe that but a few days prior to the occupation of San Juan, General Harney, who had been on a tour of inspection in Puget Sound, visited Victoria, and waited upon me. He made no complaint to me of the treatment of any American Citizens with the "insults and indignities" which he now asserts, and yet at that time he must, I should think, have been in full possession of all the points of the fancied grievance as he now gives it, for he had landed upon San Juan just before, and, doubtless, was Manuscript imagein communication with the American Citizens there, and his silence, although not inexplicable, is significant, when viewed in connection with the general order issued on the Island by Captain Pickett (Enclosure No 7 in Despatch No 31) and with the different complexion which the whole matter now bears.
9. I have not yet replied to General Harney's Despatch, but I propose to do so to the effect that, having clearly stated the reasons which led to his ordering a military occupation of the Island, and as such reasons do not exist, there can be no necessity for a continuanceManuscript imagecontinuance of such occupation, & I shall, therefore, beg him to withdraw the Troops now upon San Juan.
I have etc.
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
Manuscript image
William S. Harney to Douglas, 6 August 1859, explaining his reasons for ordering the occupation of San Juan, as per despatch.
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft, Merivale to E. Hammond, Foreign Office, 27 September 1859, forwarding copies of Douglas's despatches No. 33 and No. 34.
Minutes by CO staff
For signature by D. of Newcastle's [instructions?].