The Treaty of Ghent, signed by the United States and Great Britain on
Christmas Eve, 1814, ended the War of 1812. Because the two countries were so
similar in terms of their military strength, the treaty essentially ended the
war in a draw. Each country agreed to return to the same conditions that existed
before the war, including territorial possessions. The primary issue that
initiated the conflict, British impressments of American citizens into the
British armed forces, essentially became moot as the Napoleonic Wars ended and
Great Britain suddenly had a surplus of soldiers.
The Treaty of Ghent is important to the Columbia River Basin because it led
to the restoration of Astoria to the United States,
despite British arguments that the post had been purchased by the North West
Company in 1813 and thus was British and not subject to the terms of treaty.
Americans argued that the purchase, essentially, had been forced. The treaty
also re-established the border between the two countries at the 49th parallel.
The treaty did not, however, settle the matter of sovereignty in the Northwest.
Both countries claimed to have discovered the Columbia River in the same
year, 1792, and both claimed sovereignty to the surrounding country. In July
1815 President James Monroe notified the British that Astoria should be restored
to America under terms of the treaty. It was two years before the countries gave
the matter serious attention, as they had more important things to discuss in
the wake of the war. Reluctantly, the British agreed to return possession of
Astoria, but they did not agree to relinquish sovereignty. An American Navy
sloop was ordered to Astoria to take possession of both shores of the Columbia;
a British Naval vessel arrived two months later to take down the British flag.
Thus the Americans claimed possession and sovereignty. Great Britain, however,
recognized an American right equal to their own under the treaty, but not
exclusive American sovereignty. The North West Company continued to occupy Fort
George, with the permission of America.
In 1818, a series of eight conferences were conducted to discuss the issue.
The British commissioners said they would accept the 49th parallel as the border
as long as the two countries shared possession of the mouth of the Columbia. The
Americans refused to recognize any British claims of possession south of the
49th parallel. The impasse was settled by an agreement, called the Convention of
1818, in which the countries agreed to jointly possess the country south of the
49th parallel for a period of 10 years.
The agreement was extended twice, and joint occupancy continued through the
era of the fur trade in the Northwest. The
sovereignty issue finally was decided in the Treaty
of Oregon in 1846, in which the countries established the international
border at the 49th parallel. The country north of the line became British, and
the country south of the line became American.