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OF PROPERTY IN THE OCEAN.
Another subject of much practical difficulty, is the ascertainment of property in the ocean, in the grand fishing banks, in navigable bays and lakes, and in rivers flowing between different countries. “Wherever a spirit of commerce, says Ward, has prevailed, the sea has become as much an object of contention as the land." * It is well known, that pretensions have been set up, at various periods, to parts of the ocean, which were inconsistent with natural justice, and were attended with hostile feelings and violence. The Venetians, while they existed as a distinct Republic, claimed the dominion of the Adriatic sea, a portion of the ocean 450 miles in length and 90 in breadth, although their own possessions were limited almost exclusively to the bottom of the Adriatic, and a great part of the lands on both sides were under other governments. This extraordinary claim was not merely nominal. In the year 1265, when Tepolo was Doge of Venice, a permanent law was made by the republic, imposing a tax on all vessels trading in the Adriatic; and several barks were ordered to cruise day and night, in order to enforce it. In 1638, a Turkish fleet, having entered without the permission of the Sen
• Ward's Inquiry into the Foundation of the Law of Nations in Europe, Vol. I, p. 138.
ate of Venice, although they had ports of their own situated on the Adriatic, were attacked by the Venetians, defeated, and several ships sunk. Subsequently a treaty was made between the Sultan and the Republic, by which it was agreed, that it should be lawful for the Venetians to seize by force, if they did not otherwise submit, all Turkish vessels entering the Adriatic without their license, no exception being made in favor of the ports situated upon it, which were under the jurisdiction of the Grand Signior.
For many years the British Government claimed dominion over the seas in the neighborhood of Britain, viz. over the ocean from the western mouth of the English channel to Cape Finisterre in Spain, and thence bounded by an imaginary line running to the sixtieth degree of north latitude and twenty three degrees west from London, and thence by another imaginary line on that parallel of latitude to the coast of Norway, and thence by the shores of Norway, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands to the English channel again. Throughout this great extent of ocean, all nations, after the time of Alfred bowed in homage to the flag of England.—They not only rendered homage, but tribute. So late as the reign of Richard II, we meet with a parliamentary enactment, specifying the precise amount to be paid by vessels found navigating within the above mentioned limits. Although these claims are not practically maintained, at least in their original extent, at the present time, it seems nevertheless to be held by British writers, that they are liable to be resumed and enforced, whenever it shall suit the policy of their government, who may accordingly, at some future time, demand passports of leave to sail through the British seas, as was formerly the case. These pretensions of Great Britain were not always peaceably submitted to. The republic of Holland made
a fierce resistance, but found themselves unequal to cope successfully with the immense naval strength of England. Their submission may be found in the following, being the thirteenth article of a treaty concluded in 1653 with Cromwell ,— " That the ships and vessels of the said United Provinces, as well men of war as others, meeting in the British seas with any of the armed ships of England, shall strike the flag and lower the top-sail, in such manner as the same hath formerly been observed in any times whatsoever.”
On the pretensions of the two countries just referred to, Venice and England, it may be profitable to introduce some remarks of Vattel. “The fleets of England, he says, have given room to her kings to claim the empire of the seas which surround that island, even as far as the opposite coasts. Selden relates a solemn act, by which it appears, that, in the time of Edward I, that empire was acknowledged by the greatest part of the maritime nations of Europe, and the republic of the United provinces acknowledged it, in some measure, by the treaty of Breda * in 1667, at least so far as related to the honors of the flag. But solidly to establish a right of such extent, it were necessary to prove very clearly the express or tacit consent of all powers concerned. The French have never agreed to this pretension of England ; and in that very treaty of England just mentioned, Louis XIV would not even suffer the channel to be called the English channel or the British Sea. The republic of Venice claims the empire of the Adriatic ; and every body knows the ceremony annually performed on that account. In confirmation of this right, we are referred to the examples of Uladislaus, King of Naples, of the emperor Frederic III, and of some of the kings of Hungary, who asked permission of the Venetians for their vessels *The article in the treaty of 1653 was subsequently copied into that of Breda.
to pass through that sea. That the empire of the Adriatic belongs to the republic to a certain distance from her own coasts, in the places of which she can keep possession, and of which the possession is important to her own safety, appears to me incontestable ; but I doubt very much, whether any power is at present disposed to acknowledge her sovereignty over the whole Adriatic sea. Such pretensions to empire are respected, as long as the nation, that makes them, is able to assert them by force; but they vanish of course on the decline of her power."*
It is hardly necessary to refer in this connection very particularly to the claims formerly made by the kingdom of Spain to the Pacific Ocean, and by Portugal to the Indian seas. By the laws of the latter country, , all persons whatsoever were forbidden to pass to the countries, lands, and seas of Guinea and the Indies, either upon occasions of war or commerce, or for any other reason whatsoever, without the King of Portugal's special license and authority, under pain of death and confiscation of all effects.” The mere statement of claims, so utterly extravagant and ill-founded, was enough to expose them to immediate rejection and contempt ; while those of England and Venice were of a less exceptionable character, and have been more strenuously maintained.
At the present day a species of control is exercised over the Baltic sea, as has been the case for many ages past, by the kingdom of Denmark. No vessel is permitted to pass the sound of Elsinore, a body of water not enclosed by Danish territory but situated between Sweden and Denmark, without paying a toll or tribute. The sum thus raised from the numerous vessels entering and leaving the Baltic, is estimated at about half a million of dollars annually, paid to one of the smallest and weakest powers, that encompass that very impor
* Valtel's Law of Nations, Bk. I, Ch. 23.
tant sea.—But it is evident, if the Baltic be susceptible of an entire or partial appropriation to any one power to the exclusion of others, or if its vast commerce can be taxed by any one power to the exclusion of others, that Sweden, Russia, and Prussia, which border upon it, may claim to themselves such possession and control, as well as Denmark. If the claims of one country can be rightfully sustained, those of other countries may be expected in due time to present themselves ; and in this state of things the commerce of the whole civilized world would be liable to be at any moment interrupted. But certainly if we consider the great extent of the Baltic sea, and the relations of the people bordering upon it to all other nations, we must conclude, that Providence designed it, not for the possession and control of one country or of a small number merely, but as the common property and the common highway of the world. The situation of the Mediterranean is somewhat similar. England, seated on the rock of Gibralter, can open and shut its entrance at pleasure. But would it be right ?Would it be consistent with the designs of that benevolent Being, who made both the ocean and the land ? Would the civilized world submit to it without great dissatisfaction ?
In the remarks, that have been made, it is not intended to cast any reflection on the course pursued by the Danes. Undoubtedly they can give reasons for the tax they impose upon the world, independently of a pretended exclusive right to the passage into the Baltic. But the case is one, in its principles and applications, in its past and its prospective history, which is full of interest and difficulty. If Great Britain, or any other great naval power occupied the place of Denmark, all would feel it to be so; nor are we to suppose, when we recollect the seizure of the whole Danish feet by a British arma