A President, A Treaty, A Boundary, and A Legal Lesson
James K. Polk was the 11th President of the United States serving from 1845 to 1849. Despite being rated as one of the most successful Presidents in American history, he is not a household name. Nor is he discussed much in high school history classes. During his tenure the size of the United States grew exponentially. Indeed, the two most populous states in the Union, California and Texas first flew the Stars and Stripes while he was President. Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming became American territory under his Presidency as well. This huge territorial expansion was the result of a victory in the Mexican-American War. Like most countries in the world, the boundaries of the United States are in part the product of conflict. Thus, when Polk is discussed, it is generally in the context of the war in which he presided over as Commander in Chief.
Less discussed is the peaceful resolution of the American-Canadian border. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 executed by the United States and Great Britain established the current boundary line between these two friendly neighbors. The line of demarcation is the 49th parallel. The legal lesson from this is to pay close attention to the details in any contract. Failure to do so can create unexpected situations.
Fast forward to present day. During the peak of the corona virus pandemic, Point Roberts, Washington, due to circumstances flowing from the Oregon Treaty became what many people described “the safest place on earth”.
An odd result of the treaty was the creation of the pene-exclave where Point Roberts is located. This condition arises when part of a country can only be accessed on land by driving through the territory of another. Located just 22 miles from the bustling city of Vancouver, British Columbia, this tiny American city of 4.8 square miles is cut off from the state of Washington. Before the pandemic this was not a major problem for the 1,314 Americans that call the tiny town home. They could easily pass through the checkpoint into Canada on a daily basis. However, when the border was shut down the inhabitants became completely isolated and could only reach the American mainland by boat. While devastating to the local economy, an upside was that few of their residents contracted Covid-19.
It is doubtful that any of the American or British representatives who negotiated the Oregon Treaty expected the possibility of the creation of a pene-exclave when it was signed. If they would have, language certainly could have been included prohibiting such a boundary line as well as providing a mechanism to assign such territory to the respective countries. However, once the survey was completed the border became etched in stone. A treaty is a treaty, a contract is a contract and a deal is a deal. In this case the language in the treaty resulted in a windfall of a wee bit extra territory to the United States as a survey was not conducted until after the treaty was signed.
One should be patient and thorough when drafting contracts. Oftentimes the rush to “get the deal done” can interfere with this important objective. In the case of complex contracts, not every possible scenario is reasonably foreseeable. In order to plan for the unexpected, it is oftentimes advantageous for all parties to include binding alternative dispute resolution provisions in the contract. Mediation and arbitration are in many cases far preferable ways to resolve and impasse than the time and expense needed for litigation. History offers important lessons in both life and the law. When you need help with legal matters and especially contracts, call the one you can trust. Contact Chris today … click here.