Senate Executive Documents

Author: Alphonse Chodron de Courcel  | Date: 1895

Show Summary

Bering Sea Arbitration (1893)


[Baron Courcel.] GENTLEMEN: Now we have come to the end of our task. We have done our best to accomplish it, without concealing from ourselves the difficulties which complicated it, nor the heavy responsibilities which it has imposed upon us. Selected from various nationalities, we have not considered ourselves the representatives of any one in particular, nor of any government or any human power, but, solely guided by our conscience and our reason, we have wished only to act as one of those councils of wise men, whose duties were so carefully defined by the old capitularies of France.

To assist us, we have had at our disposition a library of documents, compiled with extreme care, and in order that we might not lose our way among so many sources of information, men holding a high rank among the most learned jurists and eloquent orators of which the Old or New Worlds could boast have been willing so liberally to bestow upon us their advice.

During weeks and months our labors have been prolonged, and it constantly appeared that some new matter had risen before us and that some new problem pressed upon our attention.

To-day . . . we are assembled to inform you of the result of our labors, hoping with all our hearts that they may be profitable to man, and conformable to the designs of Him who rules his destiny. . . .

We have felt obliged to maintain intact the fundamental principles of that august law of nations, which extends itself like the vault of heaven above all countries, and which borrows the laws of nature herself to protect the peoples of the earth, one against another, by inculcating in them the dictates of mutual good will.

In the regulations which we were charged to draw up we have had to decide between conflicting rights and interests which it was difficult to reconcile. The Governments of the United States of America and Great Britain have promised to accept and execute our decisions. Our desire is that this voluntary engagement may not cause regret to either of them, though we have required of both sacrifices which they may, perhaps, regard as serious. This part of our work inaugurates great innovation.

Hitherto, the nations were agreed to leave out of special legislation the vast domain of the seas, as in times of old, according to the poets, the earth itself was common to all men, who gathered its fruits at their will, without limitation or control. You know that even to-day, dreamers believe it possible to bring back humanity to that golden age. The sea, however, like the earth, has become small for men, who, like the hero, Alexander, and no less ardent for labor than he was for glory, feel confined in a world too narrow. Our work is a first attempt at a sharing of the products of the ocean, which has hitherto been undivided, and at applying a rule to things which escaped every other law but that of the first occupant. If this attempt succeeds, it will doubtless be followed by numerous imitations, until the entire planet, until the waters as well as the continents will have become the subject of a careful partition. Then, perhaps, the conception of property may change amongst men. . . .

[Lord Hannen.] . . . Mr. de Courcel, I have to discharge a duty which gives me peculiar satisfaction, I have to express to you our high appreciation of the manner in which you have presided over our deliberations. The public has had the opportunity of witnessing the sagacity, the learning, and the courtesy with which you have guided the proceedings during the arguments. Your colleagues only can know how greatly those qualities have assisted us in our private conferences. Let me add, that our intimate relations with you have taught us to regard you with the warmest esteem and affection. Permit me to say that you have won in each of us an attached friend.

I must not conclude without an allusion to the remarkable occasion which has brought us together. We trust that the result will prove that we have taken part in a great historical transaction fruitful in good for the world. Two great nations, in submitting their differences to arbitration, have set an example which I doubt not will be followed from time to time by others, so that the scourge of war will be more and more repressed. Few can be so sanguine as to expect that all international quarrels will be speedily settled by arbitration, instead of by the dread arbitrament of war; but each occasion on which the peaceful method is adopted will hasten the time when it will be the rule and not the exception.

One of our poets has said that every prayer for universal peace avails to expedite its coming.

We have done more than join in such a supplication; we may hope that we have been the humble instruments through whom an answer has been granted to that prayer which I doubt not ascends from the hearts of these two kindred nations, that peace may forever prevail between them. . . .

[Senator Morgan.] The arbitrators on the part of the United States most sincerely unite in the very happy expressions that have fallen from Lord Hannen, of grateful appreciation of the splendid hospitality of the French Government and people. . . .

If we should take a narrow view of the results of this arbitration, the United States would have a regret that the important judicial questions we have been considering were not stated in a broader form in the treaty between these great Powers. The opportunity was offered when the treaty was in process of formation to have presented in a more equitable light the rights of the nations to whose islands and coasts the fur-seals habitually resort for places of abode and shelter in the summer season; to control and protect them under the legal rules and intendments that apply universally to the animals that are classed as domestic, or domesticared animals, because of their usefulness to men.

My colleague and I concurred in the view that the treaty presented this subject for consideration in its broadest aspect. Our honorable colleagues, however, did not so construe the scope of the duty prescribed to the Tribunal by the treaty. They considered that these questions of the right of property and protection in respect to the fur-seals were to be decided upon the existing state of the law, and, finding no existing precedent in the international law, they did not feel warranted in creating one.

As the rights claimed by the United States could only be supported by international law, in their estimation, and inasmuch as that law is silent on the subject, they felt that under the treaty they could find no legal foundation for the rights claimed that extended beyond the limits of the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

This ruling made it necessary to resort to the power conferred upon the Tribunal to establish, by the authority of both Governments, regulations for the preservation and protection of the fur-seals, to which the treaty relates. In this new and untried field of experiment, much embarrassment rassment was found in conflicting interests of an important character, and yet more difficulty in the uncertainty as to the facts upon which regulations could be based that would be at once just to those interests, and would afford to the fur-seals proper preservation and protection.

The United States will fully understand and appreciate those difficulties, and will accept the final award as the best possible result, under existing conditions. A very large measure of protection is secured by the regulations adopted by the Tribunal to the Alaskan herd of fur-seals; and the virtual repression of the use of firearms in pelagic sealing is an earnest and wise guaranty that those common interests may be pursued without putting in serious peril the peace of the two countries.

, 53 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington, 1895), VII, pt. i, No. 177, pt. 1, pp. 71–73 passim.

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Senate Executive Documents

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Senate Executive Documents

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Alphonse Chodron de Courcel, Senate Executive Documents in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: Courcel, Alphonse Chodron de. Senate Executive Documents, Vol. VII, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Courcel, AC, Senate Executive Documents. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from