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309164.  Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:25 am Reply with quote

Question: What valuable commodity allows a US citizen to seize a territory on behalf of the US government?

Forfiet: Oil

Answer: Bird shit

The Guano Islands Act of 1856 authorized US citizens to take possession, on behalf of the U.S. government, of any unoccupied “island, rock or key” on which a guano deposit was found. It has never been repealed.

Mentioned in this biog of Leicester Hemingway
(and also, frustratingly, in the QI column)

309177.  Wed Apr 02, 2008 10:37 am Reply with quote

I tried that out on my husband, who immediately said 'oil' so I think Alan might be relied on to say that.

However, he also says that US citizens, whether or not they are quoting that law, are to this day trying to claim Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine. Geographically Machias Seal Island is south of the Canadian Grand Manan Island at the transition zone between the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. It is also in an area which the international courts failed to define when setting a boundary in a fishing dispute between the US and Canada. The Canadians have consistently strenuously objected to the extent of planting a lighthouse on it, which I suppose doesn't make it unoccupied now. I've just shot down that argument haven't I?

309234.  Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:28 am Reply with quote

I actually did know the answer, but only because it presented itself to me when I was researching the various Christmas Islands for a post on the Outside about three weeks ago (post 294992).

Machias Seal Island is one of half a dozen boundary disputes between the US and Canada which have been going for eons and seem unlikely ever to be properly resolved. I think it's the only one which affects any land though - the others are maritime. All the same, there's a reason why the lighthouse on Machias Seal Island is the only Canadian lighthouse that still has resident keepers ...


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