This section is from the book "The Constitutional Law Of The United States", by Westel Woodbury Willoughby. Also available from Amazon: Constitutional Law.
Article III of the Constitution provides that the judicial power of the United States shall extend "to controversies between two or more States." During the colonial period disputes between the colonies, especially those in relation to boundaries, had been settled in the English courts. Thus, for example, Mason and Dixon's Line was thus established.1 Other intercolonial disputes were settled by the British Privy Council; for example, between Massachusetts and New Hampshire and New York in 1764.2
Under the Articles of Confederation, it had been provided that "The United States, in Congress assembled, shall ... be the last resort, on appeal, in all disputes and differences now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more States concerning boundary, jurisdiction, or any other cause whatever."
This jurisdiction, the Articles went on to provide, should be exercised by Congress by the appointment for each case of a special tribunal whose decision should be final and conclusive. Under the power thus granted a number of intercolonial disputes were presented. Two of these (between Massachusetts and New York, and South Carolina and Georgia) were settled by compromise out of court. A third, between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, resulted in the confirmation to Pennsylvania of the Wyoming region.3 Upon the whole, however, it would appear that this mode of settlement of disputes between the colonies proved by no means effective, for in Rhode Island v. Massachusetts4 we find Justice Baldwin in his opinion saying: "It is a part of the public history of the United States of which we cannot be judicially ignorant, that at the adoption of the Constitution there were existing controversies between eleven States respecting their boundaries, which arose under their respective charters and had continued from the first settlement of the colonies."
1 Penn. v. Baltimore, 1 Vesey. 44.
2 Cf. Story, Commentaries on the United States Constitution, § 1875.
3 Jameson, Essays in Constitutional History, Chapter I.
4 12 Pet. 657; 9 L. ed. 1233.