Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/The Oregon Question, part 1
THE OREGON QUESTION.
Ascending the Columbia River to the junction of its two main branches, and each of these branches in turn to its source, a point is reached to the north well toward the fifty-fifth degree of latitude, and another point to the south not far from the forty-first degree. Lines drawn through these two points directly west to the Pacific Ocean would divide the Pacific Coast of North America approximately into three great historic divisions. Previous to the year 1792, the coast north of the fifty-fifth degree had been explored and in some sort settled by Russia, and the sovereignty of Russia over it recognized; the part south of the forty-first degree had been explored and settled by Spain, and the sovereignty of it had been conceded to Spain; the middle part of the coast having been explored by both Spain and Britain, but settled by neither, the sovereignty of this was yet in abeyance. If the lines supposed to be drawn from the utmost north and south sources of the Columbia to the Pacific now be extended eastward to the crest of the Rocky Mountains, the territory included between these two lines, the Pacific Ocean and the crest-line of the Rocky Mountains, will embrace the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, with a considerable part of the states of California, Wyoming, and Montana, together with the greater part of British Columbia. It is the settlement of the question of sovereignty over the region thus roughly defined that is the subject of this paper.
During almost the whole period when its sovereignty was in question this region was commonly known in this country and in Europe as Oregon, the Oregon Country, or the Oregon Territory, and the question of its sovereignty as the Oregon Question. The country took its name from a legendary name of the river that defines it, a name given the river even before it had been seen by any white man. For many years previous to 1792 the existence of such a river in this region had been conjectured by explorers along the coast from signs they had observed in an indentation in the coast line, and by explorers in the interior from reports of such a river that reached them through native tribes supposed to dwell near its sources. It is to Jonathan Carver, a native of Connecticut, that we owe, as it is still thought, the name Oregon. In his journal of travels in the regions of the Upper Mississippi he speaks of four great rivers, flowing in as many directions, which took their rise, as he had heard from native tribes, somewhere in the mountains to the west. One of these was, as Carver writes in his journal, "the river Oregon, or the River of the West, which falls into the Pacific Ocean." Already, in Carver's day, and before the time of his travels, maps had appeared with a river marked in the region of what is now the Columbia, which bore the name, among others, of the River of the West, or the Great River of the West. Whether Carver thought of this river as the river of his tradition cannot now be known, but it is certain that the name which he heard or invented came before long to be attached to this river for a time at least, and for all time to the region defined by the river.
At the beginning of the year 1792, the United States had no claim to the region of the Oregon, but by an event of this year they were destined to become one of the chief parties to the question of its sovereignty. This year Capt. Robert Gray, of Boston, was for the second time on the coast, trading and exploring, under sanction of congress. At some time during his previous voyage, or in the earlier part of his second voyage, while sailing close in shore, Gray had discovered in a bay or indentation of the coast in latitude 46° 10´ what seemed to him to be the mouth of a large river. Under this impression, he had remained in the neighborhood nine days, making repeated attempts to cross the bar and effect an entrance. But every attempt had been without avail, on account of the violence of the breakers which reached across the opening; he had been obliged to relinquish the attempt and sail away, unable at this time to verify his discovery.
Captain Gray had spent the winter of 1791–92 in Clyoquot Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, with his ship Columbia. Resuming his voyage in the spring, and sailing southward, on the morning of April 28, in latitude 47° 37´, he fell in with Captain Vancouver, at anchor off Destruction Island. In answer to Vancouver's inquiries as to what discoveries he had made, Gray reported to him his discovery in latitude 46° 10´ of what he took to be the mouth of a large river. This Vancouver recognized as the Deception Bay of Captain Meares, which he had himself passed and examined on the morning of Friday, April 27, scarcely twenty-four hours before. Of his observations in this bay Vancouver had at this time made this record: "The sea now changed from its natural to river-colored water; the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay, or into the ocean to the north of it through the low land. Not considering this opening worthy of more attention, I continued our pursuits to the northwest, being desirous to embrace the advantages of the now favorable breeze and pleasant weather, so favorable to our examination of the coast." Vancouver's estimate as here given of the importance of this opening is confirmed by an entry in his journal Monday, April 30, two days after meeting with Gray. After parting from Vancouver, who continued his course to the north, Gray sailed on along shore southward, stopping here and there to examine the coast or trade with the natives, but evidently keeping in mind the bay which he had taken to be the mouth of a river. In the log-book of the Columbia, for May 11, there is this entry: "At 4 A. M., saw the entrance of our desired port bearing east-south-east, distance six leagues; in steering sails, and hauled our wind in shore. At 8 A. M., being a little to windward of the entrance to the harbor, bore away, and run in east-north-east, between the breakers. * * * When we were over the bar we found this to be a large river of fresh water, up which we steered."
Captain Gray remained in this river for nine days, during which time he explored it to a distance of thirty miles from the mouth. After filling the ship's casks with fresh water from the river, on May 20 he sailed out over the bar, having first given to the river his ship's name, the Columbia, which name the river has since borne.
From the mouth of the Columbia Gray sailed northward, and a few days later, having suffered some injury to his ship, put into Nootka Bay for repairs. Here he found Quadra, the Spanish commandant, to whom he communicated his discovery, and gave a chart of the mouth of the river. This title of Gray to be regarded as the discoverer of the Columbia River was then, by this immediate publication of the discovery, made secure, and it has never been successfully questioned. The existence of such a river had long before been conjectured; others, before Gray, sailing along the coast had remarked the same indentation, had noted its latitude, and observed signs of fresh water issuing from it; but it remained for Gray to surmount the obstacles to entrance and actually to sail in and cast anchor in the river.
It was this discovery of the Columbia River by Robert Gray, a citizen of the United States, sailing under the American flag, and with the sanction of congress, that first gave the United States a claim to the Oregon region. It was not, however, to be the only ground of that claim. Some years before the discovery of the Columbia by Gray, an exploration of the Oregon region had been projected by Americans. The project seems to have originated with Jefferson, and may be regarded as a fitting prelude to the later achievement by his administration of the Louisiana Purchase. In the year 1786, six years before Gray's discovery, while Minister to France, Jefferson became acquainted with John Ledyard, of Connecticut, who had been with Captain Cook in his last voyage in the Pacific, and who as corporal of marines had gained some reputation for enterprise and daring. Ledyard had come to Paris in search of an opportunity to engage in the fur trade of the Pacific, and, failing in this, was ready to enlist in almost any other enterprise of daring. Jefferson suggested to him the exploration of the northwest region of America. The plan was, as Jefferson himself gives it, that Ledyard "go by land to Kamchatka, cross in Russian vessels to Nootka Sound, fall down into the latitude of the Missouri, and penetrate to and through that to the United States." Jefferson's proposal was accepted by Ledyard, and steps were at once taken to secure from the Empress of Russia permission for him to cross her dominions. Failing to secure permission of the Empress, she being absent from her capital in a distant part of her dominions, Ledyard, impatient of longer delay, set out on his own responsibility, and got to within two hundred miles of Kamchatka, when he was arrested by an order of the Empress and taken back to Poland, where he was released. "Thus failed," writes Jefferson, "the first attempt to explore the western part of our Northern Continent."
The attempt failed, but Jefferson's interest in the exploration of this region did not die with it. Of a second attempt some years later he writes: "In 1792, I proposed to the American Philosophical Society that we should set on foot a subscription to engage some competent person to explore that region in an opposite direction—that is, by ascending the Missouri, crossing the Stony Mountains, and descending the nearest river to the Pacific." This plan too was attempted, but the seriousness of the projector's purpose was severely tried by the delay of years in raising the necessary funds. When at last, under the leadership of Captain Meriwether Lewis, later of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the explorers were well started on the way, the expedition failed through an order of the French minister recalling the botanist of the expedition, who was a citizen of France. "Thus failed," writes Jefferson again, "the second attempt to explore the Northern Pacific region."
Jefferson's interest in the exploration of the Northwest did not die with the failure of this second attempt. Delay in raising the necessary funds for the expedition had brought the setting out of the explorers down to the eve of an event that placed Jefferson in a position to further such an enterprise to a successful issue, and of another event which was to furnish a new motive to its undertaking. Early in the year 1801, when Jefferson had but just taken his seat as President, Rufus King, Minister of the United States to England, wrote to Madison, Secretary of State, that the opinion at that time prevailed both at Paris and at London that Spain had ceded Louisiana and the Floridas to France. Immediately on receipt of this information Madison wrote to Pinckney, American Minister to Spain, advising him of the rumor, and of the President's urgent wish that he make the whole subject the object of early and vigilant inquiries. Instructions to the same effect were given later to Robert R. Livingston on his departure as Minister to France. After more than a year of persistent inquiry on the part of both ministers it was ascertained that Louisiana had been transferred to France, and that the transfer probably included the Floridas. Uncertainty on the latter point, as we now know, arose from the uncertainty of the governments of France and Spain as to the limits of Louisiana. Meanwhile the government at Washington pressed its ministers at both courts to use every effort to secure to the United States the Floridas and New Orleans, with the Mississippi as our western boundary, and the free navigation of the river to its mouth. Events of the latter part of the year 1802, and especially the Spanish intendant's order excluding the United States from New Orleans as a place of deposit, together with France's open preparations for the occupation and colonization of New Orleans and Lower Louisiana, made the President yet more urgent in pressing for this end. So far, Jefferson's thought seems not to have gone beyond the limits of Madison's dispatch to Pinckney of May 11 of that year, "that every effort and address be employed to obtain the arrangement by which the territory on the east side of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, may be ceded to the United States, and the Mississippi be made a common boundary." The sentiment of the Atlantic States was at this time strongly averse to the extension of our territory west of the Mississippi River, and there is nothing in the government's dispatches up to the close of the year 1802 to indicate that Jefferson did not share in this sentiment. But there is that in Jefferson's action shortly after this that shows him to have been singularly open-minded to the suggestion of events, and to have been prompt to prepare to avail himself of whatever the rapid movement of events might offer of advantage to his government.
In October of this year, 1802, in a conversation with Livingston concerning Louisiana and the Floridas, Joseph Bonaparte put the question to Livingston pointedly whether the United States preferred the Floridas to Louisiana. Coming from this source, the question was felt by Livingston to have significance. Though he shrank from the thought of such an extension of our territory as the purchase of Louisiana would involve, he promptly communicated the substance of the conversation to the government at home, in a letter addressed to the President in person. This letter dated Paris, October 28, was due in Washington about the first of January. On the eleventh of January Jefferson sent a message to the Senate nominating "Robert R. Livingston to be Minister Plenipotentiary, and James Monroe to be Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, with full powers to both jointly, or to either on the death of the other, to enter into a treaty or convention with the First Consul of France for the purpose of enlarging and more effectually securing our rights and interests in the River Mississippi and the territories eastward thereof." Since the possession of these territories was understood to be still in Spain, Pinckney and Monroe were nominated with like powers to enter into a treaty with Spain to the same end. The words with which Jefferson prefaced this nomination of Monroe as Minister Extraordinary are worthy of note in this connection, and in view of what presently emerged in the negotiations in Paris. "While my confidence," writes Jefferson, "in our Minister Plenipotentiary at Paris is entire and undiminished, I still think that these objects might be promoted by joining with him a person sent from hence directly carrying with him the feelings and sentiments of the nation excited on the late occurrence, impressed by full communications of all the views we entertain on this interesting subject, and thus prepared to meet and to improve to an useful result the counter propositions of the other contracting party, whatsoever form their interests may give to them, and to secure to us the ultimate accomplishment of our object."
Whether Jefferson had in mind when he wrote these words any such "counter proposition" as was afterward actually made, we do not certainly know, but if he had had such in mind he could hardly have better provided for its prompt improvement to a useful result. Meanwhile events in Europe were shaping the suggestion of Joseph Bonaparte into a formal proposition from the First Consul. The renewal of hostilities between France and England was now imminent. In the event of war it was manifest to Napoleon that he would be unable to hold Louisiana against the sea power of England. Rather than that this valuable possession should fall into the hands of his enemy he resolved to sell it, if possible, to the United States, and thus win back the nation which his policy of colonization had well-nigh alienated, and at the same time recruit his depleted treasury. Negotiations to this end were already begun when Monroe arrived in Paris, and were continued after his arrival with scarcely a halt to their successful and memorable issue.
A third scheme of Jefferson's for the exploration of the northwestern region of the continent was coincident with these latter steps that led to the purchase of Louisiana. The message nominating Monroe as Minister Extraordinary was sent to the senate, January 11, 1803. January 18, Jefferson, taking occasion of the expiration of the term of an act establishing trading houses with the Indian tribes, writes to the senate on the subject of its renewal. In the course of the message, having touched upon the fact that the maintenance of such trading houses by the government deprived certain of our citizens of a lucrative trade, he suggests for the senate's consideration whether the government might not rightly do something to encourage such persons to extend their trade in the regions beyond the Mississippi, then proceeds to outline a plan for the exploration of a trade-route up the waters of the Missouri and through to the Western Ocean. "The interests of commerce," he urges, "place the principal object within the constitutional powers and care of congress, and that it should incidentally advance the geographical knowledge of our own continent cannot but be an additional gratification. The nation claiming the territory, regarding this as a literary pursuit, which it is in the habit of permitting within its dominions, would not be disposed to view it with jealousy, even if the expiring state of its interests there did not render it a matter of indifference. The appropriation of $2,500 'for the purpose of extending the external commerce of the United States,' while understood and considered by the executive as giving the legislative sanction, would cover the undertaking from notice and prevent the obstructions which interested individuals might otherwise previously prepare in its way."
Thus skillfully did Jefferson in a confidential message, as a matter incidental to the main purpose of the message, put before the senate a well reasoned scheme for the exploration of the territory for the purchase of which ministers already appointed were soon to negotiate. One can hardly read this message and weigh its carefully worded terms in the light of what was already in the knowledge of the President, without its awakening more than a suspicion that the possibility of the purchase of Louisiana by the United States was distinctly present to Jefferson's mind as he wrote, if it did not indeed lend urgency to his argument. It is worthy of note, at any rate, that the measures for the carrying out of this proposed scheme of exploration of the territory kept pace with the progress of the negotiations for its purchase, and quite outran the business of its transfer; for while the transfer of Louisiana was not consummated until December of that year, the commander of the expedition had been selected and commissioned, and the expedition organized as early as midsummer. Thus closely joined in time, if not otherwise intimately connected, were these two measures of Jefferson's earlier administration, the Louisiana purchase and the Lewis and Clark exploration. The promptness, energy, and efficiency with which the exploration was carried out under the able and courageous leadership of the man placed in charge, were altogether worthy of its distinguished projector. The two stand together, the purchase and the exploration, as worthy counterparts in what must forever be regarded as one of the most daring yet at the same time farsighted projects of statesmanship in American history.
These two measures have been dwelt upon thus at length because of their material importance to the ultimate settlement of the Oregon Question. The purchase of Louisiana brought the territory of the United States at the crest of the Rocky Mountains in contiguity with the Oregon region through seven degrees of latitude, while the Lewis and Clark expedition explored a continuous route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, through the very center and by the central artery of the region in question. These two events together made the second ground of our claim to the region of the Oregon. Furthermore, they made possible for the first time that movement of population across our border into this adjacent and unoccupied territory which by the law of nations was essential to the validity of our title,—that immigration of American families upon which, in spite of every earlier attempt at settlement, the final settlement of the question of sovereignty was destined to wait.
Louisiana had been purchased by the United States from France, or, rather, from the First Consul, who at the time embodied in himself the government of France. Spain, however, though by a convention three years before the sale having agreed to retrocede the territory to France, had remained in possession almost to the day of its transfer to our government, so that possession of the territory virtually passed to the United States immediately from Spain. The transfer left Spain still with possessions within the present boundaries of the United States of vast extent and of immense value. East of the Mississippi were the Floridas, and west of that river was a great region extending from the ill-defined western boundary of Louisiana westward to the Pacific. These were conceded possessions of Spain. Besides, Spain was a claimant, on the grounds of discovery and exploration, of the Oregon country.
Spain had long claimed exclusive sovereignty over this region, with the right to forbid the encroachment of other nations, on the ground that it belonged to that region allotted to her by the bull of Pope Alexander VI. England had never recognized Spain's claim to exclusive sovereignty based upon papal authority, but had asserted her right to settle upon any lands included within the limits prescribed by the papal bull, even if discovered by Spain, if, after a reasonable time allowed for settlement had passed, such lands remained unoccupied. This attitude of England's appeared in her policy as early as the reign of Elizabeth; it appears in the Queen's reply to the Spanish ambassador on occasion of his remonstrance against the expedition of Drake, "that she did not understand why either her subjects, or those of any other European prince, should be debarred from traffic in the Indies; that as she did not acknowledge the Spaniards to have any title by donation of the Bishop of Rome, so she knew no right they had to any places other than those they were in actual possession of; for that their having touched only here and there upon a coast, and given names to a few rivers or capes, were such insignificant things as could in no way entitle them to a propriety further than in the parts where they actually settled, and continued to inhabit." This principle, thus early enunciated, of actual settlement as essential to ultimate validity of title, is important to note, not only for its bearing against Spanish pretensions at this time, but because of its ultimate and decisive effect as against England herself in the settlement of the Oregon question. The same principle emerged again in 1770, in the affair of the Falkland Islands, and again still more distinctly ten years later in the Nootka Convention. The point at issue in each of these cases was that Britain claimed the right to make settlement upon a part of the American coast claimed by Spain but remaining unoccupied by her, while Spain denied this right and asserted her exclusive sovereignty over all such places. In order to give effect to this claim of exclusive sovereignty over the Northwest Coast of America, Spain had, within a few years previous to the Nootka Convention, given orders that the coasts of Spanish America should be more frequently navigated and explored, and, in view of the recent encroachment of navigators and traders of other nations in those parts, her "general orders and instructions were, not to permit any settlements to be made by other nations on the continent of Spanish America." It was in carrying out these orders that the Spanish Commandant Martinez, in the summer of 1789, finding two British vessels in Nootka Sound, attempting a settlement there, captured the vessels and broke up the settlement.
In the course of the negotiations that followed on this act of Spain's, the full extent of the Spanish claims appeared. As given by Count Nunyez, Spanish Ambassador at Paris, to M. de Montmorin, Secretary of the Foreign Department of France, June 1, 1790, it was claimed, "that, by treaties, demarkations, taking of possessions, and the most decided acts of sovereignty exercised by the Spaniards in those stations from the reign of Charles II, and authorized by that monarch in 1692, all the coast to the north of Western America, on the side of the South Sea, as far as beyond what is called Prince William's Sound, which is in the sixty-first degree, is acknowledged to belong exclusively to Spain." Not feeling sufficiently strong in herself to enforce this claim, and unable to secure the support of allies, Spain yielded this pretension so far as to make, July 24, 1790, a declaration to Great Britain in which the King of Spain engaged to make full restitution of all British vessels which were captured at Nootka, and to indemnify the parties interested in those vessels for the losses which they should be found to have sustained. "It being understood," the declaration concluded, "that this declaration is not to preclude or prejudice the ulterior discussion of any right which His Majesty may claim to form an exclusive establishment at the port of Nootka." The same day the British Minister at Madrid presented a counter declaration accepting the declaration of the Spanish King as offering "full and entire satisfaction" for the injury complained of, in which counter declaration, however, it was added at the same time "that it is to be understood that neither the said declaration, nor the acceptance thereof in the name of the King, is to preclude or prejudice, in any respect, the rights which His Majesty may claim to any establishment which his subjects may have formed, or should be desirous of forming in the future, at the said Bay of Nootka." The exchange of this declaration and counter declaration in July was followed in October of the same year by the conclusion of the Nootka Convention between Spain and Great Britain. The third article of this convention is: "And in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship, and to preserve in future a perfect harmony and good understanding between the two contracting parties, it is agreed that their respective subjects shall not be disturbed or molested, either in navigating or carrying on their fisheries in the Pacific Ocean, or in the South Seas, or in landing on the coast of those seas, in places not already occupied, for the purpose of carrying on their commerce with the natives of the country, or of making settlements there; the whole subject, nevertheless, to the restrictions and provisions specified in the following articles."
After all the restrictions of the later articles of this treaty are taken into view Britain may be regarded as having maintained her main contention: That she had a right to any establishment which her subjects might have formed, or shall be desirous of forming in future, in any unoccupied places on the islands or the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. The restrictions still left this clear, at least in respect to the Oregon region. In so far as Britain succeeded in maintaining in this convention this claim to the right of settlement, in so far was Spain's claim to absolute sovereignty to this region practically modified and limited. Unless Spain speedily made good her reserved right of sovereignty by actual occupation of the region in question, she must consent henceforth to hold her right of settlement as limited by a similar right now conceded to Britain. It is at this point in history, at the Nootka Convention, that the Oregon Question takes definite form: Whose shall the territory be? Shall it be Spain's? or shall it be Britain's? or shall it be divided between the two?
The story has already been told of the entrance of the United States into the question as a third claimant, through Gray's discovery, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The story of how the United States succeeded to the modified claim of Spain to the Oregon region belongs to the sequel of the Louisiana Purchase. The purchase of Louisiana left the United States with a group of intricate and delicate questions to settle with Spain, and with Spain in no mood for a speedy and amicable settlement. The transfer of Louisiana had not carried with it a clear definition of its boundaries. This was in part true of its boundary on the east, and especially true of its western boundary. Almost immediately on the transfer of the territory negotiations were begun with Spain on questions arising out of the transfer, or intimately connected with it. Two main objects of the negotiations on the part of the United States were, to secure from Spain, by purchase or otherwise, the cession of her remaining possessions east of the Mississippi, and the settlement of the boundary of Louisiana to the west. Any question in respect to the Oregon country seems not at first to have been present to the thought of either party. Negotiations were begun in 1804, and were continued, with intervals of interruption, until February 22, 1819, when, by a convention of that date, the Floridas were ceded by Spain to the United States, and a boundary line west of the Mississippi agreed upon. This western boundary line, after striking latitude 42° near the supposed source of the Arkansas River, was to run west on this parallel to the Pacific Ocean. Article III of this convention, after particularly describing this line, concludes: "The two high contracting parties agree to cede and renounce all their rights, claims, and pretensions to the territories described by said line: That is to say, the United States hereby cede to his Catholic Majesty, and renounce forever all their rights, claims, and pretensions to the territories lying west and south of the above described line; and, in like manner, his Catholic Majesty cedes to the United States all his rights, claims, and pretensions to any territories east and north of the said line; and for himself, his heirs, and successors renounces all claim to the said territories forever." Thus the Florida treaty, though making no mention of the Oregon Territory, incidentally carried with it the final delimitation of that territory on the south, and the transfer to the United States of the Spanish claim to Oregon. By this treaty the earliest claimant to the Oregon Territory ceased longer to be a party to the question of its sovereignty.
The question of sovereignty was not left to Great Britain and the United States alone, on the withdrawal of Spain. More than two decades before, Russia had entered this region with an assertion of her right to make settlement on unoccupied territory, and recently had grown somewhat imperious in the tone of her assertion of that right. This intrusion of Russia followed close upon the Nootka Convention, and was the logical consequence of the principle for which Great Britain had secured recognition in that convention. It will be remembered that Great Britain did not base her right to make, and to have restored to her, the Nootka settlement so much on priority in discovery of the region in which the settlement was made, as on the broader principle of her right to settle in any place by whomsoever discovered, which after a reasonable time she might find unoccupied. This principle could not be valid for England alone, and Russia was not long in discovering its wider validity. After England's previous assertion of this principle, in the affair of the Falkland Islands, Spain had taken alarm, and had sent explorers along the Northwest Coast with the intention of making good her claim to it by the northward extension of her settlements. In like manner Russia now began to extend her claim into new territory by availing herself of this same principle. The grant of Emperor Paul I to the Russian American Company in 1799 gave the company exclusive possession from latitude 55° northward to the Arctic Sea, with the right to extend their settlements south of 55°, if they did not thereby encroach on territories occupied by other powers. In the spring of 1808 the Russian government opened a correspondence with the government of the United States in relation to what Russia was pleased to term the illicit traffic of American traders with the natives inhabiting Russian territories. It appeared in the course of this correspondence that Russia claimed the coast at this time as far south as the Columbia River. The right to make settlements, or at least to establish trading posts, it seems she did not confine to this southern limit, for in 1816, a Russian trading post was established as far south as latitude 38°, in Northern California.
In this later and more aggressive policy of extending her claims southward, Russia is thought to have been influenced by the publication in Paris in 1808 of Humboldt's Political Essay on New Spain, in which such a destiny for Russia had been hinted at. However this may have been, it is certain that the accounts of Humboldt's travels were eagerly read by the Russian Emperor, and an increased boldness and aggressiveness are observable in Russian policy after the publication of this work.
The extreme of Russia's pretensions in the matter of extension of territory was reached in 1810, when the subject of the encroachment of American traders was brought again to the attention of our government. Mr. Adams, American Minister at St. Petersburg, in reply to the Russian Minister, suggested that, since it did not appear how far the Russians stretched their claim southward along the coast, it was desirable that some latitude be fixed as the limit, and that it should be advanced as little southward as might be. The answer of Russia was, that the Russian-American Company claimed the whole coast of America on the Pacific, and the adjacent islands, from Bering's Strait southward toward and beyond the mouth of the Columbia River. With this declaration of Russia's claim negotiations were broken off, and were not resumed until September, 1821, when Emperor Alexander issued a ukase, in which he declared all the Northwest Coast of America north of latitude 51° exclusively Russian, and warned all other nations against intrusion within those limits. The extent of the territory claimed in this imperial ukase was less than that of the territory claimed by Russia in 1810, and in particular the extent of the claim was not so great southward. Several events had occurred since 1810 to limit the extent of Russia's claim, though scarcely to modify the imperiousness of her tone. To this intervening period belong the settlement at Astoria of the Pacific Fur Company in 1811, the exploration of the Upper Columbia the same year by David Thompson, an agent of the Northwest Company, with a view to the extension of the posts of his company far to the westward; the purchase two years later by the Northwest Company of the establishment of the Pacific Fur Company at Astoria, and its transfer a few days later to the British flag with the change of name to Fort George; the surrender of the fort in 1818 in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Ghent; the extension westward of the Hudson's Bay Company into this region, and its union in 1821 with its rival, the Northwest Company; and finally the extension over the settlements of the united companies, by an act of parliament in the same year, of the jurisdiction of the courts of Upper Canada.
These events had so changed the aspect of affairs on the Columbia at the time of the Russian Emperor's decree in 1821 as to leave him no alternative but to resort to the middle line, and drawing a line midway between the Anglo-American settlement at the mouth of the Columbia and the southernmost Russian settlement to the north of that river, to stand for a southern boundary for his possessions at the fifty-first parallel.
This decree, though it withdrew the line of territory claimed thus far northward, was yet offensive in tone and arbitrary in many of the regulations it sought to enforce against the citizens of other nations. Besides, it still encroached upon territory claimed by both Britain and the United States. Both England and America protested, and opened, each in her own behalf, negotiations with Russia which resulted in establishing in 1824 the line of 54° 40´ as the boundary between the territories claimed by Russia and those claimed by America, and in the following year the same line, with modifications to the east, as the boundary between the claims of Russia and those of Britain. These two conventions may be regarded as the final acts in the delimitation of the Oregon Territory.
JOSEPH R. WILSON.