Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/The Oregon Question, part 2
THE OREGON QUESTION.
The conventions of 1824 and 1825 marked the formal and final withdrawal of Russia as claimant to the sovereignty of the Oregon country, or of any part of it. The convention of the former year pledged her withdrawal as claimant against the United States, that of the latter year as claimant against Great Britain. The boundaries of the territories in question were thus finally determined, and the parties to the dispute were reduced to the two nations by whom the question at issue was ultimately to be decided.
It was a great step taken toward settlement when the claims of all nations but Great Britain and the United States were eliminated from the question. But elimination of claims was not the only respect in which progress towards settlement had been made during the period which closed with the convention between Great Britain and Russia. The ten years between the treaty of Ghent and this convention show a substantial approach to agreement between Great Britain and America. The events of the year 1818 in particular mark this approach. This year, so important in the history of the relations between Great Britain and America, opened with the issue of the order of January 26 by the British government for the restitution of Fort George, the post at the mouth of the Columbia, which, under the name of Astoria, had been taken possession of by the British early in the late war. This order, which was formally carried out in October of that year, gains in significance the more closely the whole history of the case is examined. Astoria, it will be remembered, was the name of the trading post established in 1811 by the Pacific Fur Company, of which John Jacob Astor, of New York, was founder and chief stockholder. It was nominally an American company, and was established under the American flag; but of the party of thirty three that landed April 12, 1811, to form the settlement, all except three are said to have been British subjects. On the twelfth day of November, 1813, in the absence of Mr. Astor's agent, who was an American, Mr. McDougall, his sub-agent, a British subject, representing himself and the other partners present, likewise British subjects, signed the bills of sale, and delivered up Astoria to the Northwest Company, a British company. One month later, Captain Black, of the British navy, in the sloop-ofwar, Racoon, arrived in the Columbia, and took possession of Astoria in the name of his sovereign; and in honor of his sovereign changed the name to Fort George. He seems to have been chagrined not a little to find that, instead of the glory of battering down an American fort, nothing awaited him but to take peaceful possession in the name of his king of a British settlement.
By the first article of the treaty of Ghent, "all territory, places, and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war" should be restored. In view of the history just given, it is not strange that the British government, when called upon by the United States to make restitution of Astoria in accordance with this article of the treaty, objected, on the ground that the place was already a British settlement when taken possession of by a British officer. And yet, in the course of the negotiations that followed, Great Britain yielded this point, and through her representative, Lord Castlereagh, "admitted, in the most ample extent, our right to be reinstated, and to be the party in possession while treating of the title.' Accordingly, October, 1818, the order first issued January 26 preceding, was executed, and Fort George was formally handed over to an American officer specially sent to the Columbia to receive it, and once more the American flag floated over this British settlement.
This act of restitution, under these circumstances, can hardly be regarded as less than a concession on the part of Great Britain, a concession the full significance of which appears only when the act of restitution is taken in connection with the convention of joint occupation entered into by the two governments that year, and with certain intimations made by the British Plenipotentiaries in the conferences which led up to that convention. It was in this convention that the boundary between the two countries west from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains on the forty-ninth parallel was agreed upon. In the preliminary conferences the representatives of Great Britain insisted that the boundary west of the Rocky Mountains should be settled at the same time with the boundary eastward; that the two should stand or fall together. In response to this wish, the American representatives proposed that the same line of the forty-ninth parallel be extended westward to the Pacific. This the representatives of Great Britain refused to accept, nor would they themselves propose a line; but they did intimate that the Columbia River itself was the most convenient boundary that could be adopted, and that they would not agree to any boundary that did not give to Great Britain a harbor at the mouth of the Columbia River in common with the United States. The American representatives not consenting to this, after further proposals and counter proposals, none of which were acceptable to both governments, it was finally agreed to adopt the now celebrated plan of joint occupation as that plan is embodied in the third article of the convention of that year.
Thus it is that the order of the British government for the restitution of Astoria at the opening of the year 1818, taken in connection with all the circumstances of the case, and the convention of joint occupation made by the two governments at the close of the year, taken in connection with concessions in conferences made by both parties, make this year an era in the history of the Oregon Question. In particular, two important lines had been proposed and discussed, each proposal showing an important concession, on the part of the party making it, and each line proposed practically setting a limit for the future, in its direction, to the territory that remained in question. For it may safely be said that from this time the extreme limits of the claims of the several parties were fixed; that henceforth the United States would not press their claim to territory north of latitude 49, nor would Great Britain press hers to territory south of the Columbia. The territory longer in question lay between these two lines, and it is doubtful if ever after this year there was a time when the question might not have been settled by Great Britain's consenting to the line of the forty-ninth parallel, or by the United States' consenting to that of the Columbia. With these limits to their several claims practically agreed upon by Great Britain and the United States, and a plan of joint occupation adopted at the close of the year 1818, it remained only to eliminate claims of other nations to the territory in order to reduce the question to its simplest terms. This elimination, as we have seen, was effected try the conventions of 1819, of 1824, and of 1825, the last of which left Britain and America free to settle the question of sovereignty between themselves.
The conditions of the Oregon Question at the close of the period ending 1825 were, upon the whole, not unfavorable to America. It is true Great Britain was the party in possession at this time through the settlements of the Hudson's Bay Company, but when it is remembered that these settlements were made even before the more important concessions of the conventions were made, these concessions are only the more strongly significant of the disposition of the government of Great Britain to treat fairly, at least, the claims of America. It is especially significant of this disposition that the settlement at Fort George was abandoned in the spring of 1825 by the British company in the expectation that the Americans would speedily occupy it, and, though the Americans failed at once to occupy it, it was left by the British unoccupied for five years, as if they were waiting for the Americans to come and claim their own. When we remember Britain's well known doctrine, of occupation within a reasonable time as necessary to establish full title to lands claimed on the ground of prior discovery and exploration, this can hardly be regarded as else than an invitation on the part of Britain to the United States to come and make good their title to at least that part of Oregon that lay south of the Columbia.
Occupation had been attempted, it will be remembered, in the case of the establishments of the Pacific Fur Company at Astoria and other points on the south and east of the Columbia. The whole conduct of England in regard to these establishments, made for the purposes of trade, goes to show that she regarded them as belonging to a legitimate mode of occupation, the right of which she not only assumed to herself, but was ready to allow to America. The failure of the settlements and their ultimate abandonment as a mode of American occupation were due to the accidents of war, not to the interference of diplomacy. The convention of 1818, of joint occupation, was the embodiment of no new principle, but simply the formal assent of both parties to a principle of occupation assumed by America in the Astoria settlements, and by Great Britain in those in the valley of the Columbia, and by each tacitly allowed to the other.
In 1821, however, three years after the convention of joint occupation, a movement was begun in the Congress of the United States toward an occupation of the territory in dispute, of a very different character, which, if it had actually been adopted as a measure enjoined upon the executive, and once been attempted to be carried out, would have met from Great Britain a very different response. In the house of representatives, December 10, 1821, on motion of Mr. Floyd, of Virginia, a committee was appointed to inquire into the expediency of occupying the Columbia River and the country adjacent thereto; and the committee had leave to report by bill or otherwise. Later in the same session this committee reported a bill providing for the occupation of the mouth of the Columbia. The occupation contemplated by this bill was to be, first of all, military occupation, or, as one of the advocates of the bill wished to make it by amendment, "an occupation by military force only, with some encouragement to settlers.' The view of the territorial rights of the United States in that region on which the bill was based was briefly and clearly put by another of its advocates: "The bill under consideration does not attempt a colonial settlement. The territory proposed to be occupied is already a part of the United States." The convention of joint occupation of 1818 left the question of sovereignty of the entire territory westward of the Rocky Mountains in abeyance. All occupation, therefore, of any part of this territory, to be lawful under this convention, must be of such a nature as to leave the question of sovereignty to be settled by agreement of the powers participant in the convention. Whatever rights either of the' two parties to the convention had, or conceived that it had, by the act of entering into the convention it agreed, so long as the convention was in force, neither to assert sovereignty, nor to do any act in the territory covered by the convention that could be justly construed as an act of sovereignty. What acts the two powers might lawfully do under the convention were not clear at first, but it is difficult at this day to understand how anyone who looked carefully into the question could have failed to see that the acts contemplated in this first bill providing for occupation were not such as could lawfully be done under the convention. The same may be said of all the measures proposed in congress in regard to the occupation of the territory during the earlier period of the convention. There were men in congress who saw the unlawful character of each measure as it was proposed, and opposed it on this ground. Others joined these actively, on the ground that the Oregon Territory, if settled, because of its distance and the barriers which separated it from the United States, never could become a part of the union. To these were added enough who based their opposition on other grounds to defeat every such measure, either in the senate or in the house, or, as was the case in the early history of congressional agitation, in both houses of congress.
This early discussion in congress of our interests in Oregon, though it failed to reach any practicable plan of occupation, was not without valuable results. It served to clarify the minds of men in congress, and out of it, on the nature of the question involved, and through the information brought out and published in the course of the debates and reports went far toward enlightening the public mind on the character and resources of the territory in dispute. In the course of the negotiations that preceded the convention of 1818, and led up to it, Mr. Adams, as Secretary of State, in a letter of instructions to the American Plenipotentiaries, had expressed his gov-. ernment's low estimate of the interests involved in the Oregon Question. "It may be proper," he then wrote, "to remark the minuteness of the present interests, either to Great Britain or to the United States, involved in this concern, and the unwillingness, for this reason, of this government to include it among the objects of serious discussion with them."
Such words, written on the eve of the first congressional agitation of the question, could hardly have been written at the close of that discussion. For at that time the Oregon Question had become a matter of widespread interest, and both government and people were disposed to include it among objects of serious discussion. Agitation of the question in congress had the further effect of bringing the two governments to make another attempt to effect a settlement by convention. In 1824, when measures providing for occupation had been discussed in congress for three years, Mr. Adams, Secretary of State, wrote that though the government was aware that the convention of 1818 between the United States and Great Britain had four years to run, the President was of the opinion that the present was not an unsuitable moment for attempting a new and more definite adjustment of the claims of the two powers in question; that the Oregon Territory was a country daily assuming an aspect political, commercial, and territorial of more and more interest to the United States. Negotiations were at this time renewed between the two governments, but failed to issue in any agreement. Two years later they were resumed, on motion of the British government, but the two governments adhering substantially to their several positions of 1818, no settlement was reached. The third article of the convention of 1818 was, however, renewed for an indefinite period. In the communications of Mr. Clay to Mr. Gallatin during this period of negotiation, there is manifested an increase of interest in the question on the part of the American government, even over that of two years before.
The depth of this interest and the source of its inspiration appear from various expressions of these official communications. "The President," Mr. Clay writes, "is anxious for a settlement on just principles. Such a settlement alone would be satisfactory to the people of the United States, or would command the concurrence of the senate." "Much better," he continues, "that matters of difference should remain unadjusted than be settled on terms disadvantageous to the United States, and which, therefore, would be unsatisfactory to the people and to other departments of government."
From these words, and words of like tenor, it is evident that from this out an interested people and an alert congress will have part in shaping the policy of the government on the Oregon Question. It is to be noted, too, that the government of the United States did not advance its demands beyond the terms proposed at first, nor longer minimized the interest of the question to itself, and that it took a firmer stand on the boundary proposed. The Secretary of State now wrote of the line of latitude 49 as a concession on the part of his government, and boldly declared that as such it was an ultimatum.
After the renewal, in 1827, of the third article of the convention of 1818, with a provision for its indefinite continuance, or its abrogation by either power on due notice, the subject drops out of congress for a period of ten years, but only to return at the end of that time on the demand of that voice which, as we have just observed, the administration of Mr. Adams had already heard and attended to. This interval is an important period in the history of the Oregon Territory. The two governments stand stubbornly each on the boundary line of its own proposal, the United States for the line of latitude 49, Great Britain for the line of the Columbia, seemingly making no approach to an agreement. Other influences, however, were at work preparing the way for final settlement, and determining the lines on which that settlement should be made.
The ten years between the renewal, in 1827, of the convention of 1818, and the resumption of the discussion of the subject in congress in the year 1837, present a new phase of the Oregon Question, and may be termed the period of early American settlement. In thus designating this period, the settlement of Astoria in 1811 has not been forgotten. It has already been shown that, though projected and supported by an American capitalist, and made under letters from the American government and the protection of the American flag, that settlement was scarcely entitled to be called an American settlement; that whatever of American character it had in its inception it lost two years later in its transfer to a British company and to the protection of the British flag. The settlement of Astoria, even as a British settlement, was not of a permanent character. It contributed, it is true, a few settlers to later communities as they were established, but by far its greatest contributions to the settlement of the Oregon Question was in the diplomatic transfer which it was the occasion of under the terms of the treaty of Ghent. It did serve under the provisions of that treaty to secure to the United States the valuable concession from Great Britain of their right to be in possession of this position on the south bank of the Columbia, pending the final settlement of the question of sovereignty over the territory. As a permanent American settlement, however, it has no place in the history of Oregon.
There is reason, therefore, in making the period of early American settlement begin with the period mentioned. No actual settlement, it is true, was made at the very first of this period, but about this time the question of colonizing the region of the Columbia River began to be seriously agitated in various parts of the United States. A company having this end in view was organized about this time in Boston, and another in New Orleans, while in various parts of the country the propriety of forming such organizations was seriously discussed. Every effortwas made by these societies, and by individuals whose interest in the subject had been awakened, to obtain and disseminate such information as should awaken popular interest in the territory and further the ends of its colonization.
The first enterprise that followed from this agitation, was that of Nathaniel J.Wyeth, of Boston, for the establishment of a settlement for trade and agriculture on the Lower Columbia. After the failure of a first attempt in 1832, Wyeth succeeded in the year 1834 in planting a small settlement on Wapato Island, at the junction of the Willamette with the Columbia. Untoward circumstances and disaffection among his followers defeated his first attempt, and sent him back to the east, after two years of gallant struggle, feeling that his second was far from successful. His settlement, while it has had in some sense an unbroken continuity, and has contributed of its members to the subsequent settlements in Oregon, can hardly be said to have had the character of a permanent colony. The largest results of Wyeth 's enterprise are rather to be looked for in the contribution he made in various ways to the furtherance of other enterprises than his own.
Substantially the same may be said of the enterprise of Hall J. Kelley, the leading promoter of one or more of the emigration societies already mentioned. He contributed materially to the ultimate settlement of the territory by his persistent and widespread agitation in the east, and later in some measure by bringing into the Willamette Valley a small band of men, some of whose number became permanent settlers. No colony, however, was planted in this region under his leadership, and he did not himself finally make Oregon his home.
The American settlements in Oregon that have thus far been mentioned, were organized primarily for the purpose of trade, and that, too, trade of a character that was not likely to bring into the country and permanently establish there colonists that should become rooted to the soil. Traders and trappers might in time abandon their pursuits as such, and, attaching themselves as individuals to a settled community, become useful members of that community, as more than one such did in the early history of Oregon, but no aggregation of such men, brought together for their own peculiar purposes, was likely to become an organic society, with powers of life and growth.
The American settlements in Oregon thus far lacked the first essential to the planting even of the germs of a state. In no one of them was there so much as one American home, nor were there the elements of one. An American white woman had not yet set foot on Oregon soil, nor any woman, save the native and her offspring. It was now more than a score of years since that first settlement at Astoria, but Oregon still waited the coming of that institution that lies at the foundation of every American state, the American family.
About the time of Wyeth's first expedition, there appeared in Saint Louis what had somewhat of the character of a delegation from the native tribes west of the Rocky Mountains. It consisted, as the story runs, of four or five men from the Nez Perce tribe, who, having heard of the White Man's God and his Book, were come to ask that men be sent to teach their people of these. The story of this strange and interesting mission was taken up by the press and spread throughout the country. It gave a new impulse and a new direction to the efforts of missionary societies for the evangelization of the native tribes. One of the first fruits of this new interest in missions was the organization bj the Mission Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church of a mission to the Oregon Indians. This mission, as finally constituted, consisted of the Reverend Jason Lee, as leader, and his nephew, Daniel Lee, and three lay members, Cyrus Shepard, Philipp L. Edwards, and Courtney M. Walker, five in all, a mission of men only. Sending their goods and supplies by sea to the Columbia, they joined Wyeth in the spring of 1834, and traveled with him overland, reaching Vancouver about the middle of September of that year. After personal examination of the field by the leader, it was determined that the mission should settle in the Willamette Valley, and a spot was fixed upon not far from the site of the present town of Salem, and within easy reach of a settlement already made by some retired employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. The object of the mission was the evangelization of the Indian tribes of the valley, seemingly with little thought at first of contributing to the colonization of the country. This mission, indeed, the first among the Oregon Indians, like the trading settlements that preceded it, lacked as first constituted one essential to permanence. It did not include the family. The mistake was doubtless early seen by the missionaries themselves, but was not remedied until the arrival of the first reinforcement to the mission, more than two years later. From the coming of the first reinforcement in the spring of 1837, and the constitution thereupon of several families, the mission began to take on somewhat of the character of a permanent settlement, and with still further reinforcements a year or two later, became the nucleus of the first permanent American colony in the Willamette Valley.
In the meantime a second mission had been established east of the Cascade Mountains. In the summer of 1836, Dr. Marcus Whitman and Mrs. Whitman, the Rev. Henry H. Spaulding and Mrs. Spaulding, and William H. Gray, under commission from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, crossed the Rocky Mountains, and settled among the native tribes of the Upper Columbia. The primary object of this mission, as was that of the mission to the tribes of the Willamette Valley, was the evangelization of the Indians. But this mission, unlike that, was based from the first on the family, and thus brought with it this first condition of permanence. Within its limited number were the two first American white families to settle in Oregon, and were included for a period of six months or more the only American white women dwelling west of the Rocky Mountains. From its original number, and more largely from its later reinforcements, the mission made valuable contributions to the body of permanent settlers, but perhaps its greatest contribution to the history of Oregon was one incidental to its primary work as a mission, in its showing to America and the world by its own first treading of the same, that there was an open pathway for American families through the Rocky Mountains into the valley of the Columbia. This mission thus demonstrated for the first the practical contiguity of the Oregon Territory to the United States. It was this contiguity as it was subsequently made patent that was, almost more than all else, to influence the Oregon Question to an issue favorable to the United States. Whitman seems to have seen this from the first. The settlement of the Oregon Question came to appear to him simply a matter of prior settlement of the territory from contiguous states, and such prior settlement was a question only of an open pathway through the intervening mountains. To his mind, therefore, the first duty of the American government was not in military occupation of the region in question, nor in the extension over it of civil jurisdiction, but in making the pathway thither already pointed out, a plain and safe highway for American settlers. This done, the people would do the rest.
In the year 1837, after a silence of nearly ten years, the Oregon Question was again moved in congress. Many things had happened in the interval since its last appearance there to make it certain that with its reappearance the question had come to abide until settled. The settlements already mentioned, small as they were, were not inconsiderable in their influence at the east. They were the centers of ties that reached back into various influential communities in the states of the union; nor were the men who composed the settlements slow to avail themselves of every such tie to make and influence public sentiment at home. The same energy and indomitable spirit which they manifested in reaching the new land, were shown again in their efforts to enlighten the country in regard to the land they had come to possess, and to persuade others to join them in their efforts to take and keep possession of it. Never was a new country so much talked of, nor its excellencies so enthusiastically set forth, when those who could do so from experience were so few. From the time the first real American colony was founded in Oregon, and there had been time for word from it to reach the states from which its' members had come, neither the government nor the country was ever allowed for long at a time to forget the existence of Oregon, of the Oregon colony, or of the Oregon Question.
In the late summer of 1835, President Jackson, through certain letters, as it appears, of William N. Slacum, a paymaster in the navy, who at that time was spending some months in Alexandria, Virginia, on sick leave, became strongly of the mind that the bay of San Francisco should be in the possession of the United States. He almost immediately, on receipt of these letters, directed Mr. Forsythe, Secretary of State, to write to Anthony Butler, then in Mexico for the purpose of negotiating the purchase of Texas, enlarging his instructions so as to include the purchase of so much of the possessions of Mexico on the coast as would embrace the bay of San Francisco. A little later the same year President Jackson commissioned Slacum to visit the North Pacific Coast, directing him at the earliest opportunity after arriving in the Pacific, "to proceed to and up the Oregon, to obtain specific and authentic information in regard to the inhabitants of the country, the relative number of whites and Indians; the jurisdiction which the whites acknowledged; the sentiments entertained by all in respect to the United States and the two European powers having possessions in that region; and finally all information, political, statistical, and geographical, that might prove useful and interesting to the government.' The commission thus specifically and somewhat peremptorily given was fulfilled with promptness and energy, and, though the chief by whom the commission had been given had retired from office before Mr. Slacum 's return, the country was not deprived of the results of the investigation. In December, 1837, through a memorial presented by Mr. Slacum to congress, and by congress ordered to be published, coincident with the recurrence of the discussion in congress of the Oregon Question, congress and the country had the detailed results of this first official inquiry into the condition and prospects of the settlements in the region of the Columbia.
Throughout this period when the question was in abeyance, individual explorers, American and British, had from time to time visited this region and had returned to write for eager readers of what they saw and learned in the strange new land, until a piqued interest on two continents was alert for the next news from Oregon. The publication at the close of this period of Irving's Astoria in 1836, and of his Adventures of Captain Bonneville in 1837, books which were themselves the offspring of the widespread and romantic interest already felt, served in turn to make that interest still more keen, and to awaken it in minds where else it had never been felt.
But greatest among all the forces that had been at work during this period toward the solution of this question was one that had worked silently and unobserved, but persistently and effectively, and withal wholly in the American interest. In the ten years that followed the extension of the convention of 1818, more than three hundred thousand people, immigrants from foreign lands and emigrants from older states, had crossed the Mississippi and settled in the two states of Arkansas and Missouri, and the territory of Iowa. At the close of this period, when congress again took up the question more than half a million of people were settled between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, and of these more than three hundred thousand were in Missouri alone, the state which stood upon the highway to the new country, and nearest to the gate of entrance. The fact of this great array of American families fast moving toward the intervening barrier, and all but pressing upon it, with myriads 2 of other families in the older states following after, taken together with the door open no farther than it had been proved to be open by the few American families that had passed through, should have been enough to assure any calm observer of what the issue was to be. There were such observers whom it did so assure, and their calm faith and clear forecast stood the nation in good stead in the exciting debates that were to follow.
The second period of the discussion of the Oregon Question in congress began late in the year 1837, near the close of the first session of the twenty-fifth congress. It was opened a few days before adjournment by each house calling upon the President "to furnish at an early period of the next session any correspondence that may have taken place between the government and foreign powers in relation to our territory west of the Rocky Mountains.To both these resolutions the President, promptly on the opening of the next congress, replied that no correspondence whatever had passed between the government of the United States and any other government in relation to that subject since the renewal in 1827 of the convention of joint occupancy. It thus appeared that while the subject had been in abeyance in congress it had been equally so in the executive department of the government, and it was not destined to reappear in this department for a further period of more than four years. Meanwhile the subject in one form or another was seldom absent for long at a time from the discussions of congress. This was especially true of the senate, where, in the person of Dr. Lewis F. Linn, senator from Missouri, the title of the United States to Oregon and the cause of the citizens of the United States who had settled there found an earnest advocate and a zealous and indefatigable friend. Measures were introduced in both houses of congress, by Doctor Linn in the senate, and by Mr. Gushing in the house, looking to the occupation and settlement of Oregon. These first measures elicited but little debate, and failed of reaching action. They did, however, by bringing out reports from the executive and committees, get before congress and the country a large amount of information on the subject. In the house, after a year of unavailing effort to reach action on the measures introduced, the subject remained again in abeyance for two or three years. In the senate, however, chiefly through the active interest of Doctor Linn, new measures were introduced each session which, though failing in every case of reaching the point of action, gained more and more the ear of the senate and a wider attention in the country. In each of the measures as thus far proposed there was some vitiating clause or provision which to the calmer and clearer minds in the senate made it inconsistent with the terms of the existing convention. It was open to congress to abrogate that convention by giving due notice to Great Britain, and so to open the way for a larger action on the part of the government, and resolutions to this effect were introduced, but neither congress nor the country as yet was ready for this step. Not yet clear as to what action should next be adopted, congress was not prepared to remove this bar to hasty or ill-advised measures. Thus far the convention had certainly been in the interests of peace, and had not seriously interfered with the progress of settlement.
The year 1842 was an important one in the history of the Oregon Question. Early that year Doctor Linn had returned to the contest in the senate with new zeal and determination, and other friends in congress and out of it came to his support. His bill, as heretofore, was a bill for the adoption of means for the occupation and settlement of the Oregon Territory, and the extension of the jurisdiction of our courts over our citizens settled there, with a provision promising a large grant of land to actual settlers. This and previous bills had been prefaced by a declaration that the United States held its title to the Oregon country valid, and would not abandon it. The year opened with better promise of favorable action than heretofore; the preamble, while its adoption was strongly opposed by the majority in the senate, had brought from even those who opposed its adoption the declaration that it was a just expression of the sentiment of the country, while the provision for the land grant to settlers, though opposed for the present on the ground that it was not consistent with the convention, was acknowledged by all to contemplate but a just compensation, which should be made in due time, to pioneers who had taken the hardships and risks of early colonization. The bill at this session had been presented under most favorable auspices; the select committee to which it had been referred was of great influence in the senate, and had unanimously instructed their chairman to report the bill with the recommendation that it pass. And yet, though thus auspiciously introduced, for some reason as the months of the session went on it failed of being vigorously pressed. We have the explanation of this in Senator Linn's own words, spoken in the senate on the last day of August, the closing day of the session. After speaking of the favorable circumstances attending the introduction of the bill, Senator Linn continued: "It was thus placed in its order upon the calendar, but upon its coming up for consideration as a special order Lord Ashburton arrived from England, to enter upon a negotiation touching all points of dispute between the two countries, boundaries as well as others, Oregon as well as Maine. In this posture of affairs it was considered indelicate, not to say unwise, to press the bill to a decision while these negotiations were pending. They are now over, and a treaty is published to the world between the United States and Great Britain, in which it seems that the question of the Oregon Territory has been deferred to some more remote or auspicious period, for an ultimate decision.' In conclusion Mr. Linn said that he was confident that there were majorities in both houses for this bill; and he felt equally certain that it would have passed at this session but for the arrival of Lord Ashburton, and the pendency of the negotiations. He gave notice that he would deem it "his imperative duty" to bring in at an early day of the coming session this same bill, and press it to a final decision. That the decision would be favorable he did not entertain the slightest doubt, and he took pleasure in making that opinion public "for the satisfaction of all those who might take an interest in this beautiful country, the germ of future states to be settled by the Anglo-American race, which will extend our limits from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean."
There is a tone of confidence in the words with which Senator Linn dismissed the bill of 1842 that was not wholly unwarranted. As he spoke he was aware that the largest colony of American settlers that had ever set out for Oregon, a colony of staunch men and women, who had been encouraged to set out by the assurances which his bill had given, were then steadily nearing their destination. He was aware, too, that in the brief time since the publication of the Ashburton treaty, in which no mention was made of the Oregon boundary, congress and the country had shown a temper that promised well for his measure when next it should be introduced.
The interval between the publication of the treaty, August 9, and the reassembling of congress in December, was one of earnest and often heated discussion, not only of the provisions of the treaty, but of its one noted omission. No satisfactory reason had yet been given why the Oregon boundary had not been included with that of Maine. This omission, taken together with intimations that soon reached the public that the two governments were again engaged in negotiations on this subject, began to awaken, in some quarters, at least, fears for the result. The nature and ground of these fears, as far as they were capable of being denned, may be seen in the declaration of the legislature of Illinois, prefixed to resolutions on the Oregon Question presented to congress early the next session. That declaration was, that "the safety of the title of the United States [to Oregon] was greatly endangered by the concessions made in the late treaty in relation to the boundary of Maine, by her rights not being persisted in and made part of said treaty, and will be more endangered by longer delay."
In his annual message to congress, December 6, 1842, President Tyler, after giving as the reason for the omission of the Oregon boundary from the late treaty the fear that its discussion might imperil the treaty as a whole, went on to express the purpose of the administration to urge upon the government of Great Britain the importance of an early settlement of this question. A few days later, the senate passed a resolution calling upon the President to communicate to the senate the nature of any "informal communications' that might have passed between the Secretary of State and the Special Minister of the British Government on the question of the Oregon boundary. To this resolution the President, in his message of December 23, answered that measures had been already taken in pursuance of the purpose expressed in his annual message, and, under these circumstances, he did not deem it consistent with the public interest to make any communication on the subject. But neither the President's expressed purpose, nor his subsequent declaration that measures in pursuance of that purpose had already been taken, stayed the progress of measures in congress.
On the nineteenth of December, in accordance with his promise made at the close of the last session of congress, Mr. Linn introduced a bill of like import with that of the former session. This bill was referred to a select committee, of which Mr. Linn was chairman, and was soon reported back to the house, when it was made a regular order for immediate discussion. The discussion was continuous and earnest for more than a month, w r hen by a vote of twenty-four to twenty-two it passed the senate. A vote of reconsideration failing to pass, the bill went to the house, and was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, of which John Quincy Adams was chairman, by whom, a few days later, it was reported to the house with the recommendation that it should not pass. Thus the bill failed of finally becoming a law, and doubtless many who advocated it in the senate, on cooler reflection, felt that it was w T ell that it did fail. In a wider view, however, the measure was not a failure, for it served its object well, though not in the way its supporters intended. Few bills ever have called out from the senate a more earnest or an abler discussion. The best talent of the body was enlisted in the discussion, the spirit in which the debate was carried on was broad and patriotic, and for the progressive illumination of the subject under discussion the debate has never been surpassed. When it closed there remained little to be said. The future course of congress in the matter was practically settled in this debate and the action which followed; while in the course of the discussion, the pathway by which the question was ultimately to reach its solution was again and again pointed out. This was done by no one more clearly than by Calhoun, who spoke twice at length in opposition to the measure. He opposed the bill with the whole force of his power of keen analysis and convincing logic, but he opposed it because he saw in its adoption certain defeat of the very object which he in common with the promoters of the bill desired to reach. He counseled patience, and a strict abiding by the terms of the convention, at the same time assuring his countrymen that time and the sure movement of population toward and into the region in question were certain to bring the solution desired. So accurately did he foresee and describe the course by which the question would advance to its final settlement, that his words at this day read rather like an epitome of history than what they were, a forecast of events.
American colonists in Oregon at that moment were not indeed sufficiently numerous to promise a speedy fulfillment of this prophesy. All told, they scarcely numbered five hundred, men, women, and children, and included not more than two score American families. They were enough, however, to test the excellence of the land, and enough of them had entered through the gateway of the mountains to prove that the country was accessible to men and women who were serious in their purpose of reaching it. Then, too, at the moment when Mr. Calhoun was speaking, at various centers throughout the union and on the frontiers of Missouri, a colonv was or/ t/ ganizing of men and women of the best stuff of which new states are made, setting their faces toward the new land with the full purpose of making it their home. This colony, nearly double in its numbers the total American population then in Oregon, before the year ended, successfully passed the barrier of the mountains, and with its whole great caravan safely reached the valley of the Columbia. Thus, sooner perhaps, and with a stronger and bolder movement than Mr. Calhoun himself had expected when he spoke, the onward movement of population began to make good the words of his prophesy.
When, in February, 1843, the senate bill failed in the house, it was understood that the two governments were in communication on the subject of the Oregon Territory. It was this understanding more than anything else that led to the suppression of the Oregon bill in the Committee on Foreign Relations. No proposal had as yet been made in official form, but it is now known that the President and his secretary had a definite policy in mind, and that while desirous of checking any measures in congress which might hinder the negotiations which they aimed to bring about, they felt obliged to conceal the nature of their policy with the utmost care, for fear of arousing opposition in congress and the country. As it was, there was no little dissatisfaction in congress with the treaty which had just been negotiated by Webster and Lord Ashburton. Like most treaties on boundary lines, this treaty was a settlement by compromise. Many citizens from the section affected by the new boundary line, and enemies of the administration from all sections, were prompt to say that the secretary had yielded too much— that he had allowed the United States to be overreached in the negotiations. The friends of Oregon took alarm. They thought they saw in the omission of the Oregon boundary from the treaty an occasion for another compromise, in which there should be a surrender of territoiy justly claimed by the United States. That this fear was widespread in the states of the Mississippi Valley appears from the resolutions of state legislatures presented to congress early in the following session. In more than one set of these resolutions it was manifest, through plain statement or through implication, that apprehensions for Oregon had been awakened by the terms of settlement of the boundary line of Maine. There was reason for uneasiness in the well known leaning of Mr. Webster toward certain commercial advantages to be got by treaty from Great Britain, and his low estimate of the value of the Oregon Territory to the United States. We now know that for this and for other reasons the prevalent apprehensions of the time in regard to the Oregon Territory were not groundless. The evidence is now at hand that the President and his secretary did contemplate a treaty with England which would involve a surrender of territory on the North Pacific Coast such as no administration hitherto had been willing for a moment to consider. The compensation, however, for the territory surrendered was not, as was then surmised, to be found wholly, if at all, on the Atlantic Coast.
It will be remembered that the Oregon Question was not the only question that agitated the country at this time. There was the Texas question, well nigh as old as that of Oregon, lately become pressing through events in Texas itself, and through the growing importunity of the Southern States. Then, too, there was the California question, not a question of as widespread and popular interest as either of the others, but one which for a decade or more had been of growing interest to a narrow but intelligent circle. There was a popular demand for the assertion and maintenance of our rights in Oregon; there had come to be a popular demand for the annexation to the union, or the reannexation, as some chose to put it, of Texas; while as far back as the second administration of President Jackson there had been a desire on the part of farseeing statesmen to secure from Mexico the cession to the United States of so much of California as to include the bay of San Francisco. England was interested in Texas, was even thought by many in the United States to be contemplating making it a colony; England had influence with Mexico, her capitalists having loaned the Mexican government to the amount of $50,000,000 on security of lands in New Mexico, California, and other of her possessions; and England was urgent in all negotiations on the Oregon boundary that she be allowed free navigation of the Columbia, if not that that river be her southern boundary. In the United States, the slave states were desirous of Texas; the Western States pressed for the Oregon Territory at least to the forty-ninth parallel, while there was a growing desire in commercial centers in the North Atlantic States to have in American possession what was then regarded as the only ample and safe harbor on the North Pacific Coast south of the Straits of Fuca. Out of these various interests in England and America, President Tyler and Mr. Webster, his Secretary of State, shaped the policy of the administration. It is not likely that the President and his secretary were in entire accord on the details of the policy; but both alike were desirous that the administration should be signalized by a settlement through negotiation of the questions then pressing upon the country. In its earlier and more comprehensive form, the policy of the administration included all the questions that have been mentioned. These it sought to settle by a comprehension of them all in a tripartite treaty between the United States, Mexico and Great Britain, whereby it was hoped to secure from Mexico the recognition of the independence of Texas, and the cession to the United States of her possessions on the Pacific down to the thirty-sixth parallel. In compensation for her good offices in these matters, the United States was to yield to Great Britain all claim to the Oregon Territory down to the line of the Columbia Kiver. It was thought that the large acquisition thus secured of territory south of the forty-second parallel would compensate for the loss of Oregon north of the Columbia, while the northern and southern sections would be reconciled to the treaty by the large acquisition it secured north and south, respectively, of parallel thirty-six.
The plan of the administration included a special mission to England, on which it was expected Mr. Webster should be sent, that he might be the better able to negotiate the treaty; and, failing this, a mission to China, to which Mr. Everett, then Minister to England, should be transferred, thus still accomplishing the desired end by allowing Mr. Webster to take his place in London. The mission to England failed in committee; the mission to China passed in congress, but failed to carry Mr. Webster to England, through Mr. Everett's unwillingness to accept the China mission. With his failure to reach England at this time, Mr. Webster's hope of being able to effect a settlement of the questions pending between the two governments died; this having been his main reason for remaining in President Tyler's cabinet, his resignation shortly followed. And thus, with Mr. Webster's resignation from the cabinet, passed forever all danger of a settlement of the Oregon boundary on a line below the forty-ninth parallel.
There were causes operating to produce this result which do not appear in this narrative. Even if the mission to England had succeeded, and Mr. Webster had effected the tripartite treaty as he desired, it is doubtful if it would have been accepted by the senate. Events were occurring contemporaneously with the movement of these measures that rendered it probable that the treaty, if made, would have failed of confirmation. Certain it is that the early spring of that year found the President less disposed to press for the settlement of the Oregon boundary contemplated in this scheme, and with less reason to expect the approval of congress or the country in any such settlement. Events had been rapidly making such a settlement impossible. A notable one, the great emigration of 1843, has already been mentioned. There were others precedent to this.
Some years previous, the Rev. Jason Lee, while on a visit to the United States, had visited Washington, and made a strong representation of the need of a representative of the United States in Oregon. As a late response to this plea, in the spring of 1842, the government had sent a sub-agent to look after the interests of the Indians in Oregon . The appointment fell upon Dr. Elijah White, who himself had been a member of the Willamette mission. Doctor White had at once set out for Oregon, in May of that year, and was accompanied by a colony of more than one hundred persons, assembled largely through his influence, the first real colony of American families, aside from the missions, to enter the Oregon Territory. By the end of the winter of 1843, the government was in possession of Doctor White's report of the safe arrival in Oregon of himself, and this colony; of the satisfaction of the colonists with what they found there; and of the favorable condition and prospects of the settlers already there. Some of the colonists themselves had written to newspapers at their old homes giving good accounts of the new land, and urging their friends to join them there. And these letters, wherever found, were copied by all the great newspapers, north and south, because, as their editors sometimes apologetically added, "every one was eager to hear the latest news from the Oregon country." About the same time with the arrival of the report of the government's own agent, there appeared in Washington, fresh from his winter ride from Oregon, Dr. Marcus Whitman, of the Walla Walla mission. In repeated interviews with the President, and members of his cabinet, as well as with members of congress, Doctor Whitman presented earnestly the practicability of large companies of emigrants with their cattle and wagons reaching Oregon through the mountains, and urged the government to encourage such caravans by making the way thither as easy and safe as possible. What was thus said in the ears of government, and through the public press, was talked by many voices in crowded assemblies, at village stores, and at firesides throughout the country, from the frontiers of Missouri to the coast of Massachusetts, and from Portland, Maine, to New Orleans. The people were thus already aroused, even before the failure in congress of the administration's plans for the settlement of the boundary question. The country of the Oregon had been made to appear inviting for seekers for new homes in all parts of the land, and colonization of it by the direct route through the Rocky Mountains practicable to the nation at large, so that the state of the public mind at this time boded ill to any plan of settlement that proposed a surrender of any part of the territory to which the United States was believed to have a well grounded claim. The time for bargaining away any part of the Oregon Territory, south of the forty-ninth parallel and the Straits of Fuca, had now fully passed. No one was quicker to see and appreciate the changed conditions of the question, than was the President himself. Naturally desirous that his administration should have the honor of settling this long pending question, he continued, through his succeeding secretaries, to endeavor to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion; but henceforth his proposals were based upon a return to the former position of the government on the line of the forty-ninth parallel. After a proposal of the line of the Columbia our government was at a disadvantage in renewing proposals based upon the more northern line, while the changed temper of congress and the country obliged to a firmer standing to the old position, once it was resumed. The President's best efforts, however, to bring negotiations to a happy issue failed, and his administration closed with the question still pending. The negotiations of this time show a zealous purpose on the part of the President to effect a settlement, but show no real progress toward that end. The same may be said of the measures in congress of this period. Discussion of the question had been resumed in the house, and went on in the senate, but since negotiations on the part of the government with a view to a speedy settlement were almost continuously pending, congress was induced to refrain from any action that might thwart or trammel the government in its efforts.
It has already been pointed out in this paper that the correspondence between the two governments precedent to the convention of 1818, pointed to the line of the fortyninth parallel as the final position of our government in this question. In subsequent negotiations between the United States and Great Britain, this line came to be regarded as in some sort traditional with our government, and as such became increasingly influential in shaping the proposals of succeeding administrations. We have just seen how under pressure of considerations external to the Oregon Question the administration of Mr. Tyler had been momentarily in danger of yielding this our traditional line for one to the south, on the Columbia. We have now to see how under pressure of another sort the government under the administration of Mr. Polk came near abandoning this traditional position for a line farther to the north.
In 1824, in a treaty between the United States and Russia, the line of 54 and 40' was fixed as the limit of the claim of the United States northward as against Russia, and of Russia's claim southward as against the United States. This line was thenceforth considered as the northern limit of the Oregon Territory. In the course of negotiations with Great Britain it had been mentioned as the northern limit of our claim, but the claim of the United States to this line had never been pressed by the government. In the same paragraph in which the claim had been mentioned by our government, it had been abandoned for the lower line of the forty-ninth parallel. In the year 1842, however, after the treaty of that year had been concluded and made public, in the reaction caused by what w r as regarded as a surrender of rights and just claims on the part of our government, a disposition was manifested in some sections of the country, particularly in the west, to recur to the extreme northern line, and to press our claim to the Oregon Territory fully up to that limit. This disposition found expression in some of the resolutions of the state legislatures which were presented to congress at its next session. Later, it found more distinct and emphatic expression in resolutions adopted by public meetings and local conventions in various parts of the country held for the purpose of promoting the occupation and settlement of the Oregon Territory. The agitation thus carried on in the latter part of 1842, and the earlier months of 1843, culminated in a convention held in Cincinnati in July of the latter year. This convention from its size and representative character had somewhat of national importance. The circular calling the convention issued from Cincinnati under date of May 23, was sent to representative men far and wide over the union, and was given publicity by the leading journals of the day. In this circular the object of the convention was formally stated to be, "to urge upon congress the immediate occupation of the Oregon Territory by the arms and laws of the republic, and to adopt such measures as may seem most conducive to its immediate and effective occupation, whether the government acts or not in the matter.' It will be proposed, the circular continues, "to base the action of the convention on Mr. Monroe's declaration of 1823, 'that the American continents are not to be considered subject to colonization by any European powers.' The convention in a session of three days discussed thoroughly the various aspects of the subject on which it came together, and concluded by adopting a declaration of principles which w^as signed by the chairman, Col. R. M. Johnson, and ninety other delegates, representing six states of the Mississippi Valley. The first of the principles adopted defined clearly what the convention understood by the Oregon Territory which it was sought to occupy and settle, asserting, as it did, the right of the United States from the line of latitude 42 to that of 54 and 40'. Among letters read in the convention from prominent men unable to be present was one from Mr. Cass, in which he declared that no one would be present who would concur more heartily with the convention in the measures that might be adopted than should he; he would take and hold possession of the territory of the Pacific Coast, come what might. It is not difficult to see in the utterance of the Cincinnati convention, when taken in connection with the political weight of the convention itself, the origin of that party war-cry which was to make the presidential campaign of the following year so celebrated in our history. Here was a constituency united in a solemn pledge, which could not well be ignored in the estimate of political forces. It was an influence to be bid for, and what more natural than that it should be bid for, as it was bid for, by the party seeking a means of reconciling northern and western voters to its more distinctly southern policy of the annexation of Texas?
On becoming President, Mr. Polk seems not to have felt himself bound by the extreme statement of his party's position on the Oregon Question. The tone of his inaugural is rather more conservative upon this subject than might have been expected from the circumstances of his election. His position, as stated in this paper, was sufficiently advanced, however, to alarm the British government. In a letter of April 3, addressed to Packenham, British Minister at Washington, Lord Aberdeen said: "The inaugural speech of President Polk has impressed a very serious character on our actual relations with the United States, and the manner in which he has referred to the Oregon Question, so different from the language of his predecessor, leaves little reason to hope for any favorable result of the existing negotiation." And yet Mr. Polk, shortly after entering upon office, took up the negotiation as he found it then pending, and made an honest effort to effect a settlement upon the compromise line of his predecessors. In explanation of his course, in his annual message to congress, December following, he said: "Though entertaining the settled conviction that the British pretensions of title could not be maintained to any portion of the Oregon Territory, upon any principle of public law recognized by nations, yet, in deference to what had been done by my predecessors, and especially in consideration that propositions of compromise had been thrice made by two preceding administrations to adjust the question on the parallel of the forty-ninth degree of latitude,
and in two of them yielding the free navigation of the Columbia, and that the pending negotiations had been commenced on the basis of compromise, I deemed it my duty not abruptly to break it off. In consideration, too, that under the conventions of 1818 and 1827 the citizens and subjects of the two powers held a joint occupancy of the country, I was induced to make another effort to settle this long pending controversy in the spirit of moderation which had given birth to the renewed discussion."
In the letter above referred to, Lord Aberdeen, notwithstanding his fears, directed Mr. Packenham to submit again to the new Secretary of State the proposal for arbitration which he had submitted to his predecessor, if conditions for such a proposal seemed favorable. On Mr. Packenham's informing Mr. Buchanan, the new Secretary of State, of his instructions to this effect, Mr. Buchanan expressed the hope that a satisfactory settlement of the question might yet be effected through negotiation. In accordance with this expressed hope, Mr. Buchanan, a few days later, submitted a proposal of the line of the forty-ninth parallel extended through to the Pacific, offering to Great Britain any port or ports on Vancouver's Island she might choose. This proposal was rejected by Mr. Packenham, without first submitting it to his government, in a paper in which, after declaring the proposal offered less than was offered by the United States in 1826, he concluded: "The undersigned trusts that the American Plenipotentiary will be prepared to offer some other proposal for the settlement of the Oregon Question more consistent with fairness and equity, and with the reasonable expectations of the British government. ' This paper was presented on July 29; on August 30 Mr. Buchanan presented to Mr. Packenham a carefully prepared paper, in which, after reviewing the position in which the President found himself in reference to the question on coming into office, and setting forth the motives which had actuated him in making the present proposal in spite of his personal views on the subject, he called the British Minister's attention to the fact that the President's proposal had been rejected by him in terms not over courteous, without even a reference of it to his government, and concluded: "Under such circumstances, I am instructed by the President to say that he owes it to his own country, and to a just appreciation of her title to the Oregon Territory, to withdraw this proposition to the British government, which was made under his direction; and it is hereby accordingly withdrawn."
We have it on the authority of Mr. Folk's diary that the concluding paragraph is of the President's own wording; that Mr. Buchanan urged the President so to coucli his answer as to encourage the British government to make an offer on their part; that this the President positively declined to do, saying that if the British government wished to make an offer they must do so on their own responsibility. It was a matter of regret on the part of Lord Aberdeen, on hearing of the matter, that this proposition of our government had not been referred by Mr. Packenham to his government. Later, Mr. Packenham, on receipt of a communication from Lord Aberdeen, approached Mr. Buchanan with a view of getting from the President encouragement to present another proposition on behalf of Great Britain. This, though repeatedly urged to do so by Mr. Buchanan, the President firmly refused to give. And thus the question stood at the convening of congress in December.
The President's message had, on the question of the Oregon Territory, been prepared with special care. The several paragraphs bearing on this subject were read and discussed in cabinet, and amended, until they embodied the President's policy in its maturest form. Again Mr. Polk was besought by the Secretary of State to soften the tone of his message on this point, but he refused, preferring, as he said, "his own bold stand.' After reviewing briefly the history of negotiations on the question under his predecessors, and noting that these had uniformly been maintained on the part of the United States on the compromise line of the forty-ninth parallel; and after stating somewhat particularly the reasons that had induced him to take up the negotiations as he found them pending on his entrance to office, and to continue them on the same line in spite of his own personal convictions that the United States had a just claim to the whole of the Oregon Territory, the President proceeded to recommend to the favorable consideration of congress five measures, all of which he thought clearly within the right of the United States under the terms of the convention of joint occupancy. The first and capital one of these recommendations was, that congress authorize the President to terminate the convention of joint occupancy by giving the British government the required notice. In accordance with this recommendation a resolution to that effect was promptly introduced in congress, and thereupon the Oregon Question was thought by all to have assumed a grave aspect. Many men within congress, and without, some of them Mr. Polk's best friends and advisors, felt that while the measure was clearly within the terms of the convention it was neither wise nor safe at that time to adopt it. To every representation, however, of this view of the case made to the President, he returned the uniform answer that in his judgment the notice should be given.
The Secretary of State was not alone in his alarm at the President's bold stand on this question. He, with others, finding themselves unable to induce the President to change his attitude on this point, and finding that in the present mood of congress the resolution of notice was likely to pass, used every endeavor to induce him to consent to a renewal of the proposition for compromise on the line of the forty-ninth parallel, or to invite such a proposal from the British government.
On the twenty-fifth of February, Mr. Calhoun, now returned to the senate, called upon the President and met there Senator Colquitt, of Georgia. Mr. Calhoun urged upon Mr. Polk that it was important that some action of pacific character should go to England upon the next steamer, and asked the President's opinion of the policy of the senate's passing a resolution in executive session, advising the President to reopen negotiations on the basis of the forty-ninth parallel. Mr. Polk was unwilling to advise such a course; he did, however, finally tell Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Colquitt, in confidence, as members of the senate, that if Great Britain should see fit to submit a proposition for compromise on that line, he should feel it his duty, following the example of Washington on important occasions, to submit the proposition to the senate confidentially for their previous advice. This course had already been considered in cabinet two days before, on the reading of a dispatch from Mr. McLane, our Minister in London, and had met with the almost unanimous approval of the members.
The house had already, on the ninth of February, passed the resolution of notice; the senate yet delayed and debated. But from the time when the President consented to encourage a further proposition of compromise from the British government by promising to submit the same to the senate, for advice, events moved rapidly to a favorable conclusion. April 17 the resolution of notice passed the senate. Formal notice was addressed by our President to the Minister in London on the twenty-eighth of April, was received by him in London on the fifteenth of May, and on the twentieth of May was by him presented to Lord Aberdeen. Two days before receiving the notice, however, on the eighteenth of May, Lord Aberdeen had addressed a note to Mr. Packenham, at Washington, instructing him to offer a compromise on the basis of such a modification of the line of the forty-ninth degree of north latitude as would give to Great Britain Vancouver's Island, and allow her the free navigation of the Columbia for a limited term of years. On the tenth of June, in a message to the senate, the President submitted this proposal, and asked the senate's previous advice. This was formally given in a resolution adopted June 12, by a vote of thirty-eight to ten, in which the senate advised the President to accept the proposal of the British government. A treaty based upon this proposal was concluded and signed on the fifteenth day of June by the representatives of the two powers. This treaty, on the following day, was laid before the senate by the President, for its approval, and three days later was confirmed without amendment. This convention provided for the extension of a line on the forty-ninth degree of north latitude, westward from the Rocky Mountains, to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island, and thence southerly, through the middle of said channel, and of Fuca Straits, to the Pacific Ocean.
It was found by the commissioners appointed to determine a line in accordance with this convention that in one part of the strait there were two recognized channels, an easterly one, by the Straits of Rosario, and a westerly one, by the Canal De Haro . The commissioners failing to agree as to which of the channels was the channel contemplated by the treaty, the determination of this portion of the line was left in abe}^ance. It remained so until the year 1871, when the joint high commission appointed to adjust sundry differences between the two governments, met in Washington. By certain articles of a convention, concluded at this time it was agreed by the representatives of the two powers, to submit to the Emperor of Germany the question as to which of the two channels was the more in accordance with the treaty of June 15, 1846, the commissioners pledging their respective governments to accept his award as final. The Emperor of Germany submitted the question to three experts, Doctor Grimm, Doctor Goldschmidt, and Doctor Kiepert. In accordance with the report of these distinguished scholars, the Emperor of Germany, on the twenty-first of October, 1872, rendered his decision, that the line by way of the Canal De Haro was the one most in accordance with the treaty. This decision was accepted by the two governments, and the unsettled portion of the boundary line determined in accordance with it.Thus, after the vicissitudes of more than three-quarters of a century of debate and negotiations, with the determination of this last detail, the Oregon Question reached its full and final decision.
JOSEPH R. WILSON.