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Page:Oregon Historical Quarterly volume 12.djvu/133

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CHAPTER VI

THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA BILL IN OREGON POLITICS

The anti-Negro sentiment in Oregon was emphatic. The anti-slavery provision of the Ordinance of 1787 had been incorporated in the articles of compact of the Provisional Government. It had been inserted in the organic act by which Oregon became a Territory of the United States. In 1853 Judge Williams[1] awarded freedom to certain Negroes held as slaves on the ground that slavery did not and could not exist in Oregon. The decision seemed obvious and was accepted as final. Likewise, the first session of the legislature of the Provisional Government had passed an act prohibiting the presence of free Negroes within the field of its jurisdiction. The measure was re-enacted by the first Territorial legislature. It was only by a special act of the legislature of '52-'53 that George Washington, a colored man of high standing, was allowed to reside in the Territory.[2] Clearly, as a matter of policy, the people of Oregon repudiated most emphatically all relations with the Negro, bond or free. Far separated from the arena of sectional strife, they had no thought of interfering with the Negro question or of allowing it to interfere with them. They were very willing, indeed, to "let slavery alone."

This was the situation in distant Oregon up to the year 1854. Then, as by the hand of a magician, the scene was suddenly changed. The sense of security against the black evil was succeeded by uncertainty, if not positive alarm. Agitation succeeded equanimity. Political reorganization began at once to meet new and threatening conditions. Within a few short years, the slavery question was the paramount issue in the Territory and Oregon was shaken with the violence of conflict. Such was the result, directly and indirectly, of the passage by Congress, May 22, 1854, of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which


  1. Judge Williams, in Oregon Historical Quarterly for March, 1901, pp. 5, 6. Nathaniel Ford, of Polk County, had brought with him from Missouri in 1845 as slaves, a man named Robbin and family, and held them in servitude in Oregon. Robbin sued for their liberty by writ of habeas corpus.
  2. See Statesman, December 18, 1852. A petition for the special enactment, with 113 names subscribed, was presented to the legislature. Washington, an early pioneer, was a man of means and had generously assisted needy immigrants.