Open main menu

Page:Oregon Historical Quarterly volume 12.djvu/159

This page needs to be proofread.


POLITICAL PARTIES IN OREGON 151 Enough has been said to show conclusively that there was a degree of danger that the people of Oregon might decide in favor of a slave state. Bush had said that the only question was "Will it pay?" And at the same time he added that in his belief, pro-slavery sentiment had increased three hundred per cent within a year or a year and a half. Evidently the opinion was growing that it would pay. Leading and influ- ential Democrats were declaring that slavery was adaptable to Oregon and was desirable. The Democratic masses were in the habit of believing what their leaders told them. The Democratic press, where not openly and radically pro-slavery, was ominously non-committal, and it must be remembered that as a rule the rank and file of Democracy read their own papers as the law and the gospel and read none other. They did not see the Oregonian and the Argus. They spurned the Black Republican, free state agitators as "unclean," politically. They were not concerned with the moral aspect of the situation. Under all these circumstances it is not so strange after all, that the public sentiment of Oregon was undergoing a subtle change; that this change was felt and recognized by many close and anxious observers in the summer of 1857 ; and that grave apprehensions of the result were entertained. One of these apprehensive observers was George H. Wil- liams, chief justice of Oregon Territory by appointment of President Pierce and whose Democracy had never been ques- tioned. On July 28th, the whole first page of the Statesman was occupied with a contributed article over his signature which is known in Oregon history as "Judge Williams' Free State Letter." A man of prominence and influence in his party, he entertained hopes of political advancement not un- natural in a man of his ambition and ability. He was warned by friends as to the results of the publication of his letter and he himself clearly understood that "in those days to be a sound Democrat, if it was not necessary to advocate slavery, it was necessary to keep still upon the subject." 1 But from the time when he became a voter he had been opposed to the extension of slavery into the new states. 2 While many other Oregon i Private letter: Williams to Geo. H. Himes, August 26, 1907. This letter was written "fifty years after," on request of Mr. Himes, as a personal re- view of the considerations which called forth the Free State Letter. albid.