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The Oregon question, substance of a lecture before the Mercantile Library Association, delivered January… Sturgis, William, 1782-1863 1845

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IS    /O
H      THE   ORE
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DELIVERED   JANUARY   22,   1845
No. 121 Washington Street.
J_i Sh \j 1 un
Gentlemen of the Mercantile Library Association : —
I have taken the " Territory of Oregon | for the
subject of this evening's lecture. I propose to give
you the material facts in relation to the conflicting
claims to this territory, shewing their origin — the
grounds upon which they are maintained — a summary of the principal arguments upon both sides —
the négociations for their settlement — and the
present state of the question. I shall take the liberty
to add my own views relative to its final adjustment.
It would be useless to attempt to conceal — what you
will doubtless soon discover — that the subject is a
very dry one, and will be treated in a very dry manner.
It is however, at the present time, one of great importance ; for there seems to be a determination, among
some of those in power, to have immediate action
upon it ; and this action may go far to decide whether
our present amicable relations with Great Britain are
to be preserved.
Four powerful nations have put forth claims to this
territory,  viz : — Spain, Russia,   Great Britain  and 4
the United States. The claims of Spain have been
transferred to this country. Those of Russia have
been adjusted by ceding to her the exclusive right of
settlement, within ten leagues of the sea, north of latitude 54° 40' ; and the controversy for what remains
is now between Great Britain and ourselves.
It is necessary, at the outset, to understand distinctly what is the question really at issue between Great
Britain and the United States in regard to this territory. It is not a question of positive, but of relative
rights. Not whether either party have exclusive territorial rights — for the steps that have already been
taken, by mutual consent, amount clearly to an admission by each that the other has some rights — but it is
the extent of these rights and the manner in which they
shall be defined, that remain to be adjusted and settled.
It may be well, too, to have a clear understanding
of what is meant by the expression " whole territory
of Oregon," when used in common parlance, and to
fix in your minds the position of certain prominent
points that will be often referred to in course of my
The territory in dispute is the whole country West
of the Rocky Mountains, lying between the latitudes
of 42° and 54° 407 North, and consequently bounded
by the Rocky Mountains on the East, the Pacific
Ocean on the West, the Northern limits of California in Lat. 42° on the South, and the Southern
limits of the Russian possessions in America in Lat.
54° 40' on the North — thus extending 760 miles from
North to South, and averaging about 500 miles from
East to  West, and including some 360,000 square miles. The mouth of the " Columbia River " lies a
few miles North of the 46th parallel of latitude. In
its course this river receives many tributary streams,
both from the North and the South, and, about 300
miles from its mouth, is divided into two large
branches, one tending towards the North-East, and
the other South-East ; the former extending nearly to
the Northern limit of the Oregon Territory, at the
base of the Rocky Mountains, and the other quite to
its Southern boundary ; thus draining nearly all the
interior of the territory, and a considerable portion of
it that lies nearer to the sea. The entrance to the
" Strait of Juan de Fuca" is in Lat. 48° 30', and it
runs Northward and Eastward about 120 miles.
" Nootka Sound" is in Lat. 49° 30', on the Southwestern side of Quadra and Vancouver's Island. If
these facts are kept in mind, frequent repetition of
them may be omitted.
Not to occupy more time than is necessary, I pass
by those early voyages in the North Pacific, the
accounts of which contain a mixture of truth and
fiction, but must take you back to the latter part of
the last century, at which time it is admitted that
Spanish navigators discovered, and anchored in,
Nootka Sound, and explored the coast from California
to the present Russian boundary, prior to the Northern Voyage of the celebrated British navigator, Captain Cook, and before the navigators of any other
nation had visited these shores. It was upon this fact,
and the contiguity of territory, that Spain then founded
her claim to the exclusive possession of all the American coast, from her settlements in California to the
1* Russian boundary, which at that time was several
degrees North and West of the line now established.
Captain Cook discovered and anchored in Nootka
Sound in 1778, and gave it the name of " King
George's Sound," (which he afterwards changed to
" Nootka,") not then knowing that the Spanish commander, Perez, had anchored there four years before,
and called it "Port San Lorenzo." Cook likewise
saw, and gave names to, several prominent points
upon the coast, but did not anchor in any other place
South of the present Russian boundary. All these
points, however, had been previously seen, and named,
by the Spaniards ; so that the British gained no title to
any part of this coast, by priority of discovery, from
the voyage of Captain Cook. The policy of Spain,
at that period, did not permit the discoveries of her
navigators to be made public, and Great Britain had
therefore apparent ground for claiming (as she did
claim) the discovery of Nootka Sound for Captain
Cook ; and the events which followed, occasioned in
part by this alledged discovery, brought about the
arrangement between Great Britain and Spain, of
which I proceed to give an account.
Immediately after the publication of Cook's Voyage,
which was delayed till the beginning of 1785, Nootka
Sound became the common resort of vessels of different nations, engaged in the fur trade. In 1788, a
Mr. Mears, an Englishman, who commanded a trading
vessel from Macao, alledged to belong to British
subjects though under Portuguese colors, built a small
vessel at " Friendly Cove," a snug harbor within the
Sound ; and the residence, in a hut on shore, of the s
persons employed in building this vessel, was the foundation of the British claim to a settlement prior to that
made by the Spaniards, on the same spot, the following year. In May 1789, two public Spanish ships,
under command of Don Esteban Martinez, arrived in
Friendly Cove and immediately took formal possession of the whole surrounding country as Spanish territory. Shortly after, Martinez captured two of Mears'
vessels for alledged infraction of the Colonial laws of
Spain. Mears immediately appealed to the British
Government, and his exaggerated statement caused
great excitement in Europe ; and these proceedings
gave rise to the famous " Nootka question," as it was
then called, that in 1790 came very near involving
Europe in war, for which great preparations, at an
immense expense, were made both by Great Britain
and Spain. War, however, was averted by a convention made in October 1790, by which Spain agreed to
compensate Mears, who received $210,000, though
the actual damage he sustained would have been
amply compensated by a tenth part of that sum. But
the most important feature of this convention, at the
present time, is one of the provisions of the 3d Article,
upon which Great Britain now relies as one of the
strong points in support of her claim to equal rights
with the United States in the " Oregon Territory."
In this 3d Article "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
coasts of those seas in places not already occupied,
for the purpose of carrying on their commerce with 8
the natives of the country, or of making settlements
there." I must ask your particular attention to this
stipulation, as Great Britain relies upon it for resisting
our claim to the exclusive possession of any portion of
Oregon as derived from Spain ; and it should be
remembered that at this period we had no claim whatever to any territory West of the Rocky Mountains,
but subsequently obtained all that Spain was then
entitled to. In May 1792, Captain Robert Gray, in
the ship Columbia of Boston, discovered and entered
a great river, near the Lat. of 46° North, up which he
proceeded about 20 miles, and to which he gave the
name of his ship, calling it " Columbia River," a name
that is generally still retained, and which ought, and I
trust will be retained, though attempts have been
made to change it to | Oregon River." We certainly
ought to retain a name that tends to confirm the fact
of its discovery by one of our own citizens — a fact
that has been denied by some British diplomatists.
Vancouver, a distinguished British navigator, who
was engaged in surveying the Northwest coast of
America at the time the river was discovered by
Gray, designates it, upon his chart of the coast,
" Columbia River ; " thereby doing justice to Gray,
and admitting his claim to the discovery.
Captain Gray, in the summer of 1791, discovered
what he then conjectured to be the mouth of a river ;
but no certain discovery had been made, and no ves-
sel had ever entered the river prior to the entry of the
Columbia in 1792 ; and this is one ground of our present claim to the territory. The discovery of Captain
Gray excited little attention in this country for some 9
years after it was made, because, as I have before
remarked, we had then no claim to any territory West
of the Rocky Mountains. In 1803 we acquired Louisiana, the Northwestern boundary of which had
never been clearly defined, and we maintained that it
extended in that direction to the shores of the Pacific.
At the suggestion of Mr. Jefferson, then President of
the United States, Congress authorised him to send
out suitable persons to explore the country to the
Pacific; and in May 1804, Lewis and Clark started
upon their well known expedition across the Continent.
In October 1805, after crossing the Rocky Mountains, they came to one of the upper branches of the
" Columbia," upon which they embarked in canoes
and reached the Pacific Ocean in course of the following month. They remained at the mouth of the
Columbia during the winter of 1805-6, and re-cross-
ing the Continent, arrived in the United States in
September 1806. This was the first exploration of any
branch of the " Columbia" from the interior to the ocean,
and is one of the grounds upon which we rest our claim.
In 1806, Simon Frazer, a member of the British Northwest Company, crossed the Rocky Mountains several
degrees North of Lewis and Clarke's route, and made
their first establishment westward of that range, about
the Lat. 54° ; but there is no evidence that any British ^^c ,
subject was upon either branch of the Columbia pre-jj*-°>**-<^
vious to 1811, in which year a Mr. Thompson, in the
service   of the British  Northwest   Company,   came
down to the mouth of that river and found it in nos-
session of American citizens, who had recently arrived 10
there from the United States, to establish a settlement.
This settlement was projected by John J. Astor of
New York, who in 1810 fitted out the ship Tonquin,
for the purpose of founding it. I had a good deal of
correspondence upon this subject at that time with Mr.
Astor, who offered me an interest in the concern, and
invited me to take command of the expedition by sea,
which I declined. The ship arrived at the mouth of
the Columbia in March 1811, and founded the first
settlement made by civilized people upon the Columbia River ; and this is another ground of our present
claim. The undertaking proved highly disastrous,
and it was fortunate for me that I did not accept the
proposal of Mr. Astor; for although my experience
might have averted one great misfortune, yet the want
of success was mainly owing to causes that could not
have been foreseen or guarded against. The particulars of this ill-fated expedition may be found in Washington Irving's " Astoria ; " and as his magical pen
imparts a deep interest to every subject that it touches,
those of you who have not read the work cannot fail
to be highly gratified by its perusal. The particular
misfortune to which I allude as one that might have
been avoided, was the destruction of the ship Tonquin
and all her crew. She was commanded by Mr.
Thorne, who was or had been, I believe, an officer in
the Navy, but wholly unacquainted with the North-
>west Coast or with the Indian character. At the
request of Mr. Astor I engaged for him, to go as chief
mate of the ship, a young man belonging to Roxbury,
who had previously been several times upon the coast ;
but he was unfortunately lost, with a boat's crew, 11
updn the bar at the entrance of the " Columbia," upon
the first arrival of the ship. After landing her passengers and part of her cargo at the mouth of the river,
the Tonquin proceeded to visit the Northern ports for
the purpose of trading with the Indians, and was
shortly afterwards cut off, and the whole crew massacred by the natives at Clayoquot, near Nootka
Soon after the departure of the Tonquin from New
York, Mr. Astor despatched another party over land
for the Columbia, under the command of Mr. Wilson
P. Hunt ; the survivors of which, after suffering almost
incredible hardships, reached " Astoria" (for so the
establishment at the mouth of the Columbia was called)
in the spring of 1812. Early in 1813, the party at
Astoria received news of the war between the United
States and Great Britain, and in December of that
year the British Sloop-of-war Racoon arrived at the
mouth of the Columbia and captured the fort and settlement. A few weeks previous to this occurrence,
and in apprehension of it, those in charge of the
establishment had sold their whole stock of furs and
merchandise to the agents of the British Northwest
Company for the sum of $40,000, and taken payment
in bills upon Montreal ; so that Captain Black, of the
Racoon, got only the empty honor of capturing a
defenceless and unresisting fort. The gallant captain
was greatly incensed at the loss of his expected booty,
and is said to have exclaimed — with some coarseness
of expression — that " it was a Yankee trick ! "
The first article of the Treaty of Peace between
the United States and Great Britain, concluded at 12
Ghent in December 1814, stipulated " that all territory, places and possessions whatsoever, taken by
either party from the other during or after the war,
except certain Islands in the Atlantic claimed by both,
should be restored without delay." Under this stipulation " Astoria," the port at the mouth of the Columbia, was, in due form, delivered by the British authorities to Mr. Prévost, the agent of the United States
appointed to receive it. The act of delivery is as
follows: —
" In obedience to the commands of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, signified in a despatch from
the Right Honorable the Earl Bathurst, addressed to
the partners or agents of the Northwest Company,
bearing date the 27th of January, 1818, and in obedience to a subsequent order, dated the 26th of July,
from W. H. Sheriff Esq., Captain of his Majesty's
Ship Andromache, we, the undersigned, do, in conformity to the 1st Article of the Treaty of Ghent,
restore to the Government of the United States,
through its agent, J. B. Prévost Esq., the settlement
of Fort George, on the Columbia River. — Given
under our hands, in triplicate, at Fort George, (Columbia River) this 6th day of October, 1818.
F. Hickey, Capt» of H. M. Ship Blossom.
J. Keith, of the Northwest Company."
To which Mr. Prévost, returned this acceptance :—
" I do hereby acknowledge to have this day received, in behalf of the Government of the United
States, the possession of the settlement designated 13
above, in conformity to the 1st Article of the Treaty
of Ghent. — Given under my hand, in triplicate, at
Fort George, (Columbia River) this 6th of October,
1818. ifcftfe is       4
J. B. Prévost, Agent for the United States."
In this transfer the place is designated as " Fort
George,'; that being the name bestowed upon it by
Captain Black of the Racoon, at the time of striking
the American and hoisting the British flag. This un-
conditional restoration of Astoria is another circumstance
urged in support of our claim.
The first attempt to settle, by négociation, the
boundary between territory claimed by the British and
the United States, West of the Rocky Mountains, was
made at London, in 1818, by Messrs. Rush and Gallatin, Commissioners on the part of the United States,
and Messrs. Goulburn and Robinson, on the part of
Great Britain. These Commissioners agreed in
taking the parallel of 49° as the boundary line from
the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains, as it
now stands, and a proposition was made by Messrs.
Rush and Gallatin to continue the same to the Pacific
Ocean, as between the contracting parties, with a reservation as to the rights of other claimants, having
reference doubtless to the claims of Spain and Russia,
at that time. This was declined by the British Commissioners, and the negotiation, upon this point, ended
in the following stipulation, which is the 3d Article of
the Convention of 1818.
" It is agreed that any country that may be claimed
by either party on the Northwest Coast of America,
• t 14
westward of the Stony Mountains, shall, together with
its harbors, bays and creeks, and the navigation of all
rivers within the same, be free and open for the term
of ten years, from the date of the signature of the
present Convention, to the vessels, citizens and subjects, of the two Powers ; it being well understood that
this agreement is not to be construed to the prejudice
of any claim which either of the two high contracting
parties may have to any part of the said country, nor
shall it be taken to affect the claims of any other
Power or State to any part of the said country ; the
only object of the high contracting parties, in that
respect, being to prevent disputes and differences
among themselves."
In 1819, the "Florida Treaty," as it is usually
called, was concluded between Spain and the United
States ; by the 3d Article of which Spain cedes to the
United States all rights, claims, and pretensions to any
territory upon the Western Coast of America north of
Lat. 42° ; and this cession forms another ground of our
claim to the Oregon Territory. By a Convention
between the United States and Russia, signed at St.
Petersburg in 1824, the Lat. of 54° 407 was agreed
upon as the boundary, (controlling the right of making settlements,) between territory claimed by the
contracting parties upon the Northwest Coast of the
American Continent. We having succeeded to all
the rights of Spain, and the claims of Russia being
adjusted, the claimants — as before remarked -— to
territory west of the Rocky Mountains, lying between
the parallels of 42° and 54° 40', were reduced to two,
viz. : the United States and Great Britain. 15
Prior to the Convention with Russia in 1824, a
proposition was made by the American envoys at
London and St. Petersburg, for a joint Convention to
settle the claims of the three Powers — Russia, Great
Britain, and the United States — to territory West of
the Rocky Mountains ; but the proposition was declined by Great Britain and Russia ; each preferring
to negociate with us and each other separately. In
1824 another attempt at negotiation upon this subject
was made at London, by Mr. Rush in behalf of the
United States, and Messrs. Huskisson and Stratford
Canning on the part of Great Britain, which failed.
There is reason to believe that this failure may be
ascribed in part to the dissatisfaction manifested in
Europe at the extraordinary declaration made by President Monroe, in his annual message to Congress in
December 1823, " that henceforth the American Continents are not to be considered as subjects for colonization by any European Power" — a declaration, per-.
haps, at that time, savoring more of patriotism than of)
wisdom. Near the close of 1826 négociations were
again commenced at London between Mr. Gallatin,
on the part of the United States, and Messrs. Huskisson and Addington on the part of Great Britain,
which continued till August 1827, without effecting a
© ©
settlement of the question, but resulted in an agreement to continue the 3d Article of the Convention of
1818 for an indefinite time; either party, however,
being at liberty to abrogate and annul it by giving
© J © J       © ©
twelve months notice to the other party at any time
after 20th October 1828, when the Convention of 1
1.818 would expire by its own limitation.    And this is
the present state of the question.
In all these negotiations our Commissioners have
uniformly proposed the parallel of 49° to the shores of
the Pacific Ocean, as the boundary between the terri-
tories of Great Britain and the United States, West of
the Rocky Mountains. The British Commissioners
offered to take this boundary across these mountains,
and West of them until it intersected the upper branch
of the Columbia, thence to continue the boundary line
along the middle of this branch to the main stream,
and down that to the Pacific Ocean ; the United States
to possess all South and East and Great Britain all
North and West of it, — the navigation of the river to
remain open and free to both parties. The American
Commissioners declined yielding to Great Britain any
territory South of 49°, but Mr. Gallatin, in 1826, proposed " that if the said line (the parallel of 49°) should
cross any of the branches of the Columbia at points
from which they are navigable by boats to the main
stream, the navigation of such branches, and of the
main stream, should be perpetually free and common
to the people of both nations." This proposition was
rejected by the British ; but they expressed their willingness to yield to the United States the whole terri-
tory lying North of the Columbia as far as the Straits
of Juan de Fuca, and East from the Pacific to Admiralty Inlet. The British, however, have uniformly
insisted upon the joint occupancy and free navigation
of the Columbia, from its mouth to the point of intersection of the forty-ninth degree of latitude ; and upon
this point the negotiation has hitherto failed.    It will 17
be perceived, that throughout these negotiations, we
have claimed the exclusive possession South of 49°,
— offering to Great Britain, conditionally, the right to
navigate a part of the Columbia within that limit.
Great Britain on the contrary disclaims any pretensions to exclusive sovereignty over any portion of the
territory between 49° and 42°, but insists upon a
right of joint occupancy and of making settlements in
any part of it not already occupied ; a right admitted
by Spain in the Convention of 1790, and at present
secured to her by the 3d Article of the Convention of
1818, and one which she has already exercised to a
considerable extent. A part of these claims she has
been willing to relinquish, and we have insisted upon
her relinquishing the whole ; and thus the matter
The grounds of our claim are thus summed up by
Mr. Greenhow, from whose very able Memoir, prepared for the use of Congress in 1840, I have taken
some facts : — " the first discovery and entrance into
the Columbia, by Captain Gray, in 1792 — the first i,
exploration from its source to its mouth by Lewis andx^
Clark in 1805 — the first settlement upon any portion 3
of its borders made by Mr. Astor's party at Astoria in
1811—the unconditional restoration of this post,
which was captured by Great Britain during the war,
and restored under the 1st Article of the Treaty of
Ghent, thereby virtually recognizing the territorial
right of the United States — the acquisition by the
United States, under the Florida treaty, in 1819, of
all the titles of Spain, which titles were derived from
the discovery and exploration of the regions in ques-
U" [!
tion, by Spanish navigators, before they had been seen
by the people of any other civilized nation — and,
lastly, upon the ground of contiguity— we already
possessing the territory up to its Eastern boundary.'1
Great Britain resists our claims, and maintains her
own, by denying the discovery of the mouth of the
Columbia to Captain Gray in 1792, and claiming it
for one of her own navigators, Mr. Mears, in 1788,
four years before the alledged discovery of Gray.*
She asserts, too, that some of her subjects, then in the
service of the British Northwest Company, explored a
part of this river, and formed establishments upon its
borders, about the same time that similar acts were done
by citizens of the United States. She insists that the
restoration of " Astoria," even if made without reservation, which is denied, amounts only to an admission
of our co-ordinate right to make, and retain, settlements within the limits of the disputed territory; a
right which she has never questioned.    She admits
* Heceta, a Spanish navigator, sailing along the coast in 1775, discovered, about the parallel of 46°, a bluff head-land, or promontory, to
which he gave the name of Cape St. Roc, or Roque, and immediately
South of it an opening, which he conjectured to be the entrance of a
River, and called it the " River St. Roc." It is, to say the least, extraordinary that any one should claim the discovery of the | Columbia," or
any other River in its neighborhood, for Mears, after reading his own
journal of his Voyage, published in London in 1791. From this journal
it appears that Mears coasted along the shore, from Lat. 48e to Lat. 45°,
in the hope of finding the opening seen by Heceta. In Lnt. 46°, 10° he
discovered the Cape, and south of it the supposed entrance to a River,
and after a careful examination decided that " no such River as that of
St. Roc exists, as laid down in the Spanish charts." He called the
" supposed opening" " Deception Bay," and the head-land, " Cape Disappointment," a name that it bears to the present day, and one that
clearly indicates the result of Mears's attempts at discovery. 19
that the 3d Article of the " Florida Treaty" vests in
the United States all the rights which belonged to
Spain at the time this treaty was made, but maintains
that equal participation in all these rights had been
secured to Great Britain by the 3d Article of the
Convention of 1790, commonly called the "Nootka
Convention." The Government of the United States
aver that the stipulations in this 3d Article were abrogated by the declaration of war by Spain against
Great Britain in 1796. The British deny that such
was the effect of the war, but assert, that, even if it
were so, the treaty of peace between Spain and Great
Britain in 1814 virtually renewed or revived those
stipulations, and insist that they are now in full force.
In course of the négociation in 1826, Messrs. Huskis-
son and Addington presented the following summary
of the pretensions of Great Britain. — " Great Britain claims no exclusive sovereignty over any portion
of the territory on the Pacific between the 42d and
the 49th parallels of latitude ; her present claim, not
in respect to any part, but to the whole, is limited to a
right of joint occupancy in common with other States,
leaving the right of exclusive dominion in abeyance ;
and her pretensions tend to the mere maintenance of
her own rights, in resistance to the exclusive character
of the pretensions of the United States."
" The rights of Great Britain are recorded and defined in the Convention of 1790 ; they embrace the
right to navigate the waters of those countries, to
settle in and over any part of them, and to trade with
the inhabitants and occupiers of the same. These
rights have been peaceably exercised ever since the 20
date of that Convention ; that is, for a period of nearly
forty years. Under that Convention valuable British
interests have grown up in those countries. It is admitted that the United States possess the same rights,
although they have been exercised by them only in a
single instance, and have not, since the year 1813,
been exercised at all ; but beyond those rights, they
possess none."
" In the interior of the territory in question, the
subjects of Great Britain have had, for many years,
numerous settlements and trading-posts ; several of
these posts are on the tributary streams of the Columbia ; several upon the Columbia itself; some to the
northward and others to the southward of that river ;
and they navigate the Columbia as the sole channel
for the conveyance of their produce to the British
stations nearest the sea, and for the shipment of it
from thence to Great Britain. It is also by the Columbia and its tributary streams that these posts and
settlements received their annual supplies from Great
"To the interests and establishments which British
industry and enterprise have created, Great Britain
owes protection ; that protection will be given, both
as regards settlement and freedom of trade and navi-
gation, with every attention not to infringe the coordinate rights of the United States : it being the
desire of the British Government, so long as the joint
occupancy continues, to regulate its own obligations by
the same rules which govern the obligations of every
other occupying party."
Some of the objections made by the British Com- 21
missioners to our claims to the exclusive possession of
the whole territory cannot be easily and satisfactorily
answered, and some of their objections are unfounded
or frivolous, the mere skirmishing of diplomacy, and
unworthy of high-minded diplomatists ; but it must, I
think, be evident to any one who looks carefully and
impartially into the whole matter, that some of the
pretensions of each party are, to say the least, plausible ; and that according to the rules established among
civilized nations in similar cases, each has some rights
which should be adjusted and settled by compromise
and mutual concession. How ought this question to
be settled, and how is it likely to be settled ? To
answer these inquiries understandingly it is necessary
to look at the objects which the respective parties
probably have in view by the acquisition of territory
west of the Rocky Mountains. It seems to me apparent that Great Britain wants it only as an extended
field of action for her great hunting and fur-trading
corporation, the " Hudson Bay Company." Thus
far, with one exception, perhaps, she has made no
other use of any portion of this vast region, in which
her movements have been unrestricted for nearly fifty
years ; and Messrs. Huskisson and Addington, the
British Commissioners, speak of the importance of
the free navigation of the Columbia River only with
reference to the establishments of the Hudson Bay
Company. In fact, by existing laws of Great Britain,
British subjects, except servants of this Company,
are virtually excluded from the whole territory.
Since the last négociation in 1827, it has become
evident that the country South of 49° is much less 22
valuable for the purpose of procuring furs than it was
supposed to be at that time. The fur-bearing animals
are not so abundant as they are further North, and
the employment of procuring furs — unlike most other
pursuits — being a work of destruction rather than of
production, its success destroys its permanency ; and
this result has already, to some extent, been realised
by the Hudson Bay Company. The importance and
value of the fur business West of the Rocky Moun-
tains and South of 49° is greatly overrated. Mr.
Wyeth, a gentleman of intelligence who now resides
in  the neighboring town of Cambridge, has, since
© a ©    7 7
1832, led two parties, at different times, across the
Rocky Mountains — and resided West of them for
several years. His character, and his thorough
knowledge of the subject, inspire full confidence in
his statements ; and he is of the opinion that the nett
profits realized by the Hudson Bay Company, from
their collection of furs within the before-named limits,
did not, in 1836, exceed the sum of $10,000. And
it seems highly probable that the British Government,
wanting the country mainly for its furs, would be
more willing to yield the portion of it lying South of
49° at the present time than they were in 1827.
Our Government, on the contrary, seek the acquisition of the region West of the Rocky Mountains as
an extension of the territory of the United States, to
be used hereafter in the same manner as any* other
portion of our territory—for the formation of new
States ; and for this purpose the country South of the
49th parallel of latitude is most conveniently situated.
Being the portion best adapted to agricultural and 23
manufacturing purposes, it might be reasonably expected that we should be content with this division ;
but I am not quite sure that our Government will so
readily accede to it.
The people of this country are both covetous and
ambitious in regard to territory. They covet and are
ready to grasp at all that lies upon their borders, and
are ambitious of extending their empire from sea to
sea — from the shores of the Atlantic to the borders
of the Pacific. 1 do not participate in this feeling,
and have little sympathy with those who cherish it.
Settlements scattered over a vast extent of territory—
very likely to be badly governed in time of peace, and
certain to present remote and exposed points to be defended in time of war — will not, in my belief, add to
the power or promote the prosperity of the United
States. The true policy of the country is tersely and
forcibly expressed by that veteran statesman, Andrew
Jackson, in a letter to President Monroe : " Concentrate our population, confine our frontier to proper
limits, until our country, to those limits, is filled with
a dense population. It is the denseness of our population that gives strength and security to our frontier."
There can be little doubt that the country in
question will be settled at no distant day — probably
by the Anglo-Saxon race — and we may find it expedient for a time to extend over a portion of these
settlers our protection and our laws ; but he must
have a greater share of credulity than has fallen to
my lot, who can believe that such population, when
it shall have become able to govern and protect
itself,  will submit to be  governed   by others,   and 24
look to the shores of the Atlantic — some two or
three thousand miles distant — for their laws and
regulations. The Rocky Mountains, and the dreary
deserts on either side, form a natural barrier between
different nations, rather than a connecting link between parts of the same nation ; and I care not how
soon they form the boundary between the United
States, as they now are, and an independent nation,
comprising the whole of what is now called the " Territory of Oregon." Such were the views of Mr.
Jefferson, and whatever some may think of him as a
politician, few are now disposed to deny that he was a
sagacious and far-sighted statesman.    Writing to Mr.
© © ©
Astor, respecting his undertaking, he says, " I considered as a great public acquisition the commencement
of a settlement on that point of the Western coast of
America, and looked forward with gratification to the
time when its descendants should have spread themselves through the whole length of that coast, covering
it with free and independent Americans, unconnected
with us but by the ties of blood and interest, and
enjoying like us the rights of self-government."
I will add, as my own views, that rather than have
new States formed beyond the Rocky Mountains, to
be added to our present Union, it would be a lesser
evil, so far as that Union is concerned, if the unoccupied portion of the Oregon Territory should sink into
Symmes's Hole, leaving the western base of those
Mountains and the borders of the Pacific Ocean one
and the same. But as this consummation — however
devoutly it may be wished — can hardly be expected,
1 deem it very desirable that the question of boundary ■\
should be speedily adjusted, and that the limits and
the rights of each party be so clearly established and
defined as to prevent all danger of collision hereafter.
In this opinion I doubt not that the distinguished
statesmen, Messrs. Packenham and Calhoun, who now
have charge of the négociation, will cordially concur ;
and it seems to me that each party will attain their
object, and justice be done to both, by adopting as
the boundary a continuation of the parallel of 49°
across the Rocky Mountains, to tide-water, say to the
middle of the " Gulf of Georgia ; " thence by the
northernmost navigable passage (not north of 49°) to
the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and down the middle of
these Straits to the Pacific Ocean ; the navigation of
the Gulf of Georgia and the Straits of Juan de Fuca
to be forever free to both parties — all the islands and
other territory lying South and East of this line to belong to the United States, and all North and West to
Great Britain. By this arrangement we should yield
to Great Britain the portion of Quadra and Vancouver's Island that lies South of Latitude 49°, which, in
a territorial point of view, is of too little importance
to deserve a moment's consideration ; and both parties
would secure, for a considerable extent, a well-defined
natural boundary, about which there could hereafter
be no doubt or dispute. Will Great Britain accede to
this ? I think she will. Up to the close of the last
negotiation, in 1827, the free navigation of the Columbia was declared to be indispensable to Great
Britain, by the British Commissioners ; but subsequent
developments will probably render the British less
pertinacious upon this point. The " summary" presented by the Commissioners in 1827, shows that the
J 26
Columbia was then supposed to be the most convenient — in fact the only — navigable channel of communication between the Ocean and most of the numerous establishments of the Hudson Bay Company,
West of the Rocky Mountains. Within a few years
past, however, several rivers, of considerable magnitude, have been explored from the interior to the
seas into which they empty, North of Latitude 49°.
These are " Frazer's River," which disembogues
about that parallel — the river called by Harmon the
" Nachaottatain," in about the Latitude 53° — " Simpson's River," a little North of Latitude 55° — and
" Stickene River," in 56° 507. AH these would be
within the British territory, or are so situated that the
British, by their Convention with Russia, would have
the right of navigating them ; and they would afford
convenient communication with most of their establishments North of 49° ; and if this adjustment should
be made they would retain none South of that line.
I should be reluctant to cede to Great Britain the free
navigation of the Columbia, for there are serious
objections to giving to any nation the unlimited right
of using a narrow stream where it flows wholly
through the territories of another. For obvious reasons, the exercise of such a right must endanger the
harmony and peace of the parties ; and, especially, at
such a remote point, would be a fruitful cause of
jealousy, and very likely to occasion collision. But
Great Britain will not relinquish the right to the free
navigation and use of the Straits of Juan de Fuca if
she retains the territory North of 49°. The use of
these Straits would, in fact, be indispensable to her,
for through them is the only convenient access to a 27
considerable portion of this territory. The Strait of
Juan de Fuca is about three leagues wide at its
entrance, within which the width increases. Near its
head are numerous islands, and some of the finest
harbors in the world. " Admiralty Inlet " branches
off to the South, and runs towards the main stream of
the Columbia to the Latitude of 47°, and all these
islands, harbors and inlets would be within our limits.
This Strait, with all its branches, being easy of access,
safe, and navigable at all seasons and in any weather,
while the mouth of the Columbia is at all times dangerous to enter, and for a considerable part of the
year almost inaccessible, I cannot but think that the
Strait will ultimately be the great channel through
which will pass most of the products of the whole
region drained by the Columbia and its branches —
both that part of it which would fall to us in the proposed division, and a considerable portion of that
which would fall to Great Britain, lying North of 49°.
Very different and conflicting representations have
been made by different writers in regard to the general aspect of the whole territory, and its adaptation
to agricultural purposes : some have described it as a
perfect paradise, while by others it has been represented as wild and sterile. According to my observation both have exaggerated. Those who have painted
its beauty in glowing colors probably looked at it in
contrast with the dreary regions they had passed
through in reaching it, while others may not have
made sufficient allowance for the repulsive appearance
which a large portion of an uncultivated country, in a
high latitude, usually presents. A Memoir, prepared
by Mr. Wyeth, a few years since, at the request of
a committee of Congress, contains the clearest and
most impartial representation of the appearance and
capabilities of the country that I have met with.
South of the parallel of 49°, near the borders of Admiralty Inlet and Puget's Sound, and in the valley of
the Wallammette, or Multnomah River, which empties
into the Columbia, and upon the banks of which the
principal settlements of emigrants from the United
States have been made, and in some other places, the
appearance of the country is attractive, the soil good,
and well adapted to agricultural purposes ; and so likewise is the eastern side of Queen Charlotte's 'Islands,
and some other places North of 49°. But I have
neither seen nor heard of lands in any part of this territory that are superior to the millions upon millions
of uncultivated acres within the limits of the United
States, on this side the Rocky Mountains ; and I doubt
if those who are dissatisfied with the state of things
eastward of these mountains, will find their condition
much improved by emigration to the Oregon Territory.
They will find — as emigrants to a new and unsettled
country have too often found — that "'Tis distance
lends enchantment to the view."
The climate, however, is altogether milder, and the
winter less severe than in corresponding latitudes on
this side the Continent, and more nearly resembles the
climate of Europe. As proof of its mildness I may
mention that I have passed seven winters between the
latitudes of 51° and 57°, frequently lying so near the
shore as to have a small cable fast to the trees upon
it, and only once was my ship surrounded by ice sufficiently firm to bear the weight of a man.
1 have thus endeavored to give you the material 29
facts in relation to our claim to territory West of the
Rocky Mountains, and to the present state of the dispute with Great Britain in relation to it. There is
evidently a lamentable ignorance upon the subject,
both among those who call loudly for action and those
whose position gives them the power to act ; and it
seems to me that many, both in and out of Congress,
who are most clamorous for taking immediate possession of the " whole Territory of Oregon," know
little if anything about the real merits of the question.
There are, at the present time, numerous establishments of British subjects — all in the service of the
Hudson Bay Company — scattered from the mouth of
the Umqua River, in Lat. 43° 307, northward to the
Russian borders. Over these, by act of Parliament
in 1821, Great Britain extended the laws of Canada
and the jurisdiction of her Courts, and authorized the
appointment of the necessary officers for executing
these laws and enforcing this jurisdiction. But this
was done with express reservation of all the rights
secured to the United States by the Convention of
1818, and no attempt has ever been made by British
authorities to interfere with American citizens in that
quarter. The Americans are settled in the immediate
vicinity of the British establishments ; in fact the
people of both nations are in a manner mingled
together. The number of American settlers is on the
increase,'by continual immigration from the States.
They hold the lands upon which they settle only by
the tenure of possession, and are governed only by
such laws, or regulations, as they choose to adopt. If
the controversy about this territory is to remain in
abeyance, it may be necessary for Congress to pass 30
laws for the government of American citizens residing
within it ; but how such laws are to be executed cannot
readily be perceived, and what is to be the result of
such an anomalous state of things I will not venture
to predict. No stronger proof need be adduced of
the ignorance, or something worse, that has prevailed
upon this subject in our national councils, than the
fact that since 1818 repeated attempts have been
made in Congress — bills reported and debated — for
establishing a territorial government, and extending
the laws and jurisdiction of the United States over the
whole " Territory of Oregon." Such a measure would
have been a gross violation of existing treaty stipulations, and fraught with all the consequences of a
hostile act against a friendly and powerful nation.
The first day of the present Session of Congress,
Dr. Duncan, a member from Ohio, gave notice of
his intention to bring in a bill for taking immediate
© ©
possession of the whole "Territory of Oregon." He
subsequently introduced a bill for this purpose, which
was referred to the Committee upon the Territories,
and by them amended and reported to the House,
where it was ordered to be printed. This bill provides for taking possession of the whole region West
of the Rocky Mountains, from Lat. 42° to 54° 407,
and extending over it our laws and jurisdiction. Can
any man in his sober senses believe that Great Britain
will stand tamely by and see such a measure carried
out? She has repeatedly claimed and maintained
rights in this territory before the whole civilized world
— she has enjoyed these rights, and exercised undisturbed authority within the disputed limits, nearly half
a century,    Hundreds of her subjects have settled,
Si 31
and are now living there under her laws. Is it probable — is it within the scope of possibilities — that a
nation, that more than fifty years ago expended millions of dollars in preparing to redress an alledged
wrong done to one of her subjects, under doubtful
circumstances, and to regain a single spot, said to
have been taken from that subject at Nootka, within
the territory in question — is it possible, that with her
pride and her power apparently undiminished, she will
now permit the whole territory to be taken possession
of, and her subjects compelled to submit to foreign
authority, or be forcibly expelled from their homes,
without even a struggle ? There is not the shadow of
a doubt in my mind that such an attempt — made and
persisted in — would cause an immediate rupture, and
bring on war between the two countries as surely as
if we were to take possession of the island of Jamaica,
or the city of Montreal. There are, I doubt not, in
some parts of the Union, political aspirants and political demagogues — men of desperate fortunes — who
believe that any change would, to them, be for the
better, and therefore desire to provoke a war with
Great Britain, reckless of consequences to the country
so long as their individual interests are promoted. But
I hope that the number of such is small, and trust that
their counsels will not be listened to. This controversy may easily be made the pretext for a war with
Great Britain, if war is desired ; but I repeat that it is
eminently one to be settled by négociation. If this
cannot be done, let no other steps be taken at present.
The British have now a decided superiority in that
quarter, but emigration is constantly changing the relative situation of the parties in favor of the United
States ; and a few years hence she will be better able 32
to support her pretensions by force than she is at the
present time. But it is idle to speak of force. A
resort to it can never be necessary. Let the able ne-
gociators, who now have this matter in charge, examine it with reference solely to its own merits, —
regardless of the clamors of ignorance, or the suggestions of selfishness, — and let them discuss it with the
manly frankness and conciliatory spirit that guided
the distinguished diplomatists who settled the Northeastern boundary, and it can scarcely fail to be adjusted to the satisfaction of a vast majority of the intelligent people of both nations.
There is a third party interested in this matter, of
whom I have not spoken, and who have not been
mentioned or even alluded to in the discussions and
négociations that have been going on, in relation to
this territory, among four civilized nations, for more
than fifty years. The claims of this party do not
depend upon discovery, or exploration, or contiguity,
but rest upon actual, undisturbed, undisputed possession —! by themselves and their fathers — from a period
to which the history of this continent does not reach.
But these claimants are powerless, and have neither
fleets nor armies to maintain their rights ; and 'tis not
the practice of civilized and Christian nations to listen
to the claims, or respect the rights, of savages and
heathens ! The rights of the Indians, from one
extremity of this continent to the other, have been disregarded, are now disregarded, and will, 1 fear, continue to be disregarded until the day of retribution
comes, when equal justice will be meted out to the
Christian destroyer and his heathen victim — and that
will be a woful day for the white man.


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