The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 16, Part II


By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!


This was in 1826-27; and Evans tells us that though the British claim was defended by such able advocates as Huskisson, Grant, and Addington, they ultimately admitted that England did not assert any title to the country, but urged her claim as good against the United States, quoting the Nootka convention and its alleged concessions by Spain. They also object to the President's recommendation to establish a military post at the mouth of the Columbia, and a bill already passed by Congress to provide for occupying the Oregon River. To this Mr. Gallatin replies by quoting the yet larger powers, from whose operation and penalties American citizens were not excepted, conferred by Parliament on the Hudson's Bay Fur company. The

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British negotiators were obliged to acknowledge that our minister's point was well taken, and withdrew their protest.

We again offered the forty-ninth degree of the Pacific, with the further concession that "the navigation of the Columbia should be perpetually free to Great Britain, provided that the line should strike the northeasternmost, or any other branch of that river, at a point navigable for boats." This offer was summarily rejected by the British ministers, who renewed the offer of 1824, with certain concessions, which, as we rejected them, are not necessary top enumerate. This negotiation, however, bore fruit in the treaty of August 6th, 1827, which was in reality a continuation of the Joint Occupancy ten years' agreement, but for an indefinite period, with the proviso, however, that either party might abrogate this convention by giving twelve months' notice.

This Joint Occupancy Treaty aided the British, but from its very inception was a hindrance and drawback to American progress in Oregon. On the side of the United States it was offered in the spirit of peace; but it cannot be denied that we lived up not only to the letter but to the spirit of its unwise equal eight provisions. We "did no act in derogation of Great Britain's claim, though we well knew that her title was unfounded." England, however, less frank and open, depended upon a "masterly inactivity," biding her time till her secret influences should bring about a sovereignty of settlement--a preponderance of British opinion, which should finally leaven the whole lump and Anglicize the debatable land of Oregon. The Hudson's Bay Company was still there, active and dominant, and the home Government could safely rely on its most loyal exertions.

Evans puts the Joint Occupancy situation very nearly thus:

"The treaties of 1818 and 1817 have passed into history as conventions for joint occupancy. Practically they operated as grants of possession to Great Britain, or, rather, to her representative, the Hudson's Bay Company, who, after the merger with the Northwest Company, had become sole occupant of the territory. The situation may be briefly summed up as follows: the United States claimed title to the territory; Great Britain, through its empire trading company, occupied it, enjoyed all the wealth and resources derivable from it. In fact, these 'Joint

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Occupancy' treaties secured to England all that she desired--time for the Hudson's Bay Company to ripen possessory rights into a fee simple in the soil itself."

Our negotiators--Messrs. Adams, Clay and Gallatin-- were undoubtedly honest men, doing what, in accordance with their rights, they believed to be for the best interests of the republic, sand without prejudice to the ultimate possession of all that we claimed in the Northwest Coast. They were simply overreached by British guile and covert machinations--by profession wearing the mask of apparent frankness and good-will, yet really intended to deceive and beguile. In agreeing to a convention they relinquished nothing; its provisions in no manner touched our claim; it simply left that claim in abeyance. If it was good, then it could be so still at the termination of the ten years of joint occupancy. Al that we granted was an equal privilege for a stipulated time, a rarity of right to use and occupancy. However good in intention, it was nevertheless a mistaken policy, even though granted with modifications--a power to give notice of abrogation, and the fact, to which Mr. Adams, in discussing these two treaties on the floor of Congress, drew attention when he said that the latter, unlike the former, contains no allusion to the claims of Spain, our treaty with that power having, in the mean time, conferred upon us all her rights in the premises, and thus strengthened our title to the sole ownership on the Northwest coast.

In 1822 we find the "Oregon question," as it had come to be called, again occupying the attention of Congress.

It should be remembered, also, that when "the Oregon question: came up for discussion in our national Legislature during the heated debates of 1845-46, a venerable statesman, speaking in answer to Butler King, of Georgia, made use of the following language:

"There is a very great misapprehension of the real merits of this case, founded on the misnomer which declares that convention to be a convention of joint occupation. Sir, it is not a convention of joint occupation; it is a convention of non-occupation--a promise on the part of both parties that neither of the parties will occupy the territory for an indefinite period; first for ten yeas, then until the notice should be given by the one party or the other that the convention shall be terminated--that is to

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say, that the restriction, the fetters upon our hands, shall be thrown off which prevents occupation."

This shows the intention and understanding of these famous treaties of "joint occupancy" as understood by its framers and the signatory powers on our side. But even if this be admitted, it is difficult to see what America had to gain by such a compact. Far better to have followed the Irishman's theory of "fighting for conciliation" than to have turned this British wolf into our sheepfold, unoccupied as it was, of the Pacific Northwest, in the form of "a bill to authorize the occupation of the Columbia River, and to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes therein."

In the discussion which followed, Mr. Floyd opened in its support, followed by Baylies, of Massachusetts. There was a grand passage in that speech, full of beauty, too fanciful, as it was counted then, ever to be realized, yet in realization failing far short of the oratorical imagery in which it was clothed. He said:

"A population of scarcely six hundred thousand swelled into ten millions--a population which in their youth extended scarce one hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean, spreading beyond the mountains of the West and down hose mighty waters which open into regions o such matchless fertility and beauty, some now within these walls may, before they die, witness scenes more wonderful than these, and in after times may cherish delightful recollections of this day, when America, shrinking 'from the shadows of coming events,' first placed her foot upon untrodden ground, scarcely daring to anticipate the grandeur that awaited her. Let us march boldly on to the accomplishment of this important, this useful, and this splendid object, and my word for it, no one who gives his vote for this bill will repent. On the contrary, he may consider it one of the proudest acts of his life."

Of a far different temper was Mr. Tucker, of south Carolina, who opposed the bill; whose objections deserve to be quoted, if only for the singularity of the reasons advanced. He spoke as follows:

"I oppose this bill because it is calculated to draw off the population and capital to t a point where it will be less efficient and useful than at present, and where it must be eventually

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lost to the States." While he considered that the progress of population to the West was inevitable, he had no wish to accelerate it, because, "in the nature of things the people of the east and west sides of the Rocky Mountains must hare a permanent separation of interests."

Truly this conservative gentleman would seem to bear in mind Benton's fabled god Terminus, who w as t stand forever on the ridge of the Rocky Mountains to mark our Western boundary, or was, possibly, a disciple of that retired sea captain who would rather "see Oregon sunk in Symme's Hole than other States added to the Union on the shores of the Pacific."

The measure was lost by a vote of sixty-one ayes to one hundred votes. But it comes up in the Senate on February, 1823, in another form, when Mr. Benton, now quite out of love with the location of his god Terminus, introduced a bill "instructing the Military Committee to inquire into the expediency of making an appropriations to enable the President to take and retain possession of the territories of the United States on the west coast of the Pacific. Upon the resolution being modified with his consent, substituting a reference to the Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr. Benton made his first speech in advocacy of immediate action.

Evans, quoting from Benton, summarizes his speech thus: "He affirmed the following propositions; 1. That out claim to sovereignty is disputed by England. 2. That England is now the party in possession. 3. That she resists the possession of the United States. 4. That the party in possession in 1828 will have the right of possession, under the law of nations, until the question of sovereignty shall be settled by war or negotiations." He thus concluded: "that it was now apparent that the republic, partly through its remissness, party from the concessions of our ministers in London, but chiefly from the bold pretensions of Great Britain, is in imminent danger of losing all its possessions and the Rocky Mountains. The evils of such a loss to us and the advantage of such an acquisition to her are too obvious to be here insisted upon. Every one can see that the mouth of the Columbia in the hands of England would immediately be converted into a grand naval station for the protection of her trade and navigation in the Pacific Ocean and for the destruction of the commerce of all other powers. Not an American ship will

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be able to show herself beyond Cape Horn but with the permission of the English. The direct intercourse between the valley of the Mississippi and Asia would be intercepted. The fur trade of the Rocky Mountains would fall into the hands of British subjects, and with it the entire command of all the Indians, west and north, to be turned loose upon the frontiers of Missouri and Arkansas and Illinois and Michigan upon the first renewal of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain."

The condition of things with their possibilities could not be more forcibly stated; the more so as coming from a statesman whose opinions had been so radically altered from the desire to fix our Western limits on the Rocky Mountain ridge, ina determination to accept nothing less than the shores of the Pacific. Truly there is no advocate so zealous as a new convert. The motion was adopted, but the committee failed to report. Another committee--this time with Floyd, an advocate for occupancy, as its chairman--did report, and embodied a letter from General Jesup, then our quartermaster-general, whose ideas probably suggested the action ultimately, but not till yeas afterward taken. After asserting that the possession and military command of the territory was necessary not only for the protection of trade but the secretary of the Western frontier, he goes on to recommend:

"The immediate dispatch of a force of two hundred men across the continent to establish a fort at the mouth of the Columbia River; that at the same time two vessels with arms, ordnance, and supplies be sent thither by sea. He further proposed the establishment of a line of posts across the continent to afford protection to our traders, and on the expiration of the privilege granted to British subjects to trade on the waters of the Columbia, to enable us to remove them from our territory and secure the whole to our citizens. These posts would also assure the preservation of peace among the Indians in the event of foreign war, and command their neutrality or assistance as we might think most advisable."

It is refreshing to meet with good hard common sense tersely embodied in suggestions that an be practically applied. We are inclined to believe that, without derogation to the eminent statesman who represented us from time to time at the court of St. James, if such old veterans as Jesup, thoroughly acquaint-

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Ed as they were with frontier needs from frontier service and actual observation, had been in charge of these "delicate diplomatic negotiations," we might have had war, but we should never have been embarrassed with what Adams justly styled "the fetters" of "joint occupancy," and similar treaties.

Diplomacy, however, was just then in the ascendant. Congress was unwilling to assert our claim, preferring to extract the flower from this "nettle danger" of the "Oregon question" rather than group it with the iron gauntlet of war. Yet who does not know that the nettle yields to a confident clasp, but stings the finger that assaults it tenderly; and we have yet to learn the "the Canada thistle" is an exception to the rule.

One result grew out of the publication of General Jesup's letter of advice:

"It is alleged that the publication of this able document furnished a strong incentive to Great Britain to labor more assiduously to retain the advantages of that occupancy which had accrued to her subjects by the treaty of 1818."

But it was not only with England that Jesup's letter stimulated action; it rendered our own conservative States uneasy, and strengthened the hands of the little "Oregon party" in Congress.

In December of 1824 President Monroe refers to Oregon in his message, invites the attention of Congress to the necessity of a post at the mouth of the Columbia, and suggests an appropriation to carry out his views.

At the same session Floyd, the champion of Oregon, once more comes to the front, breaks his lance in gallant fashion with Trimble of Kentucky, in a masterly defence of the American title, bit is defeated by a decisive vote. Buchanan, with the weak diplomacy which was to meet its culmination of wavering in his senile official dementia of 1861, moved to strike out all that provided for the establishment of a post of entry and extending the revenue laws over the territory, because it was an infringement of the treaty of 1818. It cannot be denied if our "English cousins" had been half as anxious to carry out the spirit of the treaty of "joint" (why not "sole"!) "occupation" as Mr. Buchanan and some other sympathetic souls were to defend its letter, we should have heard far less of British rights in

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the day of final settlement. Gazley, of Ohio, replied. Floyd explained that the bill left discretionary powers with the President as to the time of its application. Taylor, of New York, opposed the formation of territorial government, but favored the establishment of a military post as recommended by the President's message. Smythe, of Virginia, moved to amend by striking out the proposed name of the territory and simply described it as "the territory of the United States on the Northwest coast of America." Taylor's amendment being adopted, and grants of land to actual settlers being stricken out, the bill passed the House by one hundred and thirteen to fifty-seven. The title of the bill was also changed to read, "To provide for occupying the Columbia River." Going to the Senate in February, it was ably defended by Barbour, of Virginia, but defeated by Dickinson, of new Jersey, who is equally delicate with Buchanan about a possible interference with "joint occupancy." The bill was accordingly laid upon the tale by the close vote of nineteen to seventeen. It was again called up in March to give Benton an opportunity to reply to Dickinson, but Benton's magnificent plea in behalf of an American Oregon availed nothing as against the diplomatic conservatism of his colleagues, for the bill again fails, going to the table by the decisive vote of twenty-five to fourteen. Other legislation, but fruitless of result, followed. Citizens of Massachusetts, Ohio and Louisiana formed organizations, proposed their petitions through their respective representatives. These efforts were ably supported in Congress, and ended ina bill formulated to carry them out; the same delicacy as to existing treaties stood, dragon-like, in its path, and with the lion of English occupation at its back, paralyzed every effort. With this final struggle Congress made for years no further attempt to legislate upon the American interest in Oregon.

In 1831 we find the question of settlement revived through diplomatic correspondence. Jackson is now President, Van Buren our minister at London. Our claim is asserted not with arrogance, but with confidence in our sole title. Mr. Livingston, the Secretary of State, says: "This subject is open for discussion, and until the rights of the parties can be settled by negotiations, ours can suffer nothing by delay." We too have become converts to the practice of a "masterly inactivity." The matter

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Drops, as might be expected. Tyler becomes President, and now the Oregon controversy wakes once more from sleep, this time aroused by Great Britain, whose self-written deed of possession may now be supposed, thanks to the Hudson's Bay Company, to be almost ready for record. They are prepared "to be fair, and only want an equitable compromise"--in other words, John Bull has not dwelt in Uncle Sam's house without paying rent so long that he has persuaded himself that he is owner of the premises, and is willing to receive a deed from the Untied States for the property. Wonderful that his modesty does not permit him to charge us for his care-taking during "joint occupancy"! Formal negotiations are for a time suspended. Webster resigns, Upshur succeeds him. Our new secretary intimates that the forty-ninth parallel may be again offered, with the possible freedom of the Columbia River to both parties. "Beyond this the President is not prepared to go." We should think not. Nevertheless, our Minister at St. James is empowered to propose or receive, subject to approval, other terms. In February, 1844, Hon. Richard Packenham arrives in Washington with full powers to negotiate on behalf of Great Britain the boundaries of the Oregon or Columbia territory. Then on the terrible day of the "peacemaker" the Paixhan gun onboard the Princeton kills Secretary Upshur, who is succeeded by John C. Calhoun, March 4th, 1844. Negotiations are resumed in July. WE are again offered the Columbia River boundary, with free ports as desired south of 49--a generous proffer of our own property; a deed of gift from the trespasser to the legitimate owner. This offer is declined in September on the ground that it would restrict our territory to less than its rightful dimensions--in other words, Mr. Calhoun declines to violate the arithmetical axion that "the lesser cannot contain the greater." Our space does not permit us to follow the arguments of these diplomatic gentlemen. Calhoun did not propose to cede what was evidently our own, and Packenham used all the subtleties of his assumptions in vain to obtain it. The conferences came to a fruitless close, with a protest from Mr. Packenham, September 24th. It may be most fitly reviewed on the British side, as regards the rightfulness of their claims, in the words of Webster, uttered as a senator of the United States.

"I do not believe that Great Britain has any just right to

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any part of the country not tributary to the waters of Hudson's Bay and that side of the continent. All her pretended right was founded on the encroachments of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the usurpations, spoliations, and diplomatic trickery of her Government."

But this, our "search for title," already too extended, yet impossible to condense, must find its continuation in another chapter, which must be headed, Our boundaries Destined and our right to them Secured.




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