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Dr. John McLoughlin
The Resignation of Dr. John McLoughlin


In 1845 Dr. McLoughlin sent in his resignation to the Hudson's Bay Company. Its rules required one year's notice before an officer could resign. His resignation took effect before the immigration of 1846 arrived. As this address relates to Dr. McLoughlin, and only incidentally to the Oregon Pioneers, I shall not go into details about the immigrations succeeding that of 1845. Dr. McLoughlin kept a store and lived at Oregon City after his resignation. To the immigrants of 1846 and after, and to others, as long as he was in business there, he continued, as far as he was able, the ?ame hospitality and the same good and humane treatment he had exercised when Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver. The Barlow road was built in 1846 and the immigrants of that year and succeeding years could bring their wagons by that road from The Dalles, over the Cascade Mountains, to Oregon City. By common consent of all good, honest pioneers, he had been named "The Good Doctor," and "The Good Old Doctor," and he was known by these names to the time of his death. They also came to call him the "Father of Oregon." Dr. McLoughlin's resignation from the Hudson's Bay Company became necessary to maintain his self-respect.

I have spoken of Capt. Park and Lieut. Peel, British officers, who brought the letters of Admiral Seymour and Captain Gordon to Dr. McLoughlin in 1845. They were also sent as spies. They were succeeded by two more spies, Capt. Warre and Lieut. Vavasour, both of the British army. The two latter stayed at Fort Vancouver and elsewhere in Oregon for some time. In their report Warre and Vavasour charged, mainly, that the policy pursued by Dr. McLoughlin and the Hudson's Bay Company, at the different forts in the Oregon Country, had tended to the introduction of American settlers into the country until they outnumbered the British. To prove this position, they instanced the assistance rendered the different immigrations, one of which (1845) was arriving while they were at Vancouver. They charged that goods had been sold to the American settlers at cheaper rates than to British subjects; that Dr. McLoughlin and the Company had suffered themselves to join the Provisional Government "without any reserve except the mere form of the oath;" that their lands had been invaded, and themselves insulted, until they required the protection of the British government "against the very people to the introduction of whom they had been more than accessory." There was more in this report of like import.

As was to be expected Dr. McLoughlin's answer was dignified, forceful, and sufficient. I give only a few of his points. In his answer Dr. McLough-lin said, concerning his treatment of the missionaries : "What would you have? Would you have me turn the cold shoulder to the men of God, who came to do that for the Indians which this Company has neglected to do?" He said he had tried to prevent the American settlers remaining idle, becoming destitute, and dangerous to the Company's servants. Drive them away he could not, having neither the right nor the power. That these settlers had not come expecting a cordial reception from him, but quite the contrary; that while he had done some things for humanity's sake, he had intended to, and had averted evil to the Company by using kindness and courtesy towards the American immigrants. As to joining the Provisional Government he showed the necessity and wisdom of his actions under the circumstances. To the accusation that the Company had submitted to insult, he said: "They were not to consider themselves insulted because an ignorant man thought he had a better right than they had." As to the British government, it had not afforded protection in time, and that it was not the duty of the Hudson's Bay Company to defend Great Britain's right to territory. The obligation of the Company's officers, whatever their feelings might be, was to do their duty to the Company. He admitted helping the immigrants of 1843, 1844, and 1845, and saving the lives and property of the destitute and sick. He also admitted to assisting the immigrants of 1843 to raise a crop for their own support and of saving the Company from the necessity of feeding the next immigration. And he said: "If we had not done this, Vancouver would have been destroyed and the world would have judged us treated as our inhuman conduct deserved; every officer of the Company, from the Governor down, would have been covered with obloquy, the Company's business in this department would have been ruined, and the trouble which would have arisen in consequence would have probably involved the British and American nations in war. If I have been the means, by my measures, of arresting any of these evils, I shall be amply repaid by the approbation of my conscience. It is true that I have heard some say they would have done differently; and, if my memory does not deceive me, I think I heard Mr. Vavasour say this; but as explanation might give publicity to my apprehension and object, and destroy my measures, I was silent, in the full reliance that some day justice would be done me."

The Governor and the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company apparently neither understood nor appreciated the conditions in Oregon in 1843, and in the immediate succeeding years, or Dr. McLoughlin's motives and humanity in assisting the immigrants. While the Governor in Chief and these directors were probably men of high character, and, individually, men of humanity, as representatives of this great trading company, they seemed to have considered Dr. McLoughlin's actions in assisting the American immigrants to settle in parts of the disputed Oregon Country by relieving their distresses, and saving them from suffering and starvation, as amounting almost to treason to his Country and as being untrue and false to the Hudson's Bay Company and its interests. They believed that he had failed to carry out its policies, if not its express instructions, which they felt he should have followed, as the chief of its enterprises west of the Rocky Mountains, no matter what the circumstances were or what the consequences might be. They did not seem to understand that, if the early immigrants had not been assisted, helped, and rescued, as they were, by Dr. McLoughlin, it might have been fatal to Fort Vancouver and precipitated a war between the United States and Great Britain. As has been already said the Hudson's Bay Company, under royal grant, had an absolute monopoly in trading with the Indians in what was called British America, that is, northward and westward of the United States, excepting the British Provinces and also excepting the Oregon Country. In the latter the Company had the exclusive right, under said grant, to trade with the Indians, but on the condition that it should not be to the prejudice nor exclusion of citizens of the United States, who had the right to be in the Oregon Country under the convention of joint-occupancy. Undoubtedly the Governor in Chief and directors of the Hudson's Bay Company had a feeling that the Company and its trade should not be interfered with in the Oregon Country. For more than thirty years it and the Northwest Company, with which it had coalesced in 1821, had had almost absolute control of trade with the Indians in nearly all of the Oregon Country. Its practical monopoly there had been almost as complete as its actual monopoly in British America. The exercise of absolute power usually begets a feeling of a right to continue the exercise of such power. The head-officers of the Company resented the actions of Dr. McLoughlin which tended to weaken the power of the Hudson's Bay Company and to interfere with its control of the fur trade in the Oregon Country.

An Indian trading company is much more likely to be mercenary than humane. The headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company were at London. Oregon was a long distance from London. Under the conditions it may not be surprising that greed of gain and selfish interests outweighed humanity in the minds of these officers in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company. It is true none of them were in Oregon when these immigrants came. None of these officers had ever been in the Oregon Country, excepting Sir George Simpson, the Governor in Chief. These officers did not see the distresses, the sufferings, or the perils of these immigrants. Their information came largely from others, who were not friends of Dr. McLoughlin, and who did not approve his actions. Dr. McLoughlin had been for so long a time a Chief Factor of the Company; he had been, up to the arrival of the immigration of 1843, so faithful to its policies and interests; he had so increased its trade, and added so largely to its revenues, that he could not be summarily dismissed. But he was a man of pride and of high quality, and he 1/ could be forced to resign. This the Governor in Chief and the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company accomplished. In thus acting unjustly to Dr. McLoughlin, they were unconsciously assisting to make him the eternal hero of Oregon. In resigning Dr. McLoughlin gave up a salary of twelve thousand dollars a year. He made his home at Oregon City, where he expected to pass the rest of his life, with the intention of becoming an American citizen as soon as possible. He invested his wealth at Oregon City in various enterprises in an attempt to assist in upbuilding Oregon.

His resignation marks the beginning of his tribulations which ended only with his death. The details I shall presently set forth. In assisting the immigrants Dr. McLoughlin did not count the cost nor fear the consequences. His humanity was greater than his liking for wealth or position. He had no greed for gain, no selfishness. Had he anticipated the consequences I believe that he would not have hesitated nor acted otherwise than he did. Frances Fuller Victor wrote of Dr. McLoughlin and his tribulations: "Aristocrat, as he was considered by the colonists [American settlers] and autocrat as he really was, for twenty years throughout the country west of the Rocky Mountains, he still bravely returned the assaults of his enemies in the language of a republican. He defended the American character from the slurs of government spies, saying, 'they have the same right to come that I have to be here,' touching lightly upon the ingratitude of those who forgot to pay him their just debts, and the rudeness of those, whom White mentions as making him blush for American honor. But whether he favored the Company's interests against the British, or British interests against the Company's, or maintained both against the American interests, or favored the American interests against either, or labored to preserve harmony between all, the suspicions of both conflicting parties fell upon him, and being forced to maintain silence he had the bad fortune to be pulled to pieces between them."


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