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Sir James Douglas
Chapter V - The Oregon Boundary


THE fundamental elements of the memorable dispute between Great Britain and the United States concerning the Oregon boundary have been set forth incidentally in previous chapters. It will be well, however, before discussing the negotiations which brought the contest to an end, to recall in rapid review the more crucial of these early events, the significance of which bulked large in the arguments of later times and combined with much that was new to determine the ultimate destiny of the Pacific coast.

It has been described how, in the first half of the sixteenth century, Spain alone of the European nations—partly by virtue of the Papal bull, partly in overweening power—followed a career of conquest in the New World. How she was brought in due course to the Pacific, and how, after the plunder of Mexico and Peru, her sailors buffeted their way along the coast to the 50th parallel of latitude, was also dealt with. If such discoveries conveyed a title to the soil, Spain's sole disturber in these early days was the Englishman Francis Drake, whose descent upon New Albion was the less vexatious because, like the Spaniards themselves, he was gone almost as soon as he had come. As a matter of fact, the coast above the 42nd parallel was still to all intents an undiscovered country when, more than a hundred and sixty years after Drake and Viscaino, the expeditions of Perez, Heceta and Quadra first gave to Spain what might be called a title to the shore south of the 58th parallel. Cook's voyage, the discoveries of the Russians, and the rise of the British trade in sea-otter, have been referred to at some length in the foregoing. The result of the advent of Great Britain in these waters was the collision at Nootka, the final settlement of which pricked forever the bubble of Spain's pretensions to exclusive ownership in the Pacific, the coast being thrown open to the vessels of both nations for trade, navigation and settlement, while each was given the right of access to the stations of the other. Vancouver's careful survey, the investigations of Quimper, and the discovery of the Columbia by Gray followed, Gray's exploit becoming in later years the strongest argument with which the United States contested her claim to Oregon. Soon after, the epoch-making expedition of Mackenzie overland opened the way to the first permanent settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Of the part played by American navigators, who for a decade after 1800 monopolized the trade of the coast, and the momentous series of incidents that grouped themselves about the Louisiana purchase, including the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the founding of Astoria, full mention has already been made. With this review by way of brief reminder, the negotiations that led to the first formal understanding between Great Britain and the United States—the powers who in the process of time inherited the tangled skein of claim and counter-claim to Oregon—may be outlined from the beginning.

Upon the close of the War of 1812, it had been agreed1 between Great Britain and the United States that territory taken by either nation in the course of the hostilities should be restored to its original owner. No allusion was made to the country west of the Rocky Mountains, nor were boundaries anywhere defined. Astoria, which had been purchased in 1813 by the North-West Company from its founders, remained in the possession of the British traders. There had been features, however, in connection with the transfer of that famous post, which imparted to the transaction a significance out of the ordinary. It will be remembered that the sale was made by agents who, though employees of the American company, were British by birth and sentiment; that it took place in the expectation of the arrival of an overpowering British force; and that, almost immediately upon the consummation of the purchase, the British sloop of war Raccoon took possession of the post, over which the British flag was raised, the name being at the same time changed to Fort George. How much or how little of the contiguous territory attached to the fort was always an open question. The bearing of these incidents was not lost sight of in the United States. No definite action was taken, however, until 1817, when the right to be reinstated on a national basis at Astoria was formally put forward, on the ground that the circumstances attending the transfer of 1813 amounted virtually to belligerent capture, and that the restoration of the fort was therefore included in the treaty which closed the war. After a brief demurrer, the claim was admitted by Lord Castlereagh for England,—completely and unconditionally, it was afterwards urged by the United States, though probably in the first instance with the idea merely of acknowledging the right of the United States to be regarded as the party in possession while discussion of the title to the adjoining territory was in progress. It should be explained that by the prolonged inactivity of Spain, the absorption of Russia in her northern trade, and the elimination of France by the purchase of Louisiana, the United States had by this time divided with Great Britain the leading interest in the region. The American flag was accordingly raised again over the site of Astoria, though the English company remained in possession for several years longer. Herein, it may be said, was the beginning of that irritating controversy between Great Britain and the United States which, after so many years of disquietude tinged with bitterness, ended in the loss to the former of a territory of singular value.

From the restitution of Astoria to the next stage of the proceedings was but a step. While the armed vessel despatched by the United States to take over the post was still upon the seas, a negotiation had been begun at London between plenipotentiaries of the two powers, for the adjustment of various matters left untouched by the Treaty of Ghent. Among these was the question of the claims of the respective countries to the territory west of the Rocky Mountains. The United States, it appeared, did not assert a perfect title to that region ; but she insisted that her claim was at least good against that of Britain. Great Britain was no less inclined to consider her own rights as antedating those of any other power, at least in the country north of the Columbia. Messrs. Rush and Gallatin for the United States, and Messrs. Robinson and Goulburne for Great Britain, conducted the deliberations. There was an exchange of superficial argument, which did little more than confirm the situation established by the restoration of Astoria a few months previously. An agreement in which the deadlock that had now been reached stood fully revealed was at last arrived at, October 20th, 1818. Under its terms, neither nation was granted exclusive sovereignty in the region lying between the 42nd and 55th parallels; both, however, might trade or establish settlements at unoccupied points; each was granted a rightful title to the posts it had already built; and either might interfere to protect its subjects in local quarrels. The agreement was limited to ten years. Both nations hoped, ere the period was ended, to strengthen their respective rights to possession: England by the actual occupancy of her fur traders; the United States by the inevitable expansion of the republic across the mountains, if, as was still in doubt, the Pacific Fur Company should not rise from its ashes. By both, therefore, the treaty was construed as a victory. Yet it settled nothing; it merely launched the question upon the uncertain sea of the future, to drift whithersoever the currents of chance might carry it.

With the year 1818, therefore, and the conclusion of the agreement above mentioned, the Oregon boundary question stood forth in clear-cut outline before the nations upon whom time had laid its solution. There was great ignorance, great indifference concerning it; but for the twenty-eight years of its troubled existence, though much that was new in argument was brought to bear from time to time, the issue itself remained unchanged. Great Britain held throughout that the boundary should follow the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia, descending the river thence to the sea ; the United States claimed the entire coast from California to Alaska as of right, but were at all times willing to agree that the boundary should follow the 49th parallel to the Pacific. Only the more important phases of the question and of the arguments employed as it passed through the mazes of diplomacy can be touched upon in the following paragraphs.

On February 22nd, 1819, the Florida treaty was signed between the United States and Spain. The treaty, apart from its main object, dealt largely with the boundary between Louisiana and Spanish territory. This, it was agreed, should follow the 42nd parallel from the headwaters of the Arkansas to the Pacific. North of that line the Spanish title to the coast was vested in the United States—a provision that led to much searching of records later, in the endeavour to determine the value of the title thus transferred. Soon after, negotiations as to spheres of influence were begun by the United States with Russia, whose arm had stretched as far south as the California coast. As a result, a treaty was obtained in 1824 which fixed the line of 54 40' as the limit beyond which neither nation was to found establishments without permission of the other. In the year following, as has been already noted, a similar boundary was agreed upon by Russia and Great Britain, with this difference, that the claim of the latter to the interior country extending northward to the Arctic Ocean was at the same time admitted. Some attempt at a joint conference between the three powers had previously failed, in part through emotions raised by the promulgation of the Monroe doctrine. Meanwhile negotiations between Great Britain and the United States were re-opened in London, the situation being in this way cleared for the renewal of the argument as between these countries alone. Spain, Russia and France, the remaining powers who, at one time or other, had held claims to varying portions of the coast, were now finally eliminated from the controversy.

For over three years the recrudescence of the question in this simplified form provoked a vigour of discussion that was exceeded only during the closing stages of the dispute, still some eighteen years in the future. Great Britain was represented by Huskisson and Stratford Canning, the United States by Rush. A claim to exclusive ownership by the latter, based on the Spanish transfer, the discoveries of Gray, and the founding of Astoria, and backed by a reference to the Monroe doctrine, led to an immediate impasse. A debate in congress soon after, in which a proposal was made to occupy the Columbia by a military force, had the result of bringing for the first time unequivocally into light the latent feeling of the British cabinet with regard to Oregon, as a territory not worth fighting for, though not to be relinquished in a manner repugnant to British pride. Unfortunately, the knowledge of this soon passed to the American camp. When the negotiations were resumed in 1826, Gallatin succeeding Rush, and Addington taking the place of Canning, the revelation had undoubted weight in obtaining an arrangement which virtually perpetuated the agreement of 1818. For both parties a compromise of the sort might again be interpreted as a victory. Great Britain retained the advantages of actual possession, which since the War of 1812 had been complete, and the prospective profits of the fur trade. The United States might still reflect with satisfaction that the settler, who alone would confer a permanent interest in the land, was far more likely to come from the republic than from England. No loss of dignity was sustained on either side ; and to break an amicable and profitable arrangement for a mere title of possession would, as Greenhow remarks, have been foolish as well as unrighteous. The knowledge and acumen displayed by both parties in the notes exchanged during the closing stages of the negotiations were well-nigh perfect, being in strong contrast with the slip-shod information that did service in the protocols of eight years previously. They were, of course, of no avail in modifying the result, except in one particular: the arrangement of 1827 was made subject to abrogation at any time by either party upon twelve months' notice. The matter thereupon relapsed for over ten years longer into a state of calm.

But if parliament, congress, and the diplomatic corps heard nothing of the controversy during that interval, the question was far from slumbering. By the irresistible march of events, it had in fact been brought before the tribunal whose judgment was to be final. The Oregon boundary had at last become a popular question. Reference has been already made to that stream of settlement which, beginning soon after 1830, had, within the decade and a half which followed, sent thousands of American farmers into the valleys south of the Columbia. The United States, with the knowledge gained in 1827, saw in this the fulfilment of her expectation. There was no need now of armed occupation; every settler was a soldier, and his wife and family part of an American garrison. Much matter was silently gathered, in the way of settlers' petitions and reports of missionaries and traders, against the day of final reckoning. A little later, congress was able to add to this the call of the provisional government erected in Oregon in the anticipation of an immediate extension of United States sovereignty. Popular murmurings grew meanwhile into a shout. Pamphlets and books were multiplied apace. With skilful repression, however, the issue was excluded from the negotiations held with Lord Ashburton in 1842 which had for subject the north-eastern boundary. But with that victory won, the flood of passion was no longer stemmed. Tyler's conciliatory language in 1843, served but as fuel to the flame. The exchange of views in 1844 and later,between the British minister Pakenham and Messrs. Calhoun and Buchanan for the United States, revealed only a modification of the previous arguments, except for the altered tone of the American proposals. The Baltimore platform of 1844, on which Polk was elected president, declared the title of the United States to the "whole of Oregon" to be "clear and unquestionable," and "fifty-four forty or fight" became the shibboleth of half a nation. The "whole of Oregon," it may be repeated, meant the entire region between California and Alaska, three quarters of which had been discovered and explored, and were now held, by the British fur traders. Popular clamour alone forced a claim of this magnitude upon the government, which as the event proved, was ready enough to agree to a compromise. Polk as president, did what he was elected to do in the matter of Oregon. Arbitration was refused on the ground of the difficulty of securing an unbiassed tribunal in monarchical Europe. The chances of war were freely canvassed in both countries, and there was bluster on both sides. Moderate language, however, was at all times preserved in the official correspondence. In the end, a simple notice of the abrogation of the existing treaty was served upon England, who at once proposed the 49th parallel as the boundary from the mountains to the middle of the channel which divides Vancouver Island from the mainland, the line to run from that point southerly by the middle of the same channel to the Pacific. Clauses were added giving certain rights of navigation to Great Britain on the Columbia, and safeguarding the property of the Hudson's Bay and Puget Sound Agricultural Companies in the territory south of the 49th degree. The suggestion was at once accepted by the United States. The boundary, it was found by the orators, was wonderfully adapted to the natural divisions of the two countries, parting the two great watersheds of the Fraser and the Columbia with the same accuracy that it divided, east of the mountains, the rivers flowing into Hudson Bay from those that fall into the Gulf of Mexico. It had, indeed, been part of Gallatin's argument in 1826-7 that the 49th parallel divided the disputed frontage on the Pacific into two nearly equal parts, whereas, if the Columbia were accepted as the boundary, less than one-third would accrue to the United States. Better, however, than its geographical excellence, appreciation of which can scarcely be looked for in Canada, the new boundary represented the peaceful solution of a long and trying difficulty, the arbitrament of which by war between two kindred peoples would have been an unspeakable calamity, however much it may be regretted that more of justice had not mingled with the terms of settlement.

Such, in the essentials, was the manner in which that famous controversy concerning the division of Oregon arose, raged, and was finally placed at rest. Its dust has long been laid; and there is no desire on any hand to disturb it. It is necessary, however, in this place, to note, in addition to the foregoing, something of the matter as well as the manner of the contest, now that the smoke of it has rolled far off and the facts are as we may assume they will remain. The wealth, indeed the endless diffuseness, of the material has been remarked. It permits a perfect view of the opposing claims as they appeared to their exponents, and furnishes as well a comprehensive means of classifying those opinions according to the accepted principles of international usage.

Sovereignty over new territory may be acquired by a nation in five ways: by discovery; by settlement; by contiguity; by treaty; and by prescription. All acts upon which a claim to sovereignty may be based must, of course, be those of a government and not of unauthorized individuals. The aquisition of territory is a grave act, imposing as a necessary consequence upon the state acquiring it the manifold duties of administration. Private persons cannot assume such responsibilities, and their discoveries, settlements or treaties confer no benefits and impose no obligations upon the state from which they have proceeded. In the light of these principles let us notice some of the claims of the several powers which at one time or other possessed an interest in Oregon.

Discovery (which may be grouped with settlement in this brief resume*) in itself does not convey a perfect title in international law. It is the first step to a title—an "inchoate act of sovereignty"; but it must be followed by possession and settlement; and the settlement must be continuous and permanent. If occupation lapses for any reasonable length of time, the title lapses with it. As to the discovery of much of the north-west coast, Spain might undoubtedly claim that honour; and the establishment of Nootka was designed to confer the added right of possession and occupation. But it was never acknowledged that this single settlement could hold so vast a region, or that the voyages of Cook and others might not also rank as voyages of discovery. The convention of Nootka gave to England in 1790 equality with Spain in north-western America. That Gray and Lewis and Clark were the first to reach the lower waters of the Columbia was undeniable; as it was equally undeniable that the northern and principal branch was first seen by Thompson, and that Meares and Vancouver had preceded Gray on the coast, though they had not sighted the great river itself. Again, if the founding of Astoria preceded the British posts of the upper river, those of New Caledonia preceded both. As to the question whether the operations of fur-trading associations, such as the North-West and Hudson's Bay Companies, constituted occupation in the sense recognized by international usage, the view in general of the United States was that they did not. Yet the establishment at Astoria was in no sense different to the posts of the British companies, and the United States from the moment of the restoration sought to base on it a claim to the adjacent territory, notwithstanding the immediate protest of England that the settlement was an encroachment on British dominions.

The territory to which the post of a fur trader might constitute a claim would seem to depend upon the radius of influence exerted. The Russian settlement in California, for example, was never made the basis of a claim for territory. Moreover, Gray's ship was a trading and not a national vessel, and the first exploration of the lower Columbia, as distinct from its discovery, was made by Broughton, an Englishman. Astoria also, according to the British view, was a purely private enterprise, and its foundation not to be construed as occupation in a national sense. The Hudson's Bay Company, on the other hand, possessed at least a quasi-official existence, under royal charter and an assurance of protection from the British government. It exercised judicial functions in respect to civil and criminal processes over its servants, while the jurisdiction of the Canadian courts of law extended over the entire country coterminous with the limits of the company's franchise. It engaged in the cultivation of the soil before a single immigrant from the United States had planted foot in Oregon. Gallatin, who denied that any claim to sovereignty could arise out of the occupation of the country by mere fur-trading corporations established for the purpose of traffic alone, admitted that the modest factory at Calcutta had grown into the British Empire of India, having an undisputed rule over hundreds of millions of people—in other words that the force of international law in this connection takes its colour largely from attendant circumstances. Such as it was, the British occupation of the Columbia, after the War of 1812, and especially after the amalgamation of the North-West and Hudson's Bay Companies in 1821, was complete. During the decade after the restoration of Astoria, scarcely an American trader was seen in the country or on the coast, notwithstanding that in the meantime the introduction of steam vessels on the Mississippi and the Missouri had greatly improved facilities for communication. From 1813 until 1837, in fact, the quiet and almost exclusive use of the Columbia was enjoyed by Britain. Even in the final stages of the controversy the American settlements were entirely on the southern bank of the Columbia, while the British posts lay both north and south. At an early date, however, Great Britain threw away whatever benefits she might have won by reason of this occupation, when she placed herself on record as waiving any claim to exclusive sovereignty over any portion of the country between the Columbia and the 49th degree, and as standing simply for joint occupancy while the right to exclusive domain remained in abeyance. "The qualified rights which Great Britain now possesses over the whole of the territory in question" wrote Huskisson and Addington in 1826, "embrace the right to navigate the waters of those countries, the right to settle in and over any part of them, and the right to freely trade with the inhabitants and occupiers of the same. It is fully admitted that the United States possesses the same rights, but beyond they possess none." The restoration of Astoria was not, according to Great Britain, in any sense a relinquishment of title in the surrounding territory. But the practical effect of the admission above was that the nation who first occupied the country with settlers should be entitled to exercise those rights of sovereignty which possession of this kind commonly bestows. How time fought the battle of the United States in this has been already shown.

Contiguity has been defined as of two kinds— perfect and imperfect. The first involves the right of a nation to exclude all others from a territory the command of which, though actually not within her boundaries, is essential to her convenience and security. It was not, of course, contended that a foreign settlement west of the Rocky Mountains would threaten the welfare of the Atlantic seaboard. The United States had no Pacific commerce to protect, and at no time prior to 1846 was the possession of Oregon essential to her safety or existence. The report of General Jesup to a select committee of congress in 1823, to the effect that the command of the Columbia was necessary for protection from the tribes of the frontier, revealed even in its recommendations that the more immediate gain in contemplation was the dispossession of the British traders. The other title of contiguity has been defined as a preferable right to acquire lands, which, though they may be neither settled nor necessary for convenience or defence, are geographically one with the acquiring nation. In this connection it was urged that Oregon belonged more naturally to the United States than to any other power. From the earliest attempts at colonization in America, the whole breadth of the continent between certain parallels of latitude was ordinarily granted to colonies established only at points on the borders of the Atlantic. Moreover, it could not be doubted that, after 1835, Oregon and Texas offered the most natural outlet for the rapidly growing population of the United States, in view especially of the prevailing opinion that the adjoining central division of the continent offered no inducements to settlers. Nevertheless it should be borne in mind that even from the United States, Oregon, in the words of Calhoun, was distant more than thirteen thousand miles by sea, a voyage, in 1846, of six months, and more than two thousand miles by land, a march of one hundred and twenty days. That Louisiana originally extended to the Pacific was denied by Addington. But that the territory under dispute lay as much in the path of the British crossing from the Peace and Saskatchewan as of those who traded from the Mississippi and Missouri was also insisted upon. As a matter of fact, the free navigation of the Columbia was in the early years essential to the maintenance of the British trading-posts in the interior, south as well as north of the 49th parallel, and was the basis of that vigorous attempt to bring the whole coast northward under British trade influence, the success of which has been described. Colonization from Britain or Canada was not for the time thought possible. The latter had no redundance of population, and to both more suitable fields lay closer at hand. At the very moment, in fact, the United States themselves were drawing steadily from Britain her surplus population in a stream that could not easily have been diverted to other channels.

Much was made in the course of the dispute of the bearing of various treaties upon the rights involved. The Treaty of Ghent, in its application to Astoria, has been already referred to. The conventions between Russia and England, and between Russia and the United States, also, need not be further mentioned. Debate raged fiercest about the Florida treaty of 1819. What was the nature of the title derived from Spain by that treaty? By the United States it was regarded as perfect against that of any other European power at the time of transfer. By England it was denied that Spain had any title whatever to convey in 1819. The explanation of this diversity of opinion dates back to the Nootka convention and the war which broke out between England and Spain in 1796 and continued with only a short intermission until 1809. Granting that the Nootka convention admitted Great Britain to certain rights on the north-west coast, it was held by the United States that the convention was an instrument of a commercial nature merely, that the right then granted to England to found settlements did not involve the conveyance of sovereignty to any part of the region, and that in any other event the convention had been terminated by the subsequent wars. In 1819, according to this view, the United States fell heir to the original right of Spain to the exclusive ownership of the coast. To this the British rejoinder was that the convention was not a merely temporary or commercial concession; that it destroyed rather than implied the exclusive title of Spain; that the settlements permitted were quite compatible with local sovereignty; and in general that the title which Spain had failed to make good in 1790 and which Great Britain had successfully challenged at the moment of its greatest strength, could not now be revived simply because of an agreement with a third power, the more so that, for over a quarter of a century, it had fallen into complete disuse. After her formal abandonment of the coast in 1795, Spain's only right was one which she shared in common with England and the United States; the only right, therefore, that she could convey in 1819 was one which the latter already possessed. As to the Louisiana purchase, this was never successfully maintained as affecting boundaries west of the Rocky Mountains, unless as an argument from contiguity; moreover, Louisiana in 1790 belonged to Spain and was therefore included in the provisions of the Nootka convention and in the later considerations applying to the title of Spain.

Out of the right of contiguity, perfect and imperfect, it might be contended that the United States had evolved the last of the rights above mentioned— that of prescription. To prescription the application of the Monroe doctrine was akin. By the free and independent condition which the American continents had assumed, they were no longer, according to the Monroe doctrine, to be considered as subjects for colonization by European powers. But the future colonization of Oregon, it had been agreed, would determine the destiny of the region. So far as the doctrine applied to South America, which had recently cast off the yoke of Spain, Great Britain sympathized with its object and was prepared to support it. In the case of the Oregon question, however, it had the effect merely of rendering the British government much less disposed to concession, while tending to produce a union of views, approaching almost to a league, between Great Britain and Russia, which in the result proved of distinct disadvantage to the United States.

An effort to apply the cumulative principle to the arguments of the United States under the above headings was made during the negotiations of 1827. If, separately, objection might be made to each, considered together they were believed to establish the American claim on a solid foundation. To this the reply was that the claims based on discovery, acquisition from Spain, and contiguity, were in many respects incompatible the one with the other, and could not, therefore, be united. If, for example, the title of Spain by first discovery, or that of France, as the original owner of Louisiana, were advanced, it was evident that one or other of these countries held the territory at the time of Gray's discoveries, and that the latter therefore could not be put forward as conferring a claim. If, however, the importance of Gray and the Astorians was emphasized, by so much were the Spanish or French titles diminished. The device of admitting imperfections in the several elements in order to give strength to the aggregate was, therefore, in the present case, of little avail. The United States, in counter-reply to this, argued that, though in different hands the several claims would conflict one with the other, they supported each other when united in the same power.

Great Britain has been bitterly censured by a school of opinion in Canada for the loss of Oregon between the 49th parallel and the Columbia. The charge has this foundation: that it is possible to perceive how the country might have been saved. It will be well, however, to be explicit on this point. In the final analysis, lack of knowledge of the value of Oregon, by inducing a perfectly natural but by no means logical apathy as to its political future, was probably the cause of the loss, if lost that may be called which was never held in undisputed possession. For lack of knowledge on the part of Great Britain there was abundant excuse. The whole of the western continent which she held, disputed and undisputed alike, was in the grasp of men whose guiding purpose was to perpetuate the mystery in which the land had been wrapped from the beginning. England's attitude throughout the controversy was simply that of champion to her fur traders whose outposts had been threatened with invasion, to which in process of time was added the consideration of national pride. Moreover her ignorance of the country must be considered relatively. It was at least no greater than that of the United States until a comparatively late stage of the dispute. Jefferson almost alone in the early days of the republic showed real knowledge of the importance of the west, or at least of the diplomacy by which it was to be won. As late as 1844, when the controversy had entered its most acrimonious phase, Greenhow, the historiographer of congress, one of the most learned authorities on the subject, appraised as practically valueless the territory in dispute, though he wrote the most able of the treatises put forth in the behalf of the United States to prove the latter's title to the land in question. Gallatin, the American commissioner to England in 1826-7, shared the common view. In the early debates in congress opinions were freely expressed as to the worthlessness of the country. Webster had none of the popular enthusiasm concerning Oregon, at a time when the name was a slogan throughout the United States. The mass of the people before 1840 knew little and cared less about Oregon. The ignorance of Great Britain, therefore, is not remarkable. To the British nation at large, Oregon was no more than a name. A writer in the Edinburgh Review of July 1845 reflected the best informed public sentiment of his day when he said: "It seems probable that in a few years all that formerly gave life to the country, both the hunter and the prey, will become extinct, and their place will be supplied by a thin white and half-breed population, scattered along the few fertile valleys, supported by the pasture instead of by the chase, and gradually degenerating into the barbarism, far more offensive than that of the savage, which degrades the backwoodsman." Again: "The great error of all parties has been the importance attached to Oregon." And again: "It is much that the real worthlessness of the country has been established. All that any prudent Englishman or American can wish is, that the controversy should be speedily and harmoniously settled." Still more remarkable were the conclusions of the same writer as to the future of Oregon: "However the political questions between England and America as to the ownership of Oregon may be decided, Oregon will never be colonized overland from the United States .... Whoever is to be the future owner of Oregon, its people will come from Europe."

Let it be said, moreover, that once the question assumed practical importance, England displayed both keenness of interest and firmness of purpose in handling it. That she had recourse in 1846 to every resort short of war is undeniable. But the truth is, her point of view had been mistaken from the first, and the battle was lost before ever it came to be fought. Diplomacy, as it proved, could avail nothing in dealing with an issue of this nature once it had arisen. Three opportunities had been presented when, by a decisive stroke, the region might have been won: in the settlement of the Nootka affair; in the treaty which closed the War of 1812; and in 1818. Each time a compromise was accepted in the interest of a "speedy and harmonious" settlement and in the mistaken trust that the future would strengthen the hands of Great Britain; each time the door was left open for further controversy; each time the renewal of the dispute found the position of Great Britain weakened. In striking contrast was the subtle and far-seeing diplomacy of the United States, which from the first permitted no ignorance of the present and actual to preclude appreciation of the future and potential. When the time for final settlement arrived, there had been added to this general principle of acquisition for its own sake all the weight of established industrial interests, of an awakened public opinion, and of an inflamed and prejudiced national spirit. Popular clamour alone was responsible for the claim to the "whole of Oregon,"—a claim that became serious only when party politics seized upon it as an issue. England who had bred and fostered Cook, Vancouver and Mackenzie, was, in this view, nothing less than a usurper throughout the coast; while the Hudson's Bay Company, which had saved the first American settlers from starvation and murder by the Indians, was but a greedy and inhuman monopoly, the willing tool of a government that was now attempting the crime of grand larceny from the United States. Such was the temper of the American press and people when the issue was for the last time joined and lost. But the loss should bear the date, not of 1846, but of that earlier time when the first failure was recorded either to appreciate the splendid destiny which awaited the region, or to grasp the means which would have brought it permanently under British influence.

The foregoing brief review of the facts and principles involved in this historic controversy will at least have shown that the issues, obscured as they had been by clouds of witnesses and a mass of conflicting testimony in which personal interests and national prejudices were alike intermingled, proved simple enough, once the final stage had been reached and the circumstances had forced the countries to an agreement. By these circumstances and not by any theories of international jurisprudence, was the fate of Oregon decided. In 1840 the question was as far from solution as ever. The arguments from history and law had been exhausted long ago. No exclusive right could be established by either party as the case then stood. The superior advantages which Great Britain at one time held, she had long since waived, and had been content to trust the future to its own developments. These had now matured. The great nation of the Atlantic seaboard was by every instinct of its origin and by every dictate of the policy in which its early steps had been directed, a nation of expansionists on this continent. From clearing to clearing, from settlement to settlement, from township to township, and at last from state to state, its inevitable way led westward. Even its missionaries were pioneers of empire. As Canaan became the land of Israel, so the United States possessed Oregon. It was of infinitely greater value to her than to Great Britain in 1846. No president or government, it would be safe to say, could have consented then to less than was received by the United States, no matter what rights of others were involved. War only could have maintained Great Britain in Oregon. Of a war, after serious thought, she considered Oregon not worth the price. Thus ended it.


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