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Dr. John McLoughlin
Provisional Government

For convenience I shall tell of the Provisional Government of Oregon before I speak concerning Dr. McLoughlin's land claim.

About 1841, owing to the death of Ewing Young, intestate, leaving a valuable estate and no heirs, the residents of the Oregon Country in the Willamette Valley saw the necessity of some form of government until the Oregon Question should be finally settled. As under the Conventions of 1818 and 1827 there was joint-occupancy between the United States and Great Britain, the Oregon Country was without any laws in force. It was commonly understood, at that time, that most of the Americans in Oregon favored a provisional organization - one which would exist until the laws of the United States should be extended over the Oregon Country. It was also commonly understood that the British residents in Oregon opposed a provisional government, as it might interfere with their allegiance to Great Britain. As there was a joint-occupancy, and the British were legally on an equality with the Americans, each had equal rights in the matter. February 17 and 18, 1841, a meeting of the inhabitants was held at the Methodist Mission. Although attempts were then made to form a government, several officers were appointed, and a committee appointed for framing a constitution and a code of laws, the movement failed. The matter lay dormant until the spring of 1843. The immigration of 1842, although small, and although about half of them went to California in the spring of 1843, materially increased the strength of the Americans in Oregon.

After several preliminary meetings had been held, the momentous meeting of May 2, 1843, was held at Champoeg, when, by the vote of 52 in favor and 50 against, the Provisional Government of Oregon was created. Certain officers were elected and a legislative committee of six was appointed, the latter to report July 5, 1843. On the latter day most of the report was adopted, an executive committee of three persons, David Hill, Alanson Beers, and Joseph Gale, was chosen in place of a governor, and Oregon had at least a de facto government, which, with some changes, continued until Oregon had a Territorial Government, in 1849. George Abernethy, the steward of the Methodist Mission, was elected Governor in 1845, and by re-election continued to be Governor until the arrival of Gen. Joseph Lane, the first Territorial Governor, in March, 1849. The Mission Party was one of the strongest and most influential political parties in Oregon until the election of Governor Joseph Lane as Delegate to Congress, June 2,1851. At the time of the formation of the Provisional Government, the residents of Oregon seem to have been divided into three classes, or parties: one favored a provisional government, favorable to the United States; another favored an independent government, which would be neutral as between the United States and Great Britain; the third believed that matters should remain in status quo. For some reason Jason Lee and George Abernethy, and some others of the Methodist missionaries, seem originally to have belonged to or to have favored the third class.19 In the "Political History of Oregon" by J. Henry Brown, he says (page 95) that at a meeting of the committee held at Oregon City, in March, 1843, "Rev. Jason Lee and Mr. Abernethy were disposed to ridicule the proposed organization [i.e., the Provisional Government] as foolish and unnecessary, and repeated some anecdotes to illustrate their meaning."

Dr. McLoughlin was not originally in favor of the Provisional Government. It was openly and avowedly advocated as being in favor of the United States, and against Great Britain. Once started, without a trial, no one could know where it would end. Already some of the Americans had denounced the Hudson's Bay Company and Dr. McLoughlin, and had made threats against the property of the Company. His loan of cattle had been misunderstood and denounced. Some of the Americans seemed not to be aware that the Hudson's 'Bay Company was lawfully in the Oregon Country, under the Conventions for joint-occupancy. To aid or to assist the establishment of a government, owing exclusive allegiance to the United States, would be, or might be disloyalty by Dr. McLoughlin to his Country and be injurious or fatal to his Company in Oregon. By the constitution or compact of the Provisional Government, as established in 1843, each officer was required to take an oath or affirmation "to support the laws of the territory," without qualification. There was, too, his land claim at Oregon City, which the land laws of the Provisional Government, as established, sought to deprive Dr. McLoughlin of, and to give, at least a part of it, to the Methodist Mission. About the status of his land claim I shall presently explain. There was, also, the cry of "54-40 or fight" and the chance of war over the Oregon Country between the United States and Great Britain. Dr. McLoughlin appealed to the directors of his Company for protection to their property, but none came. In June, 1844, he received an answer from his Company that it could not obtain protection from the British Government, and that the Hudson's Bay Company must protect itself the best it could. The fortifications at Fort Vancouver were strengthened. There was threatened trouble in the air. It looked as though there might be war in Oregon.

In 1845 the Provisional Government attempted to extend its jurisdiction north of the Columbia River. It became a question of acquiescence or actual opposition by the Hudson's Bay Company. Jesse Applegate, one of the best and noblest of Oregon's pioneers, who was a member of the Provisional Legislature and one of a committee, privately interviewed Dr. McLoughlin. After consulting with James Douglas, his chief assistant, a compromise was finally agreed to by which the Hudson's Bay Company would be taxed only on goods sold to the settlers. August 15, 1845, the Hudson's Bay Company, with all the British residents, became parties to the Oregon Provisional Government. The oath of office as provided by the compact of 1843 had been changed by what is called the "Organic Act" of the Provisional Government, adopted by the people, by popular vote, July 26, 1845. As so amended the oath of office required each officer to swear that he would "support the organic laws of the Provisional Government of Oregon, so tar as said organic laws are consistent with my duties as a citizen of the United States, or a subject of Great Britain." The land law of 1843 was also changed by said vote of the people, July 26, 1845, by which the objectionable features, so far as Dr. McLoughlin's land claim at Oregon City was concerned, were largely eliminated. Under the circumstances joining the Provisional Government was a good and wise move on the part of Dr. McLoughlin. iBut he was severely criticized therefor by his Company. Unknown to Dr. McLoughlin, there was then a large British fleet of war in the Pacific Ocean.

A few days after Dr. McLoughlin, for himself and his Company, had thus joined the Provisional Government, he was surprised by the arrival from Puget Sound of Lieut. Wm. Peel, son of Sir Robert Peel, and Captain Park of the Royal Marines, with a letter from Captain Gordon, commanding the British 50-gun ship-of-war America, then in Puget Sound, and also a letter from Admiral Seymour, commanding the British fleet, that "firm protection" would be given British subjects in Oregon. Subsequently the British war sloop, Modeste, 18 guns, arrived at Fort Vancouver, where she remained until the boundary treaty of 1846 was entered into.

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