Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 39
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GALES SEATON'S REGISTER
H. of R.]
Occupation of the Mouth oj the Oregon.
[Dec. 21, 1824.
distant states, Oregon was not further from the seat of
government under the improvements of navigation, &c.
than Louisiana was when she was erected into a state;
and not much further than Maine is; and he knew no
reason why Oregon should be less attached to the re-
public. He was very sure that her interest bound her
to us, especially in a time of war.
It mattered little, as to the obedience to the laws, in i
which state the place was situated where they were ]
made; and lie believed it would puzzle even a skilful law-
yer to say in what state our laws are made at present.
He dwelt on the value of the China trade, and the whale
fisheries—and contrasting this with the appropriation
called for by the bill, he took occasion to state that he
had received a letter from a merchant of high standing
and large capital in Boston, who had examined the esti-
mates on which the sum in the bill had been predicated;
and, although he pronounced them not too high, con-
sidering that Government must charter the vessels to be
employed, he offered to transport what was necessary
at a pi-ice considerably less; which he could afford to
do, because he already owned a number of vessels in
the Northwest trade. As to the danger of spreading our'
territory, and of the future state of Oregon separating
from the confederacy—suppose it should be so ? What
then ? Was it not better that this tract of country should
be settled by us than by foreigners ? And did the gen-
tleman suppose that alt the nations of tlie earth could
iStand by and see the vast region to the West of us, lie for
centuries unoccupied? If we did not take possession,
they would ; and, by the law of nations, they would have
a right to do so. If we forbade them, and they disre-
garded tlie prohibition, we must go to war with the.n;
so that the gentleman's argument was as broad as it was
long. Unless the territory was our own, we might look
for war at any rate. Tt was, besides, of importance to
give this vast country the blessings of free government.
Even the patriots of the South found it hard to teach
their people how to be freemen—and as to the Russians,
he had long believed that, with them, the thing was sim-
ply impossible. Let the population of the West be free
from the outset.
Mr. SMYTH now withdrew his amendment, and, in-
stead of it, offered another, which was, to strike out the
whole of the third section, [which offers bounty land to
settlers in the territory.]
The motion was opposed by Mr. TRIMBLE, of Ken-
tucky, who said that the section proposing to establish
civil government in the Oregon at a future day, was not
very essential, and he had voted to strike it out, under a
hope that the other features of the bill would be more
acceptable. The present section, though not absolutely
necessary, ought, in his opinion, to be retained ; and he
would assign one or two plain reasons in us favor. But
before doing this, he would ask leave to correct his
friend from Virginia, (Mr. Smyth) in his construction of
the treaty of Ghent. He says, that the treaty left the
rights of the parties as they were before its date : and
so far, agreed. But he says further, that the British are
now in possession, and have therefore a right to hold the
country until the expiration of the ten years stipulated
in the treaty of Loudon. If this is true, it would follow
that tlie treaty has reversed the rights of the parties;
and the gentleman's construction ot it will place the in-
terests of this government in a most perilous predica-
ment. Let me show him, said Mr. T. how our rights
stood before the treaty, and how they will stand in Oc-
tober, 1828, if his view of the subject is correct. We
claimed the country before the late war, England claim-
ed it, and Russia claimed it. Their titles were, of course,
mere pretences. We sent out Lewis and Clark to ex-
plore the country, and make a demonstration of our right,
and our intention to occupy and hold it. Not long after
they returned, our fur traders went out across the'moun-
t:iins, and around Cape Horn, and teofc possession near
the mouth of the Oregon or Columbia river. In 1810,
a town, consisting of a few trading houses, was built
there, and called Astoria. . After the late war was com-
menced, the British traders, aided by the Indians, drove
our traders from the country, and held it and traded there
until the treaty of Ghent. By that treaty, a mutual res-
toration of rights and territories was stipulated, except
the Grand Menan, and the islands in Passamaquoddy bay,
the sovereignty of which were agreed to be in contest.
In pursuance of the treaty, Mr. Prevost was ordered up
from Lima, as agent of the United States, to receive pos-.
session from the British. He arrived at the mouth of the
Oregon river, on the 1st of October, 1818, and on the
6th, took possession of the British post near the bay.
It was surrendered in due form, but not without a pro-
test by the English settlers against our right to take it.
Mr. Prevost sailed on the 9th or 10th of the same month,
and as soon as he left the river, the British flag was again
hoisted, and the country occupied as British Territory.
This must have been about the 10th of October, if we
may believe Mr. Farnham and Mr. Crooks, both of whom
are men of veracity. On the 20th of October, the treaty
of London was signed, so that in point of fact, the Brit-
ish were in actual, (though wrongful) possession of
the country when that treaty was concluded. The trea-
ty declares "that any country claimed by either party,
on the Northwest coast of America, west of the Stony
mountains, shall, together with its harbors, bays, an(l
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 convention, to the vessels, citizens, and subjects
of the two powers. It being well understood that this
agreement (the treaty) is not to be construed to the pre-
judice of any claim which either of the two high con-
tracting parties may have to any part of the said coun-
try." And now, the mportant question is this; What
will be the practical result if we leave the British in
possession until the ten years are ended ? That, go-
vernment may then hold this language to us :—Your mu-
tual right of trade and navigation has been accorded to
you, and you have en joyed it for the full term stipulated;
but now the rights of both parties are remitted back to
their actual condition at the date of the treaty of London.
At that date, (Oct. 20th, 1818) we were in possession,
and your mutual privilege being now ended, you muss
cease to trade with the Indians, or navigate these waters,
until the King shall grant you a renewal of the favor in
another treaty. Thus our rights will cease at the end
of ten years ; and, instead of our people having the
exclusive right to trade there after October, 1828, we
shall be excluded from the trade entirely. This shows
that the practical effect of the gentleman's construction
of the treaty will be, to place our rights on that coast, and
in that territory, on the footing of a lease for ten years,
after which they are to cease unless renewed ; whereas,
if we take possession now, as we ought to do, and have
a clear right to do, the rights of the British traders and
navigators there, will cease in October, 1828. The es-
tablishment of a military post, therefore, to occupy the
country, is of the first importance to us, because it re-
vives and brings forward our rights, as they were be-
fore the treaty. The real state of the fact is, that Eng-
land has only the color of claim, but to this she has wrong-
fully superadded an actual possession, and we must
speedily re-occupy the country, or we shall have to treat
for its reclamation at an obvious disadvantage.
So much for the treaty, he said, and now for the bill.
By the establishment of military posts at the mouth of
the Oregon, and on the bay of St. John de Fuco, we may
command the trade of China, Japan, the East Indies,
and the North Pacific. That ocean is the richest sea
in the world, and is as yet without a master. He would
not discuss the value of the trade there, nor speak of it
as a nursery for our seamen. It was enough to know,
that, for the last 3000 years, the nation that has held the
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Gales, Joseph, 1761-1841. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress, book, 1825; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30752/m1/24/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.