The Congressional Globe, Volume 13, Part 2: Twenty-Eighth Congress, First Session Page: 86
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APPENDIX TO THE CONGRESSIONAL GLOBE.
28th Cong 1st Sess.
Oregon Territory—Mr. Owen.
H. of Reps.
treason, which had, at this day, been received and
honored with a select committee.
In conclusion, as I have but a minute or two re-
maining, let me once more appeal to my northern
friends. I ask the gentleman from Maine, if there
be any here who have hitherto stood by us, why
should they now give way? I turn to our friends
from Connecticut, and ask them, why should they
field? If I appeal in vain, I turn to those by whom
know the appeal will be answered—to patriotic
New Hampshire, whose sons, like her granite basis,
had hitherto breasted the storm*,'—they, I know, will
not give way. So I call upon our fiiends from the
Keystone State, not to surrender becauee a single
soldier in the South has deserted us on this trying
occasion. To the few, but Spartan band from the
great State of New York? though threatened with
the public sentiment of this new-born democracy, I
would say, be firm, and the day was not distant
when they, too, would be honored, like those who
had stood by the constitution and the country in the
dark days of the Missouri question. But if these
invocations were all in vain, then would I turn with
pleasure and delight to the gallant and patriotic
West. Here Mr. S. was forccd to conclude from
the expiration of his hour.
SPEECH OF MR. OWEN,
hi the House of Representatives, January 23 and 24,
1844—On the question of the joint occupancyby
Great Britain with the "United States, of the Ter-
ritory of Oregon.
On the 4th January, 1844, Mr. Owen introduced
a joint resolution, requesting the President of the
United States to give notice of twelve months to
the government of Great Britain, in conformity with
the provision of an existing treaty; that, from and
after the expiration of that term, the occupation of
Oregon by Grreat Britain, conjointly with the United
States, should cease. The joint resolution was re-
ferred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs; and
that committee reported it back on .January 23, ac-
companied by a resolution, to the effect, that "it is
inexpedient for Congress, at this time, to act in any
manner upon the subjcct." The question being on
the adoption of that resolution—
Mr. OWEN said: I am aware of the effect which
the adverse report just made from a committee of a
character so high as that on foreign affairs, in regard
to the joint resolution which I submitted to this
House, is likely to produce* I regret it. I do not
understand the committee, however, as expressing
an opinion that the resolution should not pass at all;
but only (hat, for the present, it should he delayed.
They are disposed, we may presume, to await the
action of time and ofeortam expected contingencies,
before they adopt this measure. I differ from them
,u5 if'^ard to the expediency of delny. 1 think we
/>iu-,hj ft; act now The views of those who hold to
y he opyome opinion are entitled to much considera-
tion; ( rdujU always receive their opinions with res-
pect, and examine them with attention; yet, with
the lights now before j>ie, I must adhere to my own.
Hew but a hot-headed politician, who seeks to
iU'^o on a ftvoriie measure Hint may be just in it-
self, rashly, prematurely, m a hasty manner, at an
nnpropci time. But there is such a ihmgns tempo-
rizing weakness, as wr U a,M rash haste, To put off
the evil day, is bad policy, in public as in private
affairs. That which is surely impending—that
which we must meet to-day or to-morrow, self-re-
.-peenmd wisdom hid us meet to-day.
If these be correct views, let us. inquire how tar
they apply to the subject before iu. The effect of
the joint resolution in question, and which a ma-
jority ot the committee recommend to postpone, is,
fo terminate a treaty ot eomcntum with Great
Biitam. By that treaty, Great Britain and the
United Stat<s may, for the present, jointly occupy
Oregon; with a provision that a year's notice from
ftther nation shall terminate the joint occupancy.
The resolution provides for jji\ nig that notice; and
the qnertum to be decided is, whether it be expedi-
ent to give that notice at the present timer
To a proper understanding of this question, and
a just estimate of its importance, we should dis-
tinctly bear in mind what, and how large, this Ter-
ritory of Oiego n is* Its southern boundary, fixed
by the Florida treaty of 1819, is the parallel of 42°
north latitude. Its northern limit, determined by the
Petersburg treaty of 1824, is the parallel of fifty-four
degrees and forty minutes. Its front, then, on the
facific, is about twelve degrees and a half, or up-
wards of eight hundred and fifty miles. Its average
depth to the Rocky mountains is some five hundred
and fifty miles. It contains nearly half a million of
square miles, or more than three hundred millions -
of acres, of territory—one-fourth more (let us re-
member that) than the territory of the thirteen
original States, when they asserted their independ-
ence. This stock farm of ours, therefore, in the
far West, is no paltry possession. The greatest re-
volution the world ever saw, was kindled in defence,
of a territory of smaller extent, and, if recent ac-
counts may be trusted, of scarcely more intrinsic
The subject is of an importance such as demands
a careful investigation. Permit me, then, sir, to
ask your attention, and that of the House, to a brief
review of the negotiations that have passed, and the
measures that have been proposed, relative to this
rich and extensive country.
In October of the year 1818, before we had ac-
quired the Spanish title to this portion of the conti-
nent, a convention was signed at London, providing
that any country on the northwest coast of America,
westward of the Stony mountains, which may be
claimed by Great Britain or the United States, shall,
for ten years thenceforward, be free and open to the
citizens and subjects of both powers, without preju-
dice to the title, m whomsoever residing.
Six years later, in 1824, about the time we agreed
with Russia on our northern boundary, the venera-
ble gentleman from Massachusetts, [Mr. Adams,]
then Secretary of State, set on foot a negotiation for
the final adjustment of the boundary question; au-
thorizing Mr. Rush, our minister at the court of St.
James, to propose, first, the latitude of fifty-one; and,
if Great Britain persisted in refusing that, then the
latitude of forty-nine, as the dividing line between
the territories of the two countries.
The offers were made in succession, and the
British ministers refused them both. They ex-
pressed their willingness to run the forty-ninth de-
gree to where it strikes the northeasternmost branch
of the Columbia, and thence down the middle of
that river to the Pacific, into which the Columbia
falls about latitude forty-six.
Mr. Holmes. In forty-five and a half.
Mr. Owen. My impression is, that it is a little
north of forty-six; but, if it be forty-five and a half,
the proposition of Great Britain was but the more
unfavorable to us.
This proposal, from which Great Britain declared
the United States must not expect her to depart,
was at, once rejected, and the negotiations were
Two years afterwards, they were lenewed—Mr.
Cloy hemp, then Secretary of State.
The official papers connected with this second
negotiation should be read by every American
statesman, who believes we have anything to gain
by promised negotiations for Oregon, or anything to
lose by passing this resolution, and thus indicating
to Great Britain a determination to assert our rights.
Allow me, in proof of this opinion, to give you a
few extracts from the documents themselves.
Here is the first letter'of instruction from Henry
Clay to Albert Gallatin, under date of June 19,
182G. After alluding to the instructions formerly
sent to Mr. Rush, Mr. Clay adds?:
"Nor is it conceived that Groat Britain has", or can
make out, even a colorable t'rfh to any portion of the
\ pray you, sir, to observe this expression of Mr.
Clay. It is not that Great Britain's title is weak, is
imperfect, is questionable; it is that she has not
even a color of title. It is not that her title is defect-
ive to the southern portion of this territory; but
good, or at least plausible, noith of the latitude oi
forty-nine. No, sir, nothing of that sort. But it is,
that from noith to south, from east to west, over the
entire territory, Great Britain has not a pretence,
not a shadow of a title. Ttis, that to every part
and parcel of Oregon, from the Spanish line on (he
south, to the Russian boundary on the north; from
the summits of the Rocky mountains across to the
waters of the Pacific, the United States are the true,
rightful, legitimate owners.
That is the broad, unqualified assertion; and it is
true. I pledge my«t*lf to this House, if the matter
be called in question, before we have done with the
subject to prove, by the tenor of those very trea-
ties to which England appeals, by the admissions of
her own statesmen and historians, that to this vast
territory, regarding which, for a quarter of a centu-
ry, we have been tamely negotiating, our title is as
clear, distinct, indisputable, as that of any gentle*
man on this floor to the farm he owns, or the planta-
tion that is his, and was his father's before him.
Such is the truth; and such was Henry Clay's as-
sertion. And yet, ere ever the ink was dry on that
honest statement of our rights—before the letter
was closed, in which an American Secretary of
State declares to an American minister that Oregon
is, and of right ought to be, ours, that same Secre-
tary empowers that same minister to trade off—oh
no, sir, that is not diplomatic language—to negotiate
away nearly one-half the territory; meekly to cede
to Great Britain that to which she has not even a
color of title—nearly four hundred miles on the Pa-
cific coast, with all the country thence to the Rocky
mountains. Here is the paragraph, from the same
"You are authorized to propose the annulment of
the third article of the convention of 1818, and the
extension of the line on the parallel of forty-nine
degrees, from the eastern side of the Rocky moun-
tains, where it now terminates, to the Pacific ocean,
as the permanent boundary between the territories
of the two powers in that quarter. This is our ulti-
matum, and you may so announce it. We can con-
sent to no other line more favorable to Great Brit-
This offer is made (so Mr. Clay writes in the
same letter to Mr. Gallatin) "in a spirit of conces-
sion and compromise, which Great Britain should
not hesitate to reciprocate."
Concession is a good thing in its place; and if a
right be of doubtful validity, prudence sometimes
bids us compromise, for the sake of peace. But
thus to cede, at the first ofler, to a nation that has,
avowedly, not a color of title to it, a district of coun-
try one-half as large as were the thirteen United
States at the date of the Revolution,—this strikes
me as pushing somewhat further than justice de-
mands, or national honor warrants, the principles of
charity and good neighborship. I may treat a
neighbor kindly and courteously, without being
called upon to give him up half my grazing farm,
merely because he happens to have taken a fancy to
it. I know we are told, that, if a man smite us on the
one cheek, we should turn the other; and if he take
our coat, we are to give him our cloak also. Inter-
preted in its spirit, (not in its letter,) this is an ad-
mirable injunction. Kindness wins its way, where
harsh violence fails; and we can best overcome evil
by doing good. Yet, assuredly, we should have a
strange time of it, in this world, if, in literal obe-
dience to the precept, we were to resent no injury,
and resist no encroachment. The spirit of conces-
sion and compromise, especially towards the pow-
erful and the imperious, may be carried too far. It
is out of place when it meets no corresponding spirit,
and provokes only arrogant pretension in return.
Such was the return which Henry Clay's proposal
met from Great Britain. He offered her territory
enough, out of our possessions, to cut up into half a
dozen good-sized States; and she, presuming, it
would seem, on our easy good nature, declared we
must give her sufficient for two or three more, be-
fore she closed the bargain. Her plenipotentiaries
repeated the offer they had previously made, that
the Columbia should be the boundary; adding, how-
ever, that, as they must confess there is not a single
good harbor from latitude forty-two to the mouth of
the Columbia, they would cede to the United Staies
the harbor of Port Discovery, in Fuca's inlet, to-
gether with a small rocky isthmus, lying southeast
from Cape Flattery. I know not whether the name
of the cape suggested the selection of this particular
spot; but Captain Wilkes (commander of the late
exploring expedition) informs mc the whole tract is
of very tiifling value. Ft excludes Admiralty inlet
and Puget sound, one of the best harbors in the
woild, anjl not unlikely, some day, to be the princi-
pal port of entry for the Columbia valley.
The offer of Great Britain was, (if course, refused;
and so terminated the second attempt af negotiation
Do you find in is details, or in its result, much en-
couragement to engage in a third?
This negotiating about what already belongs to
us, is not only an unprofitable but a dangeious
affair. We offer to concede find to compromise; we
forbear to claim our just due: and straightway our
concessions and forbearance are set upas foundation
for a title, which has no other ground to rest upon.
I know that, in strictness of law, a valid title is not
prejudiced by an offer to compromise, made for the
sake of peace. I am aware that the permission
granted by treaty to Great Britain, jointly with us,
io occupy this territory, cannot ripen into title. Yet,
in point of fact, a concession ever weakens a claitu,
Here’s what’s next.
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United States. Congress. The Congressional Globe, Volume 13, Part 2: Twenty-Eighth Congress, First Session, book, 1844; Washington D.C.. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth2368/m1/96/: accessed June 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.