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signed by the King. In it was a provision for a limited right of search by officers appointed by the two Governments to cruise" on the coasts of Africa, America, and the West Indies for the suppression of the slave-trade."
To come to an agreement with Great Britain on any matter was quite impossible. An act of Russia had suddenly brought up for discussion the question of the ownership of Oregon.
In the autumn of 1818, as Mr. J. B. Prevost, the American commissioner sent out by the President to receive the formal delivery of Astoria, was on his way home, he stopped at the port of Monterey, in California. While there he wrote a long report of his mission, described the Columbia river, the climate, soil, and physical features of Oregon, and closed his narrative with an account of an incident which he thought most serious. Until 1816 the Russians, he said, had no settlement south of fifty-five degrees. But in that year, excited very probably by the glowing descriptions of Humboldt, they had established two colonies of an important character. One was at Atooi, in the Sandwich Islands. The other was on the California coast, a few leagues from San Francisco, the northern limit of Spanish occupation. Only two days before he reached Monterey two vessels had left that town for the Russian settlement, carrying to it implements of husbandry and mechanics of every sort. So plain an intention to acquire a site on the shore of the Pacific by a race but just emerging from savagery, and ruled by a chief who sought not to emancipate but to inthrall, ought surely, Mr. Prevost thought, to excite the serious apprehensions of the United States. *
But it did not excite the apprehensions of the United States, and neither the President nor Congress cared what went on in Oregon.
In December, 1820, attention was for a moment drawn to the country by a motion for a committee to inquire into the situation of the settlements on the Pacific Ocean and the expediency of occupying the mouth of the Columbia river.
* J. B. Prevost to the Secretary of State, November 11, 1818.
The committee were diligent, and soon made a long report and presented a bill to authorize the occupation of the Columbia and regulate trade with the Indian tribes.
The report began with a careful review of our title to the country, told of the discovery of the river; of its exploration by Lewis and Clarke; of the building of Fort Clatsop at its mouth; of the founding of Astoria; of the establishment by Astor's men of five sub-stations between the mountains and the sea; and dwelt at length on the value of the fur trade. It told of the wonderful energy displayed by the Hudson Bay and Northwest Fur Companies in their search for furs; how they carried the supplies intended for the Indians and the traders across the continent from Montreal to the Rocky Mountains, and brought back the furs by a route three thousand miles long, paddling their birch canoes through innumerable rivers, across more than sixty lakes, and carrying them over one hundred and thirty portages from a few yards to thirteen miles in length. Many of the establishments of the Northwest Company were within the limits of the United States. To bring to the people of the United States all the profits of this fur trade it was only necessary, therefore, to put a few troops on the upper waters of the Missouri, and confine the British to their own domain. If the Canadians could carry on their trade in spite of such natural obstacles, how much more easily and profitably could the citizens of the United States conduct theirs along the deep and smooth Missouri, running through a soil of boundless fertility, and separated by a portage of less than two hundred miles from another great river flowing into the Pacific! This portage was not a matter of doubt. In several places the Rocky Mountains were so smooth and open that ten men in twenty days could take a wagon loaded with furs from the navigable waters of the Missouri to those of the Columbia. All that was needed to develop Oregon was a small and permanent post at the mouth of the Columbia, and this was provided for in the bill.
To the majority of Congressmen who listened to the report, Oregon and the upper waters of the Missouri seemed farther away and less accessible than Africa. That the United States could ever want a foothold on the Pacific seemed pre
posterous, and, having heard the visionary report of the committee, their bill was laid on the table.
There it lay when, one day in February, 1822, the Chevalier Pierre de Politica, the Russian Minister, placed a most alarming document in the hands of the Secretary of State. It was an edict of the Emperor Alexander, and set forth that the pursuits of commerce, whaling, and fishing, and, indeed, of all other industries, whether on the islands or in the ports and gulfs of the northwest coast of America from Behring Strait to fifty-one degrees, were exclusively granted to Russian subjects. Foreign vessels were therefore forbidden not only to land on the coast and islands, but even to come within one hundred Italian miles of them.
So unexpected an attempt to define the boundary of the two countries aroused the President, who demanded of the Russian Minister the grounds on which it was based. Why had not the boundary been arranged by treaty? Why were vessels of the United States excluded beyond the limit to which territorial jurisdiction extended? He answered that the Russians had long maintained a settlement at Novo Archangelsk, in latitude fifty-seven, and that fifty-one degrees was about midway between Novo Archangelsk and the mouth of the Columbia. The restriction forbidding an approach to the coast was laid in order to keep out foreign adventurers who, not content with carrying on an illicit trade injurious to the interests of the Russian American Fur Company, had supplied arms and ammunition to the natives of the Russian possessions in America and incited them to revolt.* Against these doctrines Adams protested; + but Politica cut short the discussion by the statement that he had no authority to continue it. I
This curt answer gave a new aspect to the matter, and Mon
in his annual message to Congress in December, 1822, suggested that the time had come to think seriously of occupying Oregon. The House at once called up the old bill of 1821,
* Politica to Adams, February 28, 1822.
Politica to Adams, April 2, 1822.
and listened again to speeches in which the manifest intention of Great Britain to seize and hold the country, the great value of the fur trade of the upper Missouri and Columbia valleys, and the many advantages to be derived from a settlement on the Pacific coast were once more set forth with argument and statistics, all to no purpose. The House flatly refused to consider it.
Failure in the House did not discourage the friends of the idea in the Senate, and a couple of weeks later Benton moved that the Committee on Foreign Relations be instructed to inquire into the expediency of making an appropriation to enable the President to take and hold possession of our Territories on the northwest coast. To this the Senate agreed. But the session soon ended, and no report was made.
Two months after the members had gone to their homes Adams received a note from the Baron de Tuyl, who had succeeded the Chevalier de Politica, asking that the American Minister at St. Petersburg be given power to settle the differences by negotiation.* The invitation was accepted, and instructions were duly drawn and despatched.
While Adams was busy preparing them, the baron called one morning at the Department of State, and, in the course of conversation, was told that Russia's claim to a right to colonize on the Pacific coast could not be listened to, because both North and South America, in consequence of the independent position the nations of this hemisphere had assumed and maintained, were closed to colonization by European powers. From this doctrine the baron dissented most heartily; but it seems to have impressed Mr. Adams so strongly that it was reasserted by him in a letter to our Minister at St. Petersburg.
Mr. Middleton was to admit no part of the Russian claims, and rest those of the United States on the Spanish treaty of 1819, which secured all the rights and pretensions of Spain to the coast north of forty-two degrees; on the discovery of the Columbia by Gray, on the exploration of the country by
* Baron de Tuyl to Adams, April 24, 1823.
Lewis and Clark, and on the settlement at Astoria. He might, however, agree that no citizen of the United States should land at any Russian settlement without permission of the Russian commander, that no subjects of the Emperor should land at any American settlements without consent of the American authorities, and that no American settlements should be made north and no Russian settlements should be established south of fifty-five degrees north latitude.
Meantime Great Britain had protested against the imperial ukase, and had in like manner been invited to an amicable negotiation for the adjustment of her claims. It was supposed that, as England and America held the country in joint occupation, the two nations would carry on a joint negotiation with Russia. But when it was found that the British envoy had power to discuss but not to conclude anything, and that authority to act jointly was not likely to be given him, Henry Middleton began the negotiation on behalf of the United States alone by offering fifty-five degrees as a boundary or line of demarcation. Russia then offered fiftyfour degrees forty minutes, which was accepted and incorporated in the convention signed in April, 1824.
The discussion thus raised by Russia made it most fitting that the United States and England should come to an understanding as to their respective pretensions. Adams therefore instructed Richard Rush to bring up the matter and to state definitely the grounds on which the United States took her stand. The Russian application of the colonial principle of exclusion was not to be admitted as lawful on any part of the northwest coast of America. Indeed, it was to be denied that such a principle could be applied by any European nation. It was true that, by the Nootka Sound Convention of 1790, England had agreed that, so far as Spanish settlements extended in North and South America, Spain possessed the exclusive rights territorial, and of navigation and fishery, to a distance of ten miles from the coasts so actually occupied. But the independence of the South American nations and of Mexico had extinguished, said Adams, the exclusive colonial rights of Spain in North and South America, and “the American continents henceforth will no longer be subjects