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of colonization. Occupied by civilized independent nations, they will be accessible to Europeans on that footing alone, and the Pacific Ocean and every part of it will remain open to the navigation of all nations, in like manner with the Atlantic.”
As to the boundary, Rush was to offer to stipulate that no settlements be made in future by the Russians south of fifty-five degrees, by citizens of the United States north of fifty-one degrees, or by British subjects either south of fiftyone or north of fifty-five degrees. He might, however, if England insisted on it, accept forty-nine degrees as the boundary from the Rocky Mountains to the sea. These two propositions were accordingly made by Rush, and were met, the one with a declination and the other with a flat denial. Great Britain, it was answered, considered the whole of the unoccupied parts of America open to her for settlement in the future just as they had been in the past, and would make no exception of the northwest coast, whether north of forty-two degrees or south of fifty-one. Yet she would from pure goodness, from a desire to close sources of disagreement which the future might multiply and aggravate, waive her rights and suggest a line of demarcation. This line was the parallel of forty-nine degrees from the summit of the Rocky Mountains to the northeasternmost branch of the Columbia river, and thence down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Rush rejected it as promptly as England had rejected that of the United States, and tendered forty-nine degrees from the mountains to the sea. Again England declined the offer, and the negotiation came to naught.*
So the matter stood when Monroe, in December, 1824, met Congress for the last time. In his message he once more called attention to our interests on the Pacific coast, once more urged the establishment of a military post at the mouth of the Columbia river, and the House once more went back to the matter. The old bill was taken up, and, when the objections had been made and answered, it was passed. In the Senate, however, it encountered strong opposition from men whose ideas were best expressed by a senator from New Jersey. He objected because the ten years of joint occupation under the convention of 1818 had not yet expired; because till it had expired, to take possession by military force would be highly improper; because we had never yet spread our laws over a territory but with the intention of sooner or later making it a State, and a State Oregon never could be. Our union, said Mr. Dickerson, is already too extensive. The distance from the mouth of the Columbia to the mouth of the Missouri is 3,555 miles. But the mouth of the Missouri is 1,148 miles from Washington, which city is therefore 4,703 miles from the mouth of the Columbia. Suppose now that Oregon is a State in the Union, and that a member of Congress from the far western confines of our country sets out from his home to make the journey of 4,700, or say 4,650 miles to Washington. At the rate members of Congress travel, according to law—that is, twenty miles a day—he would require, to come to the seat of government and go home again, four hundred and sixty-five days. If he should lie by on Sundays-say sixty-six of them—he would spend five hundred and thirtyone days on the way. But suppose he made haste, and travelled thirty miles each day and rested every Sunday, he would then consume three hundred and fifty days. This would enable a young and energetic traveller to leave his home, come to Washington, spend two weeks attending to his duties in the House, and get back home again in the course of just one year to a day. For this long and perilous journey he would receive $3,720 dollars as mileage. He might come by water around Cape Horn, or by Behring Strait around the north coast of our continent to Baffin's Bay, and so to Washington. True, this northwest passage had not been discovered except on the maps. But it would be before Oregon became a State.
* Negotiations ended in July, 1824.
Benton answered him. Ignoring what he was pleased to consider Mr. Dickerson's wit, the senator from Missouri reviewed at great length the claims of the two countries to Oregon, declared ours to be incontestable, and to rest on the discovery of the Columbia by Captain Gray in 1790; on the purchase of Louisiana in 1803; on the exploration or discovery
ASTORIA NOT GIVEN UP.
of the Columbia from its head to its mouth by Lewis and Clark in 1805; on the settlement at Astoria in 1811; and on the Spanish treaty of 1819.
The question of title disposed of, Benton turned to that of occupation. On this he took four positions: That the United States had the right of possession; that Great Britain had actual possession; that she resisted occupation by the United States; and that after 1828 the party in possession would have the right of possession till ownership was settled by negotiation or by arms. After touching briefly on the first point, Benton passed to the second, and reminded the Senate that the delivery of Astoria to the United States was a pretence and a shame. Mr. Prevost, said Benton, was carried on a British sloop of war from Lima to Astoria where he stayed just five days. During this time he signed a receipt for the delivery of the post, and accepted a remonstrance from the British, protesting against the delivery till the question who owns Oregon had once and for all been decided. This was all he did. The actual control of the fort was not changed for an hour. The British flag was hauled down and the Stars and Stripes were run up to satisfy the words of the Treaty of Ghent. But Mr. Prevost could not man the fort himself. He brought no sailors and no soldiers to do so for him, and on the day he sailed away it was as much under the crown of Great Britain as on the day he came. Over it at this moment the British flag is flying. It still bears the name of Fort George, and at it the medals of George the Fourth are still distributed to the chiefs of the surrounding Indian tribes. And more than this: Five other posts have since been built along the banks of the Columbia from the sea to the mountains, as part of a great cordon three thousand miles in length stretching along our frontier for a purpose which every citizen and every Indian of the West well understands, and which the United States makes no effort to counteract.
In evidence of his third point, Benton cited the public documents. He recalled to the Senate how, in 1815, the British chargé d'affaires, Mr. Baker, had refused to give an order for the delivery of Astoria; how in 1817 Mr. Bagot, the Minister, had remonstrated against the occupation of the country
by the United States; how in 1821 Mr. Canning, then Minister, when the question of occupation was before Congress, had twice attempted to arrest discussion; and how, inspired by British agents, the National Intelligencer had published essay after essay ridiculing the claim of the United States to any part of the northwest coast of America. “ With a fleet on the coast, with a fort at the mouth of the Columbia, with batteries along its banks, with a line of posts to Canada and 140,000 Indians at her command, does any man suppose that when 1828 comes Great Britain will give up possession of the country she is doing so much to secure?
“But gentlemen ask, What are the advantages to be derived from occupation? I answer, The advantages will be securing of the fur trade of the Columbia, the Rocky Mountains, and the upper Missouri; preventing the Russians and the British getting control of the Indians on the Columbia; a naval station for us on the Pacific; communication between the valley of the Mississippi and the Pacific; and, chief of all, the exclusion of foreign powers from Oregon.
“ Gentlemen ask again, What effect will a new territory or a new State have on the Union? I answer, It will be the nucleus of a new and independent power. This Republic should have limits. Where they should be on the north or the south is not now for me to say. But westward they are fixed by the hand of Nature, and the ridge of the Rocky Mountains may be named as offering a convenient, natural, and everlasting boundary. In planting the seed of a new power on the western coast, it should be well understood that when strong enough to take care of itself the new Government should separate from the mother empire as the child separates from the parent. You think this is looking far into the future. It is not. Within a century from this day a population greater than that of the present United States will exist on the west side of the Rocky Mountains.
But the question now before us is, Shall we execute the Treaty of Ghent, expel the British from the Columbia, perfect our title, and take possession of the country? What use shall then be made of it is to be settled later. But on one point there should be no doubt—the people of the United
THE DESERT REGION.
States will neither be tricked nor bullied out of this territory, nor suffer a monarchical power to grow upon it.”
The manly speech of Benton fell on dull ears. The report of Major Long had done its work.* That magnificent stretch of rolling prairie which lies between Missouri and Iowa on the east and the Rocky Mountains on the west, and extends from Texas to our northern frontier-a region now cut up into eight States, supporting a population of more than five millions, dotted with towns and cities, five of which may each boast of more inhabitants than any city in the Union in 1825; a land of wheat fields and cornfields and mines and rancheswas condemned as a wilderness, over which buffaloes and Indians might roam, but on which civilized man could find no habitation. With such a desert barrier between the States and Oregon, it seemed idle to the senators to give any heed to the Pacific coast, and the bill for the occupation of the mouth of the Columbia river was laid upon the table by a vote of twenty-five to fourteen.
* " The vast region commencing near the sources of the Sabine, Trinity, Brazos, and Colorado, and extending northwardly to the forty-ninth degree of north latitude, by which the United States territory is limited in that direction, is, throughout, of a similar character. The whole of this region seems peculiarly adapted as a range for buffaloes, wild goats, and other wild game, incalculable multitudes of which find ample pasturage and subsistence upon it.
" This region, however, viewed as a frontier, may prove of infinite importance to the United States, inasmuch as it is calculated to serve as a barrier to prevent too great an extension of our population westward.”—Long's Expedition, vol. ii, p. 361.