Regarding Oregon Statehood Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Fellow Citizens of the Council and House of Representatives

As in all probability you constitute the last Legislative Assembly that will convene under our present form of government, I have deemed it appropriate if not in the line of my official duty, to address you upon an occasion which would seem to invite an expression of thought upon the past and present of our history, and to suggest a consideration of matters touching the interests of the Territory, as well as the welfare and prosperity of the State which is soon to be inducted into power.

When the history of Oregon comes to be written the mind of the historian will be impressed by the earnestness and sincerity of character—the unobtrusive, unostentatious conduct of those who formed its population from the first reclaiming of the wilderness—the pioneer epoch—to the more refined advancement into social and political existence. Another generation, in the realization of the ease, comfort and affluence, and the various enjoyments of a higher civilization, which will have resulted from ceaseless industry and undiscouraged enterprise, may accord the need of praise to the unwearied toil and patient suffering of those who tracked the wilderness and subdued it to the wants of man. Our pioneer settlers possessed integrity of character. They were energetic and diligent, warm-hearted and strong-willed. Difficulties and [reverses] did not dishearten them, dangers could not. These attributes and labor constituted their only capital and with them they achieved success. They were co-laborers in the service of utility; the pinchings of poverty and their daily privations only made them be more apt and efficient workmen. They accomplished a purpose with every effort. They congregate to reward a bounty for wolf-scalps, and separate after having inaugurated the first republican government on the shores of the Northern Pacific—the polity of which has received the unqualified commendation of the first statesmen of the Union. The only instance of true and successful “squatter sovereignty” in the history of our Country.

The Territorial system of government may be regarded as somewhat under the federal Constitution, in its definition of the enjoyment of the full rights of citizenship. It is an imperfect and unsatisfactory form of government, and may continue to be a fruitful source of trouble and discontent. It would seem just and politic, having full faith in the capacity of the people for self government, that the citizens of the Territories should no longer be debarred the right, which no Constitutional power prohibits, to elect their own executive and judicial officers. Such an amendment of the system would free it from its most objectionable feature—that vestige of monarchical custom which should find no practice, or toleration, in a confederation of republican States, where the intelligence of the people is the basis of the government.

The provisional government which had been instituted by the mixed population of Oregon, after an existence of nearly six years, having admirably achieved its purpose, gave place to the jurisdiction f the United States, in our present Territorial system, on the 3rd day of March, A.D. 1849. In a few months a more satisfactory change will have transpired in the assumption of the powers and authority of a sovereign State. It is a circumstance especially gratifying and congratulatory that, while other Territories have been afflicted with turbulence and desperate feuds, in this effort to perfect their form of government, Oregon has accomplished it with dignity, determining the same questions and causes of unhappiness, without the [disruption] of social obligation, the violation of peace, or the infringement of her honor. This in the main is owing to the fact that we have been let alone by outside pseudo-reformers and philanthropists, that we have not been cursed by the presence of political advocators and emissaries of fanaticism to excite indecent passion, prostitute the public good, and make the blessings of our fathers a scorn.

The people of the Territories are fully competent to manage their own political concerns. They know best their own interests and necessities and least of all do they require foreign influences to educate them as to their political rights and duties. In the peaceful pursuit of agricultural life the settler seeks to obtain a comfortable subsistence. Nature is his daily companion, and the sentiments she inspires elevate his mind and pacify his heart. Is he not to be trusted in the exercise of his prerogatives! Vice does not flourish where agriculture has made her home. The Territories, as the common property of the nation, should be regarded as neutral ground, rather than as arenas for fanatical strife. Life has a better and higher purpose, and the nation a nobler mission than is involved in an interminable crusade.

The Constitution, which has been adopted with such a feeling of unanimity, reflects credit upon those who framed it and our citizens have exhibited their excellent judgment in approving it as the fundamental law. It is liberal in its provisions, and its spirit is in harmony with the progressive and improving impulse of the age. It inculcates the principles of economy in the administration of the government, which it is to be hoped may be always rigidly observed and maintained, for extravagance has characterized the times and should be guarded against by every prudent means. There is nothing that will so fetter the uselessness of the State and impair its healthful vitality. It is an instrument that should be patiently submitted to the test of time, and careful practice and construction, before any encouragement is given to any change whatever.

Oregon presents herself for admission into the Confederation of States in no attitude. No indecent haste impairs the undertaking. Time has matured the event. Her Constitution compares favorably with those of other states. She has adjusted creditably, permanently and satisfactorily all subjects involving differences of opinion. She has evaded no issue, or responsibility, however delicate or exciting. She understands herself and can be readily comprehended by all. Her manifold interests, in their daily increasing magnitude and importance, demand, and inspire the hope, that there may be no hesitation, or delay, in the acknowledgement of her sovereignty.

You are doubtless aware that Dr. John Evans, a gentleman of high scientific attainments has been engaged for several years, under direction of the general government, in making a geological reconnaissance of this and Washington Territory. With the character of his explorations, and the zeal and energy with which they have been conducted, you are likewise familiar. The publications of his report, which is now complete, ought to be a matter of considerable interest, especially to the two Territories, for we may confidently calculate that he has collected much valuable information which will be of importance to the growing interests of this section of the Union. It is desirable that the fruit of his investigation should be made known to the world. I have no doubt that the passage of a joint resolution, by your respective bodies, instructing our delegate to request Congress to make the necessary appropriation for the early publication of the work might be of service in accomplishing that and The Commissioner of the General Law Office estimates the requisite amount for this purpose at $21,400.00. Consider the labors of Dr. Evans “as eminently useful in a scientific point of view as well as subserving the interests of the Pacific coast, by indicating the localities of the Country possessing mineral and agricultural wealth.” He correctly observes—

“Either what has been done in the way of exploration and development of coal deposits, under appropriation by Congress, is to go for nothing and remain useless, or be brought to light in proper form, as proposed by further appropriation, to close the business and make the results available. The effect of the . . . measure will be to open up new sources of trade to active industry in the extraction and sale of coal on the Pacific, thereby furnishing the material for propulsion, essential in our rapidly growing steam commerce on the Pacific, at cheap rates, instead of the enormous cost of the article imported from the east.”

Our Indian relations remain in an unsatisfactory state. As demand has been made for the surrender of the murderers of Agent Bolen and Wright, and other Indians guilty of similar outrages, although the Superintendent of Indian Affairs has signified to the commanding officer of this military department, the justice and necessity of such an act. Notwithstanding the uncertain affairs no apprehensions need be entertained of hostile demonstrations on the part of the Indians west of the Cascade Mountains so long as the government; by an adequate military force and ample appropriation, maintains its present policy of keeping and subsisting them upon reservations.

The abrogation of the treaties with the Indians east of the Cascades, or rather the failure of the Senate to ratify them, has been regarded as a sufficient cause to justify the closing of the large extent of country beyond the Dalles of the Columbia against settlement, or occupation by the whites. I shall not now undertake to oppose the policy of the measure, however questionable it may be, but I have to observe that the section of the Territory allotted to has been opened to settlement by the positive enactment of Congress. The ratification of the treaties with the Indians west of the Cascades, it should be borne in mind, is only of comparatively recent occurrence. Indeed the first treaties were rejected. Because of this no authority military or other, attempted the assumption and exercise of a power doubtful, at least. When the jurisdiction of the United States was extended over this Country, and its authority established, through executive and judicial officers, it was, it is presumed, for the purpose of protecting its citizens in the enjoyment of their rights and interests and afterwards, in order to foster those interests and increase the population, liberal grants of land were made to those already occupying portions of the public domain, and others were invited to become settlers upon it by virtue of the provisions of the same law and receive a similar gratuity. Wherever the settler located his right he held independent of the possessing rights of the Indians, which was unextinguished, and the “intercourse law,” which was quite as applicable as now. It was not his business to inquire who owned the land. He paid for it by his labor to a proprietor powerful enough to guarantee his patent. The expiration of certain provisions of the land law does not affect the inherent principle involved in the subject.

Large sections of the country from which the whites have been thus excluded are well adapted for purposes of pasturage, being covered with highly nutritious grasses. Our citizens had been regarding its occupation as highly advantageous for their rapidly augmenting herds of cattle and other stock.

Our present highly capable Superintendent of Indian Affairs is wholly engaged in the efficient discharge of the difficult duties of his responsible position. An increase of jurisdiction has made his labours truly Herculean. From the forty second to the forty ninth parallel of north latitude and from the ocean to the Rocky Mountains forms now but one Superintendency. This district of country is much too extensive for any one Superintendent, be he ever so efficient. It will be impossible to give entire and complete satisfaction. There should be two, at least, if not three such officers for a field of service so extended and important. I would respectfully suggest the expediency of your memorializing Congress upon the necessity of authorizing additional Superintendents so as the better to insure the prompt discharge of every responsibility pertaining to this important branch of the public service. . . .

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