Copyright
Daniel Webster.

The works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) online

. (page 7 of 53)
Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 7 of 53)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in the opinion which has been expressed, that he cannot regard
the present position of affairs as leading to any immediate
danger of war.

Acting upon these conclusions, and entertaining these views,
all the regret I feel at the introduction of these resolutions is, as
I have said, that, accompanied with the remarks which fell from
the honorable Senator when he called them up, they may have
a tendency to create unnecessary alarm. I trust that every
member of the community will perceive that it is expedient to
prevent all alarm ; at the same time, as far as I am concerned,
if gentlemen think that the time has come for enlarging the de
fences of the country, for augmenting the army and the navy,
I am ready to cooperate with them.

* Mr. Niles.



OREGON.*



AT the first session of the Twenty-ninth Congress, the President in his
annual message recommended to the two houses that the United States
should give notice to Great Britain of their intention to terminate the
Convention between the two countries, concluded in 1827, for the joint
occupation of the Oregon Territory ; in pursuance of the right reserved
to either party by that Convention on notice duly given to the other
party. A joint resolution to cariy this recommendation into effect was
introduced into the Senate by Mr. Allen of Ohio, and referred to the
Committee on Foreign Relations. It was reported back to the Senate
with amendments proposed by the committee, and other amendments
were moved by individual Senators. Among other amendments the fol
lowing, preceded by a preamble, was moved by Mr. Crittendcn of Ken
tucky :

" That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, author
ized, at his discretion, to give to the British government the notice
required by its said second article for the abrogation of the said Con
vention of the 6th of August, 1827 : Provided however, that, in order
to afford ampler time and opportunity for the amicable settlement and
adjustment of all their differences and disputes in respect to said terri
tory, said notice ought not to be given till after the close of the present
session of Congress."

This amendment to the proposition of the committee was discussed
on several successive days ; and on the 26th of February, Mr. Colquitt
of Georgia brought forward two resolutions, as a substitute for the
resolution of Mr. Crittendcn. The first was substantially a repetition of
Mr. Crittenden s proposition. The second was in the following terms :

* Remarks made in the Senate of the United States, on the 26th of February,
1816, on the various propositions before the Senate relative to jrivinjr notice to
the British Government of the intention of the Government of the United States
to put an end to the Convention for the Joint Occupation of the Oregon Terri
tory.



64 OREGON.

" And be it further resolved, that it is earnestly desired that the long
standing controversy, respecting limits in the Oregon Territory, be speed
ily settled by negotiation and compromise, in order to tranquillize the
public mind and to preserve the friendly relations of the two countries." 1 "

The question being on the adoption of Mr. Crittenden s substitute for
the committee s amendment, Mr. Webster spoke as follows :

MR. PRESIDENT, I concur most cordially in the sentiments
so beautifully expressed by the honorable Senator* who has just
taken his seat, I do not differ with him a hair s breadth in the
principles he has laid down, nor in his sense of propriety in re
gard to the present debate. My purpose has merely been, to
ascertain whether the question to be debated cannot be put in a
more convenient form than that which it assumes at present.
The Senator from Kentucky moved an amendment to the
amendment reported from the Committee on Foreign Relations.
The Senator from Georgia then suggested another, slightly dif
fering in form, which he intends to move, when it shall be in
order, as a substitute for that of the Senator from Kentucky.
To facilitate the action of the Senate, it has been proposed to
the gentleman from Kentucky to accept the amendment of the
Senator from Georgia ; and he has now declared, that, in regard
to the first part of the proposition of the gentleman from
Georgia, he has no difficulty in accepting it in place of his own,
or as a modification of his own. In regard to the latter part of
that proposition, he considers it as in its nature distinct and sub
stantive ; he understands it as going further than his own prop
osition, and as not being, therefore, a natural substitute for it.
Now, if it is the disposition of the Senate to act on this subject
further than has been proposed by the honorable Senator from
Kentucky, the only question will be, whether the Senator will
not consent wholly to withdraw his own amendment, and sutler
that of the Senator from Georgia to be moved in its place.

I do not, however, think it of particular importance that the
Senate should express an opinion on this matter to-day or to
morrow, or this week or the next. I suppose, indeed, that the
proceedings of the Senate on this subject are regarded with ex-
Ireme interest at home, and looked upon with great respect
abroad ; and I feel more strongly, perhaps, than the Senator from

* Mr, Crittenden.



OREGON. 65

Kentucky the evils to which he has referred, because I live in
the very midst of them, and witness from day to day the great
injury sustained by the commercial interests of this country from
the present uncertain and anxious posture of affairs.

Let me add a few words more. I shall vote for both portions
of the amendment suggested by the Senator from Georgia. I
am prepared to do so. At the opening of the present session
of Congress, the President, not called upon by the Senate,
sent to the two houses the correspondence which had taken
place between the Secretary of State and the representative of
the British government here, recommending at the same time
the giving of notice to that government of the termination of
the Convention of 1827. The correspondence thus submitted
has very properly been made a subject of remark in both houses.
I will say nothing in regard to the propriety of sending that cor
respondence here. I suppose such a step could hardly be jus
tified, save on the ground that the negotiation was ended by the
rejection of the President s offer of the parallel of forty-nine
degrees of north latitude as the boundary, and the immedi
ate withdrawal of that offer; because, in the general practice
of governments, it has been found very inconvenient to publish
the letters which may pass between negotiators before the ne
gotiation is ended. But as the President has sent us this cor
respondence, and as the Senate is called upon to act on the
proposition of notice, I thought it would expedite our decis
ion to have before us also any further correspondence which
might have taken place subsequently to that first sent. I accord
ingly moved the call, and, in response to it, the more recent cor
respondence has been laid before us, from which we learn the
offer by the British envoy to submit the question to arbitration,
and the rejection of that offer by the executive.

Now, without meaning at this time to go into any sort of
examination of the course of the President in this matter, or
indulging in any remark expressive of an unfriendly feeling
towards the administration, or any disposition to embarrass the
government, for I feel nothing of the kind, and nothing is fur
ther from my intention, I must still be permitted to say, that the
existing posture of affairs is such as to render it quite desirable
that we should know what is the opinion of the executive in
regard to this measure and its consequences. Nobody doubt?
6*



66 OREGON.

that the two houses of Congress have a perfect authority to
terminate the Oregon Convention, without offence to any body.
This is our specified right, and its exercise can present no
just cause of complaint in any quarter. But, though this is an
undoubted truth, yet it must be considered in connection with
the circumstances which have been made to surround it. The
resolution of notice has passed the other house of Congress
with a qualification, or addition, or whatever else it should be
called, which prevents it in some respects from being a mere
naked notice of termination. It comes with that qualification
or condition for adoption here. Other propositions are offered
in the Senate, and are entertained as fit subjects of consideration.

The Senator from Kentucky, in one part of his speech, says
that he will leave the entire responsibility of this controversy
where the Constitution has placed it, and contends that those
who have the power to conduct the foreign diplomacy of the
country are responsible to the country and to the world for the
manner in which they shall exercise that power. This is cer
tainly very just, but it raises a doubt whether we ought to do
more than simply to give, or to refuse to give, the naked notice.
But some modification of the mere naked notice has been
already attached to it in the other house ; and there is, as I be
lieve, a conviction on the part of a large majority of the Senate,
that it should, to a certain extent, be qualified. Now, I hold
that, under these circumstances, we have a right to know in
what point of view the executive himself regards this notice:
what are the ends he has in view, and what are the conse
quences to which, in his judgment, the notice is to lead.

When speaking on this subject some weeks ago, I said it was
most obvious that the President could not expect war; because
he did not act as the chief magistrate of such a nation as this
must be expected to act, if, charged as he is with the defence of
the country, he expected any danger of its being assaulted by the
most formidable power upon earth. I still say there is nothing
in the executive communications to show us that the President
does expect a war. He must, then, expect nothing but a con
tinuance of the present controversy, or a settlement of it by
negotiation. But how is it to be settled? On what terms?
On what basis ? All that we hear is, " The whole of Oregon or
none." And yet there is to be negotiation. We cannot con-



OREGON. 67

ceal from ourselves or the world the gross inconsistency of such
conduct. It is the spirit of the whole negotiation, on our part,
that Oregon is ours; there is nothing like admitting even a
doubt, on the part of ourselves or others, as to that position ;
and yet we are to negotiate ! What is negotiation ? Does any
gentleman expect that the administration are, by negotiation, to
persuade Great Britain to surrender the whole of what she holds
in Oregon ? They may do this ; I cannot say they will not.
If that is their expectation, let them try their hand at it ; I wish
them success. That is, I wish that we may get " all Oregon "
if we can ; but let our arguments be fair, and let our demands
be reasonable.

But I do not understand the position we are placed in. The
executive seems to be for negotiation, and yet is against taking
any thing but the whole of Oregon. What, then, is to be the
ground of negotiation ? What is the basis on which it is to
proceed? If the President has made up his mind not to treat
for less than the whole, he should say so, and throw himself at
once on the two houses of Congress.

I am entitled to make this remark, because it cannot be dis
guised that the probable effect of this notice is viewed very dif
ferently by very intelligent gentlemen, all friends of the admin
istration, on this floor. The Senator from Georgia regards it as
a measure tending to peace. He hopes, he expects, peace from
it, and he thinks the expression of such opinions as he avows
will enable the administration to secure the peace of the country.
There are certain other gentlemen, and among them the honor
able Senator from Michigan,* who are much less ardent in their
hopes of peace. That Senator s impression has been, that, if
we pass this notice, there is a possibility and a prospect of war ;
and so, against the gentleman s own declarations and disavow
als, his speeches generally terminate in the expression that war
is inevitable.

After an explanation from Mr. Cass, Mr. Webster proceeded as
follows :

The gentleman thinks we shall not recede, and that England
will not recede ; and then what more likely to happen than a

* Mr. Cass.



68 OREGON.

war ? It was the Senator s argument, and not any particular
expression he employed, which gave me the idea that such was
his impression. I do not charge the gentleman with saying that
" war is inevitable " ; but what he did say yet rings in my ears,
and on every return of the like language I am reminded of the
sentence with which the Roman Senator ended all his speeches,
" Delenda est Carthago."

I am desirous of expressing the sentiment (without wishing
to embarrass the administration : if negotiations are pending I
will hold my tongue ; my tongue shall be blistered before I will
say any thing against our own title so long as negotiations are
pending; but the President must see the embarrassment under
which we stand; I am willing to aid the administration, and
will aid it to obtain all to which we are justly entitled) that I
must know something of the views, expectations, end, and ob
jects of the President in recommending this notice. I cannot
much longer be quiet in the existing posture of affairs, when no
measures of defence are recommended to us, but negotiation is
held out as likely to bring the question to a settlement by Eng
land s giving up the whole matter in dispute. My doubt of that
is as strong as that expressed by the Senator from Michigan.
I say here, so far as my own knowledge goes, that it is not the
judgment of this country, that it is not the judgment of this
Senate, that the government of the United States shall run the
hazard of a war for Oregon, by renouncing as no longer fit for
consideration propositions made by ourselves to Great Britain
thirty years ago, and repeated again and again before the world.
I do not speak of any specific propositions, but of the general
idea, of the general plan, so justly suggested by the Senator from
Missouri,* of separating the interests of British subjects and
American citizens beyond the Rocky Mountains. I repeat the
assertion, that it is not the judgment of this country that we are
bound to reject our own propositions, made over and over again,
twenty and thirty years ago. I do not believe that such is the
judgment of this Senate. I have the fullest belief that the prop
ositions proposed by the gentleman from Georgia concur with
the views of a large majority of this body.

(A VOICE. Yes, of two thirds.)

* Mr. Benton.



OREGON. 69

A gentleman near me says of two thirds of it ; and I am will
ing to try that question immediately. I am ready now to take
the question, whether this difficulty shall or shall not be settled
by compromise. Compromise I can understand ; but negotia
tion, with a fixed resolution to take and not to give, with a pre
determination not to take less than the whole, is what I do not
and cannot understand in diplomacy. I wish we could take
that question now; not for the purpose of giving information in
any quarter, but in order to put an end to the present distress
ing, distracting state of things. There are many subjects which
we should attend to, all of which are greatly and materially em
barrassed by the present position of this affair. It is proposed,
for example, to remodel the tariff. But with what view? To
augment revenue, or reduce revenue ? If it is to augment the
revenue, then, I ask, is that with a view to war ? If it is to re
duce revenue, then, I ask, is that with a view to peace? How
can we possibly know how to act, without the least knowledge
whether there is a likelihood of the continuance of peace, or
whether we are on the eve of a war ?

The embarrassment in the private affairs of men is equally
pressing. The nation possesses a great commerce. Now it is
easy for a gentleman to say, " I disregard commerce on a ques
tion of the national honor." So do I, when that is the question.
If the honor of my country is attacked, I will say, in the memo
rable language once used by a member of the other house,
" Perish commerce ! " But there are interests not to be trifled
with. Those great interests of this country, in which is in
volved the daily bread of thousands and millions of men, are not
to be put in jeopardy for objects not in reality connected either
with the honor or the substantial interests of the country. I
wish, therefore, so soon as it is practicable, to obtain an expres
sion of the opinion of the Senate. If it shall be the opinion of
this body that it is best to give the naked notice recommended
in the President s message, that will throw the responsibility
upon the executive to the fullest extent. I am for taking a
question either on the naked notice, or on notice in some modi
fied form, such as shall express what I believe to be the judg
ment both of the Senate and of the country.



OREGON.*



MR. PRESIDENT, I shall advise my honorable friend, the
member from Delaware, to forbear from pressing this resolution
for a few days. There is no doubt that there are letters from
Mr. McLane ; but as the chairman of the Committee on Foreign
Relations opposes this motion, I am to presume that the execu
tive government finds it inconvenient to communicate those let
ters to the Senate at the present moment. Yet it is obvious, as
the Senate is called upon to perform a legislative act, that it
ought, before the hour of its decision comes, to be put in posses
sion of every thing likely to influence its judgment ; otherwise, it
would be required to perform high legislative functions on mere
confidence.

There is certainly some embarrassment in the case. If the
executive government deems the communication of the corre
spondence inconvenient, it can only be because negotiation is
still going on, or, if suspended, is expected to be resumed. So
far as negotiation is concerned, the communication, or publica
tion, of the correspondence may very properly be thought incon
venient. But then the President has recommended the passage
of a law, or resolution, by the two houses of Congress. In sup
port of this recommendation, he himself sent us, unasked, at the
commencement of the session, the correspondence up to that
time. Now, if that was necessary, the rest is necessary. If we
are entitled to a part, we are entitled to the whole. In my opin
ion, the mistake was in calling on Congress to authorize notice

* Remarks made in the Senate of the United States, on the 30th of March.
1846, on a Resolution moved by Mr. Clayton of Delaware, on the 3d instant,
calling upon the President for such portions of the Correspondence between the
Governments of the United States and Great Britain, as had not already been
communicated.



OREGON. 71

to be given England of the discontinuance of what has been
called the joint occupation, until negotiation had been exhaust
ed. Negotiation should have been tried first, and when that
had failed, and finally failed, then, and not till then, should Con
gress have been called upon.

I now go on the ground, of course, that the notice for discon
tinuing the joint occupancy is properly to be given by authority
of Congress, a point which I do not now discuss. It is said, in
deed, that notice is to be used as a weapon, or an instrument,
in negotiation. I hardly understand this. It is a metaphor of
not very obvious application. A weapon seems to imply not a
facility, or mere aid, but the means, either of defence against at
tack, or of making an attack. It sounds not altogether friendly
and pacific. I doubt exceedingly whether, under present cir
cumstances, notice would hasten negotiation ; and yet such are
those circumstances, that there may be as much inconvenience
in standing still as in going forward. The truth is, that great
embarrassment arises from the extreme pretensions and opinions
put forward by the President in his inaugural address a year
ago, and in his message last December. But for these, notice
would have been harmless, and perhaps would have been au
thorized by both houses without much opposition, and received
by England without dissatisfaction. But the recommendation
of the notice, coupled with the President s repeated declarations,
that he held our title to the whole territory to be " clear and un
questionable," alarmed the country. And well it might. And
if notice were required, in order to enable the President to push
these extreme claims to any and every result, then notice ought
to be refused by Congress, unless Congress is ready to support
these pretensions at all hazards.

Here lies the difficulty. Congress is not prepared, and the
country is not prepared, as I believe, to make the President s
opinion of a clear and unquestionable right to the w r hole terri
tory an ultimatum. If he wants notice for such a purpose, he
certainly must see that it becomes a grave question whether
Congress will grant it. It was a great, a very great mistake, to
accompany the recommendation of notice with so positive an
assertion of our right to the whole territory. Did the President
mean to adhere to that, even to the extremity of war? If so, he
should have known that, after what has happened in years past,



72 OREGON .

the country was not likely to sustain him. Did he mean to say
this, and afterwards recede from it? If so, why say it at all?
Surely, the President could not be guilty of playing so small a
part, as to endeavor to show himself to possess spirit, and bold
ness, and fearlessness of England greater than his predecessors,
or his countrymen, and yet do all this in the confident hope that
no serious collision would arise between the two countries. So
low an ambition, such paltry motives, ought not to be imputed
to him. When the President declared that, in his judgment,
our title to the whole of Oregon was " clear and unquestiona
ble," did he mean to express an official, or a mere personal opin
ion? If the latter, it certainly had no place in an official com
munication. If the former, if he intended a solemn official opin
ion, upon which he was resolved to act officially, then it is a
very grave question how far he is justified, without new lights, or
any change of circumstances, in placing the claims of the coun
try, in this respect, on other grounds than those upon which they
had stood under his predecessors, and with the concurrence of
ah 1 branches of the government for so many years ; for it is net-
to be doubted that the United States government has admitted,
through a long series of years, that England has rights in the
northwestern parts of this continent which are entitled to be
respected.

Mr. President, one who has observed attentively what has
taken place here and in England within the last three months
must, I think, perceive that public opinion, in both countries, is
coming to a conclusion that this controversy ought to be set
tled, and is not very diverse in the two countries as to the gen
eral basis of such a settlement. That basis is the offer made by
the United States to England in 1826. There is no room to
doubt, I think, that this country is ready to stand by that offer,
substantially and in effect. Such is my opinion, at least ; and
circumstances certainly indicate that Great Britain would not,
in all probability, regard such a proposition as unfit to be con
sidered.

I said, some weeks ago, that I did not intend to discuss titles
at length, and certainly not to adduce arguments against our
own claim. But it appears to me that there is a concurrence of
arguments and considerations in favor of regarding the forty-
ninth parallel as the just line of demarcation, which both coun-



OREGON. 73

tries might well respect. It has for many years been the extent
of our claim. We have claimed up to forty-nine degrees, and
nothing beyond it. We have offered to yield every thing north
of it. It is the boundary between the two countries on this side
of the Rocky Mountains, and has been since the purchase of
Louisiana from France. I do not think it important either to
prove or disprove the fact, that commissioners under the treaty
of Utrecht established the forty-ninth parallel as the boundary
between the English and French possessions in America. An
cient maps and descriptions so represent it; some saying that
this line of boundary is to run " indefinitely west," others saying,
in terms, that it extends " to the northwestern ocean." But



Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 7 of 53)