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his arrival at Monterey on the 1st of November, the Spanish
commander, Arrillaga, declined holding any verbal communi-
cation with him, but addressed to him questions in writing
as to the objects of his voyage ; to which Vancouver
promptly replied —

" That the voyage in which we were engaged was for the general
use and benefit of mankind, and that, undei- these circumstances, we
ought rather to be considered as laboring for the good of the world in
general than for the advantage of any particular sovereign, and that the
Court of Spain would be more early informed, and as much benefited
by my labors, as the kingdom of Great Britain." — Vol. IV. p. 309.^

1 The correspondence between Van- different from what my conversation

couver and Senor Arrillaga, as reported with Senor Arrillaga liad given me

by the former, though too long to be reason to expect when I visited him at

inserted here, is well worth a perusal, the Presidio, I was reduced to the ne-

On landing, Vancouver called on the cessity of sending him the next day

Spanish commandant, and was prepar- (Saturday, the 2d) a full explanation

ing to state his reasons for having en- of the objects of our voyage, and of the

tered the ports under his government, motives that had induced me to enter

when, as he says, "he [Senor Arril- the ports under his jurisdiction." The

laga] stopped me from proceeding fur- substance of this explanation is given

ther, and begged that the subject might in the extract in the text, denying the

be referred to a written correspond- intention of laboring " for the advan-

ence, by Avhich mode he conceived mat- tage of any particular sovereign. ''

ters would be more fully explained." And it was so satisfactory that, as

In the afternoon a Spanish officer went Vancouver says, " On Monday, the

on board Vancouver's vessel, and de- 4th, I received a letter from Senor

livei'ed him two letters from the Span- Arrillaga in reply to my letter, in

ish commandant. " The tenor of these which he was pleased to compliment

letters [says Vancouver] being very me upon my ingenuousness," &c.


Here is the confession of Vancouver himself, that there
was no intention of interfering- with the territorial rights of
Spain, and that no special advantages were sought for by
Great Britain. It is the highest evidence, the evidence of
contemporaneous exposition, against the claims of the British
plenipotentiary, and it demolishes the whole fabric of the
British title, so far as it is built on Vancouver's explorations.

While on this part of the subject, I desire also to call the
attention of the Senate to the manner in which the Oregon
question has been discussed in the British Parliament by
some of the most distinguished members of both branches
of that body. I wish to do so for the purpose of correct-
ing great inaccuracies, and also for the purpose of showing
how imperfectly the subject appears to be understood by
those who, from their elevated positions, are under the
strongest moral obligations to possess themselves of the
truth, in order that the public mind of Great Britain may
not be misled and inflamed on their high authority.

In the House of Lords, on the 4"tli of April last, imme-
diately after the reception of the President's inaugural
speech, the subject was brought forward by the Earl of
Clarendon, not in the usual form of a call on her Majesty's
Ministers for information, but in pursuance of a notice
which he had given on the preceding day of his design to
invite the attention of the House to the question. In the
course of his remarks, he undertook to give a sketch of the
claims of Great Britain and the United States to the Terri-
tory of Oregon. I shall, in respect to the former, quote his
own words from the " London Times," a source to which we
may confidently look for an accurate report of his Lordship's
remarks. I shall confine myself strictly to the question of
title in all I have to say in reference to these debates, avoid-
ing carefully all allusion to the oft'ensive language with
which they were in some instances connected : —

" In the first place, my Lords, if priority of discovery could consti-
tute title, our claim would be unquestionable ; for Sir Francis Drake,


■when he first visited that country in 1558, found all the land unappro-
priated, and took possession of it, giving it the title of New Albion.
I do not mean to say that this constitutes a claim ; but owing, subse-
quently, to a seizure of British vessels at Nootka, and to a dispute
which arose in consequence, it was arranged by the Treaty of the Es-
curial that the subjects of the contracting parties should not be mo-
lested in fishing and making settlements in parts not hitherto occupied.
In 1792, the country adjacent to the Columbia River was taken pos-
session of by Cook, and was explored in 1813 by the Northwestern
Company, now called the Hudson Bay Company, who established
themselves in Port St. George, imder the government of British laws,
continuing to the present day, and being the first establishment in that
country of a lawful and national character, and recognized as such by
foreign States."

In the paragraph I have read, there are numerous errors
in the statement of facts, and I must ask the indulgence of
the Senate while I point some of them out.

1. Sir Francis Drake arrived on the northwest coast of
America in 1579, and not in 1558, as stated by Lord Clar-
endon, making a difference of twenty-one years in point of
time. If this error of date, which may possibly be typo-
graphical, were the only one, I should not have troubled the
Senate with any reference to it. But there are graver mis-
apprehensions in this statement. It will be seen, that,
though Lord Clarendon does not venture to refer to Sir
Francis Drake's visit to the northwest coast as constituting
a title of itself, he presents it as evidence of " priority of
discovery." Sir, that navigator can, in no just sense, be
said to have visited the disputed Territory of which Lord
Clarendon was speaking. The Territory commences at the
4i2d parallel of latitude, and runs north to 54<' 40'. Sir
Francis Drake landed at 38°. He sailed along the coast
north of this parallel, according to the best authorities, only
as high as 43°. Nor can his visit, in any just sense, be
regarded as a discovery. The country, including the Bay of
St. Francisco, where he landed, was previously known. It
had been seen thirty years before as high as the 43d parallel
by Ferrelo, who was sent out by the Viceroy of Mexico for


the express purpose of exploring and extending the dominion
of Spain over it ; and it was taken possession of at or near
the very point where Drake landed, and at various others,
long before the Government of Great Britain claimed any-
right of possession, growing out of this pretended discovery,
and the visits of her navigators to the northwest coast.

Besides, Drake's expedition was in the nature of a pirati-
(;al enterprise, and not an enterprise of legitimate warfare.
England and Spain were at peace. It is true, the two sov-
ereigns, Elizabeth and Philip, were engaged in secret plots
against each other, — the former by fomenting disturbances
in the Low Countries, and the latter by setting on foot
rebellions in Ireland ; but it was several years later before
these intrigues broke out into the open hostility, of which
the chief incident was the destruction of the Invincible Ar-
mada. (Sir, the contradiction of terms is the work of his-
tory, not mine.) Yet Elizabeth, after Drake's return to
England, on the application of the Spanish ambassador com-
plaining of his piracies, restored a portion of the booty he
had taken, and by this restitution admitted the unlawfulness
of his expedition. It is only necessary to look into Hume
to see in what light it has always been viewed by the eye of
legitimate history. Sir, it should need some boldness, one
would think, to set up a claim even to " priority of discov-
ery " on the basis of a transaction like this.

2. Lord Clarendon states that the country adjacent to the
Columbia River was taken possession of in 179^ by Cap-
tain Cook. Sir, Captain Cook never saw the Columbia
River, nor landed in the immediately adjacent country. His
visit was to Nootka Sound, on the island of Quadra and
Vancouver, separated from the continent by the Strait of
Fuca. His voyage is referred by Lord Clarendon to the
year 179^. It was, in fact, made in 177^, fourteen years
before the Columbia River was entered or even certainly
known to exist. Ten years after Cook's voyage to the
coast, Meares, on whose explorations the British Government


partially rests its title, reported he could say with certainty,
no such river as the St. Roc (the Columbia) existed. Four
years later still, Vancouver, after a most careful examination
of the coast, came to the same conclusion, as we have seen.
Sir, Lord Clarendon evidently confounded the voyage of
Cook with that of Vancouver, without an accurate refer-
ence to either.

3. It is equally erroneous to say that the Northwest
Company explored the country in 1813, and established
themselv^es in Port St. George. Explorations had been
made, first by Lewis and Clarke, military officers in the
service of the United States, and then by Thompson and
others, in the service of the British and American fur com-
panies. But no particular explorations, I believe, were
made in the year referred to. The stock and property of
the x\merican Company at Astoria were sold to the North-
west Company in that year ; but the place was restored to
the United States in 1818, and no attempt was made by
the Government of Great Britain to extend its laws over
any part of the Territory until 1821, eight years after the
time at which Lord Clarendon represents Astoria as being
under the government of British laws, having the charac-
ter of a national establishment of Great Britain, and recog-
nized as such by foreign nations. Sir, it has never pos-
sessed such a national character, nor been so recognized. If
his Lordship had taken the trouble to look at the statement
of the British commissioners, (Messrs. Huskisson and Ad-
dington,) in 1826, he would have found they distinctly
denied that it was a " national possession " or a " military
post " in the hands of the Americans ; and they endeavored
to show by argument that it was not such in tbe hands of
the Northwest Company after its purchase. Its restoration
to us in 1818 is incompatible with the assumption that it
has such a national character now. The assumption is
equally inconsistent with the conditions of the treaties be-
tween Great Britain and the United States, which virtually


preclude such an exclusive exercise of sovereignty on her
part as to give any establishments made by her subjects a
character of nationality. Nay, sir, it is inconsistent with
the claims of Great Britain herself, whose commissioners, in
1826, expressly renounced all pretensions to a right of ex-
clusive sovereignty over any portion of the Oregon Territory.
It is difficult to fancy a paragraph of as many words so
replete with error as the one on which I am commenting.

I regret to say that the subject was presented to the
House of Commons with, if possible, still greater misrepre-
sentations, and from an equally distinguished source; though
I might not have felt myself called on to notice them, but
for their connection with the incidents I have been examin-
ing, and particularly the question of title.

The subject was introduced into the House of Commons
by Lord John Russell, much in the same manner as it vv^as
presented to the House of Lords, — not in the shape of a
call for information, but in the nature of a protest against
some of the positions taken by the President in his inaugural
speech. This gentleman is a distinguished member of the
Whig party, a member of a former ministry, and was re-
cently called on by her Majesty to form another, but did not
succeed. I will now read to the Senate that part of his
Lordsiiip's remarks which relates to the discovery of the
Columbia River, one of the principal historical facts on
which the United States rest their claim to the Oregon
Territory : —

" Now, it appears that Captain Vancoiiver was sent out by the Brit-
ish Government to discover the line of coast, and to take possession of
certain parts laid down in his instructions ; and here we come to an-
other part of the claims of the United States, — to a part of their
claims where they put in their claim to discovery upon a transaction
which I will now proceed to relate. It appears that a merchant vessel,
called the Columbia, under a Captain Gray, discovered an inlet, which
was supposed to be an inlet of a river. It appears that, after some
days, in the month of May, 1792, passed partly at anchor and partly
in endeavoring to ascertain the limits of that bay, this vessel sailed out
again into the Pacific Ocean. There is a very clear account given by


Captain Gray, the commander of that vessel, that, ' after some days,
he says, ' we thought we had found a channel, but found we were mis-
taken. There is no channel in the part which we endeavored to pene-
trate, and therefore we must return.' Shortly after this. Captain Van-
couver arrived on the coast. He not only went into the same inlet, but
he sent his lieutenant — a Lieutenant Broughton — to discover the
river, and to go in a boat to a distance up the river. Lieutenant
Bi'oughton was more successful than Captain Gray. He actually dis-
covered the entrance of the Columbia River. He went up it in his
boat several days, to the distance, I think, of some ninety or one hun-
dred miles. He discovered the territory surrounding it. It was agreed
that the river should be called by the name of Columbia, and Lieu-
tenant Broughton returned to his ship. But Captain Vancouver took
possession of that river, the coast adjacent, and the Nootka Sound, in
the name of his Majesty the King of England. (Heai", hear !) Then,
sir, there was something of valid title."

I confess It was with equal regret and surprise that I read
this statement of a transaction which has become matter of
history, and in respect to the facts of which there is no rea-
sonable ground for serious misconception. I have looked
in vain for the quotation Lord John Russell professes to
make from Captain Gray. There is no such statement in
the only account which I have seen given by the latter of
the discovery of the Columbia River, — the certified copy
of his log in the State Department. His Lordship goes on
to state that Vancouver shortly after arrived on the coast,
and not only went into the inlet, but sent in Lieutenant
Broughton, " who actually discovered the entrance to the
Columbia River." Now, the Senate will observe that, in
order to sustain this most unauthorized assumption, almost
all the important facts relating to the discovery of the
Columbia River — facts shown by Vancouver's own " Jour-
nal"! — are kept out of view: the meeting of Gray with
Vancouver on the 29th April, 1792, five months previously,
near the Strait of Fuca ; the information given by Gray to
the latter of the discovery of the river, and of his unsuc-
cessful attempts to enter it ; the incredulity of Vancouver,
and his continued conviction that no such river existed ; the


return of Gray to the river, his success in entering it ; the
arrival of Vancouver at Nootka, where he obtained copies
of Gray's charts left with Quadra, by the aid of which
Vancouver was enabled to find the stream, and send up his
lieutenant, Broughton, to explore it. I say, sir, all these
material facts are suppressed — I trust not intentionally —
to sustain the unfounded assumption that Broughton was the
discoverer of the Columbia. But it is worthy of remark
that Mr. Falconer, a respectable British writer, who has
recently published a pamphlet on Oregon, and who wrote
about the time Lord John Russell spoke, admits that Gray
was the first person who noticed the Columbia River after
Heceta, and concedes the discovery to the latter. Happily,
the historical facts are too well authenticated to be perma-
nently misunderstood. They were so well known at the
time, that even the rivalry — not to say the detraction — of
the day conceded to Gray the merit of the discovery, by
designating the river by the name he gave it, — the name
of the vessel that first entered its waters. In regard to the
attempt to restrict Gray's discovery to the bay or mouth of
the river, it is only necessary to say that the settlement at
Astoria is universally admitted to be on the Columbia River.
Is it not so, sir 1 It is designated " the settlement on the
Columbia River," in the despatch of Earl Bathurst directing
it to be restored to us in 1818, as well as in the act of res-
toration. Now, sir. Captain Gray ascended the river, not
only as high as Astoria, which is ten miles from the Pacific
Ocean, but at least six miles above it, according to Brough-
ton himself. Look at the map of Oregon on your table, by
Captain Wilkes, and you will find Gray's Bay, so named by
Broughton,^ on the north side of the Columbia, and higher
up than Astoria. According to Gray's own log, he anchored,
the day he discovered and entered the river, ten miles above
the entrance, and, three days after, he sailed twelve or fifteen
miles higher up. He must, therefore, have been from six to

1 See Vancouver's Journal, Vol. III. p. 92.


fifteen miles above the site of the settlement at Astoria.
What, then, becomes of the attempt of Broughton, revived
by British statesmen, not negotiators, (no negotiator at this
day would so risk his reputation,) to restrict Gray's dis-
covery to the mouth of the stream ]

Lord John Russell's statement is equally erroneous in
other particulars, — erroneous in saying that Vancouver
entered the Columbia, or the inlet, — erroneous in saying
that he took possession of Nootka Sound. His vessel, the
Discovery, did not pass the bar at the mouth of the Colum-
bia River ; he did not take possession of Nootka ; Quadra
refused to make a formal surrender of anything but Meares's
Cove, which he would not accept; and the formality of
taking possession of the Columbia River was performed by
Broughton, after Vancouver had left the coast, much in the
same way as it had been done years before by the Spaniards,
who were the first discoverers and explorers of the country.
I repeat, and I say it with regret, that, besides the errors in
point of fact, the leading and material circumstances con-
nected with the discovery of the Columbia River are kept
out of view. I do not expect British statesmen to produce
arguments in favor of the American title; but when they
undertake to refer to historical facts, resting on their own
authorities and in their own possession, they are bound to
state them with accuracy. Sir, we may excuse illogical
deductions from admitted data; we may look with indul-
gence on differences of opinion in regard to the same facts,
knowing, as we do, our liability to be biased by prejudice or
by too partial views of personal or national interest. But,
for an omission of essential circumstances in the discussion
of an important national question, — a discussion entered
upon voluntarily, for the purpose of enlightening the public
mind of a nation, — there can be no apology, even though it
arise from the want of a sufficiently careful examination of
the subject. On the Oregon question, it is well known that
great excitement existed at the time in Great Britain and


the United States, — an excitement which exists still, though
happily somewhat abated, — an excitement which needs,
perhaps, but little provocation to break out into open hos-
tilities ; and no man who appreciates as he ought the
calamities which would flow from an interruption of the
amicable relations existing between us should be willing
to incur the responsibility of misleading the public judg-
ment of either country ; or, if he does misdirect it, he
should at least have the consolation of reflecting that it was
throuo;h erroneous deductions, and not a misstatement of
facts fairly within his knowledge.

The misrepresentations to which I have alluded are the
more to be regretted for the reason, if I do not err, that
they constitute almost the only views of the subject which
reach the great mass of the British people. In this country,
statements of both sides of great national questions are
equally diffhsed. Look at our newspapers, and they will
be found filled with the diplomatic correspondence between
the British and American plenipotentiaries. The letters of
Mr. Pakenham are published with those of Mr. Calhoun
and Mr. Buchanan, and are as widely circulated. All read,
compare, and judge them. It is not so in Great Britain.
As a general rule, the British side of the question only is
presented to the British public. Nor is it the official argu-
ment of the Government, drawn up by the diplomatist,
under a sense of his responsibility to the criticism of other
nations and the general judgment of mankind. No, sir.
It is more frequently the " tirade " of the politician, by
which the public mind of Great Britain is made to pro-
nounce judgment upon great questions of international right
and duty.

These misrepresentations are still more to be regretted,
because they constitute the basis of the statements which
find their way to the continent. Through " Galignani's
Messenger," the echo of the British press, they are trans-
lated into French, and widely circulated, poisoning the


whole public mind of the Continent, and exciting- prejudice
against us.

1 will only add that the Earl of Aberdeen in one House,
and Sir Robert Peel in the other, adverted to these state-
ments in a manner which, though not altogether unexcep-
tionable, was in general dignified and statesmanlike ; and it
is earnestly to be hoped that the better feeling which now
exists between the two countries may continue unabated, and
lead to a settlement of the question on terms honorable to

I feel that I owe an apology to the Senate for this long
digression. I trust it will be found in the consideration,
that the inaccuracies I have endeavored to point out did not
go to the world with the mere weight of an ordinary legisla-
tive debate, but with all the evidences of deliberation and
arrangement, and therefore calculated to be more dangerous
in propagating error.

[It was now three o'clock, and Mr. Dix gave way to a motion of
Mr. Sevier, that the Senate adjourn.
The Senate accordingly adjourned.

Thursday, February 19, 1846.

Mr. Dix was about to resume his remarks, which he had not con-
cluded at the hour of adjournment yesterday, but yielded the floor to

Mr. J. M. Clayton, who said he desired an opportunity to oiFer a
few remarks relative to an allusion made to him by the Senator from
New York,^ in the opening of his speech yesterday. He is reported
to have said : —

" In entering into the debate on the question under consideration, I
feel constrained to differ in opinion with two distinguished senators
who have preceded me, in relation to the manner in which the discus-
sion should be conducted. I allude to the Senator from Ohio,- who
opened the debate, and the Senator from Delawai'e,^ who followed him,
not now in his seat. Both took the ground, and with equal perempto-
riness, that the title to Oregon ought not to be discussed, but for totally
different reasons : the Senator from Ohio, because the time for dis-
cussing it had gone by ; and the Senator from Delaware, because the
time for discussing it had not arrived. With the unfeigned respect

1 Mr. Dix. 2 Mr. Allen. 3 Mr. J. M. Clayton.


which I entertain for them, I dissent from their opinion with great dif-
fidence of my own."

As the Senator said, he (Mr. C.) was temporarily absent from his seat,
but came in a few minutes after the Senator had made that remark. He
had mistaken his (Mr. C.'s) position. When he had the honor of address-
ing the Senate on the 12th instant, he did object to the discussion of the
title in open session, but he avowed distinctly at the time his perfect
willingness to enter at any moment on that discussion in executive
session. He did not mean to say, nor did he think that he was gener-

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 40)