John A. (John Adams) Dix.

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ally understood at the time as meaning to say, that he objected to the
discussion of the question at that very moment. On the contrary, he
thought that he expressed his willingness to go into it then, if his asso-
ciates in the Senate wished to do so, — but in executive session. And
he begged the Senator to recollect the reason which he assigned why
the discussion should be so conducted. He said that, if the question
were to be settled by treaty between the two governments, the re-
marks made in open session were calculated to prejudge, and must
necessarily prejudge, the question which would arise upon the treaty.
He thought then, and he thought so still, that, if the question wei-e to
be settled in that manner, great danger might arise from these public
discussions, because it would be recollected that it took but nineteen of
them to defeat any treaty ; and if the discussion became extended, as
was very likely, there was danger that nineteen senators might become
so committed before the whole country in regard to the title, and differ-
ing from the Executive, why, then, was it not obvious that their con-
sideration of the treaty would be seriously trammelled ? On the other
hand, he thought then, and thought still, that if discussed in executive
session no such difficulty could occur ; no man would be then commit-
ted before the country. But open discussion Avas attended with the
danger of so many men committing themselves on some parallel of lat-
itude different from that presented in the ti-eaty.

If the Senator would pardon him a few moments longer, he would
make a single reference to a remark which fell from the honorable
Senator from Indiana.-^ He seemed to apprehend that there was
greater danger of strangling Oregon in that chamber than elsewhere.
How so ? He (Mr. C.) could not possibly comprehend that. If the title
to Oregon be clear, — if it be such a title as the country could stand up
for and fight for, — it was one that would bear discussion in executive
session as well as anywhere else ; and the only difference was, that it
would be much more safely discussed in executive session than in open
session. The honorable Senator, however, at the conclusion of his
eloquent address, seemed to apprehend that if the Senate took the

1 Mr. Hannegan.


responsibility of discussing this question in secret session, perhaps some
Caius Gracchus might di'ive us from our seats, and forcibly expel our
President from his elevated seat.

Mr. Hannegan. If the Senator from Delaware will allow me, I
will restate what I uttered in this particular, and a misreport of which
was given in both the "Union" and "Intelligencer," so gross as to be

Mr. J. M. Claytox yielded the floor, when

]\Ir. Hannegan said that the language he uttered was, that the with-
drawal of so momentous a question from the public eye for secret delib-
eration and discussion, to be followed — as perchance it might be — by
a silent and sudden death of the measure, in direct violation of the will
of three fifths of the American people, would be a most serious, if not
a melancholy hour in the history of the country. It might prelude the
entrance of some Caius Gracchus into that hitherto consecrated cham-
ber, whose heart, big with the tires of freedom, and roused by such an
outrage upon public rights, would lead him to address the mighty tri-
bunal Avithout, and, by this simple change of attitude, (hero jNIr. H.
pointed to the doors of the Senate, and raised his hands to the gal-
leries,) turning from that venerated chair, revt^rse thenceforth the
cherished forms of this body, impaii" its dignity, and destroy its lofty
and commanding attitude.

Mr. Claytox was glad to hear that explanation.]

Mr. Dix then proceeded with his remarks, and said : —

I beg the Senator from Delaware to be assured that noth-
ing wonld give me more pain than to misstate any senator
on this floor ; and I accept with great pleasure the explana-
tion which he has made. I desire also to say, in justice to
him as well as to the Senator from Ohio, that I did not use
the term " peremptoriness " in referring to the manner in
which they had insisted that the question of title ought not,
in their opinion, to be discussed. I said they had taken the
position in equally strong language.

I now resume the consideration of the important question
on which I had the honor to address the Senate yesterday ;
and in doing so I cannot withhold the expression of my
sense of the kind indulgence which has been extended to
me. I will endeavor to afford the Senate a substantial proof
of that sense of obligation on my part, by bringing my re-
marks to a close in the briefest possible period of time.


The historical sketch which I was making of the discov-
eries and estabhshments in Oregon, wlien the Senate ad-
journed yesterday, ended with the year 1792.

The discovery of Bulfinch's Harbor and tlie Columbia
River by Gray, and the explorations of Galiano, Valdes,
and Vancouver, in the Strait of Fuca, in that year, termi-
nated the series of maritime discoveries in the disputed
territory, which had commenced two centuries and a half
before. From that time to the present, nothing has been
done on the coast but to fill up the smaller details of the
great outline completed by the labors of these navigators.

In the same year, (1792,) Mackenzie, leaving Fort Chip-
pewyan, on the Athabasca Lake, in the 58th parallel of lati-
tude, and nearly midway between the Atlantic and Pacific
oceans, proceeded westward to the Rocky Mountains, where
he passed the winter. The next spring he resumed his
journey, struck the Tacoutche Tessee, (now Frazer's River,)
in the 54th parallel of latitude, and descended it some two
hundred and fifty miles. He then continued his course to
the west, and reached the Pacific in north latitude 52° SCK, —
about a degree north of the island of Quadra and Vancouver.
Frazer's River, which takes its rise near the 55th parallel of
latitude, was for nineteen years supposed to be the northern
branch of the Columbia; but, in 1812, it was ascertained by
Frazer to debouch in the Strait of Fuca, at the 49th paral-
lel of latitude. It waters the district of country immediately
west and north of the valley drained by the upper branch of
the Columbia. This district is a part of the great section
of the northwest coast, bounded on the east by the Rocky
Mountains, and on the west by the Pacific, of which the
main channels of access had been laid open by previous dis-

In 1804, Captains Lewis and Clarke set out on their ex-
pedition to Oregon; and, in 1805, after incredible hardships
and labors, they established themselves on the north side of
the Columbia River, near its mouth, and subsequently on


the south side, and passed the winter there. In the spring
of 1806, they commenced their journey homeward, and
reached the Mississippi in the fall of that year, having- trav-
elled over 9000 miles. This expedition was fitted out under
the direction of the Government of the United States, and
executed hy officers in its service at the public expense. It
was undertaken on the recommendation of the President,
communicated in a message to Congress in 1803. One
of its objects was to examine the country watered by the
Columbia River, which had been discovered by a citizen of
the United States ; and it resulted in a survey — necessarily
cursory — of the main southern branch of the river, of the
principal stream to its mouth from the junction of the latter
with it, and of a portion of Clarke's River, which empties
into the northern branch between the 4'8th and 49th par-
allels of latitude. This was the first exploration of the
Columbia made subsequently to 179^2, when it was ascended
by Gray, its discoverer, some twenty miles, and five months
after by a detachment from Vancouver's party, under
Broughton, about one hundred miles, from its mouth.

It is also to be considered that the expedition of Lewis
and Clarke was undertaken immediately after the cession of
the Territory of Louisiana to the United States by France, —
a Territory admitted to include all the country drained by the
Mississippi and its tributaries to their head-waters. It was
also the understanding at the time, that it was separated
from the British possessions in North America by the 49th
parallel of latitude, extended westward from the Lake of the
Woods indefinitely. Mr. Monroe, in a paper presented to
Lord Harrowby in 1804, at London, stated that it had been
so settled by commissaries appointed by France and England
under the Treaty of Utrecht ; and the statement was not
impugned or objected to. I am aware that a doubt has
recently been raised as to the fact of such a line having
been agreed on ; but, after nearly a century and a half, it is
questionable whether an arrangement which had been acqui-


esced in [Colonel Benton here added — " and acted on "],
as having been made by the competent authority at the
proper time, can be denied, even though no authentic record
of the meeting of the commissaries can be found. ^ Other
persons were employed by the Government to survey the
southern portions of Louisiana ; and these contemporaneous
expeditions must be regarded by the world as a public mani-
festation of the intention of the United States to assert all
the rights she might justly claim, by discovery or otherwise,
to the sovereignty of the country between the Mississippi
and the Pacific Ocean.

In 1806, Mr. Frazer, an agent of the Northwest Com-
pany, formed an establishment on Frazer's Lake, in the 5 ith
parallel of latitude ; and this was the first establishment
ever made by British subjects west of the Rocky Moun-

In March, 1811, the Pacific Fur Company, of which
John Jacob Astor, of New York, was the principal, formed
an establishment at Astoria, on the south bank of the
Columbia River, about ten miles from its mouth, having
first established themselves on the north bank ; and this was
the first settlement ever made on the Columbia, or in the ter-
ritory watered by that river or its tributaries, excepting two
temporary establishments, in 1809 and 1810, formed also by
American citizens, which were soon abandoned in conse-
quence of the difficulty of obtaining provisions, and other
embarrassments. The Astoria Company also formed an es-
tablishment in 1811, on the Okanagan, a tributary entering
the Columbia on the north side, between the 48th and 49th
parallels of latitude; and in 1812, another near it on the
Spokan, also a tributary of the great river.

In 1813, the Pacific Company, in consequence of the em-
barrassments growing out of the war of 1812 with Great
Britain, sold " its establishments, furs, and stock in hand,"
(including the posts on the Okanagan and the Spokan,) to
^ See an elaborate examination of the question in Greenhoio's Oregon, p. 276.


the Northwest Company ; and a few days afterwards the
British sloop-of-war Raccoon arrived, took possession of the
place, and lioisted the British flag.

By the Treaty of Ghent, ratified hy us in 1815, it was
stipulated that " all territory, places, and possessions whatso-
ever taken hy either party from the other during" the war, or
which may be taken after the signing of this treaty, except-
ing only the islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored
without delay."

In compliance with this stipulation, the establishment at
Astoria was restored to the United States. The compliance
was full, unconditional, and without reservation of any sort.
No claim was set up by Great Britain in her written com-
munications with the United States on this subject, at the
time of the restoration, in respect to any right of sovereignty
or domain in the territory thus restored. The British Min-
ister at Washington had, it is true, a year before objected to
the restoration, on the ground that the place had been pur-
chased by the Northwest Company, and that it had " been
taken possession of in his Majesty's name, and had been
since considered as forming part of his Majesty's domin-
ions." The objection was virtually abandoned by the res-
toration ; and as the place was restored without a written
protest or reservation, the ground of the objection may be
regarded as having been considered wholly untenable by
those who took it. In this transaction, as in all others re-
lating to the Territory of Oregon, the Government of the
United States maintained, in clear and unequivocal terms, its
right of sovereignty. In its instructions to Captain Biddle
in 18 17, it directed him to proceed to the mouth of the
Columbia, and there " to assert the claim of the United
States to the sovereignty of the adjacent country, in a
friendly and peaceable manner, and without the employment
of force." This order he executed on the 9th of August,
1818, by taking formal possession of the country on the
river. The formal restoration of Astoria was made on the


6th of October, 1818; and, in fourteen days afterwards

(on the 20th October), a convention was agreed on by the

United States and Great Britain, containing the following

article : —

" Art. 3. It is agreed that any country that may be claimed by either
party on the northwest coast of America, westward of the Stony Moim-
tains, shall, together with its harbors, bays, and creeks, and the naviga-
tion of all rivers within the same, be free and open for the term of ten
years from the date of the signature of the present convention, to the
vessels, citizens, and subjects of the two powers ; it being well under-
stood that this agreement is not to be construed to the prejudice of any
claim which either of the two high contracting parties may have to
any part of the said country, nor shall it be taken to affect the claims
of any other power or state to any part of the said country ; the only
object of the high contracting parties in that respect being to prevent
disputes and differences among themselves."

On the 6th of August, 18£7? the main provisions of the
foregoing article were renewed by the following conven-
tion : —

"Art. 1. All the provisions of the third article of the convention
concluded between the United States of America and his Majesty the
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, on the
20th of October, 1818, shall be, and they are hereby, further indefi-
nitely extended and continued in force, in the same manner as if all the
provisions of the said aiticle were herein specifically recited.

" Art. 2. It shall be competent, however, to either of the contract-
ing parties, in case either should think fit, at any time after the 20th
October, 1828, on giving due notice of twelve months to the other
contracting party, to annul and abrogate this convention ; and it shall,
in such case, be accordingly entirely annulled and abrogated, after the
expiration of the said term of service.

" Art. 3. Nothing contained in this convention, or in the third arti-
cle of the convention of the 20th October, 1818, hereby continued in
force, shall be construed to impair, or in any manner affect, the claims
which either of the contracting parties may have to any part of the
country westward of the Stony or Rocky Mountains."

On the basis of these two treaties the relations of tlie two
countries in respect to Oregon now rest ; and, in order to
ascertain what are the rights of the contracting parties to
the territory in dispute, we must revert to the year 1818,


the time when the first agreement was made ; for if, as has
been seen, nothing contained in the treaties can prejudice in
any manner their respective claims, no acts done since, by
settlement or otherwise, can create, in respect to the territory
in question, any rights which did not exist then.

This position was taken with characteristic vigor and
brevity by the distinguished Senator from South Carolina,^
sitting before me, in a note dated the 3d of September,
184'4<, and addressed to Mr. Pakenham, while the Senator
was acting in the capacity of a negotiator.

Sir, I wish to be distinctly understood on this point, for
the reason that the Hudson's Bay Company, in which the
Northwest Company has been merged, has for several years
been extending its establishments ; and because, in the nego-
tiations between the British Government and ours, it has
been once, at least, if not more than once, intimated by the
former that British subjects had interests there which it
was bound to protect. These establishments have been made
with full knowledge of the stipulations of the conventions
entered into between the two countries ; and on no ground,
even the ground of equity, can any claim be set up on the
basis of these newly-created interests. To agree to suspend
the settlement of the controversy, and then to draw from
acts done by one of the parties during the suspension new
arguments in favor of its own side of the question, is not
only repugnant to every rule of fairness, but it is a violation
of the letter as well as the spirit of the agreement, and tends
to the defeat of the very object in view in making it.

Let us see, then, what discoveries had been made, and
what establishments formed, in 1818. Those of Spain were
paramount to all others. She had visited and explored the
whole coast from California, where she had permanent es-
tablishments, to the most northerly line of the territory in
dispute. She had discovered the Strait of Juan de Fuca,
and formed an establishment within it, I think, in 1792.

1 Mr. Calhoun.


She had discovered Nootka Sound, and estabhshed herself
there. x\nd she was strengthened in her claims to the abso-
lute sovereignty of the country by its immediate contiguity
to California, of which she had the undisputed and undivided
possession, with the exception of two temporary establish-
ments by the Russians, between the Bay of St. Francisco and .
Cape Mendocino, which were made to facilitate their trade
in furs, and by permission of the Spanish Government. It
is true she had not kept up her establishments north of Cape
Mendocino; but no others had been formed in the same
localities; and her rights of discovery, therefore, were not
superseded by rights of occupation on the part of other
nations in any portion of the territory in dispute, excepting
so far as they may have been derived from the American
and British establishments, to which I am about to refer.

The United States had discovered the Columbia River,
and ascended it, at the time of the discovery, to the distance
of twenty-five miles from its mouth. They had also dis-
covered Bulfinch's Harbor, between the Columbia and the
Strait of Fuca. They had examined the country watered
by the Columbia and some of its tributaries, and formed
establishments within it at four different periods: in 1809,
1810, 1811, and 1812; the most southerly near the mouth
of the Columbia, and the most northerly between the 48th
and -l-Qth parallels of latitude. Spain claimed to have dis-
covered the Columbia seventeen years before Gray entered
it; but, in 1821, she ceded all her rights to the country
north of 42° to the United States, by treaty, and thus gave
us a title to the territory watered by the river, wbich Great
Britain ought never to have questioned. By virtue of the
same act of cession, her entire right to the coast became
vested in us.

In the course of the public discussions in respect to Ore-
gon, the United States has been charged with dishonor and
bad faith in setting up a claim to that Territory, first, by dis-
covery, through the agency of her own citizens; and, sec-


ondly, by cession of the rights of Spain. For, as has been
said, if the first ground was tenable, she could not, without
inconsistency, set up a claim on the second, because she had
virtually denied the second by assuming the first as the basis
of her right. But, sir, is it not quite possible for two na-
tions to possess rights by contiguity, or to acquire them by
discovery, neither perfect, but capable of being rendered so
by a merger of both in one ^ Great Britain herself claims
a right of joint occupancy with the United States in Ore-
gon ; and she will certainly not deny that a cession of her
right to us, or ours to her, would create a perfect title to the
country, without affording cause for any imputation of dis-
honor to either.

Great Britain, in 1818, had surveyed the Strait of Fuca,
after its outlines were known ; but she had made no dis-
coveries on the coast which w^ere not comprehended within
the boundaries of the great districts previously known and
visited. She may have had establishments in the valley of the
Columbia ; but if so, I have not been able to ascertain the
fact. She had discovered Frazer's River, which empties into
the Strait of Fuca at the 49th parallel of latitude ; she had
traced it from its source to its mouth ; she had formed an
establishment on it near the 54th parallel ; and it only re-
mains to settle by the testimony of facts the geographical
relation which this river and its valley bear to the river
and valley of the Columbia.^

1 There is no reasonable ground to ume, it will be seen that, after meeting

doubt that the Spaniards discovered Galiano and Valdes near Point Gray,

the mouth of Frazer's River ; but the (a few miles north of the river,) as he

locality did not appear to me to be so states at page 209, Vancouver says :

distinctly settled as to authorize me to " I showed them tlie sketch I had

assume it as a fact in the text. On re- made of our excursion, and pointed

ferring to Vnncoaver's Journal, Vol. II. out the only sjjot which I conceived

p. 187, it will be seen that he passed we had left unexamined, nearly at the

the mouth of the river without discov- head of Burrard's Cliannel ; they

ering it, it being then, as it is said to seemed much surprised that we had

be now, nearly masked by a shoal ex- not found a river said to exist in the

tending northwardly from Cape Rob- region we had been exploring, and

erts about seven miles. Cape Roberts named by one of their officers Rio

is the southern point of the river, and Blancho, in compliment to the then

it is intersected by the 49th parallel of prime minister of Spain ; which river

latitude. At page 212 of the same vol- these gentlemen had sought thus far to


I pass by, as unconnected with the question for the rea-
sons I have assigned, all settlements made subsequently to
1818 by the Hudson's Bay Companj'^, on which Great Brit-
ain has conferred large and most important powers in re-
spect to the country west of the Rocky Mountains. Indeed,
these establishments rest upon no legal concession, even by
herself, which confers any right of domain. The Hudson's
Bay Company has a mere right of exclusive trade with the
Indians, without the privilege of acquiring any title to the
soil in Oregon ; and in this respect the privileges of the
Company differ materially from those conferred on it in rela-
tion to the territory it possesses upon Hudson's Straits.

I also pass by, as idle, the formalities of taking possession
of the country by Broughton on the Columbia, and Vancou-
ver in the Strait of Fuca, — formalities along time before
performed in numberless localities by the Spaniards ; es-
pecially as those of the British navigators were unaccompa-
nied by actual settlement and occupation, and were in direct
violation of a treaty which those officers were sent out to

I have endeavored, Mr. President, in the first part of my
remarks, to maintain the Spanish title to the northwest coast
of America. The attempts which have been made to dis-
parage it as antiquated and obsolete, are founded upon partial
and illiberal views of the subject. It is unnecessary to say to
you, sir, or the Senate, that antiquity is the highest element
of title, if the chain can be traced down unbroken and entire
to our own times. The Spanish title to the northwest coast
is almost coeval with the voyages of Columbus. It is con-
secrated by discovery, as high as the 43d parallel of latitude,
by the lapse of more than three centuries ; as high as the
48th, by the lapse of two centuries and a half; and as high
as the 54th, by the lapse of more than seventy years. Sixty
years ago it stood undisputed and unimpeached by any

no purpose." There can be no doubt no other stream in the region Vancou-

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 40)