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that this was Frazer's River, as there is ver " had been exploring."



THE OREGON QUESTION. 53

antagonist claim or pretension to territorial rights. It was
confirmed and perfected by occupation, as high as 4<9° 30,
half a century ago. During the succeeding twenty years, it
was not superseded by rights of occupation on the part of
other nations, unless it be to the limited extent I have stated.
During the last thirty years, all rights have been suspended
by treaty arrangements between the only two powers who
can, with any face, set up a claim to the exercise of sover-
eignty over the territory to which it attaches. In the con-
sideration of national interests in territorial possessions, it is
a narrow view to bind down sovereign States to all the rig-
orous technicalities of private tenures. Great principles of
national right, viewed liberally, and applied according to the
proclaimed intentions of the parties, are the only guides
w^orthy of statesmen or governments in the settlement of
questions of sovereignty over the unoccupied portions of the
earth we inhabit. The object of Spain, in respect to the
northwest coast, was settlement, — permanent occupation.
The object of Great Britain was commerce, traffic, transient
occupation. Tested by the principles I have stated, I cannot
hesitate to consider the Spanish title to the northwest coast
of America, which has of late been so much disparaged, as
vesting in us rights which are unimpeachable.

I said, at the commencement of my remarks, that one
of my objects was to defend the Spanish title by stating
the historical facts on which it rests. I have performed
the task which I allotted to myself. I will only add that,
with what I have said, I am content to leave the whole
question where it now is, in the hands of the Administra-
tion, relying on its firmness and its sense of rectitude to
sustain our just rights, and to respect the just rights of
others.

So conscious is Great Britain of the invalidity of her
title, that she does not venture to assert a riffht to the exclu-
sive sovereignty of any portion of the Territory. In 1826,
she claimed only a right of joint occupancy, in common



54< SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

with other powers ; but denied the right of exclusive domin-
ion in the United States. While insisting- that she was
entitled " to place her claims at least upon a parity with
those of the United States," she has constantly refused to di-
vide the Territory at the 49th parallel of latitude, the bound-
ary between her and us from the Lake of the Woods to the
Rocky Mountains, — a line which would have severed the
coast, and the country in immediate contiguity with it, into
two parts so nearly equal as to leave her no reasonable
ground, even on the score of an equitable division, for the
continuance of a controversy. Her desire for territorial ex-
tension in this quarter is for the purpose of establishing her
colonial dominion over districts of country bordering on us,
and confining- our settlements within narrower limits. Our
contest for territorial rights, which we consider indisputable,
has no object but to enable our citizens to extend themselves
to our natural boundary, — the Pacific. Her interest is re-
mote and contingent ; ours is direct and certain. Hers is
the interest of a State in a distant country which she wishes
to colonize ; ours is the interest of a country in its own
proper territory and settlements. She is not content with
subjecting to her sway the fertile and opulent regions of the
East ; but she comes now thousands of miles across the
ocean to dispute with us the dominion of the uninhabited
wilderness, and curtail the area for our expansion. With
the least disposition on her part to listen to the suggestions
of reason and justice, this question would long ago have
been settled on the /air and honorable terms of compromise,
— nay, sir, on the terms of concession, — which we have
more than once proposed.

I am sure that, in the course of our Government in rela-
tion to Great Britain, in our negotiations, and in the treaties
which have been formed between us, no evidence will be
found of a desire on our part to encroach on her rights, or
to adjust any of the questions which have arisen between us
on other terms than those of justice and liberality. The



THE OREGON QUESTION. 55

settlement of the northeastern boundary — one of the most
delicate and difficult that has ever arisen between us —
affords a striking evidence of our desire to maintain with
her tlie most friendly understanding. We ceded to her a
portion of territory which she deemed of vital importance
as a means of military communication between the Canadas
and her Atlantic provinces, and which will give her a great
advantage in a contest with us. The measure was sustained
by the constituted authorities of the country, and I have no
desire or intention to call its wisdom in question. But it
proves that we were not unwilling to afford Great Britain
any facility she required for consolidating her North Ameri-
can possessions, acting in peace as though war was not to
be expected between the two countries. If we had cher-
ished any ambitious designs in respect to them ; if we had
had any other wish than that of continuing on terms of
amity with her and them ; this great military advantage
would never have been conceded to her.

On the other hand, I regret to say, that her course towards
us has been a course of perpetual encroachment. But, sir,
I will not look back upon what is past for the purpose of
reviving disturbing recollections. Yet I am constrained to
say, that, in respect to Oregon, I consider her legislation as
a virtual hifraction of the Conventions of 1818 and 18^7.
By an Act of Parliament passed in 1821, she has extended
the jurisdiction, power, and authority of her courts of judi-
cature in Upper Canada over the whole Indian territory in
North America, "not within her own provinces, or within
any civil government of the United States," and of course
embracing the Territory of Oregon. She has given them
cognizance of every wrong and injury to the person and to
property, real or personal, committed within the Territory ;
and has declared that every person whatsoever (not British
subjects alone, but every person whatsoever) residing in it
shall be amenable to these courts. Nay, sir, she has author-
ized the Crown to establish courts within the Territory itself,
with power to try criminal offences not punishable with



56 SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

death, and also civil causes to a limited amount, T believe
^200, about ^1000. She has thus assumed to exercise
over this Territory one of the highest attributes of national
sovereignty, — that of deciding upon rights of property, and
punishing violations of the criminal laws she has extended
over them. She could hardly have asserted a more abso-
lute sovereignty than she has done by this unqualified exten-
sion of her laws and the jurisdiction of her courts over a
territory in which she admits that she has no other right but
that of a joint occupancy, I am aware that she has dis-
avowed the intention of enforcing her criminal laws against
citizens of the United States. But if Senators will turn to
the documents accompanying the President's Message, they
will see that the Hudson's Bay Company has a much more
summary method of disposing of American citizens, who
establish themselves on the north side of the Columbia, in
the neighborhood of its settlements. Their condition will
not be bettered, if this exemption from the operation of the
British statute is to be exchanged for a forcible process of
ejection without law.

Under these circumstances, what is the duty of the United
States 1 As I do not intend to intrude myself on the atten-
tion of the Senate again, without absolute necessity, on any
question relating to Oregon, I desire to say now that I shall
vote for the notice to terminate the Convention of 1818,
continued in force by that of 18275 — '^ convention which
Great Britain treats as recognizing a right of joint occu-
pancy, but which has in reality been for her an exclusive
occupancy of the whole territory north of the Columbia. I
am in favor of extending the authority of our laws and the
jurisdiction of our courts over the Territory; and in doing
so, I would, while the Convention is in force, specially
except British subjects, and direct them, when charged with
infractions of our laws, to be delivered up to the nearest
British authorities. I would make this reservation for the
express purpose of preventing, as far as possible, a con-
flict of jurisdiction, and to avoid all cause for imputing to



THE OREGON QUESTION. W

US a disreg^ard of treaties, or a desire to produce collision
or disagreement of any sort. And in order to facilitate the
extension of the authority of the Union over our fellow-
citizens in that remote district of our country, and to re-
move, as far as possihle, the obstacles to a more free and
efficient intercourse between us and them, I would establish
at once a chain of military posts, with competent garrisons
and armaments, from the remotest navigable waters which
flow into the Mississippi, to the eastern face of the Rocky
Mountains, stopping there so long- as the Convention con-
tinues in force. Duty, honor, policy — all demand these
measures at our hands ; and I trust they will be executed
with ])romptitude and decision.

Will these measures produce war? I cannot believe that
they \y]\\. I cannot believe it, because they furnish no just
ground of provocation. The right to give the notice is
reserved by treaty. The right of extending our laws over
Oregon is a right similar to that which Great Britain has
already exercised for a quarter of a century. The establish-
ment of a chain of posts to the Rocky Moinitains wholly
within our own territory, invades no right in others. It has
been inferred from an expression in a public document, that
there is danger of an immediate war, and that a sudden
blow may be struck. Sir, I cannot believe it. A war
waged against us on account of any one or all of the meas-
ures referred to, would be a war of plain unmixed aggres-
sion. No nation, in the present age, could embark in such
a contest without drawing down upon herself the condemna-
tion of all civilized communities. She would jfind herself
opposed and restrained by public opinion, which, in our day,
rules the conduct of nations more powerfully than the arm
of force. 1 hold, therefore, immediate war to be out of the
question. Nor can eventual war take place, unless the as-
sertion of our just rights shall be forcibly resisted. But I
will not venture to pass judgment on what the future may
bring forth. Collisions may grow out of these measures —



58 SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

collisions ripening, through influences and events which we
may be unable to control, into open warfare. I should
deeply deplore such a result. The interests of humanity,
great principles of political right, self-government, freedom,
individual rights, all suffer when the voice of the law is si-
lenced by the tumult of war. ^'- Inter arma silent leges^' is
an adage, of the truth of which history has furnished too
many fatal proofs. I would do much to avert such a
calamity. I would do anything not inconsistent with the
public honor, to avoid a contest which would be disas-
trous to both parties, no matter what should be its final
issue. But beyond this I never can go. And if exemption
from war can only be purchased by a surrender of our just
rights, I cannot consent to make the purchase. But if war
cannot be averted, I trust we shall not commit the great
error of undervaluing our adversary. With some opportu-
nity of observing the condition of Great Britain near at
hand, I have no hesitation in saying that she was never capa-
ble of greater efforts than she is at the })resent moment. I
know that her inordinate distention contains within itself an
element of vital weakness. It is not in the order of human
society that so extended a dominion should remain long
unbroken. But I have not yet been able to detect, in the
condition of her body politic, the unerring symptoms of
that decay which precedes and works out the dissolution of
empires. She has great abuses to struggle against. The
Senator from Ohio has well and graphically described
them. She has enormous burdens to sustain ; but she has
great strength to bear them. Her soldiers are not like those
of Rome in its latter days, enervated in vigor and relaxed
in discipline. You will find them in every quarter of the
globe: under the fiery heat of the equator, and amid the
frosts of the arctic circle, braving the elements, and setting
danger and toil, in every form, at defiance. But, sir, I
pretend not, with my narrow foresight, to look in'to the
future. It is possible that her hour may be near at hand.



THE OREGON QUESTION. 59

But we know that tlie last struggle of the strong man is
always the most desperate, and sometimes the most danger-
ous to the antagonist who has brought him to the ground.

I say this in no spirit of timidity. I say it in a spirit of
prudent forecast, with the desire that we may go into the
contest, if it shall come, with the assurance that we have to
deal with a strong adversary and not a weak one, and that
our preparation may be commensurate vi^ith the means of
offence to which we shall be exposed. I have no doubt of
our ability both to defend ourselves and to give back effec-
tive blows in return. We were never so strong as we are
at the present moment : strong in our position, strong in our
means, strong in the spirit and energy of our people. Our
defenceless condition has been greatly overstated. We have
been told that our coast is denuded. I have heard, whether
on this floor or elsewhere I do not know, that there is
scarcely a gun mounted for the defence of the commercial
metropolis of my own State. There cannot be a greater
error. There are hundreds of guns, of heavy calibre, in
the city of New York, ready, at the very hour in which I
speak, to receive an assailant, and as many more which can
be placed in position in an emergency, and this independent-
ly of guns afloat. In thirty days I believe the city might
be rendered, with a skilful engineer, and with the means
which might be placed at his command, prepared — well
prepared — against a maritime assault. But, sir, I turn
away from all these forebodings of evil. I have confidence
in the continuance of peace. I believe the good sense of both
countries will revolt at a contest which can bring no good to
either, and secure an adjustment of existing difficulties on
tern)s honorable to both. Such is my conviction. But,
sir, if I am deceived, then I have only to say, that, while I
would be constrained by nothing but overruling necessity to
take up the sword, yet, if the necessity shall come, I trust
we shall never consent to lay it down until the rights and
the honor of the country shall have been fully vindicated.



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS.

APRIL 27, 1846.

On the Bill to provide for the Satisfaction of Claims of American
Citizens for Spoliations on their Property committed by the French
prior to the Ratification of the Convention with France, of Septem-
ber, 1800.1

Having been appointed a member of the Select Com-
mittee to which the subject under consideration was referred,
and having, after the most careful examination I have been
able to give it, come to conclusions adverse to those at
which the majority of the committee have arrived, I deem
it incumbent on me to state to the Senate the grounds
on which my conclusions rest. Nothing but a sense of
duty, arising from the position in which I have been placed,
would induce me to trespass on the attention of the Senate.
I yield my reluctance to take part in the debate, not merely
to the fact that I am a member of the committee specially
charged with the examination of the subject, but to the
consideration that I am one of the minority of the com-
mittee, and, therefore, in some degree, bound to assign the
grounds of my dissent from the opinion of the majority.
I regret that the distinguished Senator from North Carolina,
on the other side of the House,^ who constitutes with myself
the minority of the committee, has not undertaken the per-
formance of this duty, assured, as I am, that the Senator's
longer experience and greater famiharity with the subject
would have enabled him to present it to the Senate much

1 Delivered on the 27th ot April, 1846.

2 Mr. Mangum.



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS. 61

more satisfactorily than I can hope to do. But the task has
devolved on nie, and I will perform it to the best of my
ability, though fully conscious of the great disadvantage
under which I shall labor in following the Senator from
Delaware,^ to whose able argument the Senate had the pleas-
ure of listening on the last two days it was in session.

The Senator commenced his remarks with the observa-
tion, that no portion of our fellow-citizens of equal num-
ber had less interest in this application than his constit-
uents. No one can appreciate better than myself the en-
viable position which the Senator occupies in this respect.
I wish most sincerely I were in the same position. But,
unfortunately, it is quite otherwise. A large amount of
these claims is held in my own State, an amount supposed
to be equal to one third of the whole ; so that, if this sup-
position were true, and this bill should pass, about seventeen
hundred thousand dollars, of the five millions proposed to
be appropriated in satisfaction of the claims, would be paid
to my constituents. Under these circumstances, it is natural
that the subject should have been pressed upon me, not
improperly — far from it — but with an earnestness pro-
portioned to the magnitude of the interest at stake. It
has been, in some instances, by personal friends for whom
1 entertain the sincerest regard, and in others, by gentlemen
of high standing in the city of New York ; — by some who
are deeply interested in the claims, and by others who, with-
out any interest in them, believe they constitute a valid
demand on the public treasury. I have felt the strongest
inducements, therefore, — the inducements of respect and
personal regard for some of the claimants, — to take the
most favorable view of the subject consistent with over-
ruling considerations of public duty. I have endeavored
to do them full justice in my examination of it. I requested
them, before I had read a word on the subject, to present
their case to me. They did so. I have read all the argu-

1 Mr. John M. Clayton.



Q2 SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

merits on their side of the question : reviews, reports, and
speeches ; and among others the very able and condensed
statement of their case contained in a speech made to the
Senate on the l!2th of January, 1835, by the distinguished
Senator from Massachusetts,^ who was then, as he is now,
the chairman of the select committee appointed to inves-
tigate the subject. I have read all these arguments care-
fully, and with a sincere desire to allow them the full
weight to which they are entitled, not only on account
of the high sources from which many of them emanated,
but from the ability and force with which the subject has
been treated.

Having performed this act of justice to the claimants, I
felt that I had also a duty to discharge to the public, — a
duty to be fulfilled only by a careful examination of the
official documents relating to the case. Those documents
are contained in the volume I hold in my hand, — a volume
of 84<0 pages, consisting of " A Message from the Pres-
ident of the United States, transmitted to Congress on the
20th of May, 1826, in compliance with a resolution
of the Senate ; with copies of instructions to the Ministers
of the United States to the Government of France, and
of the correspondence with said government, having ref-
erence to the spoliations committed by that Power on the
commerce of the United States anterior to September SO,
1800." I hav6 read this volume, though it is probable
that, in the examination of so voluminous a mass of pa-
pers, — an examination constantly interrupted by the press-
ure of other official duties, — much may have escaped me
which I ought to have noticed ; and it is equally probable
that I may not have drawn from the parts which I consider
particularly relevant to the subject, the most proper conclu-
sions in all cases. But it has been my aim to do so ;
and if I have erred in any respect, I will most cheerfully
correct my error whenever it shall be clearly pointed out.

1 Mr, Webster.



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS. 63

Thus far, I have not read a single argument against these
claims, either in the form of a speech or a report ; and from
the hest examination I have been able to give to the public
documents referred to, and the statement of their own case
by tlie claimants themselves, I have come to the conclusion
that the claims do not constitute a just demand upon the
public treasury. I will proceed to state the reasons for this
opinion.

But, first, I desire to call the attention of the Senate to an
argument which has been adduced in their support by the
Senator from Delaware, — an argument, I think, best an-
swered by a reference to the manner in which the subject
was disposed of for examination when it came before the
Senate soon after the opening of the present session. The
aro-ument I refer to is this : that in the whole course of the
last forty-four years, during which the subject has been be-
fore Congress, there have been but three adverse reports,
while the favorable reports have been more than twenty.
Now, if the Senate will indulge me, I will recall to its rec-
ollection the circumstances under which the reference for
examination was made. Soon after the session commenced,
I presented a memorial, signed by several gentlemen of
the city of New York, of the highest respectability, rep-
resenting a large number of the claimants, and moved that
it be referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, the
committee which had, for a series of years, been charged
with it. The reference was made. But the Senator from
Maine, on my left,^ immediately rose and presented a similar
memorial, and moved that it be referred to a select com-
mittee on the distinct ground that a majority of the Com-
mittee on Foreign Relations were opposed to the claims,
and that the application should be referred to a committee
which would present a favorable report. It was also urged
in favor of the motion of the Senator from Maine, that this
was a claim, and that the Committee on Foreign Relations

1 Mr. Fairfield.



Q4i SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

was not an appropriate one ; whereupon a Senator from
Mississippi^ moved that it be referred to the Committee on
Claims. But the motion was voted down, for reasons which
I have no right to divine, much less to question. The mo-
tion of the Senator from Maine was finally sustained by the
Senate ; and the select committee was very properly consti-
tuted by yourself, Mr. President, according to the parlia-
mentary rule that select committees should not be adverse to
the subject of reference. I allude to the circumstances in
order to repel the inference, which has been drawn from the
greater number of the favorable reports on these claims in
years past, that this fact constituted an argument in their
favor. I cannot so regard it ; nor do I think it can be so
regarded by any one who considers the circumstances re-
ferred to. The same course has probably been pursued in
former sessions as in this. When the Committee on For-
eign Relations was known to be friendly to the claims, they
would naturally be referred to that committee. On the
other hand, when the committee was knovt'n to be adverse, a
select committee would be appointed for the express purpose
of procuring a favorable report. Under these circuQistances,
it seems no longer remarkable that the favorable reports
should have been so numerous. One fact was clear : in case
the application had been permitted to go to the appropriate
standing committee, there would, if his friend from Maine ^
was right, have been one more adverse report. On the
whole, therefore, I apprehend that the result of these prelim-
inary investigations is to be regarded not as an argument in
favor of the justice of these claims, but as the evidence of a
deference on the part of the Senate for established forms and
principles of parliamentary proceeding. If it were other-



Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 40)