United States. Congress.

Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 72 of 187)
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British law, it must be perceived, was suscepti-
ble of an indefinite extension. The authorities
of British North America might, by virtue of
that act of the British Parliament, exercise a
sovereign control over all the citizens of the
United States residing in that large tract of
country which remained unsettled, or which
was not organized into States or Territories,
between the Mississippi and the Rocky Moun-
tains. He might there also correct an error of
the gentleman from New York, (Mr. Stoees,)
which would not admit of so speedy an expla-
nation as the former one, which he had alluded
to. There was no such company in existence,
then, as the British Northwest Company ; the
affairs of that company had, from some cause
or other — ^mismanagement it might be pre-
sumed — ^become embarrassed, and the shares of
it had been purchased by the Hudson Bay
Company. The former was merely a private
association of individuals, engaged in the far
trade for their joint and mutual benefit. The
latter was an incorporated body ; the objects
of both companies were now pursued, and their
business transacted by virtue of the Eoyal
Charter. Much had been said by gentlemen,
in particular on the part of the honorable
member from Missouri, (Mr. Bates,) as to the
insignificant amount and unprofitable nature of
the trade in furs and peltry; but what ap-
peared to be the circumstances with respect to
the question, from which a correct result could
be deduced ?

The statemeiit of a plain and simple matter
of fact would show that, more fully and ex-
plicitly than he possessed language to depict.



H. OF R]

Occupation of the Oregon River.

[Decembeb, 1828.

The shares in the Hudson Bay Company, which
originally were of the value of £20 each, were
DOW selling in the market at the enormous
price of £200 sterling. Would anybody, in the
face of such a decisive and self-evident argu-
ment as that, have the hardihood to say that
that was not a valuable stock; and that the
trade which paid the interest upon, and re-
turned the profit for, the enormous amount of
capital employed by the Hudson Bay Company,
was not of a highly lucrative branch of com-
merce? It appeared perfectly clear to him,
and he was confident must be equally apparent
to that House, that the persons who negotiated
that convention or treaty with Great Britain,
were either deplorably ignorant, or entirely re-
gardless of the best interests of the nation rela-
tive to that important and necessary article of
furs ; and in saying that, it was not his inten-
tion to enlarge upon what the British called a
waiving on the part of the United States, of
what he, (Mr. Floyd,) in common with every
gentleman in that House, who would reflect
upon the subject, considered their incontesta-
ble rights of sovereignty. The committee
should bestow on every branch of the subject
that attentive consideration to which its impor-
tance, in every point of view, rendered it so
eminently entitled. There was a tract of coun-
try nearly nine hundred miles in extent each
way; from the western base of the Booky
Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, and on the sea-
board from the Russian settlements in the lati-
tude of 54° 40' north, down to 42°. Was not
that vast region, containing, as it did contain,
six or seven hundred thousand square mUes,
worth their notice and care — ^notwithstanding
the fact might be as represented by the gentle-
man from Missouri, (Mr. Bates,) that some
portion of the country was rocky, barren, and
unproductive? But they should not omit to
bear in mind, that it was the only coimtry
which produced furs in any considerable quan-
tity; it was the only part from which the
United States could obtain those valuable arti-
cles, which were alike necessary for home con-
sumption, and for the carrying on of that great
staple of American commerce, the trade with
China. Was the committee aware of the fact,
that the duty paid in England, during the last
year, on the importation of foreign furs alone
■r-foreign furs only, it must be observed —
amounted to upwards of eleven hundred thou-
sand dollars? The preceding year the same
duties poured into the British treasury more
than one million seven hundred thousand dol-
lars. For foreign furs only, he could not too
often repeat ; entirely independent of the vast
supply furnished by that active and powerful
body corporate, the Hudson Bay Company.
And yet the House must be gravely and seri-
ously (if the extraordinary assertion did not
defy all powers of gravity and seriousness to
listen to it) told, that this trade was not worth
the caring for. It was of no value. It amount-
ed to but a very small sum, some two or three

hundred thousand dollars annually; and that
the expenses of carrying into execution the
bill then before them, would only involve the
nation in great expenses, unattended by any
corresponding advantages ? Such was the ar-
gument, if argument it could be called, which
was advanced by the opponents of the biU in
the very face of plain facts, of official state-
ments, of figures, which demonstrated the ben-
efits of that trade to Great Britain — of that
Britain which was their great commercial rival
on every sea and in every market of the world
— of that Britain, finally, from whom America
must purchase furs for her own use, at what-
ever price might be put upon them, if she
tamely consented to the surrender of a country
which was justly hers by virtue of the great
basis of all valid titles — discovery, occupancy,
and treaty ; and which was as necessary for the
security of her western boundaries, as it was
desirable for the best interests of her com-
merce. He was really at a loss to account for
the peculiar objections made to the bill. The
principal one was merely an incessant reitera-
tion of the cry, " What will England think ?
How will England receive the intelligence that
we mean to occupy the territory in question ? "
Why, what was it to them, as the Eepresenta-
tives of a free and independent nation, what
England thought, or whether she condescended
to think at all about the matter ? Were they
to sit in that House and legislate for a great
nation under fear of the displeasure of Eng-
land? He knew and appreciated the power
and influence of the British empire ; but he did
not fear it : for, as to giving cause of displeas-
ure, that country had, it was indisputable, as
much reason for apprehension on that score as
the United States could possibly have.

Mr. Bates, of Missouri, said he was right
glad that the gentleman from South Carolina
(Mr. Deatton) had thought proper to offer his
amendment. It meets, said Mr. B., my views
in the most essential particular, and removes
many of my objections to the bUl. Indeed,
when I first had the honor of addressing the
committee, I suggested the propriety of substi-
tuting for the original biU a scientific explora-
tion of that immense region, of which we yet
know so little. Many positive advantages
might be gained to the nation from such an ex-
ploration, and we should at least be saved from
the probable evils attendant upon a leap in the
dark. As yet, we know little of the geogra-
phy of that extensive country, and almost
nothing of its topography and geological pecu-
liarities. The natives, too, ai-e strangers to us.
We are very imperfectly informed as to their
localities, their numbers, their tempers, wheth-
er peaceful or warlike, and their general char-
acter and habits ; and I consider it of great im-
portance that we should acquire a competent
fund of knowledge on these particular subjects
of inquiry, before we attempt the establishment
of social and civil institutions among them.
My objections to the military occupation of the



Decembeb, 1828.]

Occupation of the Oregon Biver.

[H. OF B.

country are fewer, and of a less decided char-
acter, than to the establishment of a territorial
Government, and the extension of our civil
polity there. The former may be a dangerous,
and certainly will be an expensive experiment ;
but the latter is, in my judgment, pregnant
with evils of an alarming character: for I
should consider it nothing short of an enter-
ing wedge to a system of foreign coloniza-

If the object of the military occupation be
the protection of the fur trade, it seems to me
that the coast is an improper location of the
troops : for, if I am rightly informed, most of
that traffic is carried on far in the interior, on
the tributary branches of the Columbia, and in
the distant valleys of the mountains. Some of
the outposts were, formerly, at least twelve
hundred miles from Astoria. These outposts
must be, in a greater or less degree, fortified,
not, indeed, by works capable of resisting the
assaults of English or Russian cannon, but in a
manner strong enough to repel the attacks of
the ignorant and ill-armed savages that sur-
round them. It is at these interior positions
that the fur is collected from the Indians, and
afterwards concentrated at the mouth of the
river for exportation. A party for the interior
exploration of the country of the Columbia,
Bhould be composed of very different materials,
and organized in a very different manner, from
one destined to make an examination and sur-
vey of the coast. Indeed, the latter is whoUy
imneoessary : for the coast is already known in
its general aspect, and I believe every bay and
harbor, from^ Cape Disappointment to Cook's
Inlet, has been surveyed and sounded. Not so
with the interior ; of that we are still lament-
ably ignorant.

Mr. B. said that he should have forborne any
further remark upon this subject, but he felt
called upon to make a brief reply to some ob-
servations of the gentleman from Virginifi, the
original mover of the proposition, (Mr. Floyd,)
who seemed to have misunderstood him in sev-
eral respects, and, in his argument, to have
confounded several matters that had no neces-
sary connection with each other. Any man,
said Mr. B., at all acquainted with the north-
west section of this continent, or with the
routes commonly followed by the fur traders,
and other explorers of that extended region,
must know that the country, as a whole, is
very imperfectly known, and that every gene-
ral characteristic description ought, in common
justice, to be received subject to many petty
exceptions. If, therefore, the gentleman from
Virginia had succeeded in showing that there
are some exceptions to the sterile and inhos-
pitable character of the country, it would avail
him nothing in the argument. He might prove
a thousand little green spots, at distant inter-
vals, in that extensive desert, and stiU the
country would remain a barren and cheerless
waste — still my account of it would remain un-
impeached. I believe it is perfectly just, and I

know it is in accordance with the most respect-
able testimony.

The gentleman from Virginia has recently
received from General Clarke what he considers
a favorable account of the Oregon country.
General Clarke is a good witness on this subject,
and I take it for granted that his best evidence
is embodied in his book, Lewis and Clarke's
Travels ; for the facts there related are ascer-
tained by ocular observation. Examine that
book, sir, and you will find a most appalling
description of the country. They say that the
only good land for cultivation, in the valley of
Columbia, is sufficient to support about forty
thousand agriculturists ! And I have it on the
authority of Mr. Hunt, a gentleman surpassed
by few in intelligence, and by none in respec-
tability, that even this meagre exception is sub-
ject to annual inundation in May and June.

The gentleman is utterly mistaken in his ver-
sion of the information which I gave the com-
mittee, as derived from my enterprising towns-
man. General Ashley. His route lies far soutb
of the sources of the Columbia. Crossing the
range of the Eooky Mountain, where it sub-
sides almost into a plain, presenting few obsta-
cles to wheel carriages, and none to pack
horses, he makes his trading post at the Great
Salt Lake, which I suppose to be the reservoir
of the Bonaventura. I am sorry the gentle-
man did not listen to my former remarks more
attentively. If he had, he would not have
confounded what I said of an exploring trip of
one of Ashley's men from the Salt Lake, south-
west, towards the Gulf of California, with the
description which I attempted of the gloomy
mountains and pathless valleys of the Oregon
— valleys which, I say again, and on the best
authority, are impracticable for horses or mules
— valleys where the natives travel on the
water, and live in the earth.

The gentleman from Virginia has so long and
so zealously dwelt upon this subject, that he
seems to have arrived at the conclusion that
nothing is wanting but a little aid from the
Government, to make this river of his adoption
a great channel of North American commerce,
and the establishment at its mouth the great
entrepot of Eastern and Western intercourse.
To swell the magnitude of the enterprise, he
draws into his calculation the total exports of
furs and peltries from the United States and
Canada ; he presses into his service the Hud-
son's Bay Company, Lord Selkirk, and Mr. As-
tor; and embraces in his compendious view
the coast of the east and the west, from Labra-
dor to Mexico, and from Oonalaska to Califor-
nia. And, not content with monopolizing the
whole fur trade of the continent, for the in-
tended province of Oregon, the gentleman
stretches his commercial views to other sources
of wealth and power ; the intended people of
that country are to drive a thriving trade in
ginseng and sandal wood I Sir, it may be so ;
ginseng grows almost everywhere on this con-
tinent; but, as for sandal wood, who ever



H. op K.]

Occupation of the Oregon River.

[Decembeb, 1828.

heard of a chip of it at the Oregon ? It grows
only between the tropics, about 23° of latitude
south of this favored river. With all respect,
I must be permitted to say, that these calcula-
tions are ideal and visionary. Let the Govern-
ment put forth all its strength, and pour out all
its treasures, it cannot change the character of
the country or the river ; the one will remain
sterile and inhospitable, and the other will con-
tinue hard to enter, and still harder to navi-
gate. No furs will seek an outlet through the
Columbia, but those caught upon its own
waters, or their immediate vicinity; and if
you establish on that river a province with a
population as dense as that of China, and build
a fortress as strong as the seven towers of Con-
stantinople, you can di-aw no more : the physi-
cal difficulties of the country forbid it.

The whale fishery, too, it seems, is to be
made tributary to the commercial importance
of the intended territory. Ask any gentleman
from Massachusetts — ask your Nantucket whal-
ers — whether any one of their ships ever
touched at the Oregon, and they will tell you
that, if one was ever there, it was driven there
"hj some calamity. Yet, who, that knows the
character of that wonderful people, will doubt
that, if there was any thing desirable in the
harbor of the Oregon, their sagacity would
have discovered it, and if it were worth con-
tending for, their enterprise and courage would
have made it their own? They are the best
navigators in the world, and not bad judges of
their own interest. In their bold pursuit of
wealth, they have already discovered about one
hundred and fifty islands in the trackless waste
of the Pacific, whose bays afibrd them every
convenience in the pursuit of their vocation,
and secure shelter in times of danger. I am
not surprised at the different and contradictory
accounts given of the Oregon, as a harbor for
ships ; and I attribute the disagreement to the
different seasons of the year at which it was
visited, or the prevalence of particular winds,
when it was entered or departed from.

I have been accused, said Mr. B., of blowing
hot and cold, as to the value of the trade of
that country — of pretending, at one time, that
it is worthless, and, at another, that it is very
important. Surely I need not take the trouble
to explain, if the gentleman does not already
perceive how a particular branch of trade may
be very important to a few dealers, in a little
town of five or six thousand people ; and yet,
when viewed in connection with the general
interests of a nation of fifteen millions, sink
into comparative insignificance.

The gentleman speaks of the transportation
of troops and munitions to the mouth of Co-
lumbia, as if it were an enterprise of daily oc-
currence, and easy to be performed. Sir, he is
egregiously mistaken ; it is an Herculean task,
fuU of toil, and danger, and privation ; and its
sucoessfol accomplishment requiring the exer-
tion of great and peculiar talents. The ordi-
nary materiel of the army is, in my judgment,

but little qualified for the extraordinary pur-
poses of such an expedition. The common
men are disqualified, by education and habits,
for a service so novel and peculiar ; and even
the talented and valuable officers furnished by
that admirable institution, the West Point
Academy, would find all their elaborate science
and skill of little avail in a scene so novel, and
so wholly difierent from the general course of
military movements. But the gentleman gets
over all these difficulties by the assumption of
a very fiattering fact. It seems to me, we are
all fit to command the armies of the republic.
We are all born generals. I am sure, sir, that
I possess little or nothing of this military in-
spiration ; and I cannot help fearing that the
honorable gentleman has been led into the
charitable error of imputing to all his country-
men the possession of these high qualities of
command by his own consciousness of possess-
ing them. It is related of King Philip of
Macedonia, that he was astonished at the won-
derful abundance of military genius among his
enemies, the Athenians, who annually elected
ten generals to command their troops, by diur-
nal rotation ; whereas his majesty of Macedon
could find, in aU his dominions, no man but
Parmenio, fit to command his armies. I can-
not tell whether we most resemble the subjects
of King Philip, or the citizens of Athens ; but
I am strongly inclined to the opinion, that we
are not quite aU generals, fit to be intrusted
with the safety of the blood and treasure of
the nation. Were I about to plan such an ex-
pedition, I would authorize the Executive to
enlist a corps for the special purpose. I would
empower him to choose men, both to command
and to serve, whose former vocations, whose
habits and peculiar qualifications, would affi)rd
some guarantee of ultimate success. It is not
the business of a day ; it takes two seasons to
convey troops from the Mississippi to the Ore-
gon. The first winter must necessarily be
spent Qn the Upper Missouri, near the country
of the Mandan Indians, where preparations must
be made for the toilsome and perilous journey
of the next season. All the privations of a
wilderness of three thousand mUes in extent,
must be encountered, and numerous tribes of
the wild natives must be passed, all of whom
must be either conciliated or subdued. In such
a service, the labored acquirements of military
science would be of little avail, and the impet-
uous ardor of insubordinate valor would be im-
pertinent, and worse than useless. The com-
mander of such a corps should be habituated
to the wildeniess ; he should possess a calm,
cool, and forbearing intrepidity, and a deep ac-
quaintance with the workings of untutored na-
ture. By the exercise of some of these valu-
able qualities, Clarke saved the whole party of
which he was the second in command. The
private men, too, should be selected for their
particular aptitudes and qualifications. And,
for such employment, where will you find men
to compare with the hunters and boatmen of



Jaitoart, 1829.]

Lani Glrnim in Tennessee.

[H. OP K.

the North and "West — the hardy sons of the
forests, the lakes, and the rivers, whom no dan-
gers can daunt, no toils exhaust, no privations
subdue? Men whose adventurous steps have
measured every prairie in the boundless West,
and whose bark canoes have traced every
stream in the dark valleys of the mountains.
Such are the materials of which the expedition
should be composed; and without such, the
enterprise will begin in doubt and hazard, and
win probably end in disappointment and morti-

I am not, said Mr. B., so entirely opposed to
the military occupation of the country as to
resist it in every form ; but I do believe that
the provisions of this bill are not adapted to
the end proposed, and cannot possibly accom-
plish the design. Can it be that one or two
little forts, garrisoned by a handful of our or-
dinary troops, can aflford protection to our
traders throughout that extensive country;
stretching, as it does, from latitude forty-two
to fifty-four, and from the shores of the Pacific
to the ridge of the Eocky Mountains ? Sir, it
cannot be.

One word, sir, on the subject of extending
civil jurisdiction over the country, and I have
done. Several gentlemen have dwelt with
earnest emphasis upon the extension of the ju-
risdiction of the Canadian courts, by an act of
the British Parliamant ; and seem to consider
that act as novel and anomalous in the practice
of this continent. But, sir, they have over-
looked our own statute book. The British
Parliament has but followed in the footsteps of
the American Congress. The jurisdiction of
our courts has been long since extended over
that whole country ; and for the truth of this
assertion, I refer to our own judiciary acts, and
especially to the Indian intercourse law of
1802. I cannot refer at this moment to page
and section, for I was unexpectedly drawn into
this debate by the remarks of the gentleman
from Virginia, (Mr. Floyd,) without any previ-
ous design of again addressing the committee.
I have been a law officer of the Government on
the frontier, and, as such, have been called
upon to aid the court in the exercise of the
power in question. I have prosecuted indict-
ments for offences committed far beyond the
civil limits of the States and territories ; and I
doubt not, that every Representative here from
a frontier State can bear witness to the practi-
cal exercise of the same jurisdiction.

That our civil jurisdiction is extended to
that country is beyond dispute ; but I will not
undertake to say that it is organized in such a
form, and defined with such precision, as to
aflrord a certain remedy for every instance of
wrong. If our laws be defective in this partic-
ular, I will join the gentleman in applying an
Immediate remedy, by investing the frontier
courts with all such powers as may be necessa-
ry to the protection of our citizens in every
part of the national domain.

The progress of this debate has had, I be-

lieve, no other effect than to prove to the
members of this House how ignorant we all
are of the subject-matter of this bill, and how
unfit we are, at this moment, to act under-
standingly, and with self-satisfaction, in taking
any definitive course that may give direction
and tone to the future measures of the Govern-
ment. Sir, as yet, we have but a glimmering
prospect of the promised land. We see it as
through a glass darkly ; and I do in my con-
science believe, that any affirmative course that
we may now take (beyond a simple explora-
tion) will be adopted at the manifest hazard of
the interest of the nation and the safety of the

Monday, January 6, 1829.
Lamd, Claims in Tennessee.

On motion of Mr. Polk, the House took up
the bill " to amend an act, entitled 'An act to
authorize the State of Tennessee to issue
grants, and to perfect titles to certain lands
therein described, and to settle the claims to
vacant and unappropriated lands in the same,'
passed April 18th, 1806."

This biU had been imder consideration dur-
ing the last session, in Committee of the
Whole, and had been laid upon the table dur-
ing the pendency of an amendment offered by
Mr. McLban.

This amendment Mr. MoLban now with-
drew, in favor of another, proposed to be
offered by Mr. Ceookbtt.

Mr. Cbookett said that he had offered to the
House the amendment to the bUl, with the con-
fident hope that, if he could succeed in con-

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856. From Gales and Seatons' Annals of Congress; from their Register of debates; and from the official reported debates, by John C. Rives → online text (page 72 of 187)