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THE OREGON QUESTION.
Article by Mr. Field, published in the "United States Magazine and Democratic Review," June, 1845.
THE Oregon is a tract of country on the western side of the New World, principally watered by the river Oregon, or Columbia, and its tributaries. It extends from 42° of north latitude to 54° 40', and from the Pacific eastward, five or six hundred miles, to the ridges of the Rocky or Oregon Mountains. The name is taken from the river which, long before its actual discovery, had been supposed to exist beyond the mountains, and which was first called the Oregon by Jonathan Carver, of Connecticut, who traveled in the interior of the continent in 1766. How he got the name, or whether he invented it himself, it is impossible, at the present day, to determine. The stream was not actually seen till 1792, many persons until then believing it to be fabulous. The name, however, remained, and is now not only applied to the country from which its waters are gathered, but, as the name of the river itself, is
"Married to immortal verse,"
"... the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
This country is traversed by ridges of lofty mountains. The shores are bold and high, in many parts mountains rising immediately from the sea. Up to the forty-eighth parallel there
are few inlets or islands, but farther north there are thousands of islands and a network of bays and peninsulas. The valleys of the interior are generally narrow. The climate is drier and milder by many degrees than on the Atlantic side in the same latitudes. Of the soil, different accounts have been given, some representing it as fertile, and others as of little value. The most valuable portion of it undoubtedly lies south of the river, though by far the best part of the territory, for its harbors and maritime advantages, lies around the Strait of Fuca. To us, as a trading power on the Pacific, these are invaluable.
Until within a few years there have been but scanty settlements; a few trading-posts and missionary stations. But the tide of American emigration has lately set in that direction, and nothing but some fatal misstep on our part can prevent its habitable portions being occupied in a few years by our countrymen, and a vast trade thence carried on over all the Pacific.
This country is claimed by America* as belonging exclusively to her, while England claims not an exclusive right in any part of it, but a right to occupy and settle on any portion with America and other nations.
The discussion between the two governments has grown to be an angry one; and, if we were to judge by the late declarations of the English ministry, there remains no arbitrament but the sword. It is difficult, however, to believe that the Government of Great Britain can seriously think of pushing its pretensions to the extent of a war, while we are confident that our Government, in maintaining the rights of America, will see the propriety of discussing them with moderation as well as firmness, doing no act to provoke, and sedulously abstaining from even the appearance of disregarding the obligation of treaties. But, while it does this, it has also a duty to perform to Americans. It is time that the arrogance of Englishmen, now become almost habitual, were rebuked. Let us indeed be just; let us appear just; and let England and consequences take care of themselves.
That we may present a concise as well as a just view of the
*We use the words "America" and "American" in a national sense only, using another designation for the continent whenever we have occasion to mention it.