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SPEECH ON THE QUESTION OF ANNULLING THE CONVENTION FOR THE COMMON OCCUPATION OF THE TERRITORY OF OREGON; AND IN REPLY TO MR. BUCHANAN.
DELIVERED IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, MARCH 21, 1844.
- [The third article of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain, signed October 20, 1818, is in these words:
“ It is agreed that any country that may be claimed by either party on the north-west coast of America, westward of the Stony Mountains, shall, together with its harbors, bays, and creeks, and the navigation 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 understood, 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.”
The Convention between the same governments, signed August 6, 1827, is in these words :
“ 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 indefinitely extended and continued in force, in the same manner as if all the provisions of the said article were herein specifically recited.
“ART. 2. It shall be competent, however, to either of the contracting parties, in case either should think fit, at any time after the 20th of 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 notice.
" Art. 3. Nothing contained in this Convention, or in the third article 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 Mountains."
On the 8th of January, 1844, Mr. Semple, of Illinois, introduced into the Senate of the United States the following resolution :
“ Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to give notice to the British Government that it is the desire of the Government of the United States to annul and abrogate the provisions of the third article of the Convention concluded between the Government of the United States of Amer. ica and His Britannic Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, on the 20th of October, 1818, and indefinitely continued by the Convention between the same parties, signed at London the 6th of August, 1827.”
In opposition to this resolution, Mr. Choate addressed the Senate on the 22d of February, in reply to Mr. Atchison, of Missouri. The debate was continued by Messrs. Hannegan, Breese, and Buchanan, in favor of the resolution, and Messrs. Dayton, Miller, Archer, Crittenden, and Rives, against it; after which, this speech was delivered.)
It is not my purpose to discuss this subject, at large, over again. I have been once heard on it; and, with you all, I have a very strong desire to bring such a dangerous and unseasonable debate to a close. A few words in explanation and aid of what I said before, seem, however, to have been made necessary by the speeches of the advocates of the resolution.
I acknowledge an anxiety to define and restate plainly, briefly, and directly, the position which I actually assumed upon this business.
Without supposing any intention to misrepresent, which can never exist here, sure I am that no human being could form any tolerable conjecture of its nature, limits, and grounds, from all the replies, solemn, fervid, and sarcastic, that have been made to it.
Sir, my view of this matter was, and is, simply and exactly this: not that we should now determine that we will never give the notice to annul the convention ; for who can say that we may not be required to give it in six months ?- but that we should not give the notice now.
Whether we shall ever give it, when and with what accompaniments of preparation, and of auxiliary action we shall do so, I said were matters very fit for a committee to consider, or for events to be allowed to develop. Possibly the course of events might render such notice forever unnecessary. There was nothing in the past or the present to indicate the contrary with certainty. Let us await then, I suggested, the admonitions of events, as they should be uttered
from time to time, keeping always a sharp look-out on Oregon, which a noiseless and growing current of agricultural immigration was filling with hands and hearts the fittest to defend it. This was my view ; that is to say, that the notice should not be given now. Towards that single point all that was urged was made to bear, and upon that all was meant to tell.
And this view met the whole question before us. What is that question ? Not whether the notice shall be given now or never given at all. Not so. The alternative is not between now giving it, and never giving it; but between giving it now, and not giving it now. That is the single point of difference. Senators upon the other side would annul the convention today; we would not annul it to-day; and there we stop. The duties of to-morrow we can better discern and better perform by the lights of to-morrow.
It is palpable, Mr. President, upon this bare restatement of the question, that much which made the matter of the speech of the honorable Senator from Pennsylvania, (Mr. Buchanan,] much perhaps which I said myself, was not very immediately or decisively relevant ; certainly not very necessary to a suitable determination of it. He may be right or he may be wrong in unfolding himself with so much emphasis against what he is pleased to call a poetical and a self-deceiving theory of policy; I may have been right, or may have been wrong in calculating so sanguinely on the unassisted enterprise and the restless nature of my countrymen; I may have been right, or may have been wrong in supposing that those mysterious tendencies and energies that have carried our people to the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains would not die away there, as summer-evening waves on the shore, but would carry them, with your aid or without it, to the great sea ; the honorable Senator may or may not be right in predicting that Great Britain will develop some new motive and new form of resistance to our occupation of the Oregon, or that the Hudson's Bay Company will take
up some new or some old habit of Indian butcheries to keep us out ; you may think what you will on all this, and yet you have not settled nor very closely approached the question, whether the notice of abrogation shall now be given under the actual, special, temporary, and passing circumstances of the case and the hour.
Returning to that, the only question, I stand as I stood, upon one single, sufficient, and decisive reason against the notice; and thạt is, that it may by possibility produce an inauspicious effect upon the negotiation just now beginning or begun; and therefore, as you have maintained this convention for the peaceful and common occupation of the Oregon Territory for six-and-twenty years, under all administrations, in all aspects of facts, steadily and with great unanimity of opinion, as a part of your entire Oregon policy; as there is nothing whatever in the past or the present to disclose any necessity for annulling it, or any ground of reasonable expectation of benefit from doing so; as it has operated and is operating well for you to-day, - it ought not, on the eve of negotiation, to be abruptly and capriciously abrogated. Such an act may, by possibility, prevent a treaty. It may diminish the chances of a treaty. It cannot help negotiation, and it may embarrass and break it up. For this single reason, without another, I opposed and oppose the resolution.
And what does the honorable Senator from Pennsylvania say to this? Why, that the Senator from Massachusetts has declared that we have slept upon our rights for twenty-six years ; and that therefore, while we are about it, we may as well have a little more sleep, a little more slumber, and a little more folding of the hands to sleep!
Now, Sir, let me respectfully tell the honorable Senator that this is not even a good caricature of my reasoning. It is quite idle, I know, to complain that an opponent does not restate the position which he assails in exactly the terms in which it was propounded ; and yet I always thought it a pleasing and honorable thing which I have heard said of an eminent debater in the British house of commons, and also of a late accomplished member of the American legal profession, that they would reannounce the argument to which they were replying, better than its author had expressed it, before they proceeded to demolish it irreparably. But this, Sir, of the honorable Senator, tried by the rules of the noble art of logical and parliamentary caricature, is a bad one. such assertion, and deduced no such inference. I said not one word of our having slept on our rights six-and-twenty years, or six-and-twenty minutes, if by sleeping on rights I am to
I made no
understand the neglecting to assert and proclaim them. I was speaking of this convention for common occupation, and I said, and said only, and exactly, that upon this convention you had stood, all parties, all administrations, from 1818 to this hour, as a part of your entire Oregon policy; that you had done so with a knowledge of every fact which is now urged as a reason of annulling it; and that therefore to annul it now, when its practical operation is better for you than ever before it was, , and when a negotiation is just beginning, (to carry you
in good temper through which was one of the leading inducements to making and continuing it,) would be a capricious, unintelligible, and unwise proceeding. This is what I said. With sleeping on your rights I never taunted you. Everybody knows that we have not slept on them. Everybody knows that we have recorded them; announced them to Great Britain, and to the world; urged them in every diplomatic conversation we have had with that government since we knew there was a Columbia River ; and that we made and renewed this very convention with an express protestation and provision that it should not impair nor change them. Sir, let me, the more completely to satisfy the honorable Senator of his misapprehension of the remark to which he excepted, do so unusual a thing as to read from “ The Congressional Globe, a brief extract from a speech which I had the honor to make in this place at the last session :
“ Always this question of the Oregon has borne exactly the same relation to all our questions with England that it bore last summer. Always it has been thought important enough to be discussed with other subjects, and never has it been quite matured for adjustment, and never thought quite so important as to hinder the adjustment of other questions which were matured. How many treaties have you made with England, - how much diplomatic conversation have you had with her since Captain Gray discovered and named the Columbia River? And yet, through the whole series — in 1807, 1814, 1816, 1818, and 1826, – in the administrations of both the last Presidents, always there has been one course and one result with this subject. It has been treated of; formal and informal communications have been held on it; it has been found to be unripe for settlement; and it has been found to be, or believed to be, not difficult enough, or not pressing enough, to delay or alter the settlement of riper and more pressing elements of contention.”
Sir, while I hold this book open, let me digress a moment to correct another misapprehension into which the honorable