Abbildungen der Seite

antagonist claim or pretension to territorial rights. It was confirmed and perfected by occupation, as high as 49° SO, 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 During the succeeding twenty years, it was not superseded by rights of occupation on the part of other nations, unless it be to the limited extent I have stated.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 sovereignty over the territory to which it attaches. In the consideration of national interests in territorial possessions, it is a narrow view to bind down sovereign States to all the rigorous 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 worthy 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 Administration, 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 right to the exclusive sovereignty of any portion of the Territory. In 1826, she claimed only a right of joint occupancy, in common with other powers; but denied the right of exclusive dominion 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 divide the Territory at the 49th parallel of latitude, the boundary 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 extension 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 remote 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 fair 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 relation 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 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 the 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 American possessions, acting in peace as though war was not to be expected between the two countries. If we had cherished 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 infraction of the Conventions of 1818 and 1827. By an Act of Parliament passed in 1821, she has extended the jurisdiction, power, and authority of her courts of judicature 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 writhin 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 authorized the Crown to establish courts within the Territory itself, with power to try criminal offences not punishable with

death, and also civil causes to a limited amount, I 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 absolute sovereignty than she has done by this unqualified extension 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 disavowed 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? As I do not intend to intrude myself on the attention 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 1827,—a convention which Great Britain treats as recognizing a right of joint occupancy, 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 conflict of jurisdiction, and to avoid all cause for imputing to us a disregard 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 fellowcitizens in that remote district of our country, and to remove, as far as possible, 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 continues in force. Duty, honor, policy — all demand these measures at our hands; and I trust they will be executed with promptitude and decision.

Will these measures produce war] I cannot believe that they will. 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 establishment of a chain of posts to the Rocky Mountains 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 measures referred to, would be a war of plain unmixed aggression. No nation, in the present age, could embark in such a contest without drawing down upon herself the condemnation of all civilized communities. She would find herself opposed and restrained by public opinion, which, in our day, rules the conduct of nations more powerfully than the arm of force. I hold, therefore, immediate war to be out of the question. Nor can eventual war take place, unless the assertion 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—

« ZurückWeiter »