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the “fundamental laws” of the provisional government were incorporated a number of Articles from the Ordinance of 1787, among them the one prohibiting slavery. The new government encountered the opposition of the missionaries and of the non-American population, but it was soon strengthened by the “Great Immigration” in 1843, when nearly nine hundred men, women and children, after assembling at Independence, crossed the plains in a body and settled in the Columbia Valley. After this year the flow of immigrants steadily increased, about 1400 arriving in 1844, and 3000 in 1845. Signs of hostility to the Hudson’s Bay Company now began to appear among the American population, and in 1845 the provisional government sought to extend its jurisdiction north of the Columbia river, where the Americans had hitherto refrained from settling. A compromise was finally reached, whereby the company was to be exempt from taxes on all its property except the goods sold to settlers, and the officers and employees of the company and all the British residents were to become subject to the provisional government. Meanwhile the western states had inaugurated a movement in favour of the immediate and definite settlement of the Oregon question, with the result that the Democratic national convention of 1844 declared that the title of the United States to “the whole of the territory of Oregon” was “clear and unquestionable,” and the party made “Fifty-four forty or fight” a campaign slogan. The Democrats were successful at the polls, and President Polk in his inaugural address asserted the claim of the United States to all of Oregon in terms suggesting the possibility of war. Negotiations, however, resulted in a treaty, drafted by James Buchanan, the American Secretary of State, and Richard Pakenham, the British envoy, which the president in June 1846 submitted to the Senate for its opinion and which he was advised to accept. By this instrument the northern boundary of Oregon was fixed at the forty ninth parallel, extending westward from the crest of the Rocky Mountains to the middle of the channel separating Vancouver's Island from the mainland, “and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca’s Straits, to the Pacific Ocean.”
Although President Polk immediately urged the formation of a territorial government for Oregon, the bill introduced for this purpose was held up in the Senate on account of the opposition of Southern leaders, who were seeking to maintain the abstract principle that slavery could not be constitutionally prohibited in any territory of the United States, although they had no hope of Oregon ever becoming slave territory. Indian outbreaks, however, which began in 1847, compelled Congress to take measures for the defence of the inhabitants, and on the 14th of August 1848 a bill was enacted providing a territorial government. As then constituted, the Territory embraced the whole area to which the title of the United States had been confirmed by the treaty of 1846, and included the present states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and parts of Wyoming and Montana. Its area was reduced in 1853 by the creation of the Territory of Washington. The discovery of gold in California drew many Oregon settlers to that country in 1848–1850, but this exodus was soon offset as a result of the enactment by Congress in 1850 of the “land donation law,” by which settlers in Oregon between 1850 and 1853 were entitled to large tracts of land free of cost. The number of claims registered under this act was over eight thousand.
In 1856 the people voted for statehood; and in June 1857 they elected members of a constitutional convention which drafted a constitution at Salem in August and September 1857; the constitution was ratified by popular vote in November 1857; and on the 14th of February 1850 Oregon was admitted into the Union with its present boundaries. The new state was at first Democratic in politics, and the southern faction of the Democratic party in 1860 made a bid for its support by nominating as their candidate for vice-president, on the ticket with John C. Breckinridge, Joseph Lane (1801–1881), then a senator from Oregon and previously its territorial governor. The Douglas Democrats and the Republicans, however, worked together as a union party, and Lincoln carried the state by a small majority. The so-called union party broke up after the Civil War, and by 1870 the Democrats were strong enough to prevent the ratification by Oregon of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. In 1876, after the presidential election, two sets of electoral returns were forwarded from Oregon, one showing the choice of three Republican electors, and the other (signed by the governor, who was a Democrat) showing the election of two Republicans and one Democrat. The popular vote was admittedly for the three Republican electors, but one of the Republican electors (Watts) was a deputy-postmaster and so seemed ineligible under the constitutional provision that “no…person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall be an elector.” Watts resigned as deputy postmaster, and the secretary of state of Oregon, who under the state law was the canvassing officer, certified the election of the three Republican electors. On the 6th of December the three met. Watts resigned, and was immediately reappointed by the other two. The Democratic claimant, with whom the two Republican electors whose election was conceded, refused to meet, met alone, appointed two other Democrats to fill the two “vacancies,” and the “electoral college” of the state so constituted forthwith cast two votes for Hayes and one for Tilden. The Electoral Commission decided that the three votes should be counted for Hayes—if the one Democratic elector had been adjudged chosen, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, S. J. Tilden, would have been elected. The political complexion of the state has generally been Republican, although the contests between the two leading parties have often been very close. The Indian outbreaks which began in 1847 continued with occasional periods of quiet for nearly a generation, until most of the Indians were either killed or placed on reservations. The Indians were very active during the Civil War, when the regular troops were withdrawn for service in the eastern states, and Oregon’s volunteers from 1861 to 1865 were needed for home defence. The most noted Indian conflicts within the state have been the Modoc War (1864–73) and the Shoshone War (1866–68). During the Spanish-American War Oregon furnished a regiment of volunteers which served in the Philippines.
|Governors of Oregon|
|Under the Provisional Government.|
|Under the Territorial Government.|
|Knitzing Pritchett (sic) (acting)||1850|
|John P. Gaines||1850–1852|
|George Law Curry (acting)||1853|
|John W. Davis||1853–1854|
|George Law Curry||1854–1859|
|Under the State Government.|
|John Whiteaker, Dem.||1859–1862|
|Addison Crandall Gibbs, Rep.||1862–1866|
|George Lemuel Woods, Rep.||1866–1870|
|La Fayette Grover, Dem.||1870–1877|
|Stephen Fowler Chadwick (acting)||1877–1878|
|William Wallace Thayer, Dem.||1878–1882|
|Zenas Ferry Moody, Rep.||1882–1887|
|Sylvester Pennoyer, Dem.||1887–1895|
|William Paine Lord, Rep.||1895–1899|
|Theodore Thurston Geer, Rep.||1899–1903|
|George Earle Chamberlain, Dem.||1903–1909|
|Frank W. Benson, Rep.||1909–1911|
|Oswald West. Dem.||1911–|
- For many years it was generally believed that the administration at Washington was prevented from surrendering its claims to Oregon, in return for the grant by Great Britain of fishing stations in Newfoundland, by Marcus Whitman, who in 1842-1843 made a journey across the entire continent in the depth of winter to dissuade the government from this purpose. This story seems to have no foundation in fact; it was not Whitman, but the great influx of settlers in 1843–1844 that saved Oregon, if, indeed, there was then any danger of its being given up. (See Whitman, Marcus.)
- held office only three days, May 16-19.
- Secretary of State; succeeded G. E. Chamberlain, who resigned to become a member of the U.S. Senate.