ducted. I allude to the Senator from Ohio," who opened the debate, and the Senator from Delaware, who followed him. Both took the ground, and with equally strong language, that the title to Oregon ought not to be drawn into this discussion ; but for totally different reasons : the Senator from Ohio, because the time for discussing it had gone by; and the Senator from Delaware, because the time for discussing it had not arrived. With the unfeigned respect which I entertain for both senators, I dissent from their opinions with great diffidence of my own. But I am constrained to regard the question of our rights in Oregon as one on which the propriety of the measures proposed peculiarly and eminently depends. What is the

. proposition before the Senate ? It is, to give to Great Britain the notice of twelve months, by virtue of which the treaty between her and the United States, stipulating that the Territory of Oregon shall be free and open to the people of both countries, is to be abrogated and annulled. We cannot disguise the fact that this is a measure of the most decided character, and involving the most important consequences.

What is it, sir, but a declaration that the Territory of Oregon, after the expiration of twelve months, shall no longer be open to the subjects of Great Britain ? It is the first step towards the assertion of our right of empíre and domain in Oregon. I can see it in no other light. I shall support it. But I cannot assent to the propriety of adopting a measure of such magnitude, without saying a single word in illustration of our title to the Territory, over which we are thus preparing to assert our paramount rights. I do not feel at liberty to take such a step, denying summarily all right in others, or abstaining from the assertion of any right in ourselves. I

propose, therefore, as a preliminary of action on my own part, to look at our title to Oregon, not for the purpose of defining it with critical precision, but so far as

2 Mr. J. M. Clayton.

[ocr errors]

1 Mr. Allen.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

to state the general grounds on which it rests.

And I am disposed to take this course, not only with a view to justify the vote I intend to give, but for the further purpose of correcting extreme misconceptions, both at home and abroad, on a few points of vital consequence. No purely American question has, perhaps, excited a stronger interest in other countries; and I doubt whether any other has been so greatly misrepresented. The same misapprehensions exist at home. The public press, for the last few weeks, has been teeming with essays disparaging the Spanish title, on which our own, in some degree, rests. I am unwilling either to pass by these statements in silence, or to meet them with summary declarations of right. It is natural that senators who have been long on this floor, and who have already borne a part in the discussion of this question, should feel differently. But for myself, having never even listened to a debate on the subject, a subject until recently entirely new to me, — I feel bound to state the grounds on which This is what I propose to do,

, - not by the analysis any particular treatise, nor by the examination of any particular view of the subject, but by exhibiting some of the historical facts on which the Spanish title and our own rest. I shall endeavor to perform this duty in the plainest manner, adhering rigidly to the subject, and, if possible, without addressing a single word to prejudice or passion.

The region which now constitutes the Territory of Oregon was seen, and a part of its coast reconnoitred, — I will not say explored, — half a century after the discovery of America. In consequence of its remoteness from the course of trade which was opened by the voyages of Columbus, the supposed rigor of its climate, and the certainty derived from the expeditions sent out from Mexico, that it contained no sources of wealth like those by which Spain had been enriched in the more southern portions of this continent, it remained, for more than two centuries and a half, without any permanent settlement by civilized men. During this

I act.



[ocr errors]

long period, Spain constantly asserted her right of proprietorship in it by virtue of discovery, and had formed temporary establishments in its neighborhood from time to time. During the half century which succeeded, it was frequently visited by ships of other nations, by accident, for purposes of exploration, or for objects of commerce, and thus there arose a number of claimants to the right of sovereignty and domain. The claims of Russia have been adjusted with Great Britain. She holds, by the acquiescence of the latter, the whole northwest coast of America north of latitude 54° 40', as far back as the first range of highlands; and, by virtue of a convention between her and us, we have agreed to form no settlements north of that parallel. The southern line of Oregon we hold to be fixed, by the settlement of the boundary line between the United States and Mexico, at 42°. The territory in dispute has, therefore, a coast of twelve parallels and two thirds of latitude, running back into the interior to the Rocky Mountains ; and the United States and Great Britain are the only claimants to the right of proprietorship in it.

Before I proceed to examine their respective claims, it may


proper, as the subject has been referred to on this floor, briefly to state the conditions under which, by the usage of nations, a right of property in lands uninhabited, or occupied by wandering tribes, may be acquired.

The basis usually relied on to support a right of this nature is discovery; but it is a ground of right which becomes untenable, unless followed by an actual occupation of the discovered territory. If a title is not perfected by occupation, a second discoverer may appropriate the territory thus neglected by the first. But this must be

upon reasonable evidence of the intention of the first discoverer not to take possession of it. If a second discoverer were to seize upon and appropriate the discovered territory before the first had time to form an establishment within it, such an act of interference would be regarded as an unwarrantable


intrusion, which the latter might justly resist. On the other hand, if the first discoverer neglects within a reasonable time to take actual possession of, to form settlements in, or make some actual use of the regions he has discova ered, the law of nations will not acknowledge in him any absolute right of property in or sovereignty over it, even though he may have set up monuments or memorials of his discovery at the time it was made. Such is the spirit of the rules in relation to the discovery and occupation of uninhabited territory, as stated by writers on international law. It is certainly not easy to lay down any invariable rule in respect to the time within which, or the circumstances under which, a title by discovery must be perfected by occupation. The rules and maxims of international law are but a practical application of the principles of universal equity and justice; and in the settlement of questions of this nature, the real objects and intentions of the parties are to be sought for in a reasonable interpretation of their acts. I believe, however, the doctrine may be fafrly deduced from the whole body of the law on this subject, that rights by discovery remain good until superseded by rights of occupation. With regard to Great Britain, I think I may safely say that her practical rule pushes this doctrine farther. She resists all attempts by others to acquire rights by occupation in territories which she has discovered, and thus renders her own rights by discovery perpetual. Lieutenant Broughton, in the armed tender Chatham, discovered the Chatham Islands, in 1791, after parting company with Vancouver, on their way to the northwest coast.' She has not occupied them until recently; and I am not sure that there is now anything more than a whaling establishment on them ; but she insists that no other power shall occupy them, because it would be injurious to her settlements in New Zealand, which are nearly five hundred miles distant from them. I propose now to see what acts have been performed in respect to Oregon by different nations; or, in other words, to examine the nature of the discoveries which have been made, and the establishments which have been formed in that region, applying to them as I proceed the principles I have concisely stated.

1 See Vancouver's Journal, Book I. chap. 11.

The first discoverer of any part of the northwest coast of America north of, or in immediate contiguity with, the boundary between us and Mexico, was Ferrelo. He was the pilot of Cabrillo, the commander of an expedition fitted out in Mexico in 1543, fifty-one years after the discovery of San Domingo by Columbus. Cabrillo died on the voyage, and Ferrelo succeeded to the command. He examined the coast from the Santa Barbara Islands, in latitude 34', to the 43d parallel of latitude; but the latter part of his voyage was made, I believe, without landing, and by a mere inspection of the coast from his vessel. In 1535, eight years before this exploration was made, possession had been taken of California by Fernando Cortes, in the name of Spain, and an establishment had been formed in 24 of north latitude. This establishment was kept up for several years;

; and, in the mean time, the Gulf of California to its northern extremity, with the western coast as high as 38° north latitude; had been explored. These explorations, and the establishments formed in carrying them on, were all made in pursuance of a settled purpose on the part of Spain to extend her dominion over the uninhabited territory on the northwestern coast of America. The discoveries to which these explorations led were, therefore, not accidental. The expeditions were fitted out for the single object referred to. In the prosecution of this design, it is true, the most arrogant and absurd pretensions were set up by Spain in respect to the exclusive navigation of the Pacific; but these must not be permitted to prejudice her just claims to portions of the continent washed by its waters, on the ground of discovery and occupation, and the declared purposes she had in view.

The next navigator who appeared on the northwest coast


« ForrigeFortsett »