« AnteriorContinuar »
ARBITRATION OF THE OREGON QUESTION.
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE
UNITED STATES, JANUARY 3, 1846.
I UNDERSTAND the Chair to have decided that, upon the pending motion to refer to the Committee of the Whole on the state of the Union a bill for raising two regiments of riflemen, the whole question of Oregon is open to debate. The House, too, has virtually sanctioned this decision, by declining to sustain the previous question a few moments since. I cannot altogether agree in the fitness of such a decision, but I am unwilling to omit the opportunity which it affords for expressing some views upon the subject.
My honorable colleague (Mr. Adams) in his remarks yesterday, and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Mr. C. J. Ingersoll) this morning, have alluded to the course pursued by them last year, and have told us that they both voted for giving immediate notice to Great Britain of our intention to terminate, at the earliest day, what has been called the convention of joint occupation. Though a much humbler member of the House, I may be permitted to allude to the fact that I voted against that proceeding last year, and to add that I intend to do so again now. I may be allowed, also, to remind the House of a series of resolutions upon this subject, which I offered to their consideration some days ago. I know not whether those resolutions will ever emerge from the pile of matter under which they now lie buried upon your table. If they should, however, I am by no means sure that I shall not propose to lay them aside again without discussion. Nothing, certainly, was further from my purpose in offering them, than to involve this House in a stormy debate about peace and war. Such debates, I am quite sensible, are of most injurious influence on the public quiet and prosper. ity, and I have no disposition to render myself responsible for a renewal of them. I desired only then, and I desire only now, to place before the House and before the country, before it is too late, some plain and precise opinions, which are sincerely and strongly entertained by myself, and which I believe to be no less strongly entertained by many of those with whom I am politically associated, in regard to the present most critical state of our foreign relations.
I desire to do this on many accounts, and to do it without delay. An idea seems to have been gaining ground in some quarters, and to have been somewhat industriously propagated in all quarters, that there is no difference of sentiment in this House in reference to the course which has thus far been pur. sued, or which seems about to be pursued hereafter, in regard to this unfortunate Oregon controversy. Now, Sir, upon one or two points connected with it, there may be no difference of opinion. I believe there is none upon the point, that the United States have rights in Oregon which are not to be relinquished. I believe there is none upon the point, that, if the controversy with Great Britain should result in war, our country, and the rights of our country on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, are to be maintained and defended with all the power and all the vigor we possess. I believe there is none either upon the point, that such is the state of this controversy at the present moment, that we owe it to ourselves, as guardians of the public safety, to bestow something more than the ordinary annual attention — I might better say the ordinary annual inattentionupon our national defences, and to place our country in a posture of preparation for meeting the worst consequences which may befall it.
So far, Mr. Speaker, I believe there are common opinions, united thoughts and counsels, in both branches of Congress, and indeed throughout the country, without distinction of party. But certainly there are wide differences of sentiment among ourselves and among our constituents, upon other no less interesting and substantial points. And I am not one of those who
believe in the necessity, or in the expediency, of concealing these differences. I have very little faith in the hush policy. I have very little faith in the wisdom of keeping up an appearance of entire unanimity upon a question like this, where such unanimity does not exist, for the sake of mere stage effect, and with a view of making a more profound impression upon the spectators. Every body understands such concerted arrangements ; every body sees through them, whether the theatre of their presentment be on one side of the Atlantic or on the other.
Because Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell, and Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, thought fit to unite in a common and coincident expression of sentiment, in the two Houses of Parliament, eight or nine months ago, during the well-remembered debate on the President's inaugural address, I do not know — I do not believe — that the people of the United States were any the more awed from the maintenance of their own previous views and purposes in regard to Oregon, than if these distinguished leaders of opposite parties had exhibited something less of dramatic unity, and had indulged rather more freely in those diversities of sentiment which ordinarily lend interest to their discussions. Nor am I of opinion, on the other hand, that a similar course on this side of the ocean is to have any material influence on the action of the British Government. I hold, at any rate, that it is better for us all to speak our own minds, to declare our own honest judgments, and to look more to the influence of our remarks upon our own people and our own policy, than upon those of Great Britain. .
I may add, Sir, that in presenting these resolutions at the earliest opportunity which was afforded me, I was actuated by the desire to put my own views upon record, before the returning Steamers should bring back to us from England the angry recriminations to which the last message of the President may not improbably give occasion, and before the passions of our people were inflamed by any violent outbreaks of British feeling, which that document is so likely to excite.
I am perfectly aware, Mr. Speaker, that, let me express the views which I entertain when I may, I shall not escape reproach and imputation from some quarters of the House. I know that there are those by whom the slightest syllable of dissent from the extreme views which the Administration would seem recently to have adopted, will be eagerly seized upon as evidence of a want of what they call patriotism and American spirit. I spurn all such imputations in advance. I spurn the notion that patriotism can only be manifested by plunging the nation into war, or that the love of one's own country can only be measured by one's hatred to any other country. Sir, the American spirit that is wanted at the present moment, wanted for our highest honor, wanted for our dearest interests, is that which dares to confront the mad impulses of a superficial popular sentiment, and to appeal to the sober second thoughts of moral and intelligent men. Every schoolboy can declaim about honor and war, the British lion and the American eagle; and it is a vice of our nature that the calmest of us have heartstrings which may vibrate for a moment even to such vulgar touches. But, - thanks to the institutions of education and religion which our fathers founded! — the great mass of the American people have, also, an intelligence and a moral sense which will sooner or later respond to appeals of a higher and nobler sort, if we will only have the firmness to make them. It was a remark of an old English courtier, a century and a half ago, to one who threatened to take the sense of the people on some important question, that he would take the nonsense of the people and beat him twenty to one. And it might have been something better than a good joke in relation to the people of England at the time it was uttered. But I am not ready to regard it as applicable to our own intelligent and educated American people at the present day. An appeal to the nonsense of the American people may succeed for an hour; but the stern sense of the country will soon reassert itself, and will carry the day in the end.
But, Mr. Speaker, there are other reproaches, besides those of my opponents, to which I may be thought to subject myself, by the formal promulgation of the views which I entertain on this subject. It has been said, in some quarters, that it is not good party policy to avow such doctrines; that the friends of the Administration desire nothing so much as an excuse for branding the Whigs of the Union as the peace party; and that the only course for us in the minority to pursue, is to brag about our readiness for war with those that brag loudest. Now, I am entirely sensible that is an opponent of the present administration were willing to make a mere party instrument of this Oregon negotiation, he might find in its most recent history the amplest materials, for throwing back upon the majority in this House the imputations, in which they have been heretofore so ready to indulge. How easy and obvious it would be for us to ask, where, where was the heroic determination of the Executive to vindicate our title to the whole of Oregon — yes, sir, " the whole or none” — when a deliberate offer of more than five degrees of latitude was recently made to Great Britain ?- Made, too, at a moment when the President and his Secretary of State tell you that they firmly believed that our right to the whole was clear and unquestionable! How easy it would be to taunt the Secretary of State with the policy he has pursued in his correspondence, of keeping back those convincing arguments upon which he now relies to justify him in claiming the whole of this disputed territory, until his last letter, - until he had tried in vain to induce Great Britain to accept a large part of this territory, as if he were afraid to let even his own country understand how good our title really was, in case he could succeed in effecting a compromise!
For myself, however, I utterly repudiate all idea of party obligations or party views in connection with this question. I scorn the suggestion that the peace of my country is to be regarded as a mere pawn on the political chess-board, to be perilled for any mere party triumph. We have seen enough of the inischief of mingling such questions with party politics. We see it at this moment. It has been openly avowed elsewhere, and was repeated by the honorable member from Illinois (Mr. Douglas) in this House yesterday, that Oregon and Texas were born and cradled together in the Baltimore convention ; that they were the twin offspring of that political conclave; and in that avowal may be found the whole explanation of the difficulties and dangers with which the question is now attended.
I honor the administration, Mr. Speaker, for whatever spirit of conciliation, compromise, and peace, it has hitherto mani