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of something more than the two regiments of riflemen for which your bill provides ? Of what is the title made up? Vague traditions of settlement, musty records of old voyages, conflicting claims of discovery, disputed principles of public law, acknowledged violations of the rights of aboriginal occupants — these are the elements – I had almost said the beggarly elements out of which our clear and indisputable title is compounded. I declare to you, Sir, that as often as I thread the mazes of this controversy, it seems to me to be a dispute as to the relative rights of two parties to a territory, to which neither of them has any real right whatever; and I should hardly blame the other nations of the world for insisting on coming in for scot and lot in the partition of it. Certainly, if we should be so false to our character as civilized nations as to fight about it, the rest of Christendom would be justified, if they had the power, in treating us as we have always treated the savage tribes of our own continent, and turning us both out altogether.
Why, look at a single fact in the history of this controversy. In 1818, we thought our title to Oregon as clear and as unquestionable as we think it now. We proposed then to divide it with Great Britain, without the slightest reference to any third party in interest. Yet at that very moment Spain was in possession of those rights of discovery, which, since they were transferred to us by the treaty of Florida, we consider as constituting one of the strongest elements in our whole case. It is a most notable incident, that in the discussions of 1818 not a word was said in regard either to the rights of Spain or to the Nootka convention. Yet now Great Britain and the United States are found placing their principal reliance on these two sources of title. Is there not enough in this historical fact to lead us to distrust our own judgments and our own conclusions, and to warn us of the danger of fixing our views so exclusively on our own real or imagined wants or interests, as to overlook the rights of others ?
Let me not be misunderstood, Mr. Speaker. I have no hesitation in saying that I honestly think, upon as dispassionate a review of the correspondence as I am capable of, that the American title to Oregon is the best now in existence. But I honestly think, also, that the whole character of the title is too confused and complicated to justify any arbitrary and exclusive assertions of right, and that a compromise of the question is every way consistent with reason, interest, and honor.
There is one element in our title, however, which I confess that I have not named, and to which I may not have done entire justice. I mean that new revelation of right, which has been designated as the right of our manifest destiny to spread over this whole continent. It has been openly avowed, in a leading administration journal, that this, after all, is our best and strongest title; one so clear, so preëminent, and so indisputable, that if Great Britain had all our other titles in addition to her own, they would weigh nothing against it. The right of our manifest destiny! There is a right for a new chapter in the law of nations; or rather in the special laws of our own country; for I suppose the right of a manifest destiny to spread, will not be admitted to exist in any nation except the universal Yankee nation! This right of our manifest destiny, Mr. Speaker, reminds me of another source of title which is worthy of being placed beside it. Spain and Portugal, we all know, in the early part of the sixteenth century laid claim to the jurisdiction of this whole northern continent of America. Francis I. is related to have replied to this pretension, that he should like to see the clause in Adam's Will, in which their exclusive title was found. Now, Sir, I look for an early reproduction of this idea. I have no doubt that if due search be made, a copy of this primeval instrument, with a clause giving us the whole of Oregon, can be somewhere hunted up. Perhaps it may be found in that same Illinois cave in which the Mormon Testament has been discovered. I commend the subject to the attention of those in that neighborhood, and will promise to withdraw all my opposi. tion to giving notice or taking possession, whenever the right of our manifest destiny can be fortified by the provisions of our great First Parent's last will and testament !
Mr. Speaker, there is a third, and, in my judgment, a still more conclusive reason for regarding this question as one for negotiation and compromise. I refer to its history, and to the admissions on both sides which that history contains. For thirty years
this question has been considered and treated as one not of title, but of boundary. To run a boundary line between Great Britain and the United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, — this has been the avowed object of each successive negotiation. It has been so treated by Mr. Monroe, and Mr. Adams, and Mr. Gallatin, and Mr. Rush, and by all the other American statesmen who have treated of it at all. Offers of compromise and arrangement have been repeatedly made on both sides on this basis. Three times we have offered to Great Britain to divide with her on the 49th parallel of latitude, and to give her the navigation of the Columbia into the bargain. Mr. Polk and Mr. Buchanan themselves have acted upon the same principle up to the moment of the final abrupt termination of the negotiations. They have offered again to make the 49th parallel the boundary line between the possessions of Great Britain and the United States in the Northwestern Territory. With what face, then, can we now turn round and declare that there is no boundary line to be run, nothing to negotiate about, and that any such course would involve a cession and surrender of American soil!
Such a course would be an impeachment of the conduct of the distinguished statesmen whose names I have mentioned. It implies an imputation upon the present President of the United States and his Secretary of State. And, explain it as we may, it would be regarded as an unwarrantable and offensive assumption by the whole civilized world.
Sir, I am glad to perceive that the language of the President's message is in some degree conformable to this view. He tells us that the history of the negotiation thus far “affords satisfactory evidence,” not that no compromise ought to be made, but that "no compromise which the United States ought to accept can be effected.”
And this brings me to another of my propositions. I take issue with the message on this point. I deny that the rejection of the precise offer which was made to Great Britain last summer, has furnished satisfactory evidence that no compromise which the United States ought to accept can be effected. Cer. tainly, I regret that Great Britain did not accept that offer. Certainly, I think that this question might fairly be settled on the basis of the 49th parallel; and I believe sincerely that, if precipitate and offensive steps be not taken on our part, the question will ultimately be settled on that basis. But there may be little deviations from that line required, to make it acceptable to Great Britain; and, if so, we ought not to hesitate in making them. I deny that the precise offer of Mr. Buchanan is the only one which the United States ought to accept for the sake of peace. Such a suggestion is an impeachment of the wisdom and patriotism of men by no means his inferiors, who have made other and more liberal offers. I think that we ought to accept a compromise at least as favorable to Great Britain as the one which we have three times proposed to her. If we are unwilling to give her the navigation of the Columbia, we should provide some equivalent for it. If the question is to be amicably settled, it must be settled on terms consistent with the honor of both parties. And nobody can imagine that Great Britain will regard it as consistent with her honor, to take a line less favorable to her interests, than, that which she has three times declined within the last thirty years. Let me say, however, in regard to the navigation of the Columbia, that, if I understand it aright, it is of very little importance whether we give it or withhold it, as the river is believed not to be navigable at all, where it is struck by the forty-ninth parallel of latitude. I trust that we shall not add folly to crime, by going to war rather than yield the navigation of an unnavigable river.
And here, Sir, I have a word to say in reference to a remark made by the honorable member from New York who has just taken his seat, (Mr. Preston King.) I understood him to say that the Administration, in making the offer of the forty-ninth parallel to Great Britain during the last summer, did it with the perfect understanding that it would be rejected. I appeal to the honorable member to say whether I have quoted him correctly.
Mr. P. King. I said I, had heard it, and believed it to be so.
Mr. WINTHROP. There is an admission to which I wish to call the solemn attention of the House and of the country. I trust in Heaven that the honorable member is mistaken. I trust, for the honor of the country, that the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs will obtain official authority to contradict this statement.
Mr. C. J. INGERSOLL. I will not wait for any authority. I deny it most unqualifiedly.
Mr. P. King. I have no other authority on this subject than public rumor, and this I believe to be correct.
Mr. WINTHROP. It cannot be correct. What sort of an ad. ministration are you supporting, if you can believe them to have been guilty of an act of such gross duplicity in the face of the world, in order to furnish themselves with a pretext for war? I would not have heard their enemy suggest such an idea.
Mr. P. King. Any man of common sense might have known that such a proposition to the British Government would be rejected, as it has been, without even being remitted across the water.
Mr. WINTHROP. Better and better. I thank the honorable member even more for the admission he has now made.
Mr. P. KING. You are welcome to it. • Mr. WINTHROP. I am under no particular obligation to vindicate the course of the present Administration. But, as an American citizen, without regard to party, and with a single eye to the honor of my country, I would indignantly repel the idea that our Government, in whosesoever hands it might be, could be guilty of so scandalous and abominable an act as that which has now been imputed to it by one of its peculiar defenders. But the honorable member admits that any man of common sense must have understood, that the minister of Great Britain would refuse the offer which was thus made, (hypocritically made, as he believes,) and would refuse it precisely as it has been refused, without even transmitting it across the water. What, then, becomes of all the indignation which has been expressed and implied by the Administration and its friends, from the Secretary of State downwards, at the rejection, and more particularly at the manner of the rejection, of that offer? Why, it seems, after all, that the honorable member and myself are not so very far apart. This admission of his is entirely in accordance with the view which I have already expressed, that if any compromise whatever was to be made, (and I rejoice to find that even the chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs has this morning emphatically denominated himself a compromiser,) the