Oregon Treaty

The Oregon Country was a huge expanse of lightly inhabited territory north of Mexican California, south of Russian Alaska, and southwest of the British trapping lands of the Athabasca Country. During the first decade of the 19th century, Britain, the United States, Mexico, and Russia all claimed this vast Pacific watershed of the Rocky Mountains, roughly from the 42nd parallel northward to parallel 54 degrees 40 north, the southern boundary of Alaska. In 1818, Britain and the United States agreed to a joint occupation and in the following year, secured former Spanish claims in the south. Generally speaking, the British North West Company and Hudson’s Bay Company were most active in the northern portion of the region, and the American Pacific Fur Company, in the south. Although a few settlers, both British and American, ventured to Oregon, significant permanent settlement did not begin until the early 1840s. By 1845, 6,000 permanent American settlers inhabited the Willamette Valley, with the promise of more to follow. Oregon had become part of the bitter presidential election of 1844, in which candidate James K. Polk campaigned on the slogan, “Fifty-four forty or fight!” claiming the northernmost boundary of Oregon as his foreign-policy goal. By 1846, political considerations on both sides dictated a compromise. The United States was on the verge of war with Mexico, while Britain was on bad terms with France and dealing with the significant potential effects of the repeal of the Corn Law. As a result, a compromise was reached, dividing the Oregon Country along the 49th parallel to the Pacific but giving Britain control of the whole of Vancouver Island. The United States gained formal recognition of the primary settlement areas, as well as its first deep water port on the Pacific, while British control of the rich fur-bearing regions of the north was conceded. The Hudson’s Bay Company nevertheless continued to operate trading posts in Oregon until 1871.

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