Oregon Territory/"Fifty-four forty or Fight"


Oregon country in the Pacific Northwest cinluded Oregon, Washington, Idaho, parts of Montana and Wyoming, and half of British Columbia. The issue was that both Britain and The United States claimed sovereignty in the region because both made simultaneous claims of it - The British based on George Vancouver's explorations and the Americans by Robert Gray's explorations of the region. The United States and Britain compromised in an 1818 treaty allowing citizens of each country equal access to the region, thus joint occupation. This continued for 20 years.

White settlement in the region was mostly American and Canadian fur traders; the most important white settlements were the fur trading post established by John Jacob Astor's company and other posts built by British Hudson Bay Company - where fur trading and farming were combined and Indian labor was used.

Overall, there was a lack of interest during that time period, but from the 1820s to the 1830s many missionaries appeared in the territory as an attractive location for their evangelical efforts. A significant motive was to counter the Catholic missionaries from Canada. Many tried to convert Indian tribes, but failed, and so thought that they relinquished any right to the land.

Several white Americans began spilling into Oregon during the early 1840s, outnumbering the British settlers there. This resulted in a measles epidemic which devastated the Indian population. By the mid 1840s, American settlements were spread all around the Pacific coast, and the new settlers urged the US government to take possession of the Oregon Territory.

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The Westward Migration


The migration into Oregon was a large movement that took hundreds of thousands and white and black Americans between 1840 and 1860. The largest number of migrants came from teh Old Northwest - white men and women and a few blacks took the journey in search of new opportunities. Few were wealthy, but many had some money. Those who were poor had to join established families or groups as laborers - men as farm and ranch hands and women as servants, teachers, and prostitutes. Some planned to take advantage of the well=-priced lands of the federal government for farming and specultation while others wished to establish themselves as merchants and serve in new white communities.


The Oregon Trail


The Oregon Trail stretched 2000 miles from Independence across the Great plains and through the South Pass of the Rockt Mountatins. many faced hardships with moutain and desert terrain. Most journeys lasted about five or six months. Thousands died during the great epidemic during the early 1850s. Few died in conflicts with tribes - in fact, in most cases, Indians were actually helpful - some served as guides or aided travelers in crossing streams or herding livestock.


The Oregon Trail
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"Fifty-four forty of Fight"


James K Polk offered a compromise that would establish the US-Canadian border at the 49th parallel, but the British minister in Washing rejected it. After this, there was a slogan by William Allen "Fifty-four forty or fight!" which was a reference to where Americans hoped to draw the northern boundar - there was talk of a possible war.. Eventually the British government accepted Polk's originally proposed compromised - on June 15, 1846, the Senate approved it.

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