Happy 150th Birthday, Oregon!

150 years ago today, the State of Oregon joined the union. The Oregon Blue Book describes the scene well:

. . . . .

Issues far from Oregon shaped affairs along the Pacific Coast in the 1850s. Sectional tensions heightened during the bumbling presidencies of Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. The Compromise of 1850 gained a little time, but its concessions satisfied neither proslavery extremists in the South nor abolitionists in the North. The nation was on its course to the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, enraged slaveowners as it swept across the country in a powerful indictment of the "peculiar institution." Formation of the Republican Party in 1854, troubles in "Bleeding Kansas" in 1856, the Dred Scott decision in 1857, and John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in 1858 confirmed the divisions and tensions. The Republicans had drawn the line--no further expansion of slavery. They nominated John C. Fremont, a popular western explorer, for the presidency. Although Fremont lost, within four years their candidate, Abraham Lincoln, was headed to Washington, D.C., as the 16th president. Passions were high. Then came secession and war.

Three parties vied for political control in Oregon. The Democrats were an odd lot, including northerners opposed to slavery and southern diehards who supported an institution barred by the Organic Act of 1848. The Whigs held political patronage in the early 1850s but watched their party disintegrate nationally. The Know-Nothings were opposed to the political clique that had managed territorial government in Salem. These divisions confirmed the heavy hold of old persuasions and attitudes--the intellectual baggage carried by emigrants.

Without enabling legislation from Congress, Oregonians voted in June 1857 to hold a constitutional convention. The delegates assembled in Salem during the summer and drafted a governing document. It was modeled on those of Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan. The constitution limited public debt and placed tight controls on banks and corporations. An agricultural people, the convention delegates argued, had little use for frivolous expenditures or unnecessary institutions. In the fall voters faced three questions. Did they approve the constitution? They voted yes. Did they want slavery? They voted 7,727 no and 2,645 yes. Did they want freed African-Americans to live in Oregon? They voted eight to one against permitting their residency.

[Also see the Oregon State Archives Web exhibit entitled Crafting the Oregon Constitution: Framework for a New State]

The actions in 1857 were predictable. Oregonians hungered for control of their own government and an end to the patronage appointments produced by shifting administrations in Washington, D.C. They also affirmed they did not want slavery in Oregon. The question of driving free African-Americans from the new state revealed resoundingly racist attitudes. They did not see freed slaves, Indians, or women standing equally before the law. In this Oregonians differed little from Thomas Jefferson. Architect of the Declaration of Independence and its gracefully worded affirmations of natural rights, Jefferson was a slave-owner all his adult life. He could not rise to the noble philosophy of personal freedom he articulated in the 1770s. Oregonians in 1857 appeared to have drunk from the same well.

In June, 1858, residents of the territory elected officials as defined by their new constitution. For months the fate of Oregon statehood floated on shifting political coalitions distrustful of changing the fragile balance of power in Congress. It was known Oregon would be a free state, yet its newly elected senators--Joseph Lane and Delazon Smith--were proslavery Democrats. Finally Congress acted and on February 14, 1859, President Buchanan signed the bill. Oregon joined the federal union.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    So, we have intense debates about the merits of a Cesar Chavez Ave while we have a major county named after a slaver.

    The phrase "pro-slavery extremists" doesn't exactly show the writing standards of the Blue Book to be of the highest caliber, does it? Relative to what, or is that an absolute truth? I guess Idaho doesn't have a "little red book", though it would be appropriate.

    Gay may not be the new Black, but I'm convinced more every day that the environmental debate is the slavery debate.

  • veritas (unverified)

    Happy Birthday Oregon. Now will you and your people please recognize that it's 2009 and no longer the 19th century?

    That it's okay to look beyond Oregon's storied borders for ideas? That all wisdom doesn't emanate from Oregon?

    That a part-time legislature is an oxymoron in the 21st century. That a sales tax is something might make sense since alien creatures from outside Oregon sometimes come to visit and spend money.

    That birkenstocks and socks doesn't look "cool." And the Blazers, Ducks, and Beavers aren't the only sports teams in the world?

    Happy Birthday Oregon...now start acting your age!

  • Josh (unverified)

    It's too bad that the real history of what was happening 150 years ago (nationally) is not being commented on. Oregon was barely admitted because pro-slavery Demoocrats from the south were voting against Oregon's admission as a "Free" state. I think the OREGONIAN's idea for a new flag is nuts and I encourage BO readers to take a look at my rant on the subject, comments always welcome:



    coastda blogspot

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    That birkenstocks and socks doesn't look "cool."

    Sure, they do!

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    Josh, I made a special note of those circumstances during the weeklong look at OR 150, at loadedO. The American Indian and black African were not friends of the settlers--although the trapper-dominated early days were much more harmonious, at least with the former. Excellent points, but it's still worth celebrating IMO.

  • WunderBlunder (unverified)

    150 years of colonialism and capitalism has finally come to an end! Our glorious leader will show the people freedom from our oppressors!

    <h2>Instead of thinking of it as 150 years of oppression though, let's think of it as the first year of revolution of the proletariet.</h2>
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