Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Louisiana Purchase, and Oregon Country Compromise [otd 10/20]


An interesting coincidence happened On This Day.
President Jefferson.
National Archives.

On October 20, 1803, the Senate approved a treaty authorizing the acquisition of Louisiana from France. President Thomas Jefferson had originally sent negotiators to France to ensure American access to foreign markets via New Orleans. They were authorized, if necessary, to purchase New Orleans and a limited periphery around it. Instead, Napoleon’s minister offered all of Louisiana, and the Americans quickly agreed [blog, Oct 1].

For $15 million in direct payments and assumption of debts owed, the Louisiana Purchase practically doubled the area of the United States. Of course, no one knew exactly what we had bought.

The Mississippi River defined the eastern border, but the river’s exact source (in the future state of Minnesota) was unknown. Spain asserted that Louisiana really included only a strip of land along the west bank of the Mississippi north to the general vicinity of St. Louis. The U. S. rejected the “narrow strip” notion, but conceded that further negotiations were needed to determine a specific northern border for Texas. (That issue would not be settled until 1819.)

But for the rest, Americans declared that the Territory followed all the Mississippi tributaries, including the Missouri River, as far as the Continental Divide. That carried the American border to the very edge of the region that came to be called “the Oregon Country” – the area west of the Divide comprising British Columbia and our Pacific Northwest.

Without the Purchase, a vast expanse would have separated the U. S. from the region and might have rendered our claims there largely inconsequential.

Fifteen years later, on October 20, 1818, the U. S. and Great Britain signed a treaty to, among other points, settle one more facet of the Canadian boundary question. This issue had been “hanging fire” ever since the December 1814 Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812.

Various protocols and agreements had established a general border as far west as Lake-of-the-Woods, in today’s Minnesota. (Even that line remained vague and disputed until 1842, when fresh negotiations finally settled the matter.) Further west, American claimed – under the Louisiana Purchase – those areas drained by the Missouri-Mississippi river system. That pushed the border north of today’s Lethbridge, in Alberta, Canada.
Oregon Country map from Wikipedia Commons,
specific creator not identified.

The 1818 treaty fixed the border as it is today: After a jog straight south near the west side of Lake-of-the-Woods, the line extended west along the 49th parallel as far as the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The negotiators were unwilling to go beyond that. Both countries had legitimate claims within the Oregon Country, based on prior exploration and trading ties with the native inhabitants. Russian activities further complicated matters.

The negotiators compromised: For the next ten years, the Oregon County would remain open to commercial exploitation and settlement by both Britishers and Americans. After that, diplomats would, perhaps, revisit the question. With this agreement, a regional trade war became inevitable.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [Brit]
Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, Simon & Shuster, New York (1996).
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford University Press, New York (1965).

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