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to make a thorough exploration of the country, '' from the Missouri to the Colorado, Oregon, and Columbia, to find the most direct and practicable communication across the continent, for the purposes of commerce."
The expedition of Clark and Lewis left the Missouri on the 7th of April, 1805, and reached the mouth of the Columbia, on the Pacific, on the 15th of the following November. The report of this expedition, the remarks of Mr. Jefferson, and the action of Congress in relation thereto, were accepted by England, Russia, France, and Spain, as a notification that the United States intended to establish settlements in the newly acquired territory on the Pacific, and caused considerable opposition to be manifested by each of these nations. They all denied the title of the United States to any portion of the Pacific Coast, rejecting the claim based on the Louisiana purchase, on the ground that France did not possess any territory on that coast, consequently could not convey any to any other power.
In order to anticipate the proposed settlement by the United States, England fitted out an expedition to take possession of the country, and in 1808, founded a settlement near Frazer's Lake, a tributary of the Columbia. This was the first settlement of the British west of the Rocky Mountains.
The Russians, equally anxious to prevent an American settlement on the Columbia, sought to attain their ends by strategy. In 1808, Count Romanzoff, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, proposed to John Quincy Adams, who was then Minister to that country, to give American ships the privilege of supplying the Russian settlements on the Pacific Coast with provisions and manufactured goods, and of transporting the Russian American Fur Company's furs to China, (a most valuable trade,) provided the United States government would recognize Russia's asserted right to the Pacific Coast, south of the Columbia river.
The United States rejected the proposition, and insisted on its title to the territory south of that river, by both discovery and purchase. In 1811, the settlement of Astoria was founded, under the most favorable auspices, and was progressing equal to the expectations of its projectors, until the commencement of the war between the United States and England, in 1812, when the destruction of that settlement appears to have been sought with extraordinary zeal. It was captured by the English on the 13th of October, 1813. After the conclusion of the war, strenuous efforts were made by England to retain Astoria. The dispute for its possession was not settled for nearly twenty-five years— the Federal Government, never relaxing its hold of the territory thus fairly acquired, and necessary for the extension of American interests on the Pacific Coast. So important had this place and Oregon, which sprang from it, become, in 1845, that it was for the purpose of making communication between them and Panama that the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was projected.
In 1818, Don Luis de Onis, the Spanish Minister, prompted by the French Government, set up a claim to the territory on the Pacific Coast purchased by the United States from France. After many delays and much diplomacy, this claim was settled by the Florida treaty of February 22, 1819, by which Spain ceded to the United States all the territory west of the River Sabine, and south of the upper parts of the Red and Arkansas rivers, from a line drawn from the source of the Arkansas, on the forty-second parallel of latitude, to the Pacific Coast.
In 1823, President Monroe, in a message to Congress, explained to the world what the policy of the United States on the Pacific Coast would be thereafter, in reference to colonization, in his memorable assertion of the Monroe doctrine, "that the American continents, by the free and independent condition they have assumed and maintained, are henceforth not to be considered subjects for colonization by any European power." This declaration caused the crowned heads of Europe to protest against a doctrine—the recent disaster to France by the overthrow of Maximilian, the purchase and conquest of California from Mexico, and the peaceful acquisition of the Russian possessions on this coast prove—that the people of the United States intend to maintain, peaceably if they can, forcibly if they must.
As an illustration of how strongly impressed were the intelligent minds of the nation in favor of this doctrine, and with the belief that the Pacific Coast would, at no distant day, form the western boundary of the Union, many years before the acquisition of California, we refer to an oration delivered November 3d, 1835, when the first spadeful of earth was dug towards constructing the New York and Erie railroad. The event was one of great ceremony and much national importance. The orator, on that occasion, in the course of his remarks, stated "that some of his hearers would live to see a continuous line of railroads from the bay of New York to the shores of the Pacific." Who then thought so bold an assertion would so soon be realized? This sagacious speaker merely gave expression to the policy of the United States, which has been but partially carried out.
The enunciation of the Monroe doctrine caused France and England, who were deeply interested in the Pacific coast to use every means to prevent any extension of the United States territory there. In 1841, Marshal Soult, Minister of War under Louis Phillipe, appointed M. Daflot de Mofras, an eminent French savant and diplomat, to make a thorough exploration of California, and to prepare the way for France to acquire possession of the country. It is known that secret agents of that government resided in California from the time of M. De Mofras' visit, until it fell into the hands of the United States. The Federal government, aware of the purposes of France, dispatched Commodore Wilkes, with a squadron, consisting of five vessels of war, which remained at San Francisco for several months, on a precisely similar expedition, during which time that officer thoroughly surveyed the bay of San Francisco, and the Sacramento River, as far as Sutter's Fort. England, suspecting the designs of both, also dispatched a naval squadron for the same purpose. It must have been an interesting sight to the few residents of San Francisco at that time, to have seen the ships of three such powerful nations riding at anchor in their bay. Had they known that they were all there for a similar object, the interest of their visit would probably have been much enhanced.
M. de Mofras, in page 68, vol. ii, of his report states that he was satisfied, from information he gathered on board the English and United States vessels, that both parties expected to obtain possession of the country; while his own book was written to instruct the French officers how best to accomplish the same object.
The foregoing facts are deemed sufficient to prove that the United States, for nearly half a century prior to the acquisition of California, or the discovery of gold, had been unremitting in their efforts to extend their dominion on the Pacific Coast. The territory they now own proves that these efforts have been crowned with signal success, despite the opposition of France, England, Spain, and Russia. From the small settlement on the Columbia, in 1810, when the wedge of possession was entered, the national boundaries on the Pacific Coast have been expanded, until they embrace California, containing 158,987 square miles; Oregon, 95,248 square miles; Washington, 69,994 square miles; Nevada, 108,000 square miles; Arizona, 118,000 square miles; New Mexico, 121,201 square miles; Utah, 88,000 square miles; Colorado, 104,500 square miles; Idaho, 105,000 square miles; Montana, 145,000 square miles; and Alaska, 570,000 square miles; a total of 1,683,930 square miles—a territory nearly twice as large as all the kingdoms of Europe (except Russia) combined. The States and territories along the coast alone (including Alaska) comprise an area of 894,229 square miles, which is larger than all the New England, Middle, and Western States, and nearly equal to France, Great Britain, Germany, Prussia, and Austria, combined. These nations contain nearly one hundred and sixty millions of inhabitants, and the whole Pacific States and Territories have less than one million, while there is no country richer in natural wealth than a large portion of the Pacific Coast.
The condition of California, for many years before its conquest and purchase by the United States, was such as to offer inducements for its seizure by any power having real or fancied grievances against the Mexican government. Its great agricultural capabilities, and the importance of its geographical position for political and commercial purposes, were as well understood by France and England as they were by the United States, and each of these powers were plotting for its possession.
The tenure by which Mexico held dominion over the territory thus coveted by the three greatest nations, was the most frail. The majority of the more intelligent native Californians, were not in sympathy with their rulers. There was no trade, and but infrequent and irregular communication between the two countries, which also differed in soil, climate, and productions. The policy followed by Mexico, for many years, of sending its convicts and outlaws to California, to save the cost of keeping them in the jails, was not calculated to engender either respect or confidence. The influx of Americans, the energy, enterprise and prosperity they introduced, and the interest the United States Government exhibited in behalf of its citizens on all occasions, under such circumstances, were well adapted to impress the Californians in favor of the United States, and to induce them to desire to attach their country to such a power. The secret agents of France and England had not failed to observe this feeling among the inhabitants, and had informed their Governments of its probable effects.
The Federal Government, aware of all the plans of both France and England for the acquisition of the territory, and knowing that the only effective means to prevent one or the other accomplishing that object was to obtain possession itself—endeavored to purchase the territory from Mexico. As early as 1835, President Jackson proposed to purchase that portion of it "lying east and north of lines drawn from the Gulf of Mexico, along the eastern branch of the Rio Bravo del Norte, up to the 37th parallel of north latitude, and along that parallel to the Pacific Ocean." This purchase would have been effected, but for the interference of the British Government. /
In 1845, John Slidell was appointed minister to Mexico, wUlrspecial instructions relating to the purchase of California, which would have been accomplished but for British interference. After these repeated failures to obtain possession by purchase, and having full knowledge of the plans of England to obtain the prize, the struggle for mastery between the Federal Government and England became close and interesting. The Californians, prompted by the American residents in the territory, in 1846, declared themselves independent of Mexico. The majority of these were strongly in favor of annexation to the United States; but the influence of Mr. Forbes, the British consul, had raised a dangerous opposition, at the head of which stood Governor Pico, General Castro, and several other prominent natives. Fortunately, the well matured plans of the Federal Government settled the question. Fremont, on his arrival here, on an exploring expedition, was met by Lieutenant Gillespie with oral instructions to take possession of the country, and keep it until reinforcements on the way could reach him. These reinforcements came in the very nick of time, and the conquest was accomplished.
To show how close was the contest between the United States and England, it may be stated that within twenty-four hours after Commodore Sloat had taken possession of Monterey, the English admiral, Sir George Seymour, arrived there on board the Collingwood. The blunt old sailor good-naturedly informed Sloat that he had come to take possession of the country, in the name of his government.
Mr. Colton, chaplain in the U. S. navy, who was acting as alcalde at Monterey at this time, states that there was an excited meeting at that place, on the 9th of July, two days after the capture of the town by Commodore Sloat, for the purpose of calling on the British admiral, who was then in the port, for protection, and placing the territory under that flag.
In April, 1846, Mr. Forbes, the British consul, had completed arrangements with Governor Pico and General Castro, for placing California in possession of England, on the condition that England would assume the debt of $50,000,000, due by Mexico to British subjects. To retain possession, England was to send out a colony of Irishmen, under the direction of a catholic priest named Macnamara, who was an agent of that government. The deeds for three thousand square leagues of land in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, made in favor of this Macnamara, very fortunately fell into the hands of the Federal Government, before they were signed by Governor Pico, or there might have been a tremendous claim for compensation, by this individual. To show how thoroughly informed the Federal Government were of this design, we quote the following instructions