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Oregon in the 1840s


Governor Joseph Lane
Governor Joseph Lane

In 1841, when Ewing Young, a successful settler, died without leaving any known heirs, it became apparent that the Oregon country needed a court system to handle legal issues. A council convened, made up of Methodist missionaries and French-Canadian trappers, to deal with Young’s estate. However, it was not until 1843 that a provisional constitution, known as the Organic Law, was drawn up. The laws called for separation of powers into the judicial, legislative, and executive branches and regulated land settlement. Taxes were collected on a voluntary basis. The large migration of 1843 led to revisions in the next two years, and new provisions were added to the constitution regarding taxation and law enforcement.

In June 1846 the United States and Britain signed a treaty recognizing American claims to the Oregon country south of the 49th parallel. In August 1848 President James Knox Polk signed a bill creating the Oregon Territory, and in the following March, Governor Joseph Lane arrived in Oregon City, which was then the capital, to proclaim the territory organized. Salem became the capital of Oregon Territory in 1851. Oregon Territory then included the present states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho as well as western Montana and part of western Wyoming.

The biggest issue Lane faced as governor was land ownership. When Congress created the Oregon Territory, it upheld the laws of the provisional government with the exception of land settlement laws.

Pioneers in the region were relieved when the United States Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850. This law granted 129 hectares (320 acres) of land to any man who had cultivated land in Oregon Territory for four consecutive years. If the man was married, his wife was given an additional 129 hectares of land. Men who came from 1850 to 1855 were given 65 hectares (160 acres) of land and an additional 65 hectares if married. While this act helped Oregon increase its population, it caused problems with the Native Americans who already had claims to the land.

In 1850 the majority of Oregon Territory’s new immigrant population of about 13,000 was concentrated largely in the Willamette Valley. As the territory grew, there were debates on the question of statehood. Supporters of statehood claimed that the change in status would provide Oregon with more money and military protection from Native Americans. Opponents believed that funding a state government would require a steep tax.

In 1857 a constitutional convention was called to draft a constitution and ask Congress for statehood. The Oregon constitution rejected slavery but barred free blacks from settling in the state. This exclusion act was not repealed until 1926. On February 14, 1859, Oregon, with its present boundaries, was admitted to the Union as the 33rd state. Salem remained the capital of the new state. "Oregon" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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