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Oregon Statehood: History & Date

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the Oregon Territory and the events leading up to its statehood. Curiously, Oregon jumped the gun on the U.S. Congress, and began preparing to be a state before it was even prompted.

No Time to Waste

Government regulation can at times lag behind real-time events and movements. This should come as little surprise; in the U.S. system, law requires reflection and debate within Congress before it can be implemented, whereas movements and events can sometimes be born out of spontaneous gatherings of people.

While the government of the Oregon Territory was certainly not a spontaneous movement, they were well ahead of the U.S. Congress when it came to their statehood; indeed they even elected delegates to draw up a state constitution before they were even a state!

Early History

It was only after the Oregon Treaty of 1846 between the U.S. and Great Britain that the creation of the Oregon Territory was even possible. The Treaty placed the international border between the U.S. and Great Britain at the 49th parallel, and the Oregon Territory was created by the U.S. Congress in 1848. The settlers in Oregon immediately set their eyes on statehood, and used local militia and the U.S. Army to make the territory free of Native American attacks and safe for more white settlers.

By the 1850s, Oregonians had grown exceedingly tired of the appointments of territorial governors from Washington D.C. and wanted the limited self-government that came with statehood. In 1857, Oregonians voted to elect delegates to hold a constitutional convention and write a state constitution, famously without being prompted by the U.S. Congress and prior to being granted statehood. In August 1857, the delegates met in Salem and began preparing a state constitution and making preparations for the transition to statehood.

Constitution and Statehood

The constitution the Oregonians finished writing and two clauses concerning slavery and African Americans were put to a popular referendum in Oregon Territory. The November 1857 election's results proved vexing for the U.S. Congress, which was then weighing the merits of Oregonian statehood. While the constitution passed by a two to one margin, 75% of the populace voted to abolish slavery in the state-to-be, while a greater 89% also voted to bar African Americans from settling in Oregon.

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