An Overview of the Convention Process

An Oregon correspondent for the New York Tribune gave its famed editor Horace Greeley a boldly fictitious account of the Oregon Constitutional Convention, implying that another "bleeding Kansas" was unfolding in Oregon. The report, which ran in October 1857 said that at the convention

Despite the violent scene painted by a newspaper correspondent, no Bowie knives were pulled at the convention.

Despite the violent scene painted by a newspaper correspondent, no Bowie knives were pulled at the convention.

 

Horace Greeley got a sensational story from his correspondent.

Horace Greeley got a sensational story from his correspondent.

Pro-Slavery desperadoes...[intend] to carry things at the point of a dagger.... The vexed subject of slavery was introduced before the Convention had been in session two hours, by the introduction of a resolution, the purport of which was to prohibit the discussion of that bloody question on the floor of the Convention.

The resolution fell like a fire-brand! Members (Pro-Slavery) rose to their feet with flashing eyes and distended nostrils, and with frantic eagerness shouted, or rather yelled their disapprobation of the resolution; timid members left the hall in disgust, while those who remained, consisting of all the Pro-Slavery men and a few others who would be called in Kansas "freedom [fighters]," waxed warm, till the discussion rose to such a pitch that the cry of order, order, was called in vain.... Bowie knives, dirks, and pistols were drawn; the vilest personalities were indulged in' the most scurrilous attacks were made upon Free State men; the most bitter invective was hurled indiscriminately; the most infamous calumnies were bandied by the reckless Border Ruffians.... Several shots were fired, and two members were slightly wounded. One Free State Democrat, the [champion] of Umpqua County, received a severe wound in the abdomen.

The authorities were requested to suppress this disgraceful riot..., and the Mayor of the city...immediately called out the Salem Band, an independent company, and marshalled them in front of the Court-House, with loaded weapons, in time to prevent a general scene of bloodshed. While those blood thirsty villains were thirsting for human Free State gore, they were approached by the Marshall and Sheriff..., and were disarmed amid the [proclamations] of the populace, who, I assure you, felt grateful to a retributive Providence for arresting this evil in the nick of time.(1)


Although the correspondent's writing was impressively creative, it was also entirely spurious. The Oregon Statesman later reprinted the story and its editor, Asahel Bush, happily noted that "Philosopher Greely" had been "sold." The convention saw no Bowie knives unsheathed, no shots fired—no violence of any kind. Indeed, the Salem Band was actually a brass ensemble and their "arms" were never "loaded with anything but wind."(2)

Notes:
1. David Alan Johnson, Founding the Far West: California, Oregon, and Nevada, 1840-1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992) 140-141.
2. Ibid., 141.

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An exhibit by the Oregon State Archives - Copyright © 2009