Governor George Abernethy's Administration

Legislative Message, 1846

Source: Oregon Archives, Journals, Governors' Messages and Public Papers of Oregon, Salem, Asahel Bush, Public Printer, 1853

To the Honorable the Legislative Assembly of Oregon.


The duty of addressing you at the opening of your session, again presents itself.

The duty of legislating, for the welfare and happiness of the community, again devolves on you.

May we be guided and directed by that wisdom which never errs.

The boundary question—a question of great importance to us as a people—there is every reason to believe, is finally settled. The following is an extract from the Polynesian, a paper published at the Sandwich Islands, of the 29th August last:--

“The senate ratified the treaty upon the Oregon question, by a vote of 41 to 14.”

This the Polynesian credits to the New York Gazette, and Times, of the 19th of June; shewing that a treaty had been entered into, and probably concluded, between the two governments. The provisions of the treaty are not yet known to us, in Oregon, farther than what we can gather from the letter of Mr. Geo. Seymour, the British commander-in-chief in the Pacific, to the agent of the Hudson’s Bay company, at the Sandwich Islands, being an extract of a private letter from A. Forbes, Esq., consul at Tepie, to Geo. Seymour:--

“I send you an American newspaper, which Mr. Bankhead has requested may be forwarded to you, and which shews that the Oregon question is entirely settled; the 49th degree is to run on to the Straits of Fuca; the whole Island of Vancouver being left in the possession of England; and the said Straits of Fuca, Puget’s Sound, &c., remaining free to both parties. The Columbia River is also to remain free to both parties, until the expiration of the charter of the Hudson’s Bay company, when the whole to the south of the 49th degree, is to belong to America, with the exceptions mentioned.”

Should this information prove correct, we may shortly expect officers from the United States government, to take formal possession of Oregon, and extend over us the protection we have long and anxiously looked for.

The notice that the joint occupation of Oregon would cease, after twelve months, was given, by the president of the United States, to the government of Great Britain.

The president, in his message of 1845, before the notice was given, speaking of Oregon, says:--

“It will become proper for congress to determine what legislation they can, in the mean time, adopt, without violating the convention. Beyond all question, the protection of our laws and jurisdiction, civil and criminal, ought to be immediately extended over our citizens in Oregon.”

As yet, we have not been made acquainted with any action of congress, that would extend the jurisdiction of the United States over us, but from the feeling which prevailed in congress, with regard to this country, and the sentiments set forth by the president, previous to the notice being given, there can be no doubt that, now the notice being given, the boundary line is, in all probability, finally settled.

We shall, in a few months at farthest, be again living under, and enjoying the protection of, the stripes and stars of our loved country, and, ere long, we may reasonably hope, be added to the brilliant constellation. In view of the above, and as the preamble to the organic law sets forth the fact that, “we agree to adopt the laws and regulations of our provisional government, until such time as the United States of America extend their jurisdiction over us,” and, as that time is probably near at hand, it remains with you to determine whether it will be better, after confirming the appointments, filling the vacancies, making the necessary appropriations, and attending to the unavoidable business of the session, to adjourn, either to meet in the spring, at which time we shall, undoubtedly, have all the proceedings of congress, relative to this country, passed at the last session, or at the call of the executive, should he be put in possession of the intention of the United States respecting us; or, whether you will go on with the regular business of the session, as if nothing were done for us, or expected by us. In the latter case, there are laws that need revising, and some laws that are very necessary for the welfare of the territory, should be passed.

The law establishing the post-office department needs altering, very materially. It was found, after being in operation but a very short time, that the rates of postage were altogether too high, amounting, indeed, to a prohibition. Very few letters passed through the office; the revenue arose almost entirely from the postage on newspapers, but fell so far short of the expenses, that the pos-master-general, at the close of the third quarter, stopped sending the mails. I would recommend that the rates of postage be reduced to five cents on each single letter, double letters and packages in proportion, and one cent on each newspaper. A mail route should be kept up between the principal sections of the territory; and I have no doubt, if the postage is reduced, the revenue, arising from the receipts of the office, will nearly or quite pay the expenses.

The act passed at the last session of the legislature, entitled “An act to prevent the introduction, sale, and distillation of ardent spirits in Oregon,” is one I should recommend for revision; there are several points that are thought to be defective. The organic law provides that the legislature shall have the power to pass laws to regulate the introduction, manufacture, or sale of ardent spirits. It is held that the power to prohibit the introduction, manufacture, or sale is not granted by the organic law. Another objection is that the fines collected under the act should go, one half to the informant and witnesses, and the other half to the officers engaged in arresting and trying; in fact, making the witnesses and judges interested in the case. The 4th section makes it the duty of any officer, or any private citizen, to act whenever it shall come to their knowledge, that any kind of spirituous liquors are being distilled, or manufactured, in Oregon. It would be much better if it were made the duty of the sheriff of each county to act, whenever he should be informed that any liquor was being made or sold in his county, and authorize him to raise a sufficient posse to aid and assist him in enforcing the law. We have, as a community, taken a high stand in the cause of temperance among our earliest efforts may be found the abolishing of ardent spirits from our land, and to this, in a great measure, may be attributed our peace and prosperity. No new country can be pointed out where so much harmony prevailed in its first settlement as in this—laws, we had none, yet all things went on quietly and prosperously. I have no doubt if ardent spirits are kept within their proper bounds, we shall continue prosperous.

It is said by some, we have no right to say what a man shall make, or what he shall not make; yet, we find, in all large cities, certain manufactories are forbidden to be carried on within the limits of the city, because they annoy the inhabitants, and hence are declared to be public nuisances, and by law are compelled to be removed; and, if the city increase and extend to the place where they are re-located, they are removed again. Intoxicating drink is an enormous public injury, and private wrong; its effects, in every way, shape, and form, are evil, and therefore should be restrained within proper limits by law. It deprives the wife and children of the inebriate—of the support and protection they have a right to expect from him; it deprives community of the labor which constitutes a nation’s wealth, for it is a well-known fact that a nation’s wealth is made up of individual labor, and every day, therefore, lost by the laborer, caused by the effects of alcoholic drink, is a loss to the community at large. Persons, who have become habitually addicted to ardent spirits, hearing that we had excluded the poison from our land, and, believing they never could be free if they remained near its influence, have left their homes, and crossed the Rocky Mountains to escape the ruin that threatened them. Shall they be disappointed? During the last year, persons, taking advantage of the defect in our law, have manufactured and sold ardent spirits. We have seen the effects (although the manufacture was on a small scale) in the midnight carousals among the Indians in our neighbourhood, during their fishing season, and while they had property to dispose of; and, let me ask, what would be the consequences if the use of it should be general in the county, and, among the different tribes of Indians in the territory? History may, hereafter, write the page in letters of blood! And, what are the consequence, as presented to us in the history of older countries, of an indiscriminate use of ardent spirits? Almshouses, hospitals, prisons, and the gallows. I would, therefore, recommend that but one person, and that person a physician, be authorized to import, or manufacture, a sufficient quantity to supply the wants of the community for medicinal purposes; to dispose of no liquor, except when he knows it to be necessary, or on an order from a regular physician, stating that the person applying stands in need of it, for medicinal purposes, and to physicians to be used in their practice. The person so empowered to import, manufacture, and sell, to keep a record of the quantity manufactured, or imported; also, a record of the quantity sold, or disposed of, and to whom, and name of physician, on whose certificate given. This would be attended with but little trouble, and might be required to be given under oath Many articles require alcohol to dissolve them; this could be done by taking the article to the person appointed, and having the alcohol put into the ingredients in his presence. Section 5th, I would recommend to be altered, so that the fines should go one half to the informer, and the other half into the treasury. I would recommend that the penalties be increased. If the indiscriminate sale of liquor be admitted an evil, no good citizen can wish to be engaged in it. Why should the majority suffer to benefit a few individuals?

I have said more on this subject than I should have done, did I not fear an attempt will be made to break down the barriers raised by the early settlers of this land. Much of our prosperity and happiness as a community depend upon your action in this matter.

There will be several proposals laid before you, in regard to locating the seat of government; but, under the present aspect of affair, I think it best to postpone the subject for the present.

A subject of great importance to us, as a people, presents itself in our commercial regulations. That this will be a commercial nation there can be no doubt in the mind of any person acquainted with our location; it, therefore, is our duty to commence preparing the way for shipping to enter our harbors.

The first requisite for the mouth of the Columbia river, is a good pilot or pilots. Many ships employed in the whale fishery would, no doubt, enter our river, and remain with us during the winter, if they were sure of obtaining a good pilot to bring them in safely over the bar, and conduct them out when ready for sea. Vessels can, without doubt, enter and depart from the mouth of the Columbia river, with as much safety as they can the majority of the seaports in the United States; and it needs only a careful pilot, well acquainted with the currents, landmarks, and shoals, to make it perfectly safe for vessels to enter our port. I, therefore, recommend that a branch be established at the mouth of the Columbia river, and that a board of commissioners be appointed, whose duty it shall be to examine all persons applying for a license to act as pilots, as to their capability so to act.

Connected with this is the means to prevent seamen from deserting. If seamen are at liberty to leave their vessels, and secrete themselves among the inhabitants, or be provided for and protected by them until their vessels leave, we can never hope to see vessels frequent our ports, for the purpose of refitting and obtaining supplies. I, therefore, recommend that a heavy penalty be imposed on any person who shall entice a seaman to leave his ship, or who shall harbor, secrete, employ, or in any wise assist a deserter.

This may appear severe, but when, on reflection, we consider that these men voluntarily entered into a contract to perform certain duties, and that the safety of the vessel they belong to, and the lives and property on board, depend on their faithfully fulfilling their contract, the severity vanishes at once. We should consider that a vessel lightly manned, (which must be the case if part of the ship’s crew desert, as there are no seamen here to supply their places) runs great risks in working out of our harbor—a risk that shipmates and ship-owners will not be likely to run. Unless regulations be made that will prevent desertion, owners of vessels will avoid our ports, and without vessels, the produce of the farmer must remain on his hands, and in this way work an injury all round, and one that will be felt by all classes in the community.

Our courts, as at present regulated, have not answered the expectations of the framers of the law; but, as the jurisdiction of our courts will soon cease, it will probably be not worth while to enter into any new arrangement.

I regret to be compelled to inform you that the jail erected in Oregon City, and the property of the territory, was destroyed by fire, on the night of the 18th August last, the work, no doubt, of an incendiary. A reward of $100.00 was immediately offered, but as yet, the offender has not been discovered. Should you think it best to erect another jail, I would suggest the propriety of building it of large stones, clamped together. We have but little use for a jail, and a small building would answer all purposes, for many years, I have no doubt, if we should be successful in keeping ardent spirits out of the territory.

There is one subject which I would lay before you, in reference to the Indian population, and that is the extent the law intends to allow them in their villages. Complaints are made by Indians that they are encroached upon by whites. Cannot some method be devised by which their villages be surveyed, and stakes set, inside of which the whites may not be permitted to enter and build. The Indians inhabited their villages previous to our arrival, and should be protected by us. The time is, no doubt, near at hand, when the agent of the United States government will be here, and these matters will be arranged by him; but, until he arrives, I deem it necessary that some provision be made by you, as it may save trouble and difficulty.

Another emigration has crossed the Rocky Mountains, and most of the party has arrived in the settlements. About 152 wagons reached this place very early in the season, via Barlow’s road, for which a charter was granted him at your last session. About 100 wagons are on their way, if they have not already reached the upper settlements, by a southern route. They have, no doubt, been detained by traveling a new route. The difficulties attending the opening of a wagon road are very great, and, probably will account, in some measure, for their detention. The emigration falls very short of law year, probably not numbering over one thousand souls. This is accounted for by a great part of the emigrants turning off to California.

We trust that those coming among us may have no cause to regret the decision that brought them to Oregon.

I would call your attention to the subject of education, without which no country can be prosperous; it, therefore, becomes the duty of the legislature to provide liberally for the education of the rising generation.

I am happy to say that the past year has amply repaid the tiller’s toil. Our harvest has been abundant, and the season for gathering in the crops was dry, enabling the farmer to secure the reward of his labor free from injury.

During the past season we have enjoyed, throughout our territory, the blessings of health; these blessings and mercies call for our gratitude. May we ever feel our dependence on the Divine Being, though whom we receive them, and our prayers continually ascend to Him for wisdom to guide us in the important duties to which we are called.


Oregon City, Dec. 1, 1846.

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