Governor George L. Curry's Administration
Legislative Message, 1856
Source: Oregon State Archives, Oregon Provisional and Territorial Records, 1856, Calendar No. 8001.
Messages—Governor G. Curry
Gentlemen of the Council, and House of Representatives,
The unqualified and distinct separation of our Executive and Legislative departments is a peculiar feature of the act of Congress organizing the government of our Territory. I have no disposition to find fault with this original principle of with holding from the Executive, authority coordinate with the law-making power, but on the contrary, I commend it as most wise and salutary, in a system of government so imperfect and unsatisfactory, as that which the people of the Territories have been constrained to submit to. This characteristic of our fundamental law, it is presumable, has been the cause of the non-observance of the custom, [as it is] elsewhere, of an elaborate and digested expression from the Executive to the Legislative department of the government, at the commencement of each session, as to the condition and wants of the country. At loss, since I have held the position I now hold, whilst I have been ready, at all times, to cooperate with the Legislative Assembly, in every legitimate way, it has always influenced to [an earnest carefully] against any act that might be construed into an improper interference of one department with the duties of another. However, the courteous action, which you have been pleased to take, which has been communicated to me through your authorized delegation, could seem to invite me to the gratification I now take in expressing the privilege of thus addressing you, hastily, and without the accustomed preparation.
The calamitous events which had befallen the Territory, and the serious and threatening posture of affairs, which existed at the period of the commencement of the last session of the Assembly, had occasioned the profoundest anxiety and excited the gloomiest apprehensions. All our energies were employed in repelling the attacks of hostile Indians in a desperate warfare with a treacherous and faithless race, who had devastated most flourishing sections of our country, carried desolation and sorrow to the homes and spirits of our settlers, in the destruction of their fortunes and the wanton butchery of their helpless families.
It is a matter of the sincerest congratulation that the aspect of things has so much changed. A more cheerful feeling is [replacing] the anguish and suffering of the past, and the Territory is gradually recovering from the ruinous effects of a calamity so great. To the courage, gallantry and indomitable spirit of our citizen soldiery is Oregon chiefly indebted for that protection and defense which the general government did not afford. During a winter campaign they endured incredible hardships and privations. Poorly clad, and for weeks subsisting upon the flesh of their own horses, unflinchingly and courageously they maintained their posts—far out in the enemy’s country at the North, and amid the snow-filled mountains in the South—with a fidelity worthy of the highest [commendation]. A resolution of thanks, in the name of the Territory, is due them for their meritorious and arduous services.
The memory of those who perished in the cause of their country, during the war, may be preserved in the pages of its history, but it would seem proper, by the creation of a monumental column, at the set of government, or by some other appropriate mode, to testify the public appreciation of the services, and to perpetuate the memory of the honored dead. They were true to Oregon.
The inaction, and imbecile policy pursued by the officer commanding the U.S. troops upon the Pacific Coast, at a very critical juncture, and his more reprehensible conduct in the vindictive efforts he has made, through the forces, and by his letters and reports at Washington, to asperse and malign the people of the Territory, [may] have had a tendency to prejudice them against the savage.
This valuable arm of the public service, which is designed for the protection of the country, and to [abuse] the lives and property of those who deem it a duty to support it, has always enjoyed a high reputation of efficiency and gallantry, and I have no doubt, under the command of other than [superannuated] officers will continue to maintain its brilliant character, I have heretofore acknowledged its valuable aid, before its operations were controlled by a commanding officer whose Head Quarters were in an adjoining State, remote from the theatre of war.
Oppressed by the deepest anxiety, on account of the grave accusations, so [unaccountably] made, against the people of the Territory, in which I was charged with the grossest violation of right, I deemed it my duty to visit the seat of our national government, and confuting those accusations and charges, to know wherein we did wrong in defending ourselves from Indian aggression and barbarity.
It is enough for me to say, that, in this great capitol of the nation, I found no accusations that could be sustained, no on of respectability and influence to do us injury. While abroad I found the name of Oregon, a name commanding respect, and receiving distinguished consideration. The great and worthy of the land appreciate and hold in high estimation, the [base] industrious and enterprising character of her people. The delegate of the Territory was at his post, faithful and watchful; and it affords me pleasure to be able to bear personal testimony of his worth, ability and efficiency. His unflagging zeal, and indefatigable industry, procured no Congressional legislation in reference to the expenses of the war, when there seemed no hope of such a ---[consummation]. That legislation gave authority to the Secretary of War to appoint three Commissioners to adjust those expenses, which duty he has performed.
These Commissioners have met and organized, and are ready to proceed to the discharge of the trust [obliged] them, so soon as the Chiefs of the departments of the Territory are prepared to furnish their reports. The Commission is composed of able, upright and high [named] gentlemen, and is entitled to the respect and confident of the whole Community.
The Quartermaster, Commissary and Adjutant Generals, under my orders, have been, and are, [apiduously] engaged in making up the complete and final reports of the entire transactions of their respective departments, to be presented to the Commissioners, who are to adjust the expenses of the war. I have learned, unofficially, of the passage of resolutions, by one House of the Assembly, calling upon the Quartermaster and Commissary Generals for detailed reports of their operations. The great [piers] of business that engrosses the . . . attention of these two important branches of the public service will, I am apprehensive, prevent an early and full compliance with the requirements of those resolutions. I am sure it would be a matter of general regret, when so large an interest is concerned as in the present case—that of the whole Territory—should the final reports of those departments be delayed in searching the speediest action of the Commission, upon whose adjudication the accounts of the numerous claimants will ultimately be paid.
These officers are controlled by my orders, acting under my own immediate direction, and observation, in behalf of the Territory, for the United States, and while I am aware that efforts have been made, to prejudice them in public estimation, I hesitate not, to say, that I believe them capable, honest and faithful, and I cannot with hold from them my confidence. I beg to [implore?] you that I shall cause all the important information to be derived from these reports, when prepared, which it is [presumed] will about the 10th of next month, to be laid before you.
While in the city of New York, I expended five hundred dollars in the purchase of books for the Territorial Library, being the amount of an appropriation made by last Congress for such purpose. As soon as the books shall have been received, and they are expected by every [steamer], I will cause them to be placed in the possession of the Territorial Librarian, with a catalogue, and other papers, pertaining to the purchase.
The “Commissioners, for the construction of the penitentiary” elected at the last session of the Assembly, failed to qualify, with one exception. The vacancies were filled by appointments, I am happy to say, that the Commissioners have displayed superior ability, and discharged their duties with energy and fidelity. What they have accomplished I make no doubt will be to your entire satisfaction. As the Board, in accordance with the law, does not report to the Executive, but directly to the Assembly. I respectfully refer you to that document for information, in detail, as to the progress and condition of this public work. I have the honor to transmit, herewith, as the law requires, a statement of the condition of the funds for the erection of Capitol Buildings. Also a communication from the First Comptroller of the Treasury, in reference to the decision of that office in regard to balances due for services performed, and damages claimed by contractors, on that work, and allowed at the session of the Assembly of 1854 and 5. Seventeen thousand dollars of the moneys appropriated by Congress, to complete the Capitol Building, remain still in the Treasury of the United States.
I have likewise the honor to submit herewith a copy of correspondence with the Secretary of War in relation to Indian affairs.
For the risk of a violation of [propriety] I take the liberty to observe, that, in my judgment, any legislation whatever, at your present session, with a view to the relocation of the seat of government, under existing circumstances, as the subject is regarded, by the authorities at Washington in a light [advert] to the application of the [fund] at any new point would be injudicious and unproductive of any benefit to your constituents. The subject has been one that has engaged more or less engaged the time and attention of every session of the Assembly. It is a one too upon which there has been a great diversity of opinion, and which has already caused too much unkind and bitter feeling. It is a matter possibly that can be [interfacationly] adjusted only be the creation of a State Government. In view of the probability of a speedy consummation of such a measure. It would appear the part of wisdom to defer its further agitation with until that event shall have transpired.
The organization of a State Government for Oregon, with the experience obtained at Washington in reference to the position and treatment of Territorial interests there. I deem a subject of the first consequence. There are so many disadvantages and positive grievances entailed by the Territorial form of government, that in the acquisition of new territory by the United States. The consideration of Congress must, inevitably, be given to the remodeling and improvement of the whole system. The noble principle enunciated in the Kansas-Nebraska act is a step in the advance, and may be regarded as an evidence of the encouragement that is in the future in this respect. The Indian difficulties when our frontiers have and will, for a time, deter an increase of our population by the ordinary means of overland immigration, which has been the usual source of important yearly accessions, chiefly to the agricultural class of our inhabitants. Hundreds of industrious and enterprising people would have started from the states, in the evening Spring, by the overland route to make their homes in Oregon, but for the unprotected condition of the route. Military posts, at Fort Boise and Fort Hall, are imperatively required to insure safe and unobstructed travel in the Indian Country and as links to connect the chain of such establishments on either side of the mountains. An independent sovereignty will be [certain] to induce, by the only other means of access, a character of population, differing in interests, but quite as requisite to the permanent prosperity of the country. Capital with her keen vision, would seek investments here. Our natural resources, as yet, comparatively untouched, would be just in process of development. In the train of capital will follow labor. There is no section of the whole union where the attainment of wealth is easier, or more certain, or the means of its accumulation more various, than in Oregon. Our wants are manifold. In the halls of our National Legislature a State demands and receives, while a Territory beseeches and is disappointed.
A state organization, based upon the principles of economy, guarding against extravagant expenses, high salaries, and excessive legislation, I am confident would be satisfactory, successful and prosperous. It is not for me to advise as to the manner in which you shall submit this subject to the people, and yet I would suggest the mode that will secure the speediest determination as the best.
The election for President of the United States has just transpired with more excitement than is usually incident to this quadrennial occurrence. For the first time in the history of the nation the candidate of a purely sectional party, powerful in numbers, has been sought to be elevated to power. The consequence of this was to have been forever. The whole nation was convulsed, and the Union threatened with dismemberment in the event of the success of that party. But fortunately for the country, the candidate of the democratic party has been elected. This party, the party of progress, from the triumph of its principles in the successful achievement and application of its measures for the public good, has become prominently the party of the Union and the Constitution—the Savior of the Republic.
In conclusion, I assure you that it will afford me pleasure to cooperate with you, so may be desirably in the advancement of the public good. May “He who ruleth all things well, have you in his holy [healing], bless your deliberations with harmony and make them promotive of the interests and welfare of the Territory.
Geo. L Curry
Territory of Oregon, Executive Office,
Salem, Dec 10th, 1856.