The History Of Oregon, Geographical And Political, by George Wilkes
This is a strange history. I’m not sure exactly why this book strikes me as such an odd example of a history, except that it contains elements that I would not associate with a history, but rather with other genres. At some point in the distant past, when this book was written in 1845, it was considered to be of considerable worth that one’s writings were considered to be a history and not something else. And yet if this book was written nowadays, it would not be considered to be history, but rather something else, and something decidedly miscellaneous at that. To be sure, this book was written in large part because the interest in the “Oregon question” of who would end up ruling over the area was such a hot political topic, so much so that it was the second-greatest territorial question for the United States of the age, the most obvious one being the boundary of Texas and its own presence as part of the United States. Somehow the United States managed to get itself involved simultaneously with conflicts involving Mexico and Great Britain over its boundaries and wound up getting what it wanted, more or less, in both cases, which is a stellar achievement beyond the scope of this work, alas.
This book is a relatively small one at a bit more than 100 pages. It begins with a preface that discusses the legal status of Oregon and its interest in contemporary American politics. After that the author gives a history of Oregon and of various claims from various colonial powers, and is more of a legal brief trying to disprove British claims than a straight history. This is followed by a geographical view of the state, which includes its natural divisions as well as the population of its native peoples. After this there is a proposal for a national railroad to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, what later writers would call a Transcontinental Railroad, of which several would end up being built. The second part of the book consists of the travels undertaken by the author from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean, as well as a discussion of the area on behalf of the recently organized Oregon territorial legislature that would help shepherd the area into statehood.
One of the more entertaining parts of this book is the way that the author disparages international law. Now, as a realist I tend to take a dim view of international law, but a higher one of international treaties that are agreed upon and that are viewed as the law by all of the parties involved. What ended up happening is that this book, and others like it, encouraged enough people to travel to Oregon so that the population of the area was overwhelmingly American and likely to become increasingly more so, all of which sabotaged the claims of the British trading firms to rule over the land. And if this book is not really a history, its multiple parts do at least hint at the importance of demography in that they contain a discussion of what it was like to travel along the Oregon trail in its very early periods, as well as containing a well-argued case for America’s claim for Oregon in light of the sketchiness of the rival claims that had existed which had already been extinguished for one reason or another, and even containing a bit of a natural history of a sort, all of which is interesting to read, even if the end result is not really something that I would consider to be a history, although it would be hard to determine what indeed to call such a miscellaneous collection of material.