"The Nomadic Race to Which I Belong": Squatter Democracy and the Claiming of Oregon

By Suval, John | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

"The Nomadic Race to Which I Belong": Squatter Democracy and the Claiming of Oregon


Suval, John, Oregon Historical Quarterly


IN 1850, Jesse Applegate wrote to Samuel R. Thurston, Oregon's territorial delegate to Congress, offering his appraisal of the Donation Land Bill that was moving through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Thurston was locked in the fight of his life, trying to win lawmakers' support for a long-sought measure that would grant up to 640 acres of free land to white Oregonians, even as debates over slavery dominated the session and threatened to fracture the nation. Tracking the evolving land bill, Applegate --the blazer of a southern trail into Oregon and one of the region's most influential citizens--chafed at a provision requiring grantees to occupy their land for four years before they could receive title. "If this 4 years confinement is intended to check the restless spirit and desire of change of the nomadic race to which I belong I consider it not only impolitic but oppressive," he wrote. The United States "owe their existence" to that "restless spirit," which first appeared "on the rock of Plymouth and added every acre to this wide spread republic," Applegate maintained.

Since the Revolution the nomads and squatters have subdued the valley of the Mississippi, they have added Texas and Calafornia [sic] to the Union, and we have given them Oregon and they propose to pay us for this magnificent gift by doling out a few acres of our own land coupled with a condition... at variance with our habits and subversive of our right and liberties. (1)

Applegate's reflections were more than the self-serving musings of a man seeking to legalize his claim to 640 grassy acres in the lush Umpqua Valley. They represented a headlong plunge into one of the most contentious debates of the antebellum era: the role and rights of U.S. squatters in the North American West.

By the 1840s, when the United States was aggressively vying for control of the Oregon Country, squatters--that is, settlers who lacked title to the lands they claimed--had come to occupy a prominent, polarizing position in the nation's political culture. (2) Were they violent intruders on others' lands, as critics charged, or the unsung pioneers of the expanding nation, as their advocates asserted? Should they be encouraged or contained, rewarded or punished? Once ensconced in western domains, did they have the right to shape their own laws and institutions? These questions, and the conflicting responses they provoked, converted squatters into lightning rods at the center of political strife in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

Squatters' heightened visibility and growing clout came courtesy of the Democratic Party, which rose to dominance in the 1830s and 1840s on a novel platform that celebrated these once-maligned settlers as stoic yeomen at the vanguard of U.S. expansion. The party, widely known as "the Democracy," passed favorable land policies to stimulate westward migration and reward those who ventured to the far reaches of the continent, securing U.S. claims there. At the urging of their constituents, Democrats took the lead in passing a series of preemption laws that allowed squatters to obtain title to lands they had illegally occupied. In a significant break from precedent, those preemption laws not only legalized squatting but also facilitated the practice, contributing to an era of massive territorial conquests spearheaded by squatters and enabled by Jacksonian Democrats. (3) Once settled in the newly won territories of the West, these same squatters tended to overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. Such were the dynamics of the political brand I term Squatter Democracy.

Squatter Democracy conditioned the claiming of Oregon Country. Democrats in the White House and Congress and their allies in the press brashly asserted the nation's "clear and unquestionable" title to the bountiful land still occupied by Native peoples and also claimed by Great Britain, and they encouraged emigrants to redeem that title by settling there. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"The Nomadic Race to Which I Belong": Squatter Democracy and the Claiming of Oregon
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.