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Speeches of Sir Robert Peel - 1846

Sir, if any thing could have induced me to regret that decision on the part of the House, which terminates the existence of the government, it would have been the wish that we should survive the day when intelligence might be received from the United States as to the result of our last attempt to adjust the differences with that country—differences which, unless speedily terminated, must probably involve both countries in the necessity of an appeal to arms. The House will probably recollect that, after we had offered to leave the dispute respecting the territory of the Oregon to arbitration, and that offer had been rejected, the President of the United States sent a message to the Congress, which led to discussions with regard to the termination of the convention entered into several years since, which provided for a temporary adjustment of our differences—at least, for a temporary avoidance of quarrel —and enabled the two countries jointly to occupy the territory of the Oregon. The two Houses of the American Congress, advised the President of the United States to exercise his unquestionable power, and to signify to this country the desire of the United States to terminate after the lapse of a year the existing convention. They, however, added to that advice, which might, perhaps, otherwise have been considered of an unsatisfactory or hostile character, the declaration that they desired the notice for the termination of the convention to be given, in order that an amicable adjustment of the dispute between the two countries might thereby be facilitated. It appeared to us, that the addition of that conciliatory declaration—the expression of a hope that the termination of the convention might the more strongly impress upon the two countries the necessity of amicable adjustment—removed any barrier which diplomatic punctilios might have raised to a renewal by this country of the attempt to settle our differences with the United States. We did not hesitate, therefore, within two days after the receipt of that intelligence—we did not hesitate, although the offer of arbitration made by us had been rejected, to do that which, in the present state of the protracted dispute, it became essential to do—namely, not to propose renewed and lengthened negotiations, but to specify frankly and without reserve, what were the terms on which we could consent to a partition of the country of the Oregon.

Sir, the President of the United States met us in a corresponding spirit. Whatever might have been the expressions heretofore used by him, however strongly he might have been personally committed to the adoption of a different course, he most wisely and patriotically determined at once to refer our proposals to the senate —that authority of the United States, whose consent is requisite for the conclusion of any negotiation of this kind; and the senate, acting also in the same pacific spirit, has, I have the heartfelt satisfaction to state, at once advised acquiescence in the terms we offered. From the importance of the subject, ami considering that this is the last day I shall have to address the House as a minister of the Crown, I may, perhaps, be allowed to state what are the proposals we made to the United States for the final settlement of the Oregon question. In order to prevent the necessity for renewed diplomatic negotiations, wo prepared and sent out the form of a convention, which we trusted the United States would accept. The first article of that convention was to this effect, that—" From the point on the 49th parallel of north latitude, where the boundary laid down in existing treaties and conventions between Great Britain and the United States terminates, the line of boundary between the territories of her Britannic Majesty and those of the United States shall be continued westward along the said 49th  parallel of north latitude, to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver's Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca's Straits to the Pacific Ocean; provided however, that the navigation of the said channel and straits, south of the 49th  parallel of north latitude, remain free and open to both parties."

Those who remember the local conformation of that country will understand that that which we proposed is the continuation of the 49th parallel of latitude, till it strikes the Straits of Fuca; that that parallel should not be continued as a boundary across Vancouver's Island, thus depriving us of a part of Vancouver's Island, but that the middle of the channel shall be the future boundary, thus leaving us in possession of the whole of Vancouver's Island, with equal right to the navigation of the Straits. 

Sir, the second article of the convention we sent for the acceptance of the United States was to this effect, that—" From the point at which the 49th parallel of north latitude shall be found to intersect the great northern branch of the Columbia river, the navigation of the said branch shall be free and open to the Hudson's Bay Company, and to all British subjects trading with the same, to the point where the said branch meets t he main stream of the Columbia, and thence down the said main stream to the ocean, with free access into and through the said river or rivers, it being understood that all the usual portages along the line thus described, shall in like manner be free and open. In navigating the said river or rivers, British subjects, with their goods and produce, shall be treated on the same footing' as citizens of the United States; it being, however, always understood, that nothing- in this article shall be construed as preventing, or intended to prevent, the government of the United States from making any regulations respecting the navigation of the said river, or rivers, not inconsistent with the present treaty."

Sir, I will not occupy the attention of the House with the mere details of this convention. I have read the important articles. On this very day, on my return from my mission to her Majesty, to offer the resignation of her Majesty's servants, I had the satisfaction of finding an official letter from Mr. Pakenham, intimating in the following terms the acceptance of our proposals, and giving an assurance of the immediate termination of our differences with the United States:—

Washington, June 13, 1846.

My Lord — In conformity with what I had the honour to state in my despatch. No. 68, of the 7th instant, the President sent a message on Wednesday last to the senate, submitting for the opinion of that body the draught of a convention for the settlement of the Oregon question, which I was instructed by your lordship's despatch, No. 19, of the 18th of May, to propose for the acceptance of the United States.

After a few hours deliberation on each of the three days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the senate, by a majority of 38 votes to 12, adopted yesterday evening a resolution advising the President to accept the terms proposed by her Majesty's government. The President did not hesitate to act on this advice, and Mr. Buchanan accordingly sent for me this morning, and informed me that the conditions offered by her Majesty's government were accepted by the government of the United States, without the addition or alteration of a single word.—I have the honour to be, &c.

 R. Pakenham.  " The Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, K. T., & c.

Thus, Sir, the governments of two great nations, impelled, I believe, by the public opinion of each country in favour of peace—by that opinion which ought to guide and influence statesmen—have, by moderation, by mutual compromise, averted the dreadful calamity of a war between two nations of kindred origin and common language, the breaking out of which might have involved the civilized world in general conflict. A single year, perhaps a single month of such a war, would have been more costly than the value of the whole territory that was the object of dispute. But this evil has been averted consistently with perfect honour on the part of the American government, and on the part of those who have at length closed, I trust, every cause of dissention between the two countries. Sir, I may add, to the credit of the government of this country, that, so far from being influenced in our views in regard to the policy of terminating these disputes about the Oregon by the breaking out of the war between the United States and with Mexico, we distinctly intimated to Mr. Pakenham, that although that event had occurred, it did not affect, in the slightest degree, our desire for peace. Mr. Pakenham, knowing the real wishes and views of this government, having a discretionary power in certain cases to withhold the proposals we had instructed him to make, wisely thought the occurrence of Mexican hostilities with the United States, was not one of the cases which would justify the exercise of that discretionary power, and therefore most wisely did he tender this offer of peace to the United States on the impulse of his own conviction, and in full confidence in the pacific policy of his own government. Let me add, also, and I am sure this House will think it to the credit of my noble friend, that on the occurrence of these hostilities between Mexico and the United State-, before we were aware of the reception which the offer on our part in respect to the Oregon would meet with, the first packet that sailed tendered to the United States the offer of our good offices, for the purpose of mediation between them and the Mexican government. Sir, I do cordially rejoice, that, in surrendering power at the feet of a majority of this House, I have the opportunity of giving them the official assurance that every cause of quarrel with that great country on the other side of the Atlantic is amicably terminated.

Sir, I have now executed the task which my public duty imposed upon me, I trust I have said nothing which can lead to the revival on the present occasion of those controversies which I have deprecated. Whatever opinions may be held with regard to the extent of the danger with which we were threatened from the failure in one great article of subsistence, I can say with truth that her Majesty's government, in proposing those measures of commercial policy which have disentitled them to the confidence of many who heretofore gave them their support, were influenced by no other motive than the desire to consult the interests of this country. Our object was to avert dangers whieh we thought were imminent, and to terminate a conflict which, according to our belief, would soon place in hostile collision great and powerful classes in this country. The maintenance of power was not a motive for the proposal of these measures ; for, as I said before, I had not a doubt, that whether these measures were accompanied by failure or success, the certain issue must be the termination of the existence of this government. It is, perhaps, advantageous for the public interests that such should be the issue. I admit that the withdrawal of confidence from us by many of our friends was a natural result. When proposals are made, apparently at variance with the course which ministers heretofore pursued, and subjecting them to the charge of inconsistency—it is perhaps advantageous for this country, and for the general character of public men, that the proposal of measures of that kind, under such circumstances, should entail that which is supposed to be the fitting punishment, namely, expulsion from office. I, therefore, do not complain of that expulsion. I am sure it is far preferable to the continuance in office without a full assurance of the eonfidence of this House. I said before, and I said truly, that in proposing our measures of commercial policy, I had no wish to rob others of the credit justly due to them. I must say, with reference to hon. gentlemen opposite, as I say with reference to ourselves, that neither of us is the party which is justly entitled to the credit of them. There has been a combination of parties, generally opposed to each other, and that combination, and the influence of government, have led to their ultimate success ; but the name which ought to he associated with the success of those measures is not the name of the noble lord, the organ of the party of which he is the leader, nor is it mine. The name which ought to be, and will be, associated with the success of those measures, is the name of one who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has, with untiring energy, made appeals to our reason, and has enforced those appeals with an eloquence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned : the name which ought to be chiefly associated with the success of those measures, is the name of Richard Conin V