Territorial Timeline

Oregon Territory established

On August 14, 1848, President Polk signed the act which created Oregon Territory. This came as a relief to settlers who lived without a legal government for several years due to political strife in Washington D.C. Although the settlement of the boundary dispute in 1846 removed the international barriers to the establishment of a territorial government for the Oregon country, Congress did not act immediately largely because of the issue of allowing slavery in the new territory.

In May 1848 mountain man Joe Meek arrived in Washington D.C., ragged and dirty from his overland trip from Oregon, bringing with him the news of the Whitman Massacre of 1847 and demanding government help to subdue the Indians. President Polk immediately confronted the Senate with the need for immediate action. Stephan A. Douglas introduced a bill, which passed in the Senate, to prohibit slavery in Oregon. The House debated the issue at great length but finally passed the act creating Oregon Territory and excluding slavery from the new territory.

President Polk appointed General Joseph Lane as the first governor of Oregon Territory. Lane was a native of North Carolina but as a youth he moved to Indiana. He served in the Indiana State Assembly, yet when the Mexican War started, he enlisted early. Before the war’s end, Lane was a general and cited for distinguished service in the Battle of Buena Vista.

In 1849 President Zachary Taylor replaced President Polk and removed Lane from his post as territorial governor, offering the position to the little-known politician Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln declined the job, which then went to John P. Gaines.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s voters elected Lane to the position of Oregon Territory’s Delegate to Congress. In 1860 Lane was a candidate for vice-president on the ticket with Southern Democrat John Breckenridge. It was rumored Lane endorsed the creation of a “Pacific Confederacy” which would support the South in the event of a civil war. However, nothing came of the effort, and at the outbreak of the Civil War, Lane returned to Oregon, settling in Roseburg where he died in 1881.