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For Honor or Destiny

The Anglo-American Crisis over the Oregon Territory

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Donald A. Rakestraw

«Fifty-Four Forty or Fight» cried western politicos and American settlers in the 1840s as they gazed anxiously from south of the Columbia river while waiting for the diplomats in Washington and London to determine the fate of the Oregon Territory. The dispute over the Pacific northwest with its natural harbors and its approach to Pacific commerce had stubbornly traversed five decades; every attempt at resolution was foiled. When the conflict was set aside by an exhausted Lord Ashburton in 1842, the stage was set for an Anglo-American diplomatic crisis that allowed the intangibles of British national honor and American manifest destiny to breech a fragile rapprochement and provoke talk of war. Fortunately, the realization of mutual interests and astute eleventh-hour diplomacy intervened to produce the Oregon Treaty of 1846.