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Why did Britain give up Oregon? (Short Animated Documentary)

3 minutes 50 seconds

Speaker 1

00:00:00 - 00:00:27

Oregon, Washington and Idaho, as you'll probably know, are not a part of Canada. They were admitted as states to the USA in the latter half of the 19th century, despite being claimed by the British, the Russians and also the Spanish for centuries before this. Russia and Spain didn't press their claims for very long, which left only the British, who in 1846 agreed to cede these lands to the United States in return for exactly nothing. Which raises the obvious question, why? Why did Britain hand over this land to the United States?

Speaker 1

00:00:27 - 00:00:54

So to begin, after the Americans politely asked the British to stop running their country, the 2 had to find a way to get along. Westward expansion by both led to both claiming the same lands on the Pacific coast. And after the War of 1812 was concluded, both sides wanted to settle their territorial disputes to prevent a future war. This led to the 1818 Agreement in which Britain agreed to cede these lands to the United States in return for the US handing these to Britain along the 49th parallel. The hope in Washington was that this line would continue all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Speaker 1

00:00:54 - 00:01:15

However, Britain refused because it didn't want to lose access to the Columbia River which it used for exports. As such, it was agreed that Britain and the United States would consolidate both of their claims and place them under joint rule. The Americans called this land the Oregon Country, whereas the British called it the Columbia Territory. This created some problems. The first was that both Russia and Spain claimed the land.

Speaker 1

00:01:15 - 00:01:44

The Russians were soon bought off by both the British and the Americans, and in 1819 the Spanish gave their claim to the United States as a part of a land transfer. The second issue was that neither side were happy and thus wanted to undermine the other. The British wanted to make the territory valueless to the United States by sending trappers and paying natives there to overhunt so the Americans couldn't make a living, which the government hoped would lead to the United States just handing the territory over. In response, the Americans sent people. Lots of people, who would tip the balance of the population in the United States' favour and force Britain to settle.

Speaker 1

00:01:45 - 00:02:21

The American approach worked, and in the early 1840s the Americans living there demanded that the US government do something about the shared control of Oregon. Presidential candidate and later winner James K. Polk campaigned and won on taking all of the territory, and when he won office he told the British government that joint control of the territory no longer worked for the United States, and he assumed that London would simply back down. Instead, the Royal Navy was mustered and so soon after the American government asked that the British government should simply just make them an offer, and the British basically gave in to all of America's demands and mostly gave them what they had asked for in 1818. Now, this wasn't an easy decision for Britain to make and there were many there who believed that the United States was bluffing.

Speaker 1

00:02:21 - 00:02:57

As negotiations were ongoing, war broke out between the United States and its southern neighbour, and for some in Britain this presented an opportunity. 2 front wars are not very fun and so there were some that wanted to make greater demands of the United States in return for not aiding Mexico. Prime Minister Peel, however, didn't want war, and he was simply interested in dealing with all of Britain's foreign policy squabbles. This was so he could focus on repealing the Corn Laws at home and allowing the free import of food into the UK, particularly Ireland. Peel and his colleagues knew that doing this would be the end of their political careers, and so they used this as leverage to get Polk to accept Britain's offer, since if the Americans pushed for too much land they'd just have to renegotiate with whoever followed Peel.

Speaker 1

00:02:57 - 00:03:49

As such, Britain agreed to cede all of this to the United States barring Vancouver Island, For the British government of the time, handing over territory of little economic value in return for peace with a major trading partner so that more pressing concerns could be dealt with seemed obvious. Whereas for the United States the land that they gained was arable, which was ultimately what they wanted, and there was little to be gained from pushing all the way north to the border of Russian America, since it's not like they had any interests there. I hope you enjoyed this episode with a special thanks to my patrons... Adam's daughter Rod D. Martin, Marcus Arsner, AF Firefly, Wyan Hockey, Captain Psydog, Spencer Lightfoot, Miss Izzet, Boogally Woogally, Marvin Kassa, Winston K-Wood, Daniel Tobian, Camoon Yoon, Aaron the White, Gustav Swan, The McWhopper, Words About Books Podcast, Shuenin, Spinning 3 plates Maggie Baskowski, Anthony Beckett, Copper Tone and Charles I.