Provisional Government of Oregon
|Status||Part of the United States (1846–1849)|
|Supreme Judge Ira Babcock|
|Chairman of the Committee at Champoeg Meetings Ira Babcock|
|Governor George Abernethy|
• Appointment of constitutional committee and election of Supreme Judge at Champoeg
|February 18, 1841|
• First Wolf Meeting at Champoeg
|February 1, 1843|
• Second Wolf Meeting at Champoeg
|March 6, 1843|
• Creation of the Provisional Government at Champoeg
|May 2, 1843|
|March 3 1849|
The Provisional Government of Oregon was a popularly elected settler government created in the Oregon Country, in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Its formation had been advanced at the Champoeg Meetings since February 17, 1841, and it existed from May 2, 1843 until March 3, 1849, and provided a legal system and a common defense amongst the mostly American pioneers settling an area then inhabited by the many Indigenous Nations. Much of the region's geography and many of the Natives were not known by people of European descent until several exploratory tours were authorized at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Organic Laws of Oregon were adopted in 1843 with its preamble stating that settlers only agreed to the laws "until such time as the United States of America extend their jurisdiction over us".  According to a message from the government in 1844, the rising settler population was beginning to flourish among the "savages", who were "the chief obstruction to the entrance of civilization" in a land of "ignorance and idolatry". 
The government had three branches that included a legislature, judiciary, and executive branch. The executive branch was first the Executive Committee, consisting of three members, in effect from 1843 to 1845; in 1845, a governor replaced the committee. The judicial branch had a single Supreme Judge along with several lower courts, and a legislative committee of nine served as a legislature until 1845 when the Oregon House of Representatives was established.
A series of frontiersmen assemblies were held over several years across the Willamette Valley, with many on the French Prairie at Champoeg. On February 9, 1841, the death of prominent settler Ewing Young – who left no will nor had any heir in Oregon Country – left the future of his property uncertain.  On February 17, Jason Lee chaired the first meeting organised to discuss the matter. He proposed the creation of an authority over the pioneers centered on a governor.  French-Canadian settlers blocked the measure and instead a probate judge and a few other positions were appointed. 
Further attempts at a pioneer government floundered until travel over the Oregon Trail led to an increase in the American settler population.  Initiated by William Gray, the "Wolf Meetings" of early 1843 created a bounty system on predators of settler livestock.  Further discussions began among the settlers until a gathering was held at Champoeg on May 2, with under 150 Americans and French-Canadians participating.  The proposal for forming a provisional government was tabled and voted on twice.  The first vote rejected the presented report due to the inclusion of a governor, with a second vote on each individual item proposed.  On July 5, 1843, the Organic Laws of Oregon, modeled after Iowa's Organic Law and the Ordinance of 1787, were adopted by colonists of the Willamette Valley, establishing the Provisional Government of Oregon. 
The government was, according to pioneers Overton Johnson and William H. Winter, intended from the start as an interim entity, until "whenever [the United States] extends her jurisdiction over the Territory".  (Johnson would go on to serve as Recorder for the provisional government for a few months in 1844.)
The Organic Laws were drafted by a legislative committee on May 16, 1843 and June 28, 1843, before being adopted on July 5.  Although not a formal constitution, the document outlined the laws of the government.  Two years later, on July 2, 1845, a new set of Organic Laws was drafted to revise and clarify the previous version; this newer version was adopted by a majority vote of the people on July 26, 1845.  This constitution-like document divided the government into three departments: a judiciary branch, an executive branch, and a legislature.  The definition of the executive branch had previously been modified, in late 1844, from a three-person committee to a single governor; this change took effect in 1845. 
When appealing for military aid from the American Government in the aftermath of the Whitman massacre, the settlers detailed the structural weaknesses of the Provisional Government:
The very nature of our compact formed between the citizens of a republic and the subjects and official representatives of a monarchy, is such that the ties of political union could not be drawn so closely as to produce that stability and strength sufficient to form an efficient government. This union between democrats of a republic and wealthy aristocratic subjects of a monarchy could not be formed without reserving to themselves the right of allegiance to their respective governments. Political jealousy and strong party feeling have tended to thwart and render impotent the acts of a government, from its very nature weak and insufficient. 
With the first set of laws, the people created a three-person Executive Committee to act as an executive.  The Second Executive Committee was elected on May 14, 1844, and served until June 12, 1845.  A December 1844 amendment of the Organic Laws eliminated the Executive Committee in favor of a single governor, taking effect in June 1845.  At that time George Abernethy was elected as the first governor.  Abernethy would be the only governor under the Provisional Government. He was reelected in 1847, and served until 1849. 
The Provisional Legislature held session mainly in Oregon City.  They met at different times each year, and in 1848 they did not meet; too many members had left for the California gold fields.  The legislature enacted various laws, sent memorials to Congress, incorporated towns and organizations, and granted divorces and licenses to run ferries.    After the establishment of the Oregon Territory, the legislature was replaced with the two house Oregon Territorial Legislature.
The Provisional Government also included a judiciary. The forerunner of the Oregon Supreme Court consisted of a single Supreme Judge and two justices of the peace.  The Supreme Judge was elected by the people, but the legislature could select someone as presiding judge as a replacement if needed.  This Supreme Court had original and appellate jurisdiction over legal matters, whereas the lower probate court and justice courts that were also created could only hear original jurisdictional matters when the amount in controversy was less than $50 and did not involve land disputes.  Some judges under the Provisional Government were Nathaniel Ford, Peter H. Burnett, Osborne Russell, Ira L. Babcock, and future United States Senator James W. Nesmith. 
During its existence the Provisional Government's authority was restricted to the pioneer settlements, generally located in or around the Willamette Valley.    The entire Oregon Country was decreed to be covered by four administrative divisions.  Initially created on July 5, 1843, were the Twality, Yamhill, Clackamas and Champooick (later Champoeg) districts.  Yamhill district claimed the lands west of the Willamette River and a line extending from its course, and south of the Yamhill River.  Champooick District was adjacent to the east, its northern border the confluence of the Pudding and Molalla Rivers.  Twality District was directly north of Yamhill District, its eastern border extending from the mouth of the Willamette River.  Clackamas District was to contain "all the territory" that was not decreed a part of the other three districts, located east of Twality District and north of Champooick District.  The extent of land claimed north was vague, being "south of the northern boundary of the United States".  Despite this the government was defined to extend over all the lands east to the Rocky Mountains and north of the Mexican territory of Alta California.  
Throughout 1843 and 1844, no attempts were made at controlling lands north of the Columbia River, then under the influence of the Hudson's Bay Company through Fort Vancouver.   In June 1844 the Columbia River was declared as the northern border of the Provisional Government, but by December the most expansive American claim in the Oregon boundary dispute of Parallel 54°40′ north was adopted.  On December 22, 1845 districts were renamed to counties.  Additional districts were created over time from the original four, including the Clatsop, Vancouver, Linn, Clark, Polk, Benton counties.  
Other government positions included Recorder, Treasurer, Attorney, and Sheriff.  The recorder position would later become the position of Secretary of State.
With the formation of the Provisional Government, a committee of nine individuals were elected to frame the laws of the government.  This Legislative Committee consisted of David Hill, Robert Shortess, Alanson Beers, William H. Gray, James A. O'Neil, Robert Newell, Thomas J. Hubbard, William Dougherty, and Robert Moore who was elected as the chairman of the committee.  Each member was to be paid $1.25 per day for their services with the first meeting held May 15, 1843.  On July 4 a new gathering began at Champoeg with speeches for and against the proposals of the committee.  Then on July 5, 1843 the Organic Laws of Oregon are adopted by popular vote after being recommended by the Legislative Committee, with the laws modeled after Iowa's Organic Law and the Ordinance of 1787, creating the de facto first Oregon constitution.  Scholars and historians have appraised the First Organic Laws as being "very crude and unsatisfactory",  not allowing for an effective government body to function.   
Over the course of nearly six years under the provisional government, the settlers passed numerous laws. One law allowed people to claim 640 acres (2.6 km2) if they improved the land, which would be solidified later by Congress' adoption of the Donation Land Claim Act.  Another law allowed the government to organize a militia and call them out by order of the Executive or Legislature.  Under the first Organic Laws of 1843 inhabitants were guaranteed due process of law and a right to a trial by jury.  Some other rights established were: no cruel and unusual punishment, no unreasonable bails for defendants, and no takings of property without compensation. 
Following the Cockstock Incident in 1844, the legislature decreed that African Americans could not reside in the Oregon Country, only David Hill and Asa Lovejoy voting against the bill.   The punishment for any freemen was to be administered every six months of their residency being "not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes".  The law was never actually enforced and was struck down in July 1845. However, in 1849 the legislature passed a new law once again prohibiting African Americans in the territory, but differed from the original 1844 law in that it applied to African Americans entering after it was passed, and it used different means to enforce it.   Despite facing legal discrimination that denied them suffrage and threatened violence, black pioneers remained in Oregon. While the USS Shark was in the region in 1846, its commanding officer estimated there were around 30 black settlers. 
In 1844, the legislature passed a law banning the sale of ardent spirits, out of concern that the Native Americans would become hostile if intoxicated.
Prior to the creation of the Provisional Government, the economic activities by in the Oregon European descendants Country were focused on the fur trade. A system called "wheat credit" was established in the 1830s for French-Canadian settlers on the French Prairie.  The farmers would take their harvests to a granary in Champoeg, where a receipt for its market value was given,  valid for use at HBC stores.  Another item used for transactions by French-Canadian and later American pioneers were beaver skins. 
The first Organic Laws only authorised voluntary donations, a measure deemed a "utopian scheme", and provided scant funds.  A tax on real estate and personal property was created in 1844,  that covered a third of that year's expenses.  The next year the property tax was doubled to .0025% and a 50¢ poll tax was levied as well, with failure to pay resulting in disenfranchisement.  Sheriffs acted as tax collectors,  but their position was made difficult due to the poverty or unwillingness of many colonists to pay what was owed.  Taxes were paid in wheat and gathered at appointed locations for the district, largely HBC warehouses. 
A small amount of silver coins from Peru and Mexico freely circulated as legal tender.  Minor financial agreements were completed in lieu of currency with assorted agricultural products, such as "wheat, hides, tallow, beef, pork, butter, lard, peas, lumber and other articles of export of the territory"  One pioneer recalled the lack of currency, receiving at most 25¢ in transactions between 1844 and 1848.  To overcome the lack of circulating coins, Abernethy gathered scraps of flint left over from arrowhead production by local indigenous.  After attaching scraps of paper to them, the amount owed by Abernethy was written on one and given to customers, transferable for other supplies at his store.  Coins remained a prized item by settlers for example, during a sale of lots in Oregon City a property manager offered a discount of 50% if paid in specie. 
A traveler who visited Oregon before the arrival of American merchants reported that HBC stores sold goods at rates lower than in the United States.  As merchants from the United States became established in the region, they chaffed under the economic hegemony of the HBC. The vendors pressed for the HBC to charge more for sales to pioneers, which the company did for two years, only for American customers.  Joel Palmer reported that without the British company "the prices would be double what they are now". 
The small American merchant class and officers of the HBC loaned settlers more credit than most could refund.  Fears of creditors demanding restitution from the farmers lead to wheat receipts and scrips issued by the government declared valid currency in 1845.    The law decreeing wheat as currency was ridiculed for not establishing financial standards for the merchants, who were de facto bankers.  Between 1847 and 1848 the local market for wheat became flooded from overproduction, causing a decline in its value.  The legislature repealed previous regulations on December 20, 1847, making only gold, silver and treasury drafts on valid currency.  Thus, the creditors of the territory were able to protect their financial standing by removing wheat as tender. 
Around $8,000 from the poll and property taxes were collected over the course of the government, far short of the expenses amounting to $23,000. 
After the Conquest of California during the ongoing Mexican–American War, American settlers began to move to the newly seized land. This created a demand for Oregonian wheat; proceeds from the sale of barrels of flour amounted to $10 per keg in 1847.  The start of the Gold Rush caused an immense rise in demand for various products in Californian markets. Economic transactions with the pioneer settlements of Oregon increased greatly, with the number of visiting vessels in 1849 was triple that of the previous eight years.  Between 1848 and 1851 Oregon lumber and wheat sent to the new markets fetched rates two to three times higher than in 1847.  Significant amounts of gold dust began to circulate in the Willamette Valley, though impurities were common.  The Oregon Exchange Company was authorized by the legislature to begin producing Beaver Coins in early 1849,  though production began on March 10, a week after the dissolution of the Provisional Government. 
The mounting debts of the government, though it could "scarcely hope" to force the HBC company posts to adhere to its authority, made establishing an agreement with the HBC a priority.  An employee of the company, Francis Ermatinger, was elected to the position of Treasurer in July after carrying the French-Canadian vote.  In August Applegate inquired to Chief Factor John McLoughlin if the HBC would pay taxes and join the Provisional Government.  At the same time a member of the legislature, David Hill, tabled a bill on August 15 that would deny any HBC employees citizenship or suffrage.  The measure failed to pass, but demonstrated the feelings of the "Ultra-Americans" towards the company. 
While Applegate and McLoughlin held a conference, plans for the administration of the territory above the Columbia River, to be named Vancouver, were begun.  The Chief Factor found the Provisional Government a satisfactory way to pursue the debts owed to the HBC by settlers, and protect company property against claim jumpers.  Additionally he felt if the government were to openly declare independence from outside powers he could "be elected head were I to retire among them".  The negotiations ended with the condition that only sales with settlers would be taxed.  Taxes paid to the Provisional Government by the HBC and the Puget Sound Agricultural Company amounted to $226 that year.  Several more employees of the HBC were then included in the government. Chief Trader James Douglas was appointed as a justice for Vancouver after the signing of the agreement and in 1846 he and fellow employee Henry Peers were elected to the legislature.   If there were any sessions of the Vancouver court, none of the records or correspondence remain.  Claims were filed by British subjects covering the HBC forts of Vancouver, Cowlitz, and Nisqually.  Vancouver in particular was covered by 18 claims. 
British reaction to the agreement was generally negative. It was seen as unneeded by William Peel, son of Prime Minister Peel, who arrived with small flotilla several days after its signing.  Mervin Vavasour was in the Oregon Country gathering intelligence about the defensive capabilities of the HBC posts and voiced the minority view that the compact was to the benefit of "peace and prosperity of the community at large". 
The organic laws laid out plans for a militia of a battalion of mounted riflemen commanded by an officer with the rank of major, with annual inspections.  Every male settler between 16 and 60 who wanted to be "considered a citizen" had to be a part of the military; failure to do so would incur fines.  (This remains so under modern Oregon law, though now both sexes are included, and the age range is only 18 to 45.)  Under the first Organic Laws, power to call out the militia was vested in the Executive Committee, though any officer of the militia could also call them out in times of insurrection or invasion. 
In December 1847, after learning of the Whitman Massacre from HBC Chief Factor James Douglas, Governor Abernethy and the legislature met to discuss the situation.  Major Henry A. G. Lee was placed in charge of a company called the Oregon Rifles on December 8 and was ordered to The Dalles. At that location the force established Fort Lee on December 21.   An additional force of 500 men was to meet in Oregon City by December 25.  This group prosecuted the war east of the Cascades under the command of Cornelius Gilliam. 
The war continued until five Cayuse emissaries, which according to Archbishop François Norbert Blanchet, were sent to "have a talk with the whites and explain all about the murderers, ten in number, who were no more, and had been killed by the whites, the Cayuses and were all dead."  However, the Cayuse party was imprisoned and transported to Oregon City. When the group was asked why they offered themselves to the militia, Tiloukaikt stated "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So die we to save our people."  At a military court Tiloukait and the four other Cayuses, Tomahas, Klokamas, Isaiachalkis, and Kimasumpkinhese, were found guilty and hanged on June 3, 1850, at Oregon City. 
Signed on June 15, 1846, the Oregon Treaty ended the dispute between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States, by dividing the Oregon Country at the 49th parallel.  This extended U.S. sovereignty over the region, but effective control would not occur until government officials arrived from the United States. Two years later, on August 14, 1848, the United States Congress created the Oregon Territory; this territory included today's states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming.  Appointed Governor of the Oregon Territory by President Polk, Joseph Lane arrived at Oregon City on March 2, 1849. 
Governor Lane kept the legal code of the dissolved provisional government, apart from immediately repealing the law authorizing the minting of the Beaver Coins, as this was incompatible with the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 8).  The creation of the Washington Territory in 1854 removed the northern half of the Oregon Territory.  Established on February 14, 1859, the State of Oregon was composed of roughly the western half of the territory, the remaining eastern section being added to the Washington Territory. 
Oregon Country was a large region of the Pacific Northwest of North America that was subject to a long dispute between the United Kingdom and the United States in the early 19th century. The area, which had been created by the Treaty of 1818, consisted of the land north of 42°N latitude, south of 54°40′N latitude, and west of the Rocky Mountains down to the Pacific Ocean and east to the Continental Divide. Article III of the 1818 treaty gave joint control to both nations for ten years, allowed land to be claimed, and guaranteed free navigation to all mercantile trade. However, both countries disputed the terms of the international treaty. Oregon Country was the American name while the British used Columbia District for the region.
Asa Lawrence Lovejoy was an American pioneer and politician in the region that would become the U.S. state of Oregon. He is best remembered as a founder of the city of Portland, Oregon. He was an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts before traveling by land to Oregon; he was a legislator in the Provisional Government of Oregon, mayor of Oregon City, and a general during the Cayuse War that followed the Whitman massacre in 1847. He was also a candidate for Provisional Governor in 1847, before the Oregon Territory was founded, but lost that election.
David Hill was an American pioneer and settler of what became Hillsboro, Oregon, United States. He served in the Provisional Government of Oregon in both the executive and legislative branches, and later as a legislator in the first Oregon Territorial Legislature. Hill made a transaction with the county court in 1850 that led to the renaming of Columbus to Hillsborough in honor of Hill.
The Champoeg Meetings were the first attempts at formal governance by European-American and French Canadian pioneers in the Oregon Country on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. Between 1841 and 1843, a series of public councils was held at Champoeg, a settlement on the French Prairie of the Willamette River valley in present-day Marion County, Oregon, and at surrounding settlements. The meetings were organized by newly arrived settlers as well as Protestant missionaries from the Methodist Mission and Catholic Jesuit priests from Canada.
Oregon pioneer history (1806–1890) is the period in the history of Oregon Country and Oregon Territory, in the present day state of Oregon and Northwestern United States.
Jesse Applegate was an American pioneer who led a large group of settlers along the Oregon Trail to the Oregon Country. He was an influential member of the early government of Oregon, and helped establish the Applegate Trail as an alternative route to the Oregon Trail.
William J. Bailey was a British-born physician who migrated to the United States, where he became a pioneer and politician in the Oregon Country, particularly the Willamette Valley. Bailey participated in the Champoeg Meetings that led to the creation of a provisional government in Oregon. He was selected as a member of that government, first on the executive committee and later in the Provisional Legislature of Oregon.
William Henry Gray (1810–1889) was a pioneer politician and historian of the Oregon Country in the present-day U.S. state of Oregon. He was an active participant in creating the Provisional Government of Oregon. Gray later wrote the book A History of Oregon, 1792-1849 and was instrumental in the establishment of the Oregon Pioneer Society.
François "Francis" Xavier Matthieu was a French Canadian pioneer settler of the Oregon Country. He was educated in American values by a radical schoolteacher. Matthieu became involved in the 1837–1838 armed rebellion against British rule in Canada, for which he was forced to flee his native Quebec for safety in the United States, where he worked as a carpenter and a fur trader.
William Holden Willson was a pioneer of the U.S. state of Oregon and the founder of its capital city, Salem. A native of New Hampshire, he immigrated to the Oregon Country in 1837 to work at the Methodist Mission, and there would participate in the Champoeg Meetings. Willson served as the first treasurer of the Provisional Government of Oregon.
The Provisional Legislature of Oregon was the single-chamber legislative body of the Provisional Government of Oregon. It served the Oregon Country of the Pacific Northwest of North America from 1843 until early 1849 at a time when no country had sovereignty over the region. This democratically elected legislature became the Oregon Territorial Legislature when the territorial authorities arrived after the creation of the Oregon Territory by the United States in 1848. The body was first termed the Legislative Committee and later renamed the House of Representatives. Over the course of its six-year history the legislature passed laws, including taxation and liquor regulation, and created an army to deal with conflicts with Native Americans.
The Organic Laws of Oregon were two sets of legislation passed in the 1840s by a group of primarily American settlers based in the Willamette Valley. These laws were drafted after the Champoeg Meetings and created the structure of a government in the Oregon Country. At the last Champoeg Meeting in May 1843, the majority voted to create what became the Provisional Government of Oregon. Laws were drafted by the committee and accepted by a popular vote in July. These laws were reformed by a second version in 1845.
Étienne Lucier, né Lussier, was a French-Canadian fur trader active primarily in the Pacific Northwest. He was hired by John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company and sent to the region to help establish Fort Astoria. Later he became a settler in the Willamette Valley. Lucier attended the Champoeg Meetings and was one of few French-Canadians or "Canadiens" to vote for the Provisional Government of Oregon, an American and Canadian civil authority for the valley. He is credited with becoming the first European descendant farmer within the modern state of Oregon.
Pierre Belleque or Pierre Billique (1797–1849) was a French Canadian fur trader in the British-claimed Columbia District, which was also known as the Oregon Country and also claimed by the United States. He settled on the French Prairie in what is now the state of Oregon where in 1843 he participated in the Champoeg Meetings. Pierre was elected one of three Constables. He voted affirmative for the measure to form a provisional government at the May 2, 1843 meeting. That measure passed and led to the creation of the Provisional Government of Oregon.
Dr. Elijah White (1806–1879) was a missionary and agent for the United States government in Oregon Country during the mid-19th century. A trained physician from New York State, he first traveled to Oregon as part of the Methodist Mission in the Willamette Valley. He returned to the region after a falling-out with mission leader Jason Lee as the leader of one of the first large wagon trains across the Oregon Trail and as a sub-Indian agent of the federal government. In Oregon he used his authority to regulate affairs between the Natives and settlers, and even between settlers. White left the region in 1845 as a messenger for the Provisional Government of Oregon to the United States Congress, returning in 1850 before leaving again for California in the early 1860s.
Albert E. "A.E." Wilson was an American pioneer and merchant in Oregon Country. Raised in the United States, he moved to what would become the U.S. state of Oregon where he operated stores, was involved in politics, and was elected as the first judge of the Provisional Government of Oregon.
Harvey L. Clarke was an educator, missionary, and settler first on the North Tualatin Plains which would become Glencoe, Oregon, and then on the West Tualatin Plains that would become Forest Grove, Oregon. A native of Vermont, he moved to the Oregon Country in 1840 where he participated at the Champoeg Meetings, May 2, 1843, and helped to found Tualatin Academy that later became Pacific University. Clarke also worked for the Methodist Mission and was a chaplain for the Provisional Legislature of Oregon in 1845.
James A. O’Neil was an American businessman and politician in the Oregon Country and later Oregon Territory. A New York native, he took part in the Champoeg Meetings and helped form the Provisional Government of Oregon. Prior to the formation of a government he participated in the Willamette Cattle Company, and later served as a judge in the Provisional Government.
Medorem Crawford was an American soldier and politician in what became the state of Oregon. A native of the state of New York, he emigrated to the Oregon Country in 1842 where he participated in the Champoeg Meetings and served in the resulting Provisional Government of Oregon as a legislator. A Republican, he later served in the Oregon House of Representatives after statehood and was appointed to several federal government offices. During the American Civil War he escorted emigrants over the Oregon Trail.
Thomas Dove Keizur was one of the earliest American pioneers to settle in the Oregon Country. In 1843, he led his large family from Missouri to Oregon over the Oregon Trail. He homesteaded in Oregon's Willamette Valley in an area north of modern-day Salem, Oregon. Keizur was one of eight citizens elected to serve on Oregon's third pre-provisional legislative committee which helped lay the foundation for the establishment of the Oregon Territory. He was also the first captain of the Oregon Rangers, the first militia unit organized in Oregon. Today, the city of Keizer, Oregon, is named in his honor.