Students learn that conflicts about slavery complicated the process of Oregon achieving statehood. They review a primary source document in order to make a list of reasons that Oregon should become a state.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Oregon | Unit 6: Statehood." A variety of historical sources provide the lens through which students will view Oregon’s emergence as a state in the mid-1800s.
4.7. Use primary and secondary sources to create or describe a narrative about events in Oregon history.
4.16. Explain the process of Oregon statehood.
- Primary Source Document: Speech of Hon. James Hughes, of Indiana, on the admission of Oregon1
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show source documents to the class
- Class set of An Argument for Statehood handout
1 Hughes, James. “Speech of Hon. James Hughes on the admission of Oregon, delivered in the House of Representatives, February 10, 1859.” [Source: Internet Archive; downloaded December 18, 2017.]
Tell students that in 1844, the first of a series of Black Exclusion Laws were passed that blocked black people from entering the Oregon Territory, and also prohibited slavery (though enslaved people could be held in servitude by their owners for three years after entering Oregon). When Oregon’s statehood was considered by Congress in the late 1850s, a time of great division about slavery in the United States, significant and protracted debate ensued. Southern states wanted Oregon admitted as a slave state, while northerners wanted it to enter the Union as a free state.
Explain that they will be reading excerpts from an 1859 speech given by a Congressman from Indiana arguing for Oregon’s statehood.
Show students the primary source document, Speech of Hon. James Hughes, of Indiana, on the admission of Oregon and distribute copies of the handout, An Argument for Statehood.
Instruct students to list Congressman James Hughes’ argument for Oregon to become a state on the handout.
Review student responses as a whole class.
Conclude the lesson by indicating that Oregon was admitted as a free state on February 14, 1859, once Congress reached a compromise allowing slavery to spread to the Southwest as a way of maintaining the fragile balance between free and slave states.
Answers will vary, but may include the following:
Oregon has a large enough population to qualify for statehood
Oregon has been showing steady economic progress
Oregon’s wealth can help support the federal government
The population is American or Americanized (specify that according to the narrow idea of what “American” meant during this time period, this is not exactly true— Native Peoples were not considered citizens, and an exclusion clause prohibited black people from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts)
Early settlers helped to bring US control to the territory
There is a constitution that accepts republican government (note that the Oregon constitution at the time excluded black people from entering the state)
Oregon adds Pacific coastline to the United States. thus extending its power and economic potential
Oregon is already involved in trade and commerce with other states
Oregon protects the Pacific seaboard