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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Catholics Failed in Amerca Part 2: Oregon Country

Oregon Country
The Maryland colony of the early American colonial period is just one place where Catholics had an opportunity to establish a foothold in this realm, but lost it due to short-sighted tactics.

Another such example of a Catholic misstep lies in the other northern corner of the country: Oregon.

In the early 1800s, this part of undeveloped America was designated as Oregon Country.  The origin of the word "Oregon" is in dispute.  Some say that it is an Indian name for a river, while others speculate that the name comes from the French word "ouragan," which means windstorm or hurricane, and is based on Indian tales of the powerful Chinook winds of the lower Columbia River.

The Trapper's Bride
Not only did this region offer "green gold" in the form of endless timber, but it was also an excellent place for fur trading.  As of 1818, Oregon Country was jointly occupied by both the United States and Britain.  The far western portion of Oregon Country was overseen by the Hudson Bay Company, which had set up posts to trade pelts with the local Indians.

In 1824 this region had its chance to become a center of Catholic influence, when the Hudson Bay Company sent out Dr. John McLoughlin as a chief official.  This man, a Catholic convert, frequently gave aid to such Catholic missionaries such as Fr. John De Smet.  Charles Coulombe describes McLoughlin as a man with noble character, possessing an interest "not only to make profits for the Company, but the development of the land given to his care and the spiritual welfare of both the French half-breeds who worked for the H.B.C, and the Indians."

You were too nice,
When Dr. McLoughlin built Fort Vancouver, he had a chance to not only to spread Christendom and demonstrate the true quality of Catholic civilization, but he also had the chance of establishing a solid Catholic enclave on a continent that was completely hostile to the Catholic religion.

Imagine it.  Just a decade or two later, the violent Nativist Know-Nothings would emerge, claiming domination against all Catholics in the land.  This group would hearken back to their backward Puritan heritage, using that history to foment anger against all Catholic figureheads they saw fit to oppress.  These so-called Nativists would publicly ridicule, maim, or kill Catholics whenever they thought they could get away with it.

Waves of Catholic immigrants would flood the United States, enlarging the Catholic population decade after decade.  Wouldn't it have been something if McLoughlin would have succeeded where Maryland failed?  The Northwest could have been a refuge from the persecutions of intolerant Protestants.  Had McLoughlin succeeded in his partnerships with the various missionaries he hosted (they were known as "the blackrobes" to the Indians), Northwest Oregon Country would be a place where the Faith would freely thrive.  Vancouver, Washington would be a capital of Catholic culture and power in North America.  As a matter of fact, McLoughlin advocated for an independent nation that would be free of the United States during debates at the Oregon Lyceum in 1842.

Unfortunately, McLoughlin managed to make the same errors that Lord Baltimore made in Maryland two centuries earlier.  As Coulombe tells us in his book, Puritan's Empire, the good doctor failed to have a vetting process when it came time to welcome settlers:
"In 1829 he began the settling of Oregon City, welcoming all newcomers to the Oregon Country, regardless of nationality; he aided them all indiscriminately.  As with the Mexicans in Texas, the price of such aid would be high.  
"McLoughlin had helped Protestant Missionaries as well; in 1838 one of these returned with 50 more from the Eastern U.S., partially financed by the American government secret service fund.  By 1841 there were enough American settlers to form a provisional government.  British and Canadians were not pleased, but in 1843, 900 more Americans arrived from Independence, Missouri.  The next year there were 1400 new arrivals from thence, and in 1845, 3000.  These began to show great hostility to McLoughlin and the H.B.C.  The Western States began to agitate for annexation, and at the Democrat National Convention of 1844 it was declared that the U.S. had "clear and unquestionable" title to "the whole of the territory of Oregon."  The Party, referring to the parallel which formed the northernmost boundary of the Oregon Country, mad "Fifty-four forty or fight!" a campaign motto.  Polk was elected on the promise of obtaining it.  
"Negotiations were carried on, and at last it was decided to extend the frontier along the same line already dividing the two nations further east.  But the whole of Vancouver Island was conceded to the British; at its southern tip H.B.C. transferred its headquarters in the new settlement of Victoria.  McLoughlin ended his days in a mansion in Oregon City."  
To add insult to injury, his son John McLoughlin Jr. was murdered--his murderer acquitted for lack of evidence.  Also, one of Dr. McLoughlin's opponents succeeded in inserting a clause forfeiting his land claim in the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850.  He was, however, bestowed the Knighthood of St. Gregory by Pope Gregory XVI, and he is still a beloved historical figure to this day, known as "The Father of Oregon."  

Dr. John McLoughlin
That being said, the noble Dr. McLoughlin lost control of the domain.  He lost a war, not knowing the scope of the war he was fighting.  By not vetting who was coming into the territory, McLoughlin became easily subverted.  Was he surprised that the new non-Catholic American settlers began to show him hostility?  He fed the new masses from his hands, and in turn, they tried to cut his hands off.  This was sheer naivete.

Just as Maryland had failed to officially establish a religion, granting all incoming Protestants equality, so too did McLoughlin welcome all people with open arms.  Though he had a stern face, his actions were to the contrary.  But we've heard this kind of story before on The Hirsch Files.  As we discussed previously, in 1689 Maryland was settled by a majority of Protestants, and by 1690 the colony was taken over by the Protestant Association--a group that helped to make it illegal for Catholics to hold office.  It was in precisely this manner that the rug was pulled out from underneath McLoughlin.  He lost control, lost power, and became "a subject in the land he had once ruled so benevolently and so well."

Like the early Marylanders, McLoughlin was filled with ideology and utopian thoughts, lacking the necessary understanding of bureacratic warfare. His attempt to secure the area apart from the United States was too defensive and not aggressive enough.

If McLoughlin was to succeed, he should have flooded the territory with vetted subjects, rather than welcoming anyone and everyone. If Catholics are to hold onto any kind of territory in this world we live in, it is necessary for them to blatantly discriminate against all outsiders. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members." I would hasten to add that this is particularly true for Catholics.
Just can't cheer up.
If the people of the Catholic world want to have a place of their own with its own borders, its own power, and its own resources, then they simply are going to have to understand that the rest of the world has absolutely no intention of being nice to them.  

Apologists can cry and scream against tribalism and exclusivity all they want, but in the end, if we cannot keep the outside world away from the controls that belong to Catholics, then Christendom will be forever lost.  It takes both work and strength to not just gain a foothold, but also to keep it.    

Emerson also once wrote that "whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist."  I think that statement is all well and good.  However, I think the following applies much better to our circumstances:
"You better wake up. The world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping. There is another world beneath it. The real world. And if you want to survive it, you better learn to pull the trigger."


1 comment:

  1. I've always been curious if Florida had any type of long term Catholic history pre-1860?