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“Fifty-four Forty or Fight!”

In 1818, the United States and Great Britain both formed claims for the Oregon Territory. This territory encompassed the land between 42° North and 54°40' North and both the United States and Great Britain wanted it. Over the years following, many British-American negotiations took place that resulted in stalemate because of America’s stance on the 49th parallel, which now separates present day Oregon and British Columbia. In 1844, after many years of mutual control of the area, expansionist Democrats, including presidential candidate James K. Polk, claimed the territory again for the United States.

James K. Polk
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James K. Polk ultimately adopted the campaign slogan, “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” The phrase became popular and was used to boost morale of the settlers. Polk ran under the platform that because of Manifest Destiny, the United States would annex both Oregon and Texas. It can be said that this slogan won Polk the presidency. In his inaugural address, Polk says, “Our title to the country of Oregon is clear and unquestionable, and already are our people preparing to perfect that title by occupying it with their wives and children.” However, after the election, Polk began to support the claim for the 49th parallel. Nevertheless, this claim was rejected by the British and an enraged James K. Polk soon changed his mind back to the original idea that America had all of Oregon.

The Great Migration

In 1843, Daniel Webster proposed the idea of forgetting the American claim to Oregon and granting the British claim. This caused uproar with the settlers of the Midwest, which caused the inhabitants to have community meetings supporting the original idea of “Fifty-four Forty or Fight!” This caused an influx of migrants to the Oregon area.

Oregon Treaty of 1846
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In 1846, the British rejected the claim made by Polk and agreed to his previous claim of the 49th parallel separating the two countries. In 1848, Congress established the Oregon territory which is now present day Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.