September 18, 1857 – Oregon Constitution Adopted

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On this day in history, Oregon adopted its constitution, which included several measures to ensure that, while slavery would not be permitted in the state, nor did the state welcome people of color:

Article 1 Section 31.-White foreigners who are, or may hereafter become residents of this State shall enjoy the same rights in respect to the possession, enjoyment, and descent of property as native born citizens. And the Legislative Assembly shall have power to restrain, and regulate the immigration to this State of persons not qualified to become citizens of the United States.

Article I Section 34–There shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in the State, otherwise than as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

Article I Section 35.– No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such negroes, and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them. (Repealed November 3, 1926).

Article 11 Section 6.–No Negro, Chinaman, or Mulatto shall have the right of suffrage. (Repealed June28, 1927).

Technically the state’s exclusion laws were superseded by federal law after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. But Oregon had a lot of opposition to the amendment.

For example, “The Portland Oregonian” observed in 1865 that anyone seeking to extend voting rights to Blacks was “reckless” because the “same privileges would have to be extended to Indians and Mongolians.” “The Oregon Statesman” opined that giving voting rights to Blacks would possibly lead to a “war of races.” State Senator H.C. Huston argued in “The Oregonian” that the amendment would:

…place the inferior races upon an equality with the superior; to make a mongrel people; to place a negro or greasy Chinaman on the same level with Grant the hero and Johnson the incorruptible Chief Magistrate.”

Nevertheless, the legislature ratified the Fourteenth Amendment by a close margin, only to withdraw its ratification in 1868 when the Democrats regained the majority. For those who think hateful racist rhetoric was confined either to the South or to the pre-Civil War period, one only need peruse the campaign of Democrats to get approval of the Fourteenth Amendment rescinded. As reported by Cheryl Brooks in the Oregon Law Review (83 Or. L. Rev. 731, 2004), Democrat Joseph Smith of Marion County asked voters: “Do you want your daughter to marry a nigger?” and “Would you allow a nigger to force himself into a seat at church between you and your wife?” And “The Eugene Democratic Review” published this diatribe in March, 1867:

…gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly headed, animal-jawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome restraints of task masters and overseers . . . . Greasy, dirty, lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with the highest privileges of American citizenship.”

Finally, in 1973, Oregon House Joint Resolution 13 passed, resolving to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Today, the population of Oregon is still overwhelming white .

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the white population in Oregon at 88.1%, with only 2% black or African American. However, the percentage of Hispanics is growing rapidly in the state.

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