August 14th, 1848. Congress creates the Oregon Territory. You may have played the Oregon Trail Game as a kid, or maybe you've taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest, but did you know that back in 1848 the Oregon Territory encompassed the modern U.S. states of Oregon, Idaho, Washington and western Montana?
In the 19th Century, the idea of Manifest Destiny, or the idea that spreading the U.S. territory and its democratic ideas were justified and undeniable. For many Americans, spreading American jurisdiction was as much a responsibility as it was a goal. In fact, the slogan "54 degrees 40 minutes or fight" was adopted throughout the country, meaning that the slogan bearers were willing to go to war over the Oregon territory.
In the early 1800s, the Oregon territory was simultaneously claimed by the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and Russia. (The U.S. was able to gain Florida and the Oregon territory claim from Spain through the Transcontinental Treaty). The U.S. pushed back against Russia's claim of Oregon pretty easily, but the border between British Canada and the U.S. Oregon Territory was never officially decided. Finally, by 1843 the influx of U.S. immigrants to the territory made it an issue that Congress could no longer avoid. President James K. Polk, working alongside Secretary of State James Buchanan and Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, negotiated with Britain and eventually landed on a territorial border at the 49th degree line. The Oregon Territory was already a place for U.S. citizens to migrate to in search of a new life, wealth and the American Dream. Hardships, harsh winters and Conestoga wagons were a mainstay of the Oregon Trail. Many Americans died on the trail, spreading the ideals of Manifest Destiny and searching for a new life.