Two Historians Write on America
ALBERT GALLATIN AND THE OREGON PROBLEM, by Frederick Merk, Harvard Press, 93 pp., $2.50.
For many years, students in History 162 have listened to Professor Merk's enthusiastic lectures on the Westward Movement in American History. As the successor to Frederick Jackson Turner, Merk has devoted his caroor to a study and interpretation of the influence that the gradual settlement of a great western wilderness had on the nation as a whole.
Few people who have not studied directly under Professor Merk realize all the implications of such an approach to American history. The glamour of the Santa Fe trail and Indian wars are a part of it. So is the story of our conflict with Spain, Russia, and England in the Oregon country.
Three of Merk's earier monographs developed various factors in the genesis of the final Treaty of 1846. "Albert Gallatin and the Oregon Treaty" is on an earlier phase of the problem. The failure to reach a partition agreement at the negotiations of 1826-27 is part of a larger story which includes background, significance, and the role of the American representative--Albert Gallatin.
The book falls easily into subdivisions. It first shows how the American position grew out of a desire to keep the European nations--particularly England--out of what was considered to be the orbit of the U. S. After a section on the factors which shaped British policy, Professor Merk passes on to the actual negotiations for a boundary settlement.
In discussing these inevitably unsuccessful negotiations, he is particularly concerned with Gallatin's role as peacemaker. The American representative was convinced that once Oregon was colonized by Americans, the British would quietly back out. In the meantime, peace was to be preserved by specific agreements regulating the relations of the two powers in Oregon. Professor Merk's assertion on the basis of this evidence that Gallatin had a spirit of "innate cosmopolitanism" seems a bit unfounded, but "moderation" and an "eagerness for Angle-American reconciliation," are better justified by the facts he presents.
Merk's pattern is completed by his last section on significance. It is a pattern that can be criticized as too rigid for handling historical situations. But backed up, as it is, by careful documentation and a concise literary style, the product is a history which is penetrating yet readable.