Date of Award


Document Type



Santa Clara : Santa Clara University, 1970.

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




For a state whose Negro population has always been tiny, Oregon has devoted a surprising amount of political energy to the question of what the status of Negroes in the state and nation should be. The actions and arguments of its legislative bodies have more or less followed the national patterns, reflecting the ebb and flow of the United States' concern as a whole with Negroes' place in this society. Before the Civil War, and again during Reconstruction, whites in Oregon were preoccupied with the "Negro Problem," as was the rest of the country. During the establishment of the system of segregation in the South, between 1890 and 1920, the matter came up again in the state. More recently, legislative action has mirrored the Civil Rights movement.

One of the ways in which white Oregonians attempted to deal with the question of Negro status prior to the Civil War was by avoiding Negroes. This was the idea behind a series of proposals in the 1840's and 1850's to exclude Negroes from the region. The movement culminated in the establishment, by popular vote, of a clause in the state constitution prohibiting free Negroes from residing in Oregon, owning property there, or making contracts or maintaining legal actions in the state. Such enactments were peculiar to Oregon; several states in the Mississippi Valley and the Old Northwest tried similar measures.1 Oregon's situation was unusual, though, in that there were so few Negroes in the territory and no large number of either free Negroes or slaves within 2,000 miles. Since most of Oregon's white settlers lived in the Mississippi Valley before migrating to Oregon, it has been assumed that they were expressing attitudes formed before migration. Local situations, however, also played an important part in the development of the territory's black laws.

This study proposes to trace the history of Oregon's legislation concerning Negroes, with particular reference to the exclusion laws, from the first such proposal in 1843 to the final repeal of the anti-Negro provisions of the state constitution in 1926-27.2 The causes, development, nature, and effects of such legislation will be examined and compared with Oregon's expressions of opinion on national matters such as the Reconstruction amendments and the development of Jim Crow laws in the South. From this investigation some conclusions will be drawn about the nature of white Oregonians' attitudes toward Negroes.