Guest Essayist: Brad Bergford


The State of Oregon has a fascinating history from the early competing claims to the land by Spain and Great Britain to the “54° 40′ or Fight” slogan of the Democrat Party during the 1844 presidential campaign, whereby Democrats pledged to gain the territory one way or the other, to the naming of its largest city by a 2-3 coin toss. Lewis and Clark famously made their way to the Oregon coast in 1805 while searching for a northwest passage. In 1818, the U.S. and Great Britain agreed to jointly occupy the region, which included portions of present-day Idaho, California, Montana, British Columbia, and all of Washington state. In 1840, the U.S. gained the territory through the Oregon Treaty, and settlers began to arrive via the Oregon Trail. The state’s establishment as the 33rd state in 1859 realized many, but not all, of the founding principles of the United States. For example, European settlers forced many native peoples to relocate via a 1,500 mile march to Oklahoma.

From the beginning, Oregon placed a high value on social discourse, which may have helped it to (mostly) claw out of the deeply-entrenched racism that was a hallmark of its early history. In 1844, Oregon Country, as it was called until 1859, ordered all blacks to vacate under threat of beatings to include “not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes” every six months until the violator left.[1] In November of 1857, the year of the Oregon Constitutional Convention, voters approved Article XVII—a clause that prohibited blacks from immigrating to the state of Oregon.[2] And, when Oregon became a state, it specifically forbade black people to live in Oregon. In 1866, Oregon narrowly ratified the 14th Amendment but upon taking control of the legislature in 1868, Democrats promptly rescinded Oregon’s ratification of that Amendment. The move was symbolic at that point, but it provides a window to the state’s post-Reconstruction foundation.

Even amid its racism, as seen in section 31 of the Oregon state constitution’s Bill of Rights, freedom of religion was enshrined in Oregon’s constitution, and this may have been the state’s saving grace in more ways than one. The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, sections in Oregon’s State Bill of Rights protect the freedom of religion in various ways, and the seventh indirectly encourages the use of the religious beliefs of court witnesses to ensure honest testimony and, thereby, protect society. Notably, the second section provides that “[a]ll men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.” The Oregon Bill of Rights officially prohibited slavery, but it also contained three exclusion laws, which voters approved by wide margins and which operated to keep non-whites out of Oregon until those laws were repealed in the early 1900s.[3]  Oregon was the only “free” state admitted to the Union with exclusion laws in its constitution.

During the 20th century, Oregon was mostly a “red” state.  In fact, Republican presidential candidates carried Oregon in all but a few instances until 1984 when Oregon turned “blue” and has been so ever since. Today, Oregon is addressing many of the same issues with which other states grapple. The so-called “climate change” controversy has led to particularly coarse rancor between Oregon Democrats and Republicans, and it has provided the fodder for the vigorous debate of a cap-and-trade measure that failed in July 2019. The failed proposal was in the works for at least a decade and was premised on the controversial notions that 1) the earth is warming, 2) mankind is responsible, and 3) mankind can fix it. The cap-and-trade proposal would have placed new taxes in some instances and increased taxes in other instances on key industries that proponents believe contribute to anthropogenic global warming. The increased expenses would have caused job losses and increased consumer prices, among other effects, which would have adversely affected families across the state. On the other hand, proponents believe that the increased prices would lead to a reduction in global warming. Drug use and homelessness plague Oregon’s larger cities, and those who advocate for legalized drug use, which many believe leads to homelessness, are pitted against those who seek a safe and orderly society. That Oregon has no sales tax draws purchasers from neighboring states, and Oregon voters have capped property taxes which attracts people to live there.

The state motto is Alis Volat Propriis (She flies with her own wings). Indeed, Oregon has much going for her, not the least of which is a willingness to do things her own way. Oregon is a beautiful state complete with beaches, mountains, agriculture, industry, and recreational opportunities. Oregon’s largest industry is manufacturing, and primary among that industry are forest products, high technology, food processing, and metals.[4] Technology-related industries are expanding rapidly. Some notable historical figures have called Oregon “home” including suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway; explorer and navigator, Robert Gray; Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph; writer, Raymond Carver; and famed chemist, Linus Pauling.

Brad Bergford earned his BA in Political Science and Pre-Law at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He earned his juris doctorate from the University of Denver, where he was active in several student bar associations, including the Student Trial Lawyers Association, the Federalist Society, and Christian Legal Society, which he served as President. After law school, Brad clerked for the Honorable Philip McNulty where he authored court opinions in a number of cases on subjects ranging from family law to constitutional law. Brad is Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Family Action/CFA Foundation, and he has his own civil litigation practice, which focuses on constitutional issues. Brad is an Alliance Defending Freedom Blackstone Fellow and Allied Attorney, and he serves as President of National Lawyers Association’s Colorado chapter.

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[1] Brown, J. Henry (1892). Brown’s Political History of Oregon: Provisional Government. Portland: Wiley B. Allen. LCCN rc01000356. OCLC 422191413. Pages 132–135.




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