Wednesday, September 14, 2016

As rationalizations go..............

     On February 9, 1845, Adams rose again with an apology for his feeble condition - and proceeded to fill the entire hour to which speeches were now limited.  As the question of legal title had been much debated, he wished to shed some light on the foundations of the question.  He bade the clerk open the Bible and read "what I conceive to be the foundation of our title, Genesis 1:26-8" - the passage in which God commanded man to be fruitful and multiply and gave him dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air.  Then he had him read Psalm 2, verse 8:  "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thy inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."  Adams then explained that this power was understood to have passed from God to Christ, and from Christ to his vicar, the Pope, who in turn allotted lands to Christian kings.  Americans might mock such a genealogy, but what was the foundation of Massachusetts', or Virginia's, title to its land but a grant from Charles 1?
     Adams' point was that all the principles of international law that governed title were based upon historical conventions.  Did King Charles have the right to give pieces of North America to British settlers?  Alternatively, discovery was said to confer title, but why should this be so?  "All these titles," Adams said, "are imperfect."  Neither England not the United States could claim "clear and unquestionable" title to Oregon.  Yet there was an answer to this vexed problem.  "There is nothing complete in the way of title but actual possession,"  Adams said.  This was the scriptural foundation of title, set forth in Genesis.  "Actual possession" required tillage and husbandry, which is why Indians could not claim to have possessed the land over which they had immemorially ranged.  Great Britain, like the Indians, used Oregon to hunt animals for fur.  "We claim the country for what?," Adams continued.  "To make the wilderness blossom as the rose, to establish laws, to increase, multiply and subdue the earth, which we are commanded to do by the first behest of the Almighty God."

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