OREGON LYCEUM

A THRIVING CENTER OF INFORMATION AND DEBATE

In the small community of Willamette Falls in the early 1840s, the question of government grew in importance for two important groups. On one side were the European settlers, primarily those retired trappers and French Canadian Catholics settling in the Willamette Valley, who supported the concept of an independent country, mainly to prevent the Oregon Territory from becoming an extension of the United States. On the other side, in stark contrast, were the ever-growing number of immigrants, fully intent on expanding the interests of the United States in pursuit of the U.S. Manifest Destiny.

To provide a forum for discussion of this pressing issue, a Lyceum, “The Oregon Lyceum,” was established. Lyceums were at their peak then, being national institutions to debate such issues. The issue of the day was how to form a government body which  would add some structure for the community and settle legal issues. The first meeting of the Oregon Lyceum was held at Willamette Falls in the recently-built home of Sidney Moss, the recipient of a lot purchased from Dr. John McLoughlin. British interests were represented by Dr. McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the HBC, Francis Ermatinger, HBC ChiefTrader, McLoughlin’s attorney, L.W. Hastings, and Chester Prigg, who assisted in the founding of the organization.

Other names for the organization, used in some histories, were the Pioneer Lyceum and Literary Club, and the Multnomah Circulating Library, possibly used to discount the British preference for the Oregon Lyceum name. The library side of the organization would allow all members to expand their knowledge with books pertinent to their interests. Such books would have included those on classical subjects, as well as popular and current novels.

Most important, the Lyceum was a debating society, represented by the Lyceum name, and a forum for discussing legal and political matters. Dr. McLoughlin’s name wasassociated with the new Lyceum’s library, as was that of L.W. Hastings. Previous to this time Ft.Vancouver was the only other location in this part of the world that had anything resembling a library. One hundred new members paid $5.00 each to support the Oregon Lyceum.

Invaluable to the area was the support the Lyceum gave to establishing a newspaper, which would represent fairly all sides of the discussion. By February 5, 1846, the first issue of “The Oregon Spectator” was produced. All this effort preceded the first “Wolf” meetings at Champoeg and the establishment of a Territorial Provisional Government, and was, therefore, influential in its development.

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