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Fifty-Four Forty or Fight


"FIFTY-FOUR FORTY OR FIGHT." In 1818 the United States and Great Britain (which controlled British Canada) established a joint claim over the Oregon Territory—the region west of the Rocky Mountains between 42° North (the northern boundary of California) and 54°40' North (the southern boundary of Russia's Alaska Territory). By the 1840s joint control had broken down, and expansionist Democrats, including their 1844 presidential candidate, James K. Polk, claimed the entire territory for the United States. This expansionist design was expressed by Polk's famous campaign slogan, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" The slogan also became a rally cry of settlers into the territory. The popular phrase was picked up from Sen. William Allen of Ohio, who coined the expression in an 1844 speech on the Senate floor. The boundary dispute was settled after Polk's election by the 1846 Treaty of Oregon, which struck a compromise and roughly fixed the U.S. boundary at 49º North.


Miles, Edwin A. "'Fifty-four Forty or Fight'—An American Political Legend." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 44 (1957): 291–309.

Rakestraw, Donald A. For Honor or Destiny: The Anglo-American Crisis over the Oregon Territory. New York: P. Lang, 1995.

J. W.Ellison/l. t.

See alsoGreat Britain, Relations with ; Oregon ; Oregon Treaty of 1846 ; Westward Migration .

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