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The Black Laws of Oregon, 1844-1857

Oregon passed exclusion laws against African Americans twice during the 1840s, considered another law in the 1850s, and in 1857 approved an exclusion clause as part of its constitution. Exclusion laws were also passed in Indiana and Illinois and considered in Ohio, but Oregon was the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution.

The first exclusion law was passed in 1844 by the Provisional Government of Oregon, the temporary governing political structure set up by the first American settlers to reach the region over the Oregon Trail.  This first law included a ban on slavery and a requirement that slaveowners free their slaves.  African Americans who remained in Oregon after their freedom was granted, however, would be whip-lashed and expelled. If they were caught again in the Territory within six months, the punishment would be repeated.  This law was amended to substitute hard labor for whiplashing, and was repealed in 1845, before it could take effect.  

In 1849 another exclusion law was passed.  This one allowed black residents already in Oregon to remain, but banned further African American in-migration. Ship owners were responsible for their black crew members and could be fined $500 if the crew member jumped ship and remained in Oregon.  In this second version, African Americans would be arrested and then ordered to leave.  This law was in effect until 1854, when, in a general housekeeping act, it was repealed.  Later attempts to reintroduce it suggest that this repeal was accidental.  

In 1857, when a constitution was written in anticipation of statehood, a third exclusion clause was inserted, prohibiting new in-migration of African Americans, as well as making illegal their ownership of real estate and entering into contracts.  They were also denied the right to sue in court.  This clause, Article 1 Section 35, was subject to popular vote, as was the adoption of a ban on slavery and the entire constitution.   The exclusion clause received more popular votes than