JAMES McBRIDE, M.D. – The representative pioneer is born, not made. If we glance over the history of the state-builders of the Northwest coast, we will find that not only were they pioneers in fact, but pioneers by descent, the sons and grandsons of those who laid broad and deep the foundations of the earlier communities of this republic.
Doctor James McBride was in this sense a representative pioneer. He was descended from patriotic revolutionary stock. His grandfather, James McBride, was one of the patriot soldiers of the Revolution; and his grandmother, Mary Crawford, was a sister of the mother of Andrew Jackson, and a woman of more than ordinary ability and force of character. After the Revolution his grandfather, the first of a race of pioneers, was the first white settler in Tennessee; and there the subject of this sketch was born February 9, 1802, near the city of Nashville. His father, Thomas Crawford McBride, was a farmer and clergyman, and in connection with Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, and other men of views rather in advance of their clerical associates, was active in founding what is known as the Christian or Disciple church, now one of the leading and influential denominations of the country.
Actuated by that spirit of enterprise and discovery that everywhere distinguishes the true pioneer, the father of the subject of this sketch removed in 1814 from Tennessee to the neighborhood of St. Charles, Missouri; and there James McBride was reared and educated. He studied medicine in the city of St. Louis, and at the age of twenty-two entered upon the practice of his profession in Franklin county, Missouri. At about the same age he was ordained an elder in the Christian church, and as such preached christianity with great earnestness and eloquence during the whole of his active life. His services as a minister were always rendered gratuitously, and from love of the cause of religion and a desire to benefit his fellow-men. In his declining years no part of his career gave so much pleasure, in retrospection, as that which he had thus dedicated to god and humanity. He soon rose to eminence in his community as a physician, and during what was known as the Osage Indian war was commissioned, by Governor Boggs, surgeon of Missouri volunteers.
He was married June 20, 1830, to Miss Mahala Miller, whose devotion to her husband and children, as well as her good words and works in the community, made her life revered by her family and friends, who tenderly cherish her memory. She was a worthy member of that noble group of pioneer wives whose piety, benevolence and love of home and humanity were the strength and moral support of the orderly civilization that distinguished the early settlements of Oregon. She survived the loss of her husband but little more than a year, and departed this life February 23, 1876.
Of the children of Doctor McBride and his wife, twelve are now living, and are prominent and influential members of the communities in which they reside. The eldest son, John R. McBride, was a member of the constitutional convention of Oregon and of the first Senate of the state, and in 1862 was elected representative to congress. He served afterwards with distinguished ability as chief justice of Idaho Territory, which office he resigned to enter upon the practice of the law at Salt Lake City, where he still resides. The second son, Thomas A. McBride, is also a lawyer of ability. He has served in the state legislature, and is now prosecuting attorney of the fifth judicial district of Oregon. He has been chosen to this position for three consecutive terms, each time by an increased majority; and at the last election the opposing party declined to nominate a candidate against him. Another son, Doctor James H. McBride, of Wisconsin, was for several years superintendent of one of the principal insane asylums of the West, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is eminent as a specialist in nervous and mental diseases. The youngest son, George W. McBride, is well known to the people of Oregon, having been speaker of the house of representatives in 1882, and being now the secretary of state of his native state, the first native Oregonian elected to that important office.
In 1843, moved by the same enterprising and adventurous spirit that had impelled his father and grandfather before him to enlist in the advance guard of civilization, Doctor McBride removed with his family to Texas, but soon becoming weary of the unsettled and lawless condition of society, and disgusted with the prospect that the newly acquired territory would be used to extend the area of human slavery, which, like John Wesley, he regarded as the “sum of all villainies,” he returned again to Missouri. In 1846 he came with his family to Oregon, settling in Yamhill county. There he devoted his time between the duties of his profession and the cultivation of his farm. He took an active part in those stirring events which resulted in preserving Oregon and Washington Territory from the dominion of Great Britain.
In June, 1850, Doctor McBride was elected a member of the territorial council, where he established the reputation of a wise, safe and conservative legislator. He was appointed superintendent of public instruction, in which capacity he served the people acceptably for a term of two years. His antipathy to slavery early led him into the Freesoil ranks; and he was one of the founders of the Republican party in Oregon. He was a member of its first state convention; and from that date until the close of the war of the Rebellion he was an active participant in politics both as a writer and public speaker.
As a fitting recognition of his political services, he was in 1863 appointed by President Lincoln, minister resident to the Hawaiian Islands. At the time of his arrival at his post of duty, the little kingdom to which he was accredited was greatly under English influences, and it was then feared would shortly become a dependency of Great Britain. By a wise and conciliatory policy, and by holding out hopes, which were afterwards fulfilled, of ultimate reciprocity of trade between the United States and the Sandwich Islands, the hostility and distrust with which our government had been regarded was overcome, and this nation attained the paramount influence in Hawaiian affairs which it still retains.
During his official sojourn at the islands occurred an incident which at the time seemed likely to result in a serious international complication. Shortly after the arrival of a British training ship at Honolulu, several of its officers, who were young Englishmen of rank, while ashore one night, tore down the coat-of-arms of the United States from the gate in front of the official residence of the United States minister, and carried it aboard their ship. Here was an insult that the little American colony in Honolulu were little disposed to brook, and yet which any attempt to avenge would be likely to involve our government in a dispute with a foreign power already seeking an excuse for aiding its Southern friends. But Doctor McBride was not a man to hesitate when the flag of his country was insulted. He had advices that in a day or two a United States man-of-war would be due at Honolulu in quest of the Rebel privateer Florida, which was then destroying the Pacific whaling fleet; and he also knew that the British man-of-war was in no condition to go to sea. He therefore called on the British commission and the captain of the man-of-war, and notified them that the young officers who had stolen the coat-of-arms must return and replace it, or he would arrest them civilly and deal with them as common thieves.
The captain and the British representatives expressed their willingness to have the property returned, and to make an ample apology, but they urged that, as one of the offenders was a British lord, heir to one of the oldest peerages in England, to require him to submit to the humiliation of putting the coat-of-arms in its usual place, and doing the work of a carpenter, was not to be thought of. But Doctor McBride was firm, and the Englishmen finally yielded; and beneath a broiling tropical sun, and in the presence of half the population of Honolulu, the young officers were compelled to labor for an hour and a half replacing the ornament they had torn down. As the effigy of American’s bird of freedom was finally fixed in its accustomed place, cheers from thousands of throats rent the air. One patriotic American captain was heard to exclaim above the din, “Boys, there’s a bird that can’t be plucked.”
The scene was photographed and reproduced in Harper’s Weekly; and the incident awakened interest throughout the country, Americans everywhere being delighted at the action of their patriotic representative. One of these young Englishmen, whose hands then wielded a hammer for the first and last time, is now a British peer, an authority in England on naval affairs, and an honor to his Queen and country. For his prompt and wise action in this matter, Doctor McBride was warmly thanked by Secretary Seward, who, among other things, said: “Your action was eminently wise. Had you done more, serious complications might have resulted. Had you done less, the honor of the government would not have been properly vindicated.”
During Doctor McBride’s stay at the Islands, a Russian fleet under command of Captain, now Admiral Enquist, was stationed at Honolulu, with the purpose – as was then believed – of affording substantial aid to the United States in case England and France should interfere on behalf of the Southern Confederacy. He had lately been stationed at Alaska, stood high in the confidence of his government, and knew that Alaska was an undesirable possession to Russia. Convinced by frequent conversations with this officer that Russia was anxious to dispose of its American possessions, Doctor McBride set himself to the task of convincing the State Department of the desirability of purchasing. He wrote several letters calling Secretary Seward’s attention to the matter. From the Russian officers he procured specimens of gold and other valuable minerals then known to exist there in uncertain quantities. He procured affidavits and statements of whalers, and other persons who had frequented the Alaskan coast, as to the extent of its fisheries, and its value as the principal source from which was obtained the world’s supply of furs.
Nor were his efforts wasted. In Secretary Seward he found a statesman capable of sympathizing with his patriotic desire to extend the area of his country; and, as soon as the storm of the Civil war had spent its force, the purchase was consummated, and the greatest acquisition since the Louisiana purchase added to our national domain. It may be fairly said that Doctor McBride was the author of the Alaska purchase; and, though neither he nor the great statesman who negotiated it lived to see the result of their labor estimated at its true value, they both died feeling sure that future generations would recognize it and properly honor the foresight and patriotism which by peaceful negotiation added a great country, imperial in extent and resources, to our national domain.
In 1867 Doctor McBride resigned his office and returned to Oregon, making his home at St. Helens in Columbia county. There, in prosperity and comfort, dividing his time between his books and social intercourse with his neighbors and friends, he lived, universally esteemed, until his final summons to a better world. He died on the 18th of December, 1875, in his own words, “without fear and without regret,” happy in the consciousness of a well-spent life and in the hope of a happier existence in the eternal future.
“Life’s labor done, as sinks the day,
Light from its load the spirit flies;
While Heaven and earth combine to say,
How blest the righteous when he dies.”