Editor’s note: The following historical editorial originally appeared in what was then called The Bend Bulletin on July 20, 1906.
In the days when Oregon was occupied jointly by the Americans and the British much was heard of the phrase “Fifty-four forty or fight,” the meaning being that the American boundary should go up to the parallel of 54° 40’ or there would be war.
In these militant days we hear much of another fifty-four forty and it means a real fight in every case — not with the British but with home-grown greed entrenched in slimy politics. This fifty-four forty is section 5440 of the revised statutes of the United States, under which most of the land-fraud indictments are brought. It is a conspiracy statute.
It provides that if two or more persons conspire “to commit any offense against the United States or defraud the United States in any manner for any purpose, and one or more said parties do any act to effect the object of conspiracy” all shall be liable to a penalty of “not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 and to imprisonment not more than two years.”
The fencing of the public domain, procuring and “expediting” unlawful land entries and other offences fall under this statute in Oregon because of the peculiar political condition that prevailed here for a long time, in which there was “safety in numbers” and the many links made a chain of great strength and smoothness. But the “numbers” that made fraud a “safe” business in Oregon failed to find security when there was no response from Washington. The Washington government is more disposed to enforce the fifty-four forty of this day that it was in the far-off cry of a past generation, and the dreams of many “influential” citizens are thereby muchly disturbed.