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B Y M A R K J . S T E G M A I E R W I T H R I C H A R D T.


and Mischief
Ephraim Gilman’s 1848 Map

I n December 1848, the U.S. General Land Office pro-

duced a map of the United States by its principal
draftsman, Ephraim Gilman. It displayed all of the existing
states, territories, proposed territories, and the area of the
Mexican Cession in the southwest acquired by the terms of
theTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,which ended the war with
The Gilman map was specifically or- ately obvious.While the Gilman map ap- Oregon Territory south of the 49th par-
dered by President James K. Polk to ac- pears to be a credible rendering of the allel: what is now Washington, Oregon,
company his last annual message to Con- United States at mid-19th century, closer Idaho, and part of Montana. In the 1848
gress that month. Polk wanted the map to inspection reveals serious labeling errors, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the
illustrate the territorial gains from the misspellings, and egregious misplace- Mexican War, Mexico ceded what are
Mexican War, advance his ideas on the ments of major geographic features. This now the states of California, Nevada, and
development of the newly acquired terri- is surprising because Gilman was an expe- Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming,
tories, and address the growing debate in rienced draftsman who had been at the Arizona, and New Mexico. The United
Congress and the nation over the exten- land office at least since 1839. States now reached coast to coast, a fact
sion of slavery in the territories. that the expansionist President Polk
Gilman colored the various areas in n n n n wanted to highlight in this unique but
pink, light green, and light yellow and fea- forceful political statement.
tured tables of statistics on the square The Gilman map shows that the 1840s Some features of the map readily cap-
miles and acreages on the right and left had been an important decade for the ture our attention. The shape of Texas
borders.The map is a beautiful artifact on expansion of the United States. The looks strongly distorted to the modern
its own, but it is also an intriguing docu- Texas annexation by the United States in eye, making west Texas appear much
ment with features that are not immedi- 1845 brought Texas into the Union as a smaller than it actually is.This distortion
slave state. In 1846, the British ceded the reflects Gilman’s use of John Disturnell’s
1847 “Mapa de los Estados Unidos de
Mejico,”noted as a source on the
left-hand side of his map.
A comparison of Gilman’s map
with Disturnell’s shows an im-
portant difference regarding the
boundary between New Mexico
and Texas. Disturnell’s map,
which had been used for the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo
negotiations, was ambiguous re-
garding the Texas-New Mexico
boundary. Disturnell had the area
east of the Rio Grande one color
and the area west of the river a
different color, strongly implying
that everything east of the river
lay in Texas, while New Mexico
lay only on the western side. But
the wording Disturnell used on
the map—“Nuevo Mejico” (west
of the river) “O Santa Fe” (east of
the river)— supported the claim
that some of New Mexico lay on
the eastern side of the Rio
Grande. Gilman’s map did away
with the ambiguity, not only hav-
ing different colors on either side
of the river but also clearly label-
ing only the area west of the Rio
Grande as New Mexico.
The Gilman map’s rendering of
the boundary was part of Pres-
ident Polk’s effort to settle a dis-
Gilman’s map supported Texans’ claim that New Mexican pute between Texas and New
lands began to the west of the Rio Grande.

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Mexico. In December 1836, the Texas ing the haste with which the map was pre- play of boundaries for two “proposed” ter-
Republic had defined its boundary on the pared and printed. The Missouri Com- ritories, Minnesota and Nebraska.These fea-
south and west as the Rio Grande from promise of 1820,extended further west by tures signaled administration support for
mouth to source and from that point the Texas annexation resolutions of 1845, Senate bills organizing territorial govern-
northward to the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty had prohibited slavery north of the line ments in those two areas. Illinois Senator
line between the United States and Spain and permitted it south of the line. Stephen A. Douglas introduced both bills
at 42˚N.That boundary claim meant that The beginning of the Mexican War in and chaired the Senate’s Committee onTer-
Santa Fe and all the settled parts of Mexico’s 1846, with the prospect that the United ritories. These bills expressed Douglas’s
northern province of New Mexico would States would acquire the vast region lying vision of America’s“manifest destiny,” a pro-
have been part of Texas since they all lay betweenTexas and the Pacific Coast,prompt- gressive migration of settlement westward,
east of the Rio Grande. ed northern politicians in Congress to rally establishment of territorial governments
Many people in northern states doubted behind Pennsylvania Rep. David Wilmot’s as settlers advanced (Minnesota) and
or totally rejected the validity of the Texas August 1846 proposal to ban slavery from sometimes in anticipation of settlement
boundary claim, and President Polk had any territory the United States might (Nebraska), and ultimately the binding of
wavered on the boundary issue himself acquire from Mexico in the war. this huge expanse together with a network
during the Mexican War. After General The Wilmot Proviso set off a firestorm of of railroads from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Stephen Watts Kearny’s forces occupied controversy, as southerners responded Polk and his administration ardently cham-
New Mexico inAugust 1847,Polk reassured that they had a constitutional right to pioned Douglas’s plans, which may explain
Texans that the U.S. government was not carry their slaves into the common terri- the inclusion of the two“proposed”territo-
setting up an adverse claim to that of Texas tories of the nation.Alternative proposals ries on Gilman’s map,with their boundaries
by establishing a military government at for resolving the issue of slavery in the ter- delineated according to Douglas’s 1848
Santa Fe.Then on July 24, 1848, President ritories emerged. One allowed settlers in bills.
Polk sent a message to Congress that defi- the territories themselves to determine Gilman apparently had a difficult time
nitely leaned toward the New Mexicans’ the slavery question, i.e. popular sover- matching the bill’s description of the
claims that their area east of the Rio Grande eignty; another left the question to the northeastern part of Minnesota Territory’s
had never been occupied by the Texans Supreme Court to determine; and a third boundary with the features of his own
and had always been governed as a pro- called for extending the Missouri Com- map. As a result of Gilman’s confusion,the
vince of Mexico until the U.S. conquest in promise line to the Pacific Coast. map shows a vaguely defined boundary
1846.Polk probably assumed this stance to Polk made clear his preference for ex- and the use of a different color—yellow—
encourage passage of the Clayton Com- tending the Missouri Compromise line in in the northeastern part of Minnesota
promise, a Senate bill that would have es- a message to the House of Representatives when he had used green in the western
tablished governments in the Mexican ses- on August 14, 1848, when he signed into part of the territory. Overall this was the
sion but failed to pass Congress. law the bill creating a territorial govern- least well-executed portion of Gilman’s
In his last annual message to Congress ment for Oregon. Polk emphasized the work. Nor did Gilman draw Wisconsin, the
on December 5, 1848, Polk appeared to “calming”influence which the 36˚30‘ line Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Lake
favor the Texas claim again.Although his had had on earlier crises over slavery Superior with cartographic exactitude.
message implied that some of New Mex- extension,and he strongly urged the appli- Neither the Minnesota nor Nebraska terri-
ico might extend east of the Rio Grande, cation of the same division line to the tory bills had passed Congress in the ear-
he recommended that Congress establish Mexican Cession. A few months later, in lier session,but MinnesotaTerritory would
a territorial government only in the areas the December 5 annual message, Polk achieve organization in 1849. Nebraska’s
of New Mexico west of the Rio Grande. used the Gilman map to reiterate this rec- status would become part of the great sec-
The features on Gilman’s map reflected ommendation to Congress. tional disruption over slavery expansion in
Polk’s sentiments. The idea of extending the Missouri Com- the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
Another politically significant feature of promise to the Pacific would recur in the A curious feature on the western por-
the Gilman map is not initially apparent— debate over slavery in the territories.It was tion of this map is its presentation of Ore-
a line drawn from the southern boundary championed by southern politicians in gon. Congress had organized a territorial
of Missouri (the Missouri Compromise 1850 as an alternative to California’s admis- government for Oregon in August 1848.
line of 1820) to the Pacific Ocean.This ren- sion to the Union as a free state, and the On Gilman’s map, however, Oregon is not
dering suggests Polk’s policy regarding the 36˚30‘ line’s extension,excluding California, labeled as an organized territory nor given
extension of slavery in the territories. In would become a major suggestion of com- any specific boundary on the east. The
the upper left-hand corner of the map, the promise during the secession crisis of area to the east is labeled “N.W. TER y.”,
line is mistakenly designated as lying at 1860–1861. or Northwest Territory, even though
39˚30‘ instead of 36˚30‘, possibly indicat- Also notable on the Gilman map is its dis- Congress had not organized any official

Cartography, Politics—and Mischief Prologue 9

The Oregon Territory had been organized in August 1848, but Gilman did not indicate this in his December map.

territory there.Why Gilman did not clearly indicates that Ephraim Gilman and his use. Yet Gilman labels that river the
designate Oregon as a territory with its superiors were operating under a tight “Wahlahmath River” and Fort Walla Walla
proper boundaries is a mystery. deadline to get the map and its tables fin- as “Ft.Wahlah wahlah,” although we have
Since the other political dimensions of ished in time to accompany Polk’s mes- not been able to locate other maps of
the map are consistent with the adminis- sage to Congress. that era with the same usages. It is also
tration’s policies, it may be that President The number of spelling errors and curious that the major outpost of Fort
Polk himself directed that the map be spelling peculiarities suggest that the Vancouver is not on the map, although it
drawn with Oregon only vaguely defined drafting of the map was marred by hasti- invariably appears in maps made in the
to accommodate southern sensibilities. ness and carelessness.On theTexas part of 1830s and 1840s of the Pacific North-
Southerners had bitterly contested the the map,“Rio del Norte,”another name for west.
Oregon Territory bill in the previous ses- the Rio Grande,is given on the map as“Rio We were so intrigued with these errors
sion, and they were still angry that the del North.” El Paso or Paso del Norte of omission and commission that we inves-
bill had prohibited slavery in a federal ter- becomes“Passo.”Matamoros is misspelled tigated the quality of Gilman’s draftsman-
ritory. The President may have preferred “Matamoras,” and Nueces River is mis- ship by examining other maps he pro-
not to remind southerners of their recent spelled “Neuces.” Gilman rendered the duced when he was employed by the
congressional defeat by prominently dis- Sabine River on the map as the “Saline General Land Office. Those maps reveal
playing the new, free territory of the River,” although the river is correctly lab- high-quality work based on recent surveys
northwest. eled the Sabine in the right-hand table, but confined to rather limited geographic
While some of the omissions,anomalies, which was apparently prepared by some- areas in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Mis-
and other peculiarities of the map might one other than Gilman. sissippi.
be traced to its political context, the many A careful examination of the Oregon When Gilman got the assignment to
serious errors and misspellings on a map part of the map reveals more egregious draft a map of the United States for Pres-
that was an important state document errors, odd omissions, and peculiar ident Polk, he had never undertaken car-
indicate hurried preparation.For example, spellings. Gilman placed Mount St. tographic work that ambitious. Since his
the erroneous listing of the Missouri Com- Helens south of the Columbia River. By 1848 map was not based on original sur-
promise line as 39˚30’ and the vagueness the time Gilman drafted his map, the veys and was drafted in haste, we also
of the depiction of the proposed Min- river emptying into the Columbia River examined maps from the 1840s at the
nesota Territory were not corrected by at present-day Portland was widely National Archives, from the Oregon His-
anyone before this map went to the known as the Willamette River, and the torical Society, and in published sources
printer, P. S. Duval, in Philadelphia. That older Indian names had fallen into dis- that were either readily available to them

10 Prologue Winter 2009

in the General Land Office or to between West Virginia
which they would have had and Kentucky. The mis-
knowledge and access. But the chievous Gilman simply
search for clues concerning applied the names of
which maps Gilman might have these lesser rivers in the
relied on to draft the 1848 map area to two major rivers
proved fruitless and yielded on his map. This experi-
no maps full of the same or enced draftsman could
similar irregularities that are not have done this by mis-
found in Gilman’s. take. Since the focus of
When one examines the the map was the western
Kentucky-Tennessee part of part of it and especially
the map, however, the er- the Mexican Cession, not
rors appear to have been Kentucky and Tennessee,
one Two days after Commissioner Young submitted this November 22, 1848, letter
to Secretary Walker, Young met with President Polk and gave him a copy of the
deliberately inserted. Gil- apparently no
man changed the names of detected the substituted Gilman map.
the Cumberland and Tenn- names for the Cumb-
essee rivers to the “Great erland and the Tennessee rivers before naming a few important rivers on his
Kanawha” and the “Big the map was sent to the printer. map, especially ones proximate to and
Since there is no evi- within President Polk’s home state?
dence that the errors Knowing that the General Land Office
were the results of hur- was operating under a tight deadline to
riedly copying from complete the map and its tables,
inaccurate maps, we Gilman would have guessed that no
can only speculate on one was going to carefully proofread his
what may have moti- work before its printing. And the evidence
vated Gilman, an on the map itself shows that Gilman
apparently talented would have been correct in such an
draftsman, to falsify assumption. One can almost imagine him
the names of two chuckling with delight when no one
major rivers on his noticed the errors before the map went to
map,repeatedly use the printer.
incorrect place While the political meaning and the
names, and mis- many inaccuracies of the Gilman map
place major geo- are not readily apparent, neither is its
graphic features. remarkable provenance. Polk’s message
We conclude that of December 5, 1848, and many related
the most likely documents were published as House
explanation is Executive Document 1 (30th Cong.,
that Gilman 2nd sess., Serial 537), with Gilman’s
was a drafts- map the first among several maps at the
man with an end. Tables on either side of Gilman’s
artistic tem- map contain statistics gathered from a

Errors on the section of the map depicting Kentucky

perament November 22, 1848, letter from Com-
and Tennessee seem to have been deliberate.
who did missioner Young to Secretary of the
not like Treasury Robert J. Walker, discussing
Sandy,” respectively. Those two very having to draw his map under a tight the amount and value of the lands
prominent rivers had been known and deadline and probably under constant acquired from Mexico. Figures from
presented on maps for generations as pressure from General Land Office Young’s annual report dated November
the Cumberland and the Tennessee. Commissioner Richard M.Young to get 30, 1848, concerning acreages of some
The Kanawha is a river in present-day the job done. Peeved at the pressure, of the newer states appear in the right-
West Virginia, and the Big Sandy is a river what more appropriate way would Gil- hand table of the map. Young had per-
that forms part of the boundary man have had to retaliate than by mis- sonally reported to President Polk on

Cartography, Politics—and Mischief Prologue 11

November 24 about the dimensions of map now in the Archives corrected the for California, no boundary provision
the newly acquired lands and gave Polk Missouri Compromise line error in the matched those defined by the California
a copy of Gilman’s map. Polk stated in upper left-hand corner by crossing out constitution later in 1849 and drawn on
his diary that he would employ the sta- 39˚30’ and writing in 36˚30’ . He also the map. If a member of Congress was
tistics of Young’s “Report” in his upcom- sketched in, or had a draftsman sketch it responsible for altering the Archives
ing annual message. The report Polk in for him, the boundary line of Cali- copy of the Gilman map in the first ses-
referred to was the November 22 letter fornia as proposed by its state constitu- sion of the 1849–1851 Congress, who
from Young to Walker, not the annual tional convention of 1849. The alter- could it have been? Only Louisiana’s
report. President Polk did use Young’s ations were probably made by a Senator Solomon W. Downs specifically
statistics in his message but quoted a congressman or senator in early 1850 in referred to Gilman’s map in a speech on
few of the figures slightly in error. The preparation for a speech. February 19, 1850, during debate on the
statistics on Gilman’s map An examination of the map in January compromise proposals previously pre-
2008 by the National Archives conserva- sented by Senator Henry Clay of Ken-
tion laboratory revealed that the tucky; Downs used the map to point out
blue line indi- that Clay’s proposal on Texas boundaries
cating the would have cut off northern Texas from
California the state.
boundary Others who referenced the map
was drawn by pointed to its statistical tables. Most cita-
someone tions of statistics from the map were
after February made in the House during speeches by
13, 1850, the northern representatives supporting the
date President admission of California as a state. On
Zachary Taylor March 11, Rep. Orin Fowler (W-MA)
sent official quoted a few statistics from the tables
copies of the on both sides of the map, and on June 3
California consti- Rep. Peter H. Silvester (W-NY) quoted a
tution to the few aggregate statistics from the right-
House and Senate. hand table. Two congressmen, Rep.
Yet whoever in- Samuel R.Thurston (D-OR) on March 25
serted the Cali- and Rep. Jesse C. Dickey (W-PA) on June
fornia boundary 6, both copied much of the entire right-
did not sketch in hand table into their pro-California state-
the boundary line hood speeches. One figure that both
between Utah and cited, which was not on Gilman’s map,
New Mexico or be- was an estimate of approximately
tween New Mexico 145,000 square miles for the area of Cal-

Gilman extended the Missouri Compromise line of 36˚30’

Territory and Texas, ifornia as defined by its constitution’s
all the way to the California coast.
both of which were boundaries. Thurston’s speech, at least
defined by Congress the printed version, occupied parts of
in bills during August 10 pages in the Congressional Globe; it
agree with those in Young’s letter to and September 1850 as part of the Compro- analyzed much of the California consti-
Walker. mise of 1850. The absence of these lines tution and quoted its section on bound-
The copy of Gilman’s map preserved strongly suggest that the map was altered aries. In our opinion, if a member of
at the Center for Legislative Archives at after February 13 but before September Congress was responsible for the inser-
the National Archives is an extraordinary 1850. tion of the California boundary on the
document because it is somewhat cor- Could someone have altered this copy Archives copy of the Gilman map, that
rected and updated from the version of the Gilman map prior to February member was most likely Samuel
originally published in the Congres- 1850, possibly during the short second Thurston of Oregon. No member of the
sional Serial Set and was referred to dur- session of Congress in December Texas delegation, all Democrats, cited
ing congressional debate over the Com- 1848–March 1849? No. Among the vari- the Gilman map in support of their
promise of 1850. ous bills that proposed to organize state’s claim to all the territory east of
Whoever used the copy of Gilman’s either a state or territorial government the Rio Grande, although the map

12 Prologue Winter 2009

clearly supported that claim. When the
Texans did mention maps in the first ses- NOTE ON SOURCES
sion of the 1849– 1851 Congress, they
The map that is the subject of this article, Map of the United States Including
cited Disturnell’s, which had authority Western Territories, December 1848, can be found in RG 233, Records of the U.S.
by virtue of its having been the map House of Representatives, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and
used in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Records Administration (NARA).The Disturnell map of 1847 is in General Records
negotiations, or a more recent and more of the United States Government, Record Group (RG) 11, NARA. Information on
accurate one based on actual surveys by Ephraim Gilman is from the United States Official Register, 1839–1851 at the
the Texas General Land Office, the Jacob National Archives; 1840 and 1850 U.S. Censuses for the District of Columbia,
National Archives Microfilm Publication M704 and M432, respectively; and the
de Cordova-Robert Creuzbaur map of
New York Times, February 23, 1853. On President James K. Polk’s request for the
August 1848. Senator Sam Houston did
map and his statements based on the Gilman map and tables, see Milton M. Quaife,
not himself refer to the Cordova-Creuz- ed., The Diary of James K. Polk During His Presidency, 1845 to 1849 (Chicago:
baur map in this session but had A.C. McClurg & Co., 1910), and James D. Richarson, A Compilation of Messages
strongly promoted it as an accurate map and Papers of the Presidents, 1789–1897, volumes 4 and 5 (Washington: G.P.O.,
of Texas during the second session of 1897). Correspondence relating to the Gilman map is in the U.S. Serial Set, U.S.
the 30th Congress in 1848. The two Congress, House of Representatives, H. Ex. Doc. 1, 30th Congress, 2nd session, vol.
maps the Texans cited simply served 537, 1849. The f loor debates in the House of Representatives that referenced the
Gilman map and tables are available in the Congressional Globe, 31st Congress,
their purpose of defending the Texas
1st session, 1850.
boundary claim in debate during 1850, The published sources most helpful for understanding the political context of
and they saw no need to also cite the the Gilman map are Stegmaier, Texas, New Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850,
Gilman map. cited above, and Stegmaier,“The Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty as a Factor in the New
Ephraim Gilman’s 1848 map proved Mexico-Texas Boundary Dispute” in John P. Bloom, ed., The Treaty of Guadalupe
more useful in Congress for its statistical Hidalgo: Papers of the Sesquicentennial Symposium, 1848–1998 (Las Cruces,
data than for its colorful depiction of U.S. NM: Doña Ana Co. Historical Society and Yucca Tree Press, 1999), pp. 31–33. See
also Robert W. Johansson, Stephen A. Douglas (New York: Oxford University Press,
geographic contours. But with its presen-
1973); Paul H. Bergeron, The Presidency of James K. Polk (Lawrence: University
tation of New Mexico lying unambigu- Press of Kansas, 1987); Chaplain W. Morrison, Democratic Politics and Sectional-
ously west of the Rio Grande, the map ism: The Wilmot Proviso Controversy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
does illustrate the final tilt of the Polk Press, 1967); and Allan Nevins, Ordeal of the Union, volume 1, Fruits of Manifest
administration toward the validity of Destiny, 1847–1852 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947).
Texas’s 1836 claim. The authors would like to thank National Archives and Records Administration
The map also reflects President Polk’s archivists Constance Potter for editorial suggestions and for furnishing biograph-
ical information on Ephraim Gilman; Richard H. Smith of the Cartographic for
view that the best solution to the sec-
assistance in our examination of the cartographic work of Gilman; and William
tional crisis over slavery in the territories
Davis of the Center for Legislative Archives. We also thank NARA conservationist
was the extension of the Missouri Com- Yoonjoo Strumfels for conducting a ver y detailed analysis of the map. We also
promise line to the Pacific Coast. The appreciate Scott Daniels, research librarian at the Oregon Historical Society, who
marking of the proposed California state conducted at our request a search of Oregon maps drawn before 1850.
boundary on the Archives copy of the
map used during the course of the
debate over the Compromise of 1850 Author
makes it a unique document.
Finally, the Gilman map illustrates Mark J. Stegmaier is professor of history at Cameron University in Law-
ton, Oklahoma, where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D.from the Uni-
how much of the nation’s history a sin-
versity of California at Santa Barbara in 1975.He is the author of Texas, New
gle document can reveal and how many Mexico, and the Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute and Sectional Crisis (Kent, OH:
mysteries the draftsman embedded in Kent State University Press, 1996) and co-author of James F. Milligan: His Journal of Fre-
this fascinating example of 19th-cen- mont’s Fifth Expedition, 1853–1854: His Adventurous Life on Land and Sea (Glendale,
tury cartography. P CA:Arthur H. Clark Co., 1988).

Richard T. McCulley is the historian at the Center for Legislative Archives

at the National Archives and Records Administration,Washington, D.C. He
received his Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Texas at Austin and
was a lecturer and research associate at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of
Public Affairs. He is the co-author of White House Operations:The Lyndon
Johnson Presidency (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986) and author of
Banks and Politics during the Progressive Era (New York: Garland Press, 1992).

Cartography, Politics—and Mischief Prologue 13