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The Annexation of Texas, Part II

Updated on April 11, 2010

Texas Annexation Debate

Opposition to Annexation Satirized, 1844
Opposition to Annexation Satirized, 1844
President Martin Van Buren--A fence-sitter at first, he later came out against annexation and lost his chance for a comeback.
President Martin Van Buren--A fence-sitter at first, he later came out against annexation and lost his chance for a comeback.
James K. Polk, elected President on a pro-annexation platform
James K. Polk, elected President on a pro-annexation platform
Henry Clay, Whig Candidate for President in 1844
Henry Clay, Whig Candidate for President in 1844
The Republic of Texas, 1836-46
The Republic of Texas, 1836-46

Diplomacy, Politics, War Clouds and the Creation of a State

The defeat of the annexation treaty, and the machinations that had accompanied it, had left Texas President Sam Houston and his Secretary of State, Anson Jones, with ill feelings towards the whole project of annexation. The new chargé d'affaires from Washington, Andrew Jackson Donelson, assured them that the situation was not entirely hopeless, that Congress was in the process of considering a joint resolution, which would only require a majority vote to pass. Eighteen-forty-four was an election year, however, and Houston surely knew that nothing could be guaranteed. Houston, whose only concern had always been the welfare of the country he had called his home for most of the last 15 years, was desperate for some means of securing Texas' future, which now seemed more remote than ever. Not only did he have to worry about events in the United States, there was also the matter of diplomatic maneuverings between Britain and Mexico.

England, along with France, had been negotiating with Mexico for months to persuade Mexico to recognize Texas. Their "Diplomatic Act," as it was called. was rejected by Mexican President Santa Anna, who in the summer of 1844 broke off negotiations and sent one of his generals, Adrian Woll, to Texas to transmit to Houston a formal declaration of war. Santa Anna, gambling that Britain would rush to protect its investments in Mexico by allying with Mexico, failed to account for the fact that Britain had much greater trading relations with the United States, as well as commitments within its Empire that it considered more important than defending a raw frontier outpost. In October Britain notified Mexico that it was ending all efforts at further negotiations. This action left Texas in an uncertain state of existence, technically at war with its more powerful former colonial master (though no blood had yet been shed) and doubtful of its prospects with the United States as a critical election loomed.

Annexation was the single biggest issue in the Presidential election of 1844. The Democrats seemed certain of renominating Martin Van Buren. The former President was opposed to annexation, but he needed the votes of Southern delegates to win at the party convention. President Tyler, meanwhile, having been spurned by the Whigs, was trying to gain the Democratic nomination himself on a pro-Texas platform, but he was so unpopular on all sides that he only succeeded in muddying the waters. At the convention, Van Buren tried to take Texas off the table by taking an equivocal position, stating that annexation would come eventually. This proved to be a fatal mistake, because it failed to bring the South to his side, and earned him the opposition of many of the Northern delegates. Confusion and deadlock arose, and in the end, a compromise candidate was nominated, former Speaker of the House and Tennessee Governor James Knox Polk, who supported annexation.

The Whigs nominated perennial candidate Henry Clay. Clay opposed annexation because he felt, as Van Buren did, that it would split the country in half. As a candidate, he held to his opposition stance, calling annexation imperialistic, provocative to Mexico, and not financially sound (referring to Texas' huge debt load); the country should take care of the territory it already held, he said. With the help of a third party candidate, James Birney of the Liberty Party, Polk won in one of the narrowest elections in U.S. history.

At about the same time, the leadership picture changed in Texas as well. Anson Jones, Houston's Secretary of State, was elected President. Jones, who along with Houston had used the rejection of the annexation treaty as a pretense for exploring appeals to Europe for protection, now began moving closer to a possible alliance with Britain; at the same time, he assured American representatives that he was still holding out for annexation, a game of playing both ends against the middle that failed to fool the American charge d'affaires, Andrew Jackson Donelson. Meanwhile, Duff Green, a journalist and former Jackson ally sent to Texas by the outgoing Tyler Administration as consul, had tried to bribe Jones into agreeing to a scheme to invade and conquer northern Mexico; Jones refused, leading Green to attack him viciously in the press, which caused Jones to send him back home to the U.S. and led to a minor diplomatic crisis.

Tyler and Calhoun had appointed Green in order to speed up the process. The election of Polk threatened to rob Tyler of a legacy as the President who brought Texas into the Union, and he had no intention of seeing that happen. Indeed, annexation supporters in Congress were hard at work also. Attention now turned to a number of options, but the most likely prospect was a joint resolution, which unlike a treaty required only a majority vote in both houses. Opponents refused to let up, pointing in particular to the millions of dollars of Texas debt that the U.S. would have to absorb, and the corruption and land speculation that seemed to be epidemic in the Republic. The momentum towards annexation had increased, however, as many Whigs, trying to save face, became supporters of adding Texas in the name of western expansion.

After several failed attempts, in January 1845 Congress agreed to a resolution proposed by Congressman Milton Brown of Tennessee. The Brown Resolution provided that Texas could keep its public lands as a means of paying off its debt gradually; and also that Texas could possibly divide into several states, an attempt to answer concerns from anti-slavery members over the slave-free balance in the Senate; the Missouri Compromise line was also reaffirmed. The resolution passed the House easily, but was almost derailed in the Senate when opponents got it rejected in the Foreign Relations Committee, and the initial vote was a tie. (The Vice-President's office was vacant after the death of President Harrison in 1841, so a tie vote would have killed the resolution.) Only a last-minute switch by Louisiana Senator Henry Johnson saved the measure. The next day, February 28, 1845, the House voted, again overwhelmingly, to approve the Senate version. President Tyler signed the resolution on March 1, three days before leaving the White House.  Annexation was now complete.


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