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The Southern Slave Conspiracy to Annex Texas

Updated on March 5, 2010
Map of Louisiana Territory, including Texas claim
Map of Louisiana Territory, including Texas claim
John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, President, Congressman, and opponent of annexation
John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, President, Congressman, and opponent of annexation
President Andrew Jackson, champion of the U.S. claim on Texas from the Lousiana Purchase
President Andrew Jackson, champion of the U.S. claim on Texas from the Lousiana Purchase
President Martin Van Buren, whose career was derailed by the Texas debate
President Martin Van Buren, whose career was derailed by the Texas debate
Texas President Sam Houston, champion of Texas interests
Texas President Sam Houston, champion of Texas interests
President John Tyler, whose diplomatic intrigues almost led to failure for Texas annexation
President John Tyler, whose diplomatic intrigues almost led to failure for Texas annexation

A Tale of Two Intrigues

It has been suggested that the movement to annex Texas was part of a conspiracy by the slave power of the United States to extend and perpetuate the institution of slavery. That the Southern interests had a definite interest in the admission of Texas to the Union is obvious, and that this interest was inherently tied to slavery, the predominate economic asset of the region in the Nineteenth Century, is also painfully obvious. Of greater concern here is the question of the extent to which the slave interest, and the political leaders who represented it, put their ambitions for Texas into action. How far did back did this movement go? Who was involved? How did the advocates of annexation manipulate events to achieve their ends? What about Mexico? Was war with that nation deliberately provoked in the interests of perpetuating human slavery?

The connection of Texas with the United States dates at least as far back as 1803, when the Jefferson Administration purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. From the beginning, many Americans laid claim to Texas as part of the Louisiana Purchase, based on French claims to the territory going back to La Salle. In fact, Louisiana may have included the far northern section of the present state south of the Red River and including the Panhandle. Officially, all U.S. claims to Texas were given up in 1819 with the Adams-Onis Treaty between the U.S. and Spain, but American settlers had been settling northeastern Texas illicitly for years, and the resolution of the dispute did nothing to prevent this incursion of mostly Southern citizens (along with their slaves) into the region. Mexican Independence, and the opening of Texas to colonization, increased the level of American immigration from a trickle to a flood. Ultimately, this influx concerned the Mexican government, particularly as most of the new settlers were southern slaveholders, and Mexican law prohibited slavery. On April 6, 1830, the government passed a series of immigration restrictions, including one prohibiting the introduction of slaves into Mexican territory.

The Law of April 6 set off a firestorm of protest, and within a few years Mexico had acceded to pressure to excuse Texas from the most controversial parts. The law gave advocates of separation from Mexico, both in Texas and in the United States, the opportunity they had been waiting for. Meanwhile, immigration continued, along with signs of open conflict and rebellion, leading up to the Texas Revolution of 1835-36.

Here comes the first opportunity to explore the question of a conspiracy among Southern Americans to acquire Texas for the purpose of slavery expansion. A proposal to offer to purchase Texas from Mexico had actually been advanced in 1827 by then Secretary of State Henry Clay of Kentucky, but it did not go very far. Andrew Jackson, of Tennessee had long supported a movement to "reacquire" Texas, as he called it; he had long championed the idea that the province had been a part of the Louisiana Purchase. This claim, spurious though it might have been, is the main source of speculation that Jackson might have been a leader of this slave power conspiracy, especially after he became President in 1829. Certainly the man he defeated, John Quincy Adams (who had been the Secretary of State who negotiated the 1819 treaty with Spain) thought so, and said so in his diary of 1832. And Mexico might have been prepared to believe a conspiracy existed, as most of the spirit of rebellion in Texas was led by emigres from the slaveholding South.

Was there a conspiracy? Maybe, but as with most conspiracy theories, there is really no evidence other than circumstantial to back it up. The influx of Southerners into Texas makes sense, given the proximity of the region to the Southern states and its suitability for agricultural pursuits. Naturally, Southerners and their political spokesmen were anxious to preserve their peculiar institution, which they claimed, dubiously, to be the main source of their prosperity; this hardly stands out as evidence of a conspiracy to take Texas. The main focus of any conspiracy theory is the idea that its sponsors, led by the Jackson Administration, actively encouraged emigration into Texas in order to foment rebellion; emigrants certainly had no need to wait for encouragement from Washington to move into the area however, and most Americans came for the land grants that Mexico still offered generously, not for the blatantly political motives a conspiracy theory suggests.

Moreover, conspiracy theorists have to contend with the mysterious lack of interest in Texas displayed by Jackson and his cronies. That they desired the province is clear; but Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, were more concerned with protecting the the Democratic Party they had created from the division that would inevitably result from any open moves to expand slavery. Jackson's biggest opportunity to aid the rebellion was in 1836, when the Southwest Division of the Army under Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines (whose brother James ran a ferry service across the Sabine River into Texas) was stationed just over the border in Louisiana; they were under orders, however, to do no more than prevent Americans from crossing over to fight, and in the case of the Sixth Infantry at Fort Jessup, to keep the Indians from interfering. Jackson dithered on Texas until March 1837, on the eve of his retirement, when he finally recognized Texas independence. President Van Buren did even less to help those favoring annexation. Meanwhile, in Texas, President Sam Houston, who supported joining the Union, was replaced by annexation opponent Mirabeau B. Lamar, which put the issue on the back burner for the next three years.

So if there was a Southern conspiracy in the 1830s, it failed for lack of leadership to achieve its goals. The evidence for such a movement at that time, however, is inconclusive. There was, however, a conspiracy that took place later, under different leadership--two leaders, in fact, working separately but ultimately for the same ends. This conspiracy involved deception and diplomatic intrigue, and although it failed in its initial objective, it ultimately succeeded in the final goal of Texas annexation.

In 1841, John Tyler succeeded President William Henry Harrison, who had died after only a month in Washington. In Texas, meanwhile, Sam Houston began another term as President. Both men shared the same goal of annexation for Texas, though perhaps for different reasons--Tyler, a determined defender of slavery, dreamed of an expanded slave empire for the South as well as a stronger political position for himself; Houston's primary interest was the future of Texas, which had tottered on the brink of extinction as a republic thanks to the Mexican threat and the disastrous policies of the Lamar Administration. Houston, however, was doubtful at this time that Texas would ever join the United States, because the forces against it were as strong as ever, and the movement for annexation was being led by a politician, President Tyler, who was basically despised by both major parties. Houston decided to pursue an alternate course, one he hoped would lead to success on the annexation front: He began negotiations with Great Britain for a commercial treaty between that country and Texas.

This news alarmed annexationists in the United States, and led to fears that what Britain really wanted was to annex Texas herself, possibly as a haven for freed slaves. Britain had recently emancipated the slaves in her West Indian colonies, a move which must have set Southerners and their political leaders on edge. In fact, there is evidence that Britain was trying to persuade Texas to abolish slavery in exchange for a trade treaty, and its entirely possible that Houston, eager to promote the interests of the Republic in case efforts to enter the Union failed, would have said yes to Britain. Tyler and the Southern slave interests were, naturally, determined to prevent this.

The Tyler Administration began secret negotiations with Houston on an annexation treaty in 1843. Secrecy was needed, Tyler reasoned, because he needed to present the U.S. Senate with a finished treaty in order to keep politics from sidetracking the overall objective; in fact, he knew his unpopularity in Congress would keep him from any progress on annexation unless he could present the body with a fait accompli. The treaty was finally presented to the Senate on April 22, 1844. It was here that Tyler used deception to trick Senators into voting for annexation. Playing on the fears brought on by news of Houston's trade negotiations with Britain, he claimed to have evidence that Britain was in fact negotiating to acquire Texas as a colony, after which she would abolish slavery there and open it up as a sanctuary for escaped slaves from the southern states. He was joined in this effort by his last two Secretaries of State. Abel Upshur and John C. Calhoun, both defenders of the pro-slavery ideology championed by Tyler.

In the end, this second conspiracy also failed, at least temporarily. The Senate rejected the annexation treaty by a large margin. This put an end to illicit efforts to admit the Republic. The issue, however, did not die, and in fact influenced and was moved forward by the Presidential election of 1844.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Unvbeieballe how well-written and informative this was.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      1951年7月9日 韓国の梁裕燦大使がダレス国務長官顧問に対馬を要求して即座に断られるのですが その文書にフィアリー氏作成と見られる 合衆国草案に関する韓国の構文に対する論評 という5月9日付無署名覚書があることが注2に書いてあります ここでは対馬についての論評はありませんが 少なくとも5月9日以前にはすでに 韓国政府が公文を送って 草案の署名国になることとマッカーサーラインの存続をアメリカ草案についての意見としてアメリカに表明していたことが分かります -----------------------------------------------------------------2 An unsigned medmranoum (possibly prepared by Mr. Fearey) of May 9, titled "Comments on Korean Note Regarding U.S. Treaty Draft," had dealt in part with a Korean contention that Korean signature of the Japanese Peace Treaty would be justified by the precedent of Polish signature of the Treaty of Versailles. "On examination Korea's case for participation in the treaty does not gain much support from the example of Poland after World War I. The Polish National Committee set up in Paris in 1917 under Oaderewski was 'recgnized' and dealt with by all the principal western Allies....The U.S. and other major powers, on the other hand, deliberately refrained from recognizing the 'Provisional' Government of Korea' as having any status whatsoever during World War II. Tha fact that that government declared war on Japan and that Korean elements, mostly long time resident in Korea [China?], fought with the Chinese forces, would therefore have no significance in our view."(Lot 54 D 423)The Korean note mentioned in the title to the medmranoum has not been found in Depart ment of State files.3 In the medmranoum cited in footnote 2 above, the section on the "MacArthur Line" reads as follows: "The position that Japanese fishermen be permanently excluded from the fishing grounds on the Korea side of the 'MacArthur Line' even exceeds the demands of our West Coast fishing people, and would in fact be far more serious for the Japanese fishing industry. The Korean demand should be denied for its direct effects and, even more, because of the precedent it would set. Contrary to the impression conveyed by the Korean Government's note, no nation had any bilateral treaties with Japan before the war excluding Japanese fishing vessels from high seas areas adjacent to other nations."-----------------------------------------------------------------塚本孝 サンフランシスコ条約と竹島 レファレンス 389(1983.6)pp.59 に日本語訳が載っています 5/8に卞栄泰 ピョン ヨンテ 外務長官が渡米していることも辻褄が合います 東亜日報1951年5月8日付記事 卞長官 渡美 やはり 連合ニュースがアメリカ国立公文書記録管理局(NARA)で手に入れたアメリカ国務省の外交文書によると 韓国は第2次世界大戦戦勝国たちが日本との平和条約草案を作成していた時期の1951年4月27日に米国務省に送った文書で 対馬島の領有権を主張した における 4/27の韓国の公文書 というのは存在したようです ただ 5/9付のフィアリー氏によると思われる論評に 対馬もそうですが帰属財産についての言及が無いのは不思議です 連合ニュースの画像は7/19の文書ですね 原文を何らかの形で公開して下さると研究に役立つと思います

    • thebolesfamily profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Nacogdoches, Texas

      i have no evidence, of course, to assert that Jackson was involved in a "conspiracy" to acquire Texas for the slave interests, but I believe that a wide-spread plot by Southern leaders was afoot at least as far back as the early 1800s. Jackson, as I said, had strong political interests in not appearing to back the machinations of his fellow Southerners, but in addition, he stated several times his belief that Texas was, by rights, U.S. territory by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase; he opposed the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, in which the U.S. abrogated all territorial interests in Texas, and referred many times to the "re-annexation" of the territory; this gives some support to conspiracy theories, but I feel that he would not have taken part because he always felt that Texas was part of the U.S. regardless of any treaty arrangements, and indeed he might have felt that Spain's expulsion in 1821 nullified the treaty. As for Houston, regardless of his original motivations for immigrating, he soon became an impassioned advocate for Texas, and if those interests could be served by annexation, he was for it; for the most part, however, I have found that his preference was for remaining a republic for as long as possible, especially as the politics of slavery began to muddy the waters during the 1840s.

    • profile image

      BP Sonntag 

      6 years ago

      P.S.- The most important reason for Sam Houston to come to Texas may well have been land speculation. An article in the Houston Chronicle explains: "It is a matter of record many prominent men engaged in Texas land speculation. [Professor Malcolm] McLean says many Texans may be surprised to learn that Sam Houston's "real reason for coming to Texas was to buy up all the stock in Leftwich's Grant" (a huge area between what now are Austin and Fort Worth).

      Acting for Wall Street broker James Prentiss, McLean says, Houston hoped to buy more than 53,000 acres at 6 cents an acre, or a total $3,184.49. But Sterling C. Robertson already had bought this land."

    • profile image

      BP Sonntag 

      6 years ago

      Further corroboration here that it wasn't a Jacksonian conspiracy:

      Note the letter that Andrew Jackson wrote to Sam Houston saying "It has been communicated to me that you had the illegal enterprise in view of conquering Texas; that you had declared you would, in less than two years, be emperor of that country, by conquest. I must have really thought you deranged to have believed you had such a wild scheme in contemplation; and particularly, when it was communicated that the physical force to be employed was the Cherokee Indians! Indeed, my dear sir, I can not believe you have any such chimerical, visionary scheme in view. Your pledge of honor to the contrary is a sufficient guaranty that you will never engage in any enterprise injurious to your country, or that would tarnish your fame."

      Yes Sam Houston was in Texas acting as an agent for Andrew Jackson but it was not to foment a revolution as a precursor to annexation but rather to look into the condition and temperament of the Indians there, to examine the value of the land in Texas so that if the U.S. would one day purchase it it would be able to assess its value and finally to act as an agent for claimants of lands.

      It should also be pointed out that Houston even requested that Gen. Gaines cross into Texas and intervene but the general declined.

      As you said having Gaines in position on the border would have been a perfect opportunity if in fact there was a conspiracy but Gaines didn't act, even with a request from the C-in-C of the Texas Army.

    • J D Murrah profile image

      J D Murrah 

      8 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas

      As more information comes out, there is evidence that Tyler was correct in his views. There were British agents at work in Texas. Those fears were also fed by Houston playing Britain against the United States regarding Texas. Britain assisted Texas in obtaining a peace treaty with Mexico, while the United States was working behind the scenes to annex Texas.

      A good job on the hub.


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