The Annexation of Texas

President John Tyler.

President John Tyler sought to achieve much success in foreign affairs during his presidency, and part of that success, he imagined, would be accomplished through expansion of the country. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 677. The annexation of the Republic of Texas to be the 28th state in the Union was to be his goal.

President Tyler, with Secretary of State Daniel Webster and him facing fundamental disagreements and Webster leaving his post, appointed Abel Upshur as Secretary of State. See id. President Tyler hoped that Upshur would help him deal with any hint of British abolitionism in Texas, and in doing so, the issue of annexation of Texas would become an issue that southerners embraced more than states’ rights, for the time being. See id.

Upshur did not waste any time. Many southerners felt that if Texas was not brought into the Union as a slave state, and was either allowed to remain an independent republic, or was admitted as a free state, it would serve as a magnet for runaway slaves. See id. at 678. Upshur added to this, as he published “anonymous articles in the press” about this being the designs of the British government, to emancipate the slaves and begin a race war within America. See id. citing David Pletcher, The Diplomacy of Annexation (Columbia, Mo., 1973), 119-25; Edward Crapol, John Tyler (Chapel Hill, 2006), 68-74.

In September 1843, Upshur began annexation negotiations with Texas emissary Isaac Van Zandt. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 679. Texan president Sam Houston, at that time, was also concentrated on having Mexico recognize Texas’ independence. Id. In January 1844, Upshur promised a Texan negotiator that “if they signed a treaty of annexation, the U.S. president would dispatch troops to defend Texas against Mexico without waiting for congressional authorization or ratification of the treaty.” Id. citing Norma Peterson, The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (Lawrence, Kans., 1989), 199.

Following the accidental death of Upshur during a testing of the warship, the USS Princeton, John Calhoun became Secretary of State, who was surely pleased to consummate the annexation treaty. On April 12, 1844, Secretary of State Calhoun and Texan negotiators signed the treaty, providing that Texas would become an American territory that would be eligible for “admission later as one or more states.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 679. Texas’ public lands were ceded to the federal government, while the federal government assumed up to $10 million in Texas’ debt. Id. The borders with Mexico were yet to be determined, however. Id. citing “A Treaty of Annexation, Concluded between the United States of America and the Republic of Texas, at Washington, the 12th Day of April, 1844,” rpt. in Frederick Merk, Slavery and the Annexation of Texas, (New York, 1972), 271-75.

With President Tyler’s accomplishment came the realization that slavery and abolition were not going to be reconciled easily or quickly. Beyond that, however, President Tyler was continuing to unleash the expansionist fervor that had been running rampant in American society. He believed it was fundamental for America to grow, no matter the cost, and in doing so, the issue of abolition could be avoided or suppressed.

To President Tyler’s credit, he had capitalized on America’s role in the region in securing the annexation. He approached Texas at a time when it needed protection, knowing that only America could offer the protection that would satisfy Sam Houston and the Texans. The expansion of America was coming at a rapid pace, and it was being achieved at any cost, because as more states entered the Union, more tension was growing between the North and the South, the abolitionists and the slaveowners, and soon, that tension would boil over.

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