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Books by
Jeffery Robenalt

"A Glimpse of Texas Past"

The Struggle for Annexation

by Jeffery Robenalt
Jeffery Robenalt

When voters elected Sam Houston President of the Republic of Texas in September 1836, the vast majority of citizens also voted in favor of immediately seeking annexation to the United States, and why not? The addition of Texas to the Union made perfect sense. Most Texans had emigrated from the United States, and their language, customs, values and views of law and government were similar to Americans. Annexation would also play a key role in fulfilling the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States by promoting westward expansion. In light of all that the two countries shared, Texans were convinced the United States would be eager to accept Texas as a new state. It is no surprise then that they were shocked and disappointed when President Andrew Jackson, a man regarded by most Texans as their best friend in America, not only failed to seek annexation of the Republic but also refused to extend recognition to the new government.

President Andrew Jackson
1824 Painting by Thomas Sully

Wikimedia Commons

Although Andrew Jackson was personally in favor of recognition, he had sound reasons for delaying any formal action. A move toward recognition of the Republic, before Mexico accepted Texas independence, could be construed as an unfriendly act, or worse, drag the United States into a war south of the Rio Grande. An even greater obstacle to Texas recognition was the question of slavery. The majority of Texans had originally immigrated to Texas from southern states, and many of them had either brought slaves or the tradition of slavery along with them. At the dawn of the Republic, there were more than 3,000 slaves hard at work planting, harvesting and ginning cotton. Cotton was the only real money crop grown in the Republic, and if Texas did join the Union, it would surely come in as a slave state.

Led by the more rabid abolitionists, the anti-slavery movement in the United States was growing stronger every day, and the idea of adding a new slave state to the Union was rapidly becoming unacceptable to an increasing number of northerners. Most abolitionists thought of recognition as the first step toward annexation, and they fought it with a passion. To make matters even more difficult, President Jackson had the upcoming election of his good friend and Vice President, Martin Van Buren, to consider. If Jackson ventured too far toward recognition before the election, he would lose northern votes and perhaps the presidency for Van Buren. His only choice was to wait, and if Jackson waited, so did Texas.

Sam Houston, the President of the new Republic, recognized the importance of formal recognition by the United States. Not only would annexation solve many of the new Republic's problems, but no other nation would be willing to step up and recognize Texas independence until the United States had committed itself. Texas would be forced to stand apart from the world community. Titles to Texas land grants would have no value, thus crippling efforts to attract new settlers, and Texas currency and bonds would be worthless outside its borders. There would also be little hope of attracting foreign investment or signing treaties of commerce and cooperation with other nations.

Sam Houston
President Sam Houston
Wikimedia Commons

The Texas ministers to Washington, J. Pinckney Henderson and William Wharton, continued to lobby behind the scenes for recognition, and the prospects improved when Martin Van Buren won the election. Now lame-duck President Andrew Jackson was free to act. On March 3, 1837, the final day of his presidency, Jackson extended formal recognition to the Republic, but the admission of Texas to the Union was an entirely different matter. Nothing had been done to erase the problems of slavery and relations with Mexico, and they hung like a dark cloud over the issue of annexation. President Van Buren refused to even consider the question, and the delegation from Texas, led by Anson Jones, reluctantly turned to Congress.

President Martin van Buren portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy
Wikimedia Commons

After many days of intense lobbying, several members of Congress who favored annexation finally agreed to introduce a bill to admit Texas. Unfortunately, John Quincy Adams, former United States president and present member of Congress, blocked passage of the bill. A devout abolitionist, Adams was determined not to admit any state to the Union that favored slavery. To make matters worse, his anti-slavery views were shared by many other legislators. Adams continued to drag his heels until Sam Houston, embarrassed for Texas by the long delay, ordered Jones to withdraw the request for annexation. With the possibility of annexation closed, it became necessary to seek strong friends in Europe for the purposes of establishing trade, selling bonds, and securing further recognition. Houston sent J. Pinkney Henderson to England and France for this purpose.

Former President John Quincy Adams
Portrait by George Caleb Bingham

Wikimedia Commons

The Texas Constitution limited the first president to a term in office of only two years. Later presidents would serve for three years and no president was permitted to serve consecutive terms. Mirabeau Lamar’s distinguished record as a poet, a publisher, and a hero at the Battle of San Jacinto made him an ideal candidate to replace Houston. He was elected the second president of the Republic in 1838. However, unlike Houston, Lamar favored a Texas that was not under the influence of the United States; a country free to go its own way and eventually expand all the way to California and the Pacific Ocean. Such a view left no room for the possibility of annexation, so for the next three years the policy became a forgotten issue until Sam Houston once again ran for office in 1841.

Lamar’s administration left the Republic in dire straits. Hope of peaceful coexistence with Mexico vanished, Texas currency fell to three cents on the American dollar, and the public debt now topped six million dollars. In his second inaugural address on December 13, 1841, Sam Houston appeared in a homespun linsey-woolsey shirt and said, “There is not a dollar in the treasury. We are not only without money, but without credit, and for want of punctuality, (in paying government debts) without honor.” To address the problems he faced, Houston cut government expenses to the bone, including his own salary, dismissed the regular army, sold the navy, and urged peace with Mexico. “The true interest of Texas,” he declared, “is to maintain peace with all nations and cultivate the soil.” Although these measures helped, Houston knew the only real solution to the Republic’s problems was to again seek annexation.

During the latter stages of Houston’s second term, annexation finally became a distinct possibility. John Tyler had assumed the office of President of the United States following the death of William Henry Harrison. John C. Calhoun, Tyler’s Secretary of State, negotiated a treaty with J. Pinckney Henderson in April 1844, whereby the United States would have admitted Texas as a territory, taken possession of Texas’ public lands, and assumed the Republic’s debt. Most Texans preferred statehood immediately upon annexation, not territorial status, but they reluctantly agreed to accept the terms of the treaty. Unfortunately, the vote in the U.S. Senate fell woefully short of the two-thirds approval that was required. Houston was disappointed, but the attempt at annexation had again brought the issue to prominence, and it became a key factor in the U.S. presidential campaign later in the year.

John C. Calhoun portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy
Wikimedia Commons

In the Texas presidential election of 1844, voters opted for Dr. Anson Jones over Edward Burleson. Meanwhile, in the United States, two of the leading presidential candidates, former president Martin Van Buren, the Free Soil candidate, and Henry Clay, the Whig Party nominee, failed to address the issue of annexation during their campaigns. However, the Democrats, who called for the annexation of Texas as part of their party platform, nominated James K. Polk of Tennessee. Polk, who campaigned vigorously in behalf of Texas annexation, won the election. Lame-duck President Tyler interpreted Polk’s victory as a clear mandate for annexation, and instead of waiting for Polk to assume office, he recommended that Congress annex Texas by joint resolution, a procedure that required only a simple majority of both legislative houses, not a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

Anson Jones
President Anson Jones
President James K. Polk
Portrait by George Peter Alexander Healy

Wikimedia Commons

The joint resolution passed, and President Tyler signed it on March 1, 1845, two days before he left office. The terms of the resolution were much more favorable to Texas than the treaty that had been previously presented by Secretary Calhoun. Texas would join the Union as a state, not a territory, and retain possession of its public lands, although its debt would not be assumed by the United States. The United States would also take the lead in dealing with Mexico. A special convention assembled in Austin on July 4, 1845, drafted a state constitution and adopted the joint resolution with only one dissenting vote. On October 13 both the constitution and annexation were approved by an overwhelming majority of Texas voters. The Texas Admission Act was signed into law by President Polk on December 29, 1845, and the formal ceremony took place in Austin on February 19, 1846.

Governor James Pinckney Henderson
Wikimedia Commons

References for "The Struggle for Annexation"

  • Fehrenbach, T. R., Lone Star: A history of Texas and the Texans, (New York, NY: Macmillan 1968).
  • Haley, James L., Sam Houston (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004).
  • James, Marquis, The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1988).
  • Neu, C. T., “ANNEXATION,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mga02, accessed August 10, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
  • Sibley, Joel H., Storm over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Smith, Justin Harvey, The Annexation of Texas, (New York, NY: Baker and Taylor, 1911; 2nd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1919; 3rd ed., New York: Barnes and Noble, 1941; 4th ed. New York, AMS Press, 1971.
  • Joint Resolution for Annexing Texas, (http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/exhibits/annexation/index.html.

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