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“Texas Must Be Ours”
On the 150th anniversary of Texan independence, we trace the fierce negotiations that brought the republic into the Union after ten turbulent years
February/March 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 2
Then there would be war, Carson said.
“Where is your means, Sir, to carry on an offensive war against Mexico?”
“In the enthusiasms of the American people,” said Carson happily, “their devotion to the cause of Liberty are the ways and means, to defray the expenses of the War.”
Jackson blanched. It was one thing for the President of the United States to threaten war, quite another for “outsiders” from Texas to presume they could manipulate this country into one. The United States had a treaty with Mexico, and the annexation of Mexican territory would most certainly be viewed around the world as a betrayal. Civilized countries would label it a brutal and aggressive act, a violation of the “law of nations.” The “Texians,” as Jackson frequently called them, must realize that annexation would take time and careful planning. Thus, when Stephen F. Austin sent him an impassioned letter requesting assistance, Jackson wrote the following endorsement: “[Austin] does not reflect that we have a treaty with Mexico, and our national faith is pledged to support it. The Texians before they took the step to declare themselves Independent, which has aroused and united all mexico against them ought to have pondered well, it was a rash and premature act. our nutrality must be faithfully maintained.”
And there were other problems. Abolitionists, for one. These troublemakers would exploit any issue to attack slavery, said Jackson, even if it ruptured relations between the North and South. They intended to oppose the admission of Texas because it represented the continued expansion of slavery. Texas, therefore, posed a possible threat to the Union, which hobbled Jackson’s efforts to negotiate a swift treaty of admission. His passion for Texas could never match his passion for the Union. “Prudence,” he later wrote, seemed to dictate that “we should stand aloof” and see how things would develop. No doubt he was also fearful of jeopardizing the election of his hand-picked successor to the Presidency, Martin Van Buren.
At this juncture Sam Houston decided to send Santa Anna to Washington to meet Jackson in the hope that their talks together would help the cause of Texas annexation. Houston released the Mexican, presented him with a handsome horse, and headed him (under armed escort) to the capital. Santa Anna arrived on January 17,1837.
At the moment, Old Hickory was recovering from a severe “hemorrhage of the lungs” that had almost ended his life. For months he remained in his room, not daring to expose himself to a relapse by needless movement around the White House. In fact, he left his room only four times during the final six months of his administration. Still, on state occasions, Jackson could muster great presence and exude the appearance of enormous strength. For his part, Santa Anna, despite his long trip, looked refreshed and relaxed. He was amused and rather pleased by the notoriety that his arrival in the capital had provoked. Many assumed he would look malevolent. They were surprised to find him a gracious and cultivated man of impeccable manners and dress.
On Thursday, January 19, 1837, the Mexican general was escorted into the presence of the American general at the White House. The two men greeted one another politely and with a degree of dignified reserve. Always the gentleman, Old Hickory assured his guest that he was most welcome in Washington and expressed pleasure in meeting him at long last. “General Andrew Jackson greeted me warmly,” Santa Anna later wrote, “and honored me at a dinner attended by notables of all countries.” Jackson treated him not as an enemy but as a head of state, even though Santa Anna had been succeeded in Mexico by Anastasio Bustamante.
The official greeting, reception, and dinner went extremely well, but the conversations involved nothing of substance. Not until the following day did the two men turn to the matter that had brought them together.
Santa Anna began by proposing the cession of Texas for a “fair consideration.” The United States, responded Jackson, could do nothing about a cession until the “disposition of the Texians” was resolved. “Until Texas is acknowledged Independent,” said the President, this nation could make no official move. At some point in the conversation, Jackson outlined a proposal for the Mexican to take back to his country. Beginning with the supposition that Mexico would officially acknowledge the independence of Texas at some point early on, Jackson suggested that the boundary of the United States be extended to include Texas and northern California—in effect, this would run the “line of the U.States to the Rio grand—up that stream to latitude 38 north & then to the pacific including north California.” In return the United States would compensate Mexico with $3,500,000. “But before we promise anything,” Jackson continued, “Genl Santana must say that he will use his influence to suspend hostilities.” The President assured his visitor that the principal objective of the United States was not territorial acquisition or the further embarrassment of the Mexican Republic, but rather to “secure peace & tranquility on our respective borders & lay the foundation of a permanent tranquility between the U.S. and Mexico.”
The interview ended on a polite but indefinite note. President Jackson provided Santa Anna with a warship to carry him to Veracruz, and the Mexican had nothing but gratitude for his treatment.