“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
So the treaty failed. And shortly thereafter the ostensible Whig and Democratic candidates for the Presidency in the next election, Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren, publicly announced their opposition to annexation. Clay (himself a slave owner) regarded annexation as dangerous to the country because it might provoke a war with Mexico, excite sectional passions over slavery, and prove financially disastrous, since the $10 million Texas debt would have to be assumed by the United States. Van Buren was especially concerned over the sectional rancor and possibility of war.
Jackson believed passionately that national safety rested on acquiring Texas “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must.”
Jackson “shed tears of regret” when he read the letter of his old friend Martin Van Buren. “I would to god I had been at Mr. V. B. elbow when he closed his letter. I would have brought to his view the proper conclusion.” The only course of action left was to dump Van Buren as a presidential candidate and nominate someone else, someone who “is an annexation man,” he wrote, “and from the Southwest.” Other Democrats agreed, and at the national nominating convention in Baltimore, they “arranged” to replace Van Buren with James K. Polk.
Clay and Polk ran a close race. Among other things, Polk promised to “reannex” Texas, claiming like Jackson that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase and had been shamefully surrendered by that “crazy old man, John Quincy Adams.” In the election, he won 170 electoral votes to Clay’s 105. The popular vote was even closer: 1,337,243 to 1,299,062. Polk defeated Clay by a 1.4 percent margin. “A mere Tom Tit,” growled John Quincy Adams, had triumphed over the “old Eagle. The partial associations of Native Americans, Irish Catholics, abolition societies, liberty party, the Pope of Rome, the Democracy of the sword, and the dotage of a ruffian [Andrew Jackson] are sealing the fate of this nation, which nothing less than the interposition of Omnipotence can save.”
Between the time of his election and inauguration, Polk met several times with Jackson at the Hermitage. Old Hickory instructed his friend on the necessity of annexing Texas in order to “put to rest the vexing question of abolitionism, the dangerous rock to our Union, and put at defiance all combined Europe, if combined to invade us.” But Polk needed no instruction. Upon his arrival in Washington, he was queried by many members of Congress about his plans and goals. “He is for Texas, Texas, Texas,” reported Sen. Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina, “& talks of but little else.”
The outgoing President, John Tyler, saw his opportunity to capitalize on Folk’s victory, and he helped arrange a joint resolution of annexation for both houses of Congress. After considerable politicking the House and Senate gave their approval, and Tyler signed the resolution on March 1,1845, just three days before he was to leave office. A messenger was immediately dispatched to Texas with the “glorious” news.
“Texas is ours,” trumpeted the newspapers. “The Union is safe.” A feeble old man who had only a few months to live added his voice to the general acclaim. Andrew Jackson thanked God that he had lived to see this happy day. “I…congratulate my beloved country [that] Texas is reannexed,” he wrote, “and the safety, prosperity, and the greatest interest of the whole Union is secured by this…great and important national act.”
But others expressed more disturbing views. They feared that the admission of Texas would lead inevitably to war with Mexico and possibly civil war. And their direst predictions proved correct. Texas ratified annexation on July 4 and was admitted into the Union as a slave state on December 29,1845. The following spring—on May 11,1846—the United States declared war against Mexico. Later the North and South submitted their dispute over slavery to a frightful test of arms. Within twenty years the Union cracked apart, and to weld it back together did indeed take “oceans of blood & hundreds of millions of money.”