Texas, Republic of
TEXAS, REPUBLIC OF
Modern Texas was originally part of a larger territory, Coahuila y Tejas—one of the states of Mexico, which became a nation in 1821 after gaining its independence from Spain. After Texas gained its independence from Mexico, the Republic of Texas (1836–1845) allowed slavery, and as a result its admission into the Union deepened the divisions between North and South that led to the Civil War. Texas' entry into the Union also fed American ambitions to expand U.S. control of the continent and led to the Mexican War (1846–1848), which resulted in the U.S. acquisition of California and territories in the Southwest.
coahuila y tejas
In 1821, Spanish colonial administrators in Texas granted Moses Austin authority to colonize American settlers. Austin died shortly thereafter, and his son, Stephen, received permission from the new Mexican government to continue his father's work. By 1835, 13,500 families had legally immigrated to Texas from the United States; many also came illegally. Most were Southerners drawn by the promise of cheap land or fleeing the economic problems caused by the Panic of 1819. Slaveholders brought their slaves with them. Despite official prohibitions, loopholes allowed slavery to flourish in Texas.
In theory, Mexican policy mandated that immigrants become Mexican citizens, convert to Catholicism, and be persons of good character. The Mexican government allowed trial by jury, gave official status to both Spanish and English languages, and left considerable local powers to empresarios such as Stephen Austin who sponsored colonization efforts. In practice, American immigrants to Texas found lax governmental supervision, low taxes, and no serious effort to enforce official Catholicism. Some Mexican officials expressed concern at the area's growing Americanization and suggested curbing immigration.
American immigration to Texas occurred against a backdrop of chronic instability in Mexico. Military force often resolved political divisions between those favoring federalist and centralist approaches to governing the country. Frequent changes of government between 1821 and 1835 hampered good relations between Texas and the central government. During a period of centralist rule from 1829 to 1832, Mexican officials imposed tighter restrictions to prevent a drift toward greater economic ties with the United States. The Law of April 6, 1830, banned
new immigration, and trade restrictions and tariffs caused considerable resentment. A coup by General Antonio López de Santa Anna led to a return to federalist rule in 1833. Texans initiated efforts to obtain separate statehood, but Mexican officials refused to partition Coahuila y Tejas. As a federalist, Santa Anna generally accommodated Texans' concerns, lifting the 1830 immigration ban and continuing a policy of limited taxation.
Federalist reforms failed to improve Mexico's overall economic and political situation, and in 1835 Santa Anna seized dictatorial powers and shifted to a centralist approach. He abrogated the federalist Constitution of 1824. Federalists rebelled in Yucatán, Zacatecas, and Coahuila y Tejas. In Texas, Anglo settlers as well as Tejanos (Spanish and Mexican residents of Texas) took up arms and captured San Antonio de Bexar in late 1835. After brutally crushing the Zacatecas revolt, Santa Anna led a large Mexican army into Texas in early 1836. In March, the Mexicans defeated rebellious Texans at the Alamo and Goliad. However, Santa Anna suffered a decisive defeat at San Jacinto, near present-day Houston, on April 21, 1836. Texas General Sam Houston forced the Mexican leader to sign the Treaties of Velasco, recognizing Texas' independence and establishing the Rio Grande as its southern boundary. Mexican federalists overthrew Santa Anna and refused to recognize Texas, continuing to view the old Spanish boundary of the Nueces River as legitimate.
efforts to annex the texas republic
From its outset, the Republic of Texas sought to become part of the United States. Texans expressed overwhelming approval of annexation in a September 1836 referendum, but American political divisions over the issue of slavery delayed union. President Andrew Jackson's administration refused to recognize Texas' independence until March 1837. President Martin Van Buren's administration proved even less interested in annexing Texas. Both of the major American political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, proved unwilling to disturb their delicate North-South coalitions with a debate over the admission of another slave state. As a result, alternative visions for the republic's future remained politically alive into 1844.
Sam Houston (president of the Republic of Texas, 1836–1838 and 1841–1844) and his political supporters favored joining the United States. Houston's opponents, led by Mirabeau Lamar (president, 1838–1841), proposed a grander future for Texas. Lamar advocated Indian expulsion, commercial and diplomatic relations with European powers, and the expansion of Texas to the Pacific. Lamar's schemes produced debt, inflation, and military disaster. When Houston returned to power in 1841, Texas faced a crippling economic situation and a rising threat from Mexico. Twice in 1842, Mexican military forces invaded and then withdrew. Houston devoted his second term to resolving Texas' untenable situation. He moved simultaneously on three different paths. First, he continued to press for annexation to the United States. Second, he flirted with the possibility of Texas becoming a British protectorate, which would probably have required the abolition of slavery but would have opened the door to British immigration, capital, and military protection. Third, Houston pursued reunification with Mexico on terms favorable to Texas. The wily Houston hoped British and Mexican interest would bait the American government into annexing Texas.
John Tyler's ascension to the American presidency offered hope for annexation. Tyler, a Southern Whig, feared that a British protectorate in Texas would prevent westward expansion of both the United States and slavery. Secret negotiations between Texas' representatives and U.S. Secretary of State John Calhoun produced an annexation treaty in February 1844. Calhoun warned the British government that meddling in Texas threatened American security interests since it threatened the westward expansion of slavery, making clear the proslavery motivations behind the annexation treaty. As a result, the treaty failed. The 1844 presidential election, however, became a referendum on expansion when the Democratic candidate, Tennessee governor James K. Polk, called for expansion in Oregon as well as Texas, balancing an additional slave state with a free state and thus mooting the slavery issue. Polk's election energized the lame duck Congress to move on Texas annexation. A joint resolution of Congress passed in February 1845, allowing for annexation if it was approved by Texas voters.
Under the joint resolution, Texas kept both its public lands and its debt. Texas voters could also divide the state into as many as four additional states. New states created north of the Missouri Compromise line (36°30' north latitude) would be free; slavery would be permitted in new states created to the south of the line. The international boundary dispute between Texas and Mexico fell to the United States government for resolution. On March 6, 1845, the Mexican government, upset with U.S. annexation of land Mexico had long claimed, broke diplomatic relations with the United States, setting the stage for the Mexican War. That October, Texas voters ratified the annexation agreement by 4,254 to 257. In December, Polk signed an act making Texas the twenty-eighth state. The following spring, Polk ordered American forces into the disputed region between the Nueces and Rio Grande, provoking war with Mexico.
The annexation of Texas represents a critical event not only in the path to war with Mexico but also in the developing sectional crisis within the United States. By making war with Mexico all but inevitable, annexation fueled U.S. expansion and brought on debates about slavery in newly conquered territories. The mechanics of annexation alarmed many Northerners, who found confirmation of a slave-power conspiracy determined to expand the institution and dominate the federal government. Northern opposition to annexation and the Mexican war conversely confirmed many Southerners' suspicions that the North hoped to curb the South's political power, limiting and ultimately abolishing slavery. These issues would ultimately lead to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Calvert, Robert A.; DeLeón, Arnoldo; and Cantrell, Gregg. The History of Texas, 3d edition. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2002.
Campbell, Randolph B. An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Richardson, Rupert; Anderson, Adrian; Wintz, Cary D.; and Wallace, Ernest. Texas: The Lone Star State, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.