During the early colonization of North America by European countries, Spain claimed a vast area of the Southwest including present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. However, few Spaniards actually settled in these areas and by 1820 only 3,500 non-Indian people occupied the entire region. San Antonio de Bexar, the Spanish capital of Texas, itself had only 800 residents. With the U.S. acquisition of the Louisiana territories from France in 1803, U.S. presence along the Mississippi River corridor posed a threat to the nearby Spanish claims. In an effort to hold off further U.S. expansion, Spain used the land of Texas as a buffer. Local Spanish authorities recruited some 300 U.S. citizens to accept low-priced land in exchange for maintaining loyalty to Spain. After some initial problems, the new settlers finally arrived in 1822 only to find that Mexico had gained independence from Spain (in 1821). However, the original land-grant agreement for the U.S. citizens was accepted by the new Mexican government.
Through the next several years more U.S. settlers filed into Texas than Mexico had anticipated and the buffer region was becoming a threat itself. By 1830 Mexican settlers were far out-numbered with over 15,000 white settlers and 1,000 black slaves living in Texas. The later settlers were generally disrespectful of the relatively ineffective Mexican rule. In an effort to discourage further settlement, Mexico attempted to abolish slavery and to stop further immigration from the United States. Mexico also boosted its military presence which further spurred a clamor for Texas independence.
Finally, open rebellion by Texas settlers occurred in October of 1835, with events escalating quickly. A siege of Texas volunteers by Mexican troops in the early San Antonio Spanish mission of the Alamo began in December, resulting in a climatic Mexican victory in March of 1836. While the Alamo was under siege, a group of Texas delegates drafted a Texas constitution patterned after the U.S. Constitution and proclaimed independence. Following other Mexican military victories in early 1836, the Texas volunteers struck back at San Jacinto in April, winning a stunning victory and capturing the Mexican head of state, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Texans forced Santa Anna to grant independence, but the Mexican government later reneged, claiming that the act had been coerced. In addition, the United States was unwilling to annex Texas despite a referendum vote in 1836 among Texas settlers overwhelmingly favoring annexation. Consequently, for almost a decade Texas was an independent nation.
There were several reasons for the United States' unwillingness to accept Texas' request to be admitted to the Union. Most importantly, Texas was a slave state with its eastern portion heavily committed to cotton cultivation. Its annexation would upset the delicate balance of 13 slave states and 13 non-slave states currently making up the country. The United States, additionally, did not wish to further aggravate their political relationship with Mexico. Moreover, the common perception of U.S. citizens was that Texas' population largely consisted of undesirables. And again, in 1838 Congress defeated a bill to annex Texas.
As Texas was burdened by a huge debt following its independence and as it had no industry, Texas President Sam Houston implemented settlement policies encouraging immigration from the United States and Europe. Free land was offered, and consequently the immigrant population grew from 35,000 settlers in 1836 to 147,000 by 1846. An agrarian slave-based cotton economy flourished on the fertile soils along the rivers and it led to creation of a planter aristocracy concentrating economic wealth in the hands of a very small minority. Texas cotton attracted higher prices in Europe than Southern United States cotton. With the decline of slave-based agriculture in the U.S. border states such as Maryland and Kentucky, slavery-based economies were moving southwestward toward the deep South and Texas.
However, certain other economic and political developments began to catch the attention of the United States. Texas had established diplomatic relations with several nations, including Britain and France. Those two nations saw an independent Texas as an inhibitor to U.S. expansion. Mexico, who had thoughts of retaking the largely defenseless new nation, became convinced that the continued existence of the Texas Republic might actually serve as a buffer against U.S. expansionism as originally sought. The United States saw Texas' growing ties to European countries as a significant threat to its future expansion. In addition, despite its financially troubled status, Texas began expressing its own expansionist desires. While Texas already included parts of present-day New Mexico, Colorado, and Arkansas, in 1842 the Texas congress voted to extend Texas' boundaries all the way west to the Pacific Ocean to what was later California and some parts of northern Mexico.
Finally, with rising U.S. concern over Texas' future, lame-duck President John Tyler (1841–1845) submitted a treaty of annexation to Congress. The proposal immediately became an 1844 presidential election issue. An ardent proponent of annexation, James K. Polk (1845–1849) won the election, but before he could be inaugurated, Congress voted for annexation in 1845. Texas officially became part of the United States on December 29, 1845. Terms of the annexation agreement were generous to the new state, with Texas retaining all of its public lands and the United States paying $5 million to ease its debts.
Long term benefits to the United States for Texas annexation were significant. The annexation led quickly to war with Mexico in 1846. The victorious United States came away with control of the American Southwest and California through the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848. The slave-based cotton production boomed as the number of slaves in Texas increased from 12,500 in 1840 to almost 170,000 in 1860. Besides the cotton trade, Texas became the king of the cattle industry in the nineteenth century and later a major oil producer. Texas annexation also rounded out the borders of a truly transcontinental United States.
The annexation of Texas is but another name for the perpetuity of slavery; and we who now enjoy the rights and hold the soil of the Union, must bid farewell forever to the hope of relieving ourselves from the danger, the odium, and the disgrace inseparable from this pernicious institution.
theodore sedgwick, an opponent of texas annexation
Hogan, William R. The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946.
McComb, David G. Texas, a Modern History. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1989.
Merk, Frederick. Slavery and the Annexation of Texas. New York: Knopf, 1972.
Montejano, David. Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1987.