Incorporating Texas into the Union employed intrigue and propaganda but received its greatest affirmation with the Election of James K. Polk to the Presidency in 1844.
Texas annexation by the United States became an issue immediately following Texas independence and was overwhelmingly affirmed by a Texas referendum representing the desires of Texans to unite with their homeland. But annexation would not take place for another nine years. By 1844, Northern notions of Manifest Destiny and Southern fears of future abolition drove the issue to the forefront, enabling President Tyler, an ardent expansionist, to sign a joint resolution for annexation before his administration ended in early 1845.
Initial Setbacks to Texas Annexation
Annexation efforts were first rejected by President Andrew Jackson. Jackson knew that annexation would be contentious, particularly in the North where the prospect of one or more new slave states entering the Union was anathema. Additionally, Jackson did not want to hurt the presidential chances of Martin Van Buren who, in 1836, was Jackson’s choice as a successor.
There were constitutional issues as well. National leaders like Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams questioned the constitutionality of annexing an independent republic. Texas was not a U.S. territory; it was the Lone Star Republic with its own Congress. Opponents of this view argued that Texas had, indirectly, been part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and was thus already annexed. Other views noted that the Constitution was mute on the issue.
The Propaganda Effect of John C. Calhoun
In 1841 John Tyler became the first “accidental” president following the untimely death of William Henry Harrison; Van Buren had not achieved reelection. Unable to affect domestic change following the mass resignation of his Cabinet, Tyler turned to foreign affairs, determined to resurrect the Texas annexation issue.
Tyler’s second Secretary of State, Abel Upshur, began working on an annexation treaty. Upon Upshur’s death, John C. Calhoun continued the process. The propaganda issues involved alleged British influence in Texas, postulating that Britain determined to end slavery in the republic in return for commercial preferences. This outraged the South. For the North, according to Calhoun’s propaganda, Texas annexation would open rich new markets for their manufactures.
The Election of 1844 Decides the Issue
Although Texas annexation expended much of Congressional and Presidential energy throughout 1844, the national election – at least for James K Polk and the Democratic Party, sealed the deal as a popular mandate by the electorate. The popular vote, however, demonstrated polarization on the issue: Polk’s margin of victory was only 1%.
Henry Clay, the Whig candidate, switched positions on Texas annexation during the campaign. This cost him crucial votes in New York and Michigan where the Liberty Party candidate, James G. Birney, siphoned off enough popular votes to award those states’ electoral votes to Polk. The Liberty Party strongly opposed annexation, running on an abolitionist platform.
On December 3, 1844, President Tyler declared that, “A controlling majority of the people…have declared in favor of immediate annexation.” Having been unable to employ his treaty-making powers successfully in the wake of a Senate rejection, pro-annexation forces used a joint resolution of Congress to bring the Lone Star Republic into the Union.
Aftermath of Annexation
Despite Mexican threats of war, no conflict arose. The Mexican-American War, however, coming later in the Polk administration, was a direct byproduct of annexation, focusing on border discrepancies. It was this discrepancy that prompted Polk to order Brigadier General Zachary Taylor into “disputed” territory north of the Rio Grande that, historically and according to maps of the time period, clearly belonged to Mexico.
But the fervor of Manifest Destiny was sweeping the nation and Polk had promised to annex all lands up to the Pacific. Texas annexation was merely the first phase of a long-term policy to expand into California and to solidify U.S. claims in Oregon.
- Frederick Merk, History of the Westward Movement (Alfred A.Knopf, 1978)
- Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (Random House, 1963)
- Merk, Slavery and the Annexation of Texas (Alfred A. Knopf, 1972)
- Anders Stephanson, Manifest Destiny: American Expansionism and the Empire of Right (Hill Wang, 1995)
- Albert K. Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansion in American History (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1958)