As envoy and minister extraordinary from the new republic, Hunt presently proposed in form the immediate annexation of Texas to the United States; for by a vote almost unanimous the inhabitants of that country had preferred this condition to that of solitary independence. Van Buren, however, declined the proposal, whether finally or for a convenient delay was not apparent, tho annexationists chose to take his refusal in the latter sense. But the bare proposal was enough to arouse the opposition of the sensitive North, and petitions against annexing Texas to the Union soon poured in upon this Congress with the other antislavery memorials. Out of State legislatures, where this subject was earnestly debated, fivethose of Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigandeclared their emphatic repugnance to the whole scheme; others showed a decided dislike of it; but South Carolina was most eager on the other side, and the legislatures of Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi strongly commended the cause to Congress and the country.
Much art was used by slaveholders to hold up this project as a national one; but new soil meant new slave soil, and the division of State feeling showed plainly that it was so regarded. With nine slave States, which it was thought might be formed out of Texas alone, slavery would sit impregnable in the national Senate. This was too much for the Northern stomach to bear at once. In vain, therefore, was Preston,2 of the Senate, a moderate Whig from South Carolina, and a most accomplished orator, put forward by the slave propagandists to embellish with his rhetoric a resolve to "reannex" the whole territory to the Rio Grande, with the consent of Texas, as a domain which was rightfully our own before the Florida treaty with Spain surrendered it. Even now Minister Hunt was trying to press the plan, and Secretaries Forsyth and Poinsett, and the President himself, so Preston thought, had been generally friendly. The Senate would take no action, while Adams, in the House debates, exposed the whole system of perfidy and duplicity which the Jackson administration had pursued toward Mexico from the beginning, with this same annexation in view. This silenced the subject for the present; and the sagacious Van Buren turning to the pacific management of American claims upon Mexico, the alarm of our free States at length subsided. . . .
Seward in a recent campaign speech urged the true objection to Texas, not very different, in truth, from that which had weighed with President Monroe a quarter-century before. Texas and slavery were at war with the common interests and involved the integrity of the Union. "To increase the slaveholding power is to subvert the Constitution; to give a fearful preponderance which may and probably will be speedily followed by demands to which the Democratic free-labor States can not yield, and the denial of which will be made the ground of secession, nullification, and disunion." Most fellow Whigs thought; the prediction at this time an extravagant one, but events established it.
In the Senate, McDuffe,3 and in the House Charles J. Ingersoll, offered a joint resolution for annexing Texas; each resolution was duly referred. After the holidays the subject was earnestly debated in the House; many Southern Whigs favoring the measure, while Northern men insisted on modifying the Ingersoll resolutions so that the Missouri compromise line should be run through the proposed territory. This a Democratic caucus accepted, and the joint resolution as amended passed the House near the close of January by a majority of 22 votes. . . .
Pending the final disposition of this measure the whole Union was agitated. Crowds besieged the Senate daily to listen to the debate, and foreign legations as well as the Cabinet were represented among the listeners. Nor were State legislatures silent in expressing their views. The legislature of Massachusetts took the Whig ground that no constitutional right nor precedent existed for admitting a foreign State by mere act of Congress, and protested in the name of the people against admitting Texas on any other basis than the perfect equality of freemen. But in those Northern border States which had gone Democratic, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine, the legislatures chose rather to commend the annexation of Texas as a great national measure. Virginia refused to instruct her senators on the subject, while South Carolina was dictatorial. Internal convulsions in Mexico at this very moment were an overpowering temptation to those who had wavered. Tyler's secret agents, who bore bribes in their hands and plausible explanations on their lips, had accomplished nothing with Santa Anna,4 but to spur him on, with his republic, to subjugate Texas for her perfidy. But just as Congress deliberated on the question came the news of a sudden revolution in Mexico which put Santa Anna under the wheel and Herrera at the top. Now was the time to clutch the prize, for we could secure it without a war; and this lying instigation sealed the book of fate.
To glance for a moment at the meaning of this joint resolution. It not only consented to the erection of Texas into a State for admission into the Union with a republican form of government, but pledged the faith of the United States to permit new States to be formed from that jurisdiction not exceeding four, besides Texas, should Texas assent to it, and to admit these additional States into the Union hereafter with or without slavery, as the people of each State might prefer, if formed below the Missouri compromise line of 36° 30', but if formed above that line, without slavery at all. The tiger in the jungle of this fair territory was the adjustment of boundaries with Mexico; but we adopted Texas and her circumstances together, and distinctly assumed that difficult function. Any constitution formed by the people of Texas was to be laid before Congress for its final action by the first of January next. Such was the first and original branch of this joint resolution, embracing a consent under conditions given in advance, which the President might submit to the republic of Texas by way of an offer from the United States for immediate acceptance. But now, by force of the Benton alternative, the President might at his discretion negotiate with Texas clean terms of admission and submit the results hereafter.
Only three days were left to round out Tyler's official term. The second thought of Congress had apparently been to commit this whole business, with its dread responsibilities, to the incoming President, whose sober reticence was confided in. Polk had already pledged himself to "immediate reannexation," but this was a question of methods, and even Jacksonians disliked to give Tyler credit for anything. Benton and the Van Burenites had a last hope that the second alternative would be chosen, and, in fact, Benton afterward asserted that Polk privately promised to choose it. But Tyler was too slippery, too intent upon the prize of his calling, to be stript thus of his glory. He improved the last hours of his opportunity, and with Calhoun, it appears, to second him. The discretion given under the resolve he at once exercised himself; he chose the first alternative, which was what zealous annexationists wanted, and invited Texas to accept the conditions and enter without further transactions. Polk, perhaps, was willing to escape so easily the dilemma which the Democrats had arranged for him. He put upon his predecessor the odium of annexing Texas by the surest but most outrageous means, and Tyler, in return, put upon Polk the odium of handling consequences so that war with Mexico followed. On Monday, the last day of his term, and the same day that he vacated the White House, Tyler took the responsibility without a qualm, by dispatching a nephew, who spurred off with hot speed, bearing with him the official dispatches which tendered to the Lone Star republic the proposal of the United States for immediate union.5
Since achieving her independence from Mexico in the battle of San Jacinto of 1836 (following the massacre in the Alamo in March), Texas for ten years had been an independent Statethe "Lone Star State." But she had small resources; her credit was not good, and she was "constantly threatened with bankruptcy," says Garrison, her latest historian. With a voting population of not more than 7,000, she had to maintain an army and navy in order to meet troubles with the Indians and Mexicans, and a diplomatic corps. European powers, especially England and France sought to acquire influence with her. The main obstacle with European powers was the slavery question, a difficulty which at once presented itself to the United States also when Texas sought admission. Commissioners were sent to Washington with an offer of annexation very soon after the battle of San Jacinto and Congress passed a resolution favorable to accepting the proposal, at such future time as Texas should prove herself capable of maintaining her independence. Mexico gave notice to the United States that annexation would be regarded in the light of an act of war. After annexation was finally achieved in 1845 Texas became more prosperous. With a population under 30,000 in 1836, she had in 1847 a white population of 100,000, besides 35,000 slaves. In 1850 her total population had risen to 200,000.
2 William C. Preston, Senator from South Carolina from 1837 to 1842.
3 George McDuffe, a supporter of Nullification, Governor of South Carolina from 1834 to 1886, and Senator from 1843 to 1846.
4 Santa Anna, who, under the Mexican Constitution of 1843, had practically become dictator, was deposed and exiled in 1845, when Herrera succeeded him as President. Herrera's resignation being compulsory. In the following year Santa Anna was recalled and again made President. He commanded the Mexican Army in the war with the United States, Herrera being second in command.
5 Of the moral and political aspects of the annexation of Texas, Blaine says in his "Twenty Years of Congress": We were not guiltless toward Mexico in originally permitting, if not encouraging, our citizens to join in the revolt of one of the States of that Republic. But Texas had passed definitely and finally beyond the control of Mexico, and the practical issue was, whether we should incorporate her in the Union or leave her to drift in uncertain currentspossibly to form European alliances which we should afterward be compelled, in self-defense, to destroy. An astute statesman of that period summed up the whole case when he declared that it was wiser policy to annex Texas, and accept the issue of immediate war with Mexico, than to leave Texas in nominal independence to involve us probably in ultimate war with England. The entire history of subsequent events has vindicated the wisdom, the courage, and the statesmanship with which the Democratic party dealt with this question in 1844."
The great event of carrying the Anglo-Saxon race to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and planting that race firmly on that sea, took place at this time, beginning in 1842, and largely increasing in 1843. It was not an act of the Government, leading the people and protecting them; but, like all the other great emigrations and settlements of that race on our continent, it was the act of the people, going forward without government aid or countenance, establishing their possession, and compelling the government to follow with its shield, and spread it over them. So far as the action of the Government was concerned, it operated to endanger our title to the Columbia, to prevent emigration, and to incur the loss of the country. . . .
The title to the country being endangered by the acts of the Government, the saving of it devolved upon the peopleand they saved it. In 1842, incited by numerous newspaper publications, upward of a thousand American emigrants went to the country, making their long pilgrimage overland from the frontiers of Missouri, with their wives and children, their flocks and herds, their implements of husbandry and weapons of defensetraversing the vast inclined plane to the base of the Rocky Mountains, crossing that barrier (deemed impassable by Europeans) and descending the wide slope which declines from the mountains to the Pacific. Six months would be consumed in this journey, filled with hardships, beset by dangers from savage hostility, and only to be prosecuted in caravans of strength and determination. The Burnets and Applegates from Missouri were among the first leaders, and in 1843, some two thousand more joined the first emigration.
To check these bold adventurers was the object of the Government: to encourage them, was the object of some Western members of Congress, on whom (in conjunction with the people) the task of saving the Columbia evidently devolved. These members were ready for their work, and promptly began. . . . An American settlement grew up at the mouth of the Columbia. Conventional agreements among themselves answered the purpose of laws. A colony was plantedhad planted itselfand did not intend to retire from its positionand did not. It remained and grew; and that colony of self-impulsion, without the aid of government, and in spite of all its blunders, saved the Territory of Oregon to the United States: one of the many events which show how little the wisdom of government has to do with great events which fix the fate of countries.
Connected with this emigration, and auxiliary to it, was the first expedition of Lieutenant Fremont to the Rocky Mountains, and undertaken and completed in the summer of 1842upon its outside view the conception of the Government, but in fact conceived without its knowledge, and executed upon solicited orders, of which the design was unknown. Lieutenant Fremont2 was a young officer, appointed in the topographical corps from the class of citizens by President Jackson upon the recommendation of Mr. Poinsett, Secretary at War. He did not enter the army through the gate of West Point, and was considered an intrusive officer by the graduates of that institution. Having, before his appointment, assisted for two years the learned astronomer, Mr. Nicollet, in his great survey of the country between the Missouri and Mississippi, his mind was trained to such labor; and instead of hunting comfortable berths about the towns and villages, he solicited employment in the vast regions beyond the Mississippi.
Colonel Abert, the chief of the corps, gave him an order to go to the frontier beyond the Mississippi. That order did not come up to his views. After receiving it he carried it back, and got it altered, and the Rocky Mountains inserted as an object of his exploration, and the South Pass in those mountains named as a particular point to be examined, and its position fixt by him. It was through this pass that the Oregon emigration crossed the mountains, and the exploration of Lieutenant Fremont had the double effect of fixing an important point in the line of the emigrants' travel, and giving them encouragement from the apparent interest which the Government took in their enterprise. At the same time the Government, that is, the executive administration, knew nothing about it. The design was conceived by the young lieutenant: the order for its execution was obtained, upon solicitation, from his immediate chiefimporting, of course, to be done by his order, but an order which had its conception elsewhere.
The English claim to Oregon was based chiefly on the visit of Drake in 1579 (see Volume 1, page 156), the visit of Captain Cook in 1778, and that of Vancouver, who explored the coast in 1793. The American claims were based on the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray in 1791 (see Volume IV, page 65), on the Louisiana Purchase, and on the Lewis and Clark explorations. A boundary line of 49 degrees had been fixt upon by a convention between the United States and Great Britain in 1818, for the region as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Beyond that point the territory was to be open to both parties for ten years without prejudice to the claims of either. By a convention of 1827, joint occupation of this territory was continued indefinitely, but was terminable at the option of either party on twelve months' notice.
The "Oregon question" that grew out of this situation was frequently before Congress from 1820 until finally settled in 1844. Serious American immigration began about 1832, and became more active in 1836, under Marcus Whitman's work as a missionary. In 1845 the population was estimated at 30,000. Meanwhile, the British immigration had been small. It was confined mainly to trappers attached to the Hudson Bay Company. Americans believed that the best method of gaining permanent possession of Oregon was through immigration.
Whitman was a missionary from Massachusetts, sent out by the American Board. Owing to friction and quarrels at the Oregon mission, the board in 1842, after Whitman had been six years in the country, decided to discontinue the southern part of his work. Whitman promptly started east in the dead of winter. After much privation, he reached Boston in March, 1843, and prevailed upon the board to reverse its decision. The new and greater stream of emigration described by Benton, as saving Oregon took place during this critical period.
2 John C. Fremont, afterward known as "the pathfinder," and the Republican candidate for President in 1856.