Texas Was Once a Nation. How and Why Did it Become a State?
Why would a sovereign nation give it all up in order to become just another state?
In 1829, Mexico had control over an area called “Mexican Texas.” The Mexicans had been governing the area with what is called salutary neglect, a hands-off approach where general lawlessness prevailed–kind of like an absentee landlord who doesn’t care very much about what happens to his property. There was no control over the land, which allowed Anglo-Americans to enter the region and settle without resistance.
New Rules Spark a Revolution
The Mexican authorities came to the realization they were losing control over the territory. They abruptly abandoned their current policy of benign rule and imposed new restrictions, ordering a military occupation of the region in order to abolish the self government that had become the norm there. Some of the first acts the Mexican authorities implemented were a ban on slavery and a termination of further American immigration. This didn’t sit well with the people who already called the region home.
These new and unwelcome rules implemented by the Mexican government were the sparks that ignited the Texas Revolution, which lasted for several years. Eventually, the rebel forces occupying the region defeated the Mexican army, and, on April 21st, 1836, declared their independence from Mexico. On this date, the Republic of Texas was born.
The new Republic drew its borders according to the Treaties of Valesco. These treaties were created by the new Republic and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of Mexico at the conclusion of hostilities between the rebels and Mexico.
However, the treaties were never ratified. The Mexican government claimed they were coerced to sign the documents, refusing to call them treaties. As far as the Mexican government was concerned, this “Republic of Texas” was nothing more than a rogue group of bandits on Mexican land.
The Republic of Texas
The citizens of the Republic of Texas were known as Texians. The country had a total land mass of 389,200 square miles, a little more than the current state of Texas and New Mexico combined.
But the republic’s claim of independence did not bring an end to the conflicts with Mexico. The Mexican authorities refused to recognize the new nation, and the countries continued to skirmish well into the 1840s. The United States, on the other hand, seized what they saw to be an opportunity to gain more land, and quickly recognized the new nation in 1837.
Hard Times for the Republic
The years that followed were difficult for the new republic. Ongoing skirmishes with Mexican bandits and the ever looming threat of another war with the Mexican military kept many white settlers away. They believed it to be safer in the United States.
Without new settlers coming into the country, it became difficult to raise much needed tax revenue. Also, the nations unresolved status by the international community was a deterrent to slave traders and merchants, keeping them from importing slave labor into the new republic and leading to labor shortages.
Having no means to increase tax revenue and cheap slave labor, the Texians quickly mounted debt and were forced to decrease the size of their militia.
With the Texas economy in a consistent state of decline, Sam Houston, the President of the Republic of Texas opened negotiations with Mexico. He hoped to secure official recognition of the republic’s independence, which would encourage more people to immigrate to the country and allay the uncertainties of slave traders. However, the negotiations were unsuccessful. The Mexican government would not recognize the republic as a country and maintained that the land was rightfully theirs.
With the new republic going through such difficult times, a growing majority of the Texian population favored the annexation of the republic by the United States.
The United States Intervenes
Although the majority of Texians were in favor of an annexation, politicians in the states were against it, citing the fact that the republic was a major slave-owning region. America’s political elites didn’t want to add fire to the flames of the pro- and anti-slavery debate.
American politicians also wanted to avoid a war with Mexico. Since Mexico had never acknowledged the sovereignty of the Republic of Texas, they still considered it their territory. Mexico had already warned the U. S. that any attempt to annex the Republic would lead to war.
The New State of Texas
In spite of the Mexican Government’s resistance, President John Tyler pursued the annexation issue on his own, hoping that by succeeding he would be reelected for another four years in office.
Documents of the annexation were drawn up and submitted to the U.S. Senate in 1844. The annexation bill was passed and signed in 1845, then forwarded to the to the Republic of Texas for acceptance. The Texians happily agreed to the terms.
In 1846, the Republic of Texas relinquished its sovereignty to the United States, becoming the 28th state of the United States of America.
Unfortunately for Tyler, the annexation came too late to help him win reelection. To make matters worse, the annexation caused relations between the United States and Mexico to deteriorate. Now, President James K. Polk was in office, and he was a man who strongly believed in the concept of “manifest destiny,” the natural and destined westward expansion of America. It was up to Polk to solve this political mess.
With the concept of manifest destiny in mind, Polk offered to purchase the land. The Mexican government, angry at the United States’ annexation of the land, declined the offer. Polk wouldn’t take no for an answer, and decided to take the land by force.
Mexico and America Go to War
President Polk provoked a Mexican conflict by moving troops to a disputed area between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River.
The maneuver had its intended purpose, and forced the Mexican army to go on the offensive to protect their land. They attacked, laying siege to an American fort that had been built in the area, and the conflict expanded as several more battles ensued.
As anticipated by President Polk, Mexico was ill-prepared and the Americans defeated the Mexicans in each of the battles.
These victories gave Polk the ammunition he needed to encourage congress to take action. Within days of the first attack, a divided congress declared war on Mexico.
For purely political purposes having to do with his dream of manifest destiny, Polk had successfully brought about the start of the Mexican-American war.
No Official Declaration of War Ever Came From Mexico
Although the Mexicans never declared war on the Americans, the American army advanced. Mexico put up what resistance they could, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
In 1848, a treaty was signed to establish the Rio Grande as the official U. S. border with Mexico. The treaty also forced Mexico to recognize the American annexation of the Republic of Texas. Lastly, the treaty agreed to reimburse Mexico for the spoils it inherited with the land north of the Rio Grande.
Border Disputes Continue
Fast forward to 2017, the current U. S. president, Donald Trump, continues to badmouth Mexico. He is a staunch advocate for the construction of a border wall, and wants Mexico to pay for it. This doesn’t sit well with many Americans–especially those who know their history–or anyone in Mexico. Several prominent Mexicans are calling for the United States to:
- Return land taken from Mexico during the Mexican-American war.
- Return the border to pre-1848 boundaries.
- Convince the Mexican government to file a lawsuit against the United States in the International Court of Justice to settle their claim that America admittedly invaded Mexican territory.
This admission can be found in the first line of the agreement signed at the end of the Mexican-American war. The document is known as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and some claim it was signed under duress, thus rendering it null and void.
Most American attorneys believe such a suit would have shaky foundations. Officially, the United States does not recognize the international court’s jurisdiction when it comes to enforcing decisions in contentious cases such as this.
Talk of Secession
Since the Republic of Texas was annexed by America, there have been calls to secede. Some believe the annexation was in fact a hostile takeover, and several movements are currently pushing for the secession of Texas and the re-establishment of the republic. The chances of this happening any time soon are almost non-existent, but that doesn’t mean the most outspoken among these organizations will stop their efforts any time soon.
The Texas State Library
U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian — 1830–1860 Texas Annexation
Wikipedia — Republic of Texas
Wikipedia — History of Texas (1845–1860)
© Copyright 2019 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.
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