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Early American diplomatic history has been one of my key academic interests since learning from one of the best. When I realized that treaty-related documents were stored alongside other Senate records, I made viewing and photographing them one of my top priorities. The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer—I didn’t see any actual treaties last summer. But what I found was often equally impressive (or at least I thought so).

Texas declared its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, but Mexico refused to recognize Texan sovereignty. President Andrew Jackson and Texas President Sam Houston both supported the policy of Texas annexation, but it didn’t happen for nearly a decade, mostly out of a well-grounded fear that annexation would provoke war with Mexico. Toward the end of his administration, President John Tyler instructed Secretary of State Abel Upshur (and his successor John C. Calhoun, after Upshur’s bizarre death) to begin secret negotiations with Texas that would lead to a treaty securing its annexation to the United States.

Here are parts of the first and last pages of Tyler’s message transmitting the treaty to the Senate: (click on the images to enlarge)

And an original printed copy of the treaty:
Many American emigrants had brought their slaves with them when settling arable Texas lands by invitation, however, and the issue of Texas’s admission to the United States was inevitably linked with the maintenance of the sectional balance of power preserved so delicately in the Compromise of 1820 and after. Secretary Calhoun dashed off his infamous Pakenham letter and sent it to the Senate along with the treaty and Tyler’s message. In that letter, Calhoun informed the British minister to the U.S. that he viewed Britain’s meddling with the Texas question as a poorly disguised attempt to abolitionize the area. Now that Calhoun had explicitly associated annexation with the protection of Southern slavery, it’s not surprising that the treaty suffered an overwhelming defeat:





The United States soon annexed Texas anyway, but through a joint resolution of Congress, which required only a bare majority of both houses rather than the 2/3 Senate majority needed to ratify treaties. Whether the United States could acquire new territory through a mere joint resolution was a contentious new constitutional question. Another was whether Texas could bypass federal-territory status and be admitted instantly as a state (as actually happened), as each state is guaranteed a House and Senate delegation, Representatives and Senators must have been citizens of the United States for seven and nine years, and the area’s inhabitants had previously been citizens of Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas. This is a pretty lame argument–any defeated or aspiring American politician could move to Texas and run for Congress.

I’m about halfway through Robert Merry’s excellent book A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent, so now seemed like a good time to post about the annexation of Texas.

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