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Rosalea Barker (At Annapolis): Texas

Stateside With Rosalea Barker (At Annapolis)


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George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, Texas

I have a theory about Texas—it merely wants to rule the universe. One of my acquaintances so hates what the place stands for she has never set foot in it. Another acquaintance is a Texan so amiable that I can safely espouse my Texas conspiracy theory to her while she has a Thanksgiving turkey-carving knife in her hand.

What does Texas stand for? Well, you should probably interact with the Flash timeline on the website of the PBS documentary about the US-Mexican War of 1846-48 to see its history. The period that relates to Texas’s 1845 admission to the Union begins with the 1813 rebellion which declared Mexico was a constitutional republic and not subject to Spanish rule. Eight years later, Mexico’s independence was formally recognized by Spain in the Treaty of Aquala, and the country’s constitution was enacted in 1824.

Tejas (“friends, allies”) was a province of Mexico, and the Mexican government invited US settlers into the area by giving away its Indian friends’ and allies’ land. By 1830, Americanos outnumbered Mexicanos three to one and they petitioned the Mexican government to become a separate Mexican state. When that failed, the settlers seceded in what is known as the Texas War of Independence, 1835-36. For ten years, Texas was a republic until its pleas for annexation into the United States were acted upon in a cunning ploy by President Tyler in early 1845, just days before he was due to leave office.

Here’s how it went down, according to the historian of the House of Representatives, Robert V. Remini, in his book The House:

“In the 1844 [presidential] election, the Whigs nominated Henry Clay, who opposed territorial expansion, knowing it would provoke a war with Mexico over Texas. Polk narrowly defeated Clay, whereupon the incumbent president, John Tyler, capitalized on the Democrat’s victory and proposed a joint resolution by both houses of Congress admitting Texas as a slave state into the Union. A simple majority from two houses was infinitely easier to obtain than a two-thirds majority from one.”

Since annexation involved concluding a treaty, and treaties can only be ratified by the Senate under Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution—[The President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur—the constitutionality of Texas’ admission to the Union was subject to some debate. But Southerners were determined to get another slave state into the fold, especially since the reason Mexico had rebuffed Texans’ earlier petition to be a Mexican state was the settlers’ desire to legitimize slaveholding.

But it’s not the debate around slaveholding that marks Texas’s admission to the United States as the beginning of the end for any hope that the still relatively new nation would be a peaceable one. In a magazine article in the summer of 1845, purportedly written by John O’Sullivan, the words that were to justify everything the States did for the next several decades became a jingoistic catch cry: Manifest Destiny. You can read a rather typo-ridden transcript of the article here, but the essential bit is this:

“Why, were other reasoning wanting, in favor of now elevating this question of the reception of Texas into the Union, out of the lower region of our past party dissensions, up to its proper level of a high and broad nationality, it surely is to be found, found abundantly, in the manner in which other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves into it, between us and the proper parties to the case, in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.

The “our” in “our manifest destiny” refers to Anglo-Saxons, and the limitation of having a mere continent to overspread was soon replaced by the idea that Anglo-Saxons were destined to settle ever westward, even across the Pacific and all the way around the world. In an article in the Winter 2009 edition of the magazine Indian (published by the National Museum of the American Indian), geographer George Herman writes that the concept of manifest destiny was rooted in an intertwining of three ideas regarding the new republic that was the United States.

The first was the idea of an inherently Christian mission. Secondly, says Herman, there was a conviction “that the new nation would expand naturally as others realized that the new freedom on which American institutions were based constituted a higher standard of civilization. Moreover, held this conviction, the expansion of this new shining civilization would be good for the world.”

How to reconcile this ideal Christian civilization with the reality of wholesale eviction of American Indians from their land and the pernicious institution of slavery? Not a problem! The third idea was that not all peoples were ready for the new civilization, and that “a particular race carried the burden of fostering free government,” writes Herman. White Man’s Burden, anyone?

The more I read about the history of Texas, the more appalled I am. But there was one seeming bright spot—Sam Houston, who was at one time or another President of the Republic of Texas, US Senator from Texas, and Texas Governor, being relieved of that office in March 1861 when he refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. Houston was a slaveholder himself, but saw nothing good coming of the War Between the States, predicting that the North would prevail in its desire to preserve the Union despite all the gold and lives that would be spent trying to win Southern independence.

Texas became the 28th US state on December 29, 1845.



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