the gulf of mexico as a great american lake-- 9/21/16

Today's selection -- from The Strange Career of William Ellis. Texans in the early 1800s chafed under the rule of Mexico, since the Mexican government banned slavery. But after Texas gained its independence from Mexico (1836) and became a new state in the United States (1845), slavery there flourished, and expansionist slaveholders began to hope for a Gulf of Mexico transformed into a "great American lake":

"In [the mid-1800s], Texas [was transformed] into a landscape dominated by cotton and slaves. In 1845, when the United States annexed Texas, the number of slaves within the rogue nation that Mexico still claimed as a rebellious province totaled a mere 27,000. Following admission to the United States, however, Texas's slave population soared, reaching 180,000 by 1860. Even so, Texas legislators continued to insist on the necessity of more 'slave labor to meet the wants of the State in reducing its almost unlimited acres of sugar and cotton land to cultivation,' and Texas newspapers proclaimed, 'We want more slaves. We need them.'

"For many Americans, this explosive growth underscored an unmistakable fact: slavery's destiny lay along the border. Most imme­diately, that future meant the newly cultivated cotton fields of Texas. But just as Texas had slipped out of Mexican control in 1836, so, too, did it seem that other sections of the continent would soon fall into the American grasp, as California, New Mexico, and Arizona had in 1848. Many saw no reason why Mexico should not relinquish more territory in the near future, or why the tropical isle of Cuba, so suited to slave agriculture and so close to US shores, should not become another state. Expansionists thrilled to the prospect of transforming the entire Gulf of Mexico into a basin ringed with US territories: a 'great American lake,' 'I want Cuba,' enthused Senator Albert Gall­atin Brown of Mississippi. 'I want, Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two more Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason-- for the planting or spreading of slavery.' "


Karl Jacoby


The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire


W. W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2016 by Karl Jacoby


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