the rise of texas -- 8/12/19

Today's selection -- from A Country of Vast Designs by Robert W. Merry. The rise of Texas, from a sparsely populated prairie to an independent country choosing between a possible annexation by the United States and remaining an independent country buttressed by Great Britain:

"In the meantime, Mexico established its independence from Spain in 1821 and set about to address a problem that had plagued the Span­ish overlords for generations -- the dearth of settlement in Texas and California and a consequent inability to establish dominion over those lands. Unlike the robust Anglo-Saxon migrations to the New World, the Spanish influx had not encompassed large numbers of families seeking land for cultivation and settlement. The Spanish migrants had been bent more on establishing themselves as a societal elite superim­posed over the established Indian societies. This worked in the New Spain heartland, where the populous Indians had established a high degree of civilization. But in areas such as Texas, where the landscape was forbidding and Apache and Comanche Indians posed a brutal threat, it faltered. To address this problem, Spain had granted large tracts of Texas land to an American group headed by Moses Austin. His son Stephen arrived in 1821 and established sway over 100,000 acres of arable land. He set about to sell it to American settlers will­ing to brave the hardships of weather and Indian attack.

"They arrived in a torrent, reaching nearly forty thousand inhab­itants by 1835 and nearly 150,000 a decade later. Down in Mexico City, the new independent government watched all this with grow­ing alarm. The nation's leaders foresaw a burgeoning cultural chasm as the newcomers rejected loyalty to Mexico and cast their devotion to their ethnic brethren in the United States. In 1830, Mexico out­lawed this immigration wave, but it proved inexorable. As Mexican officials had feared, in March 1836 the tough-minded migrants of Texas declared their independence and repulsed efforts by Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to bring them to heel. Three battle names -- the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto -- etched the cul­tural struggle into the consciousness of two peoples on either side of the Rio Grande.

"There matters stood for the better part of a decade. Mexico never recognized the Texans' right to split off and vowed to retake the ter­ritory. Hence, an official state of war existed between the two entities, although it never erupted into full-scale fighting. In Washington, many expansionists advocated bringing the new republic into the Union, but the country's leaders remained wary. Jackson, who wanted the territory as much as anyone and who had sought to purchase the province from Mexico before Texas independence, concluded any annexation effort would overwhelm his other domestic and foreign initiatives. His only concession was a formal recognition of the defiant new nation, extended just before he left office. [Martin] Van Buren, cautious by nature and highly conscious of his northern political base, followed suit. He particularly feared any sectional flare-ups over slavery that could ensue from an annexation effort.

"[John] Tyler had other ideas. The Texas republic was in financial distress, and the always meddlesome British were hovering over it with an aim of establishing an alliance of mutual convenience with the strug­gling republic. In exchange for financial help and military protec­tion, Britain would be positioned to undermine the United States's supremacy over the Gulf of Mexico and to menace its dominion over New Orleans, gateway to the strategically crucial Mississippi River. Besides, if Britain could dominate this southwestern territory, it would have the United States neatly hemmed in between that region and its Canadian possessions to the north. Britain's premier New World aim was to thwart the American dream of a burgeoning power stretching from sea to sea.

"Then there was slavery. As an antislave power, Britain sought to end the institution wherever it could. Thus, many southerners feared a British-Texas alliance could lead to the abolition of Texas slavery, which in turn would threaten slaveholders in the southern states. Fugitive slaves would have a new and relatively easy route to free­dom, which would encourage escapes and complicate southern rela­tions with a free Texas and its British protectors. The British minister to Mexico, an ambitious and scheming naval captain named Charles Elliot, had actually formulated a plan for extensive British loans to Texas in exchange for abolition and a free trade policy between the two countries. His clear aim was to detach Texas completely from United States influence. The plan quickly generated agitation in the Amer­ican South and diplomatic concern in London. Lord Aberdeen, the British foreign secretary, on three occasions sought to assure Amer­ica that Britain harbored no such ambitions. Although his country would continue its 'open and honest efforts' in behalf of worldwide abolition, said Aberdeen, his government 'shall neither openly nor secretly resort to any measures which can tend to disturb [the slave states'] internal tranquility, or thereby to affect the prosperity of the American Union.' "



Robert W. Merry


A Country Of Vast Designs


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2009 by Robert W. Merry


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