The Event: Annexation of the Texas Lone Star Republic by the United States
Significance: The annexation of Texas started a war with Mexico that resulted in the United States gaining a large piece of territory that extended the country to the Pacific coast. These lands provided numerous economic benefits and access to the ocean. However, the controversy over the annexation of Texas led to sectionalism that may have contributed to the starting of the U.S. Civil War.
On March 6, 1836, Texans were fighting Antonio López de Santa Anna and his troops at the Alamo, in San Antonio. The Texans sought secession from Mexican rule. Although Santa Anna won at the Alamo, he lost just weeks later at San Jacinto to Sam Houston, commander of the Texas military. As a result, Texas, no longer under Mexican rule, became its own nation, and Sam Houston its first president.
Andrew Jackson was the president of the United States when Texas won its independence, and he pushed for the annexation of Texas. However, annexation did not happen under him, nor under his successor, Martin Van Buren. The issue of slavery was simply too dominant in the minds of American politicians, who feared that the admission of Texas as a slave state would throw the legislative balance of Congress too strongly toward a proslavery position. Therefore, Texas remained an independent nation with a population that almost quadrupled by the time Democrat James Polk ran for president in 1844.
This pro-Democratic cartoon predicts the demise of Whig opposition to the annexation of Texas. James Polk (right) holds an American flag and hails Stephen Austin and Samuel Houston (holding Texas flags) in a boat. (Library of Congress)
Polk ran on a platform of expansionism, wanting to secure the annexation not only of Texas but also of Oregon. Polk handily defeated Whig Party candidate Henry Clay, causing the theretofore hesitant U.S. Congress to adopt a measure approving the annexation of Texas on March 1, 1845. Congress had taken Polk’s election as a mandate for annexation.
The Mexican government was angered by what seemed to be the certain annexation of Texas by the United States, and hostilities between the two nations appeared imminent. Although the Mexican government had a number of concerns stemming from the statehood of Texas, a central concern was the location of the southern border of Texas, a border that would also be the southern border of the United States. The U.S. government held that the southern border was the Rio Grande, while Mexico protested that the border was farther north. U.S. general Zachary Taylor, attacked by Mexican troops while patrolling the southern border in May, 1945, responded by firing back, and the Mexican War ensued.
Texas was officially annexed on December 29, 1845, although the Mexican War continued until the United States gained a victory in 1848. In the ensuing treaty, Mexico ceded an area from Texas to California to the United States. By extending to the Pacific coast, the United States vastly increased its economic potential, especially in the gold, silver, iron, copper, cattle, farming, banking, real estate, railroad, and telegraph industries. However, Texas’s status as a slave state is believed by some to have created sectionalism—a divide between the North and South—that may have been a step toward the start of the U.S. Civil War.
Groneman, Bill. Battlefields of Texas. Plano, Texas: Republic of Texas Press, 1998.
Richardson, Rupert N. Texas, the Lone Star State. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2005.
Silbey, Joel H. Stormover Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
See also: Gadsden Purchase; Hawaii annexation; Mexican trade with the United States; petroleum industry; slave era.