“A Latent Leaning Towards Texas:” Republicanism vs. Empire
“Let Texas go to Great Britain if she pleases. She has a right to be a slave in her own way.”
Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History
As of 1843, the “lonestar” Texas Republic counted itself among the family of independent nations. Though the Mexican government continued efforts to reintegrate the rebellious territories, it was clear to most observers that Mexico could not reconquer Texas without Herculean efforts. As such, Texas’ relatively continuous attempt to enter the American Union appeared more fruitful than ever before. Though the Democratic Party took a general turn toward expansionary hawkishness in the early 1840s, a sizeable contingent of Jacksonians consistently opposed the territorial spread of slavery and southern planter aristocracy.
In his New York Daily Plebeian, editor Levi D. Slamm allowed both sides of “the Texas Question” to voice their opinions. Though he officially withheld judgment on the matter, Slamm plainly favored the annexation of Texas as strongly as he favored the “reoccupation” of the full Oregon territory. Slamm devoted most of his Texas‐related editorial space to the pro‐annexation side, which raised numerous antislavery voices against him from his readership. Anti‐expansionist Democrats, too, made their voices heard on Slamm’s pages. Mere months before the 1844 nominating conventions, both Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren proclaimed themselves opposed to annexing Texas on the grounds that it would disturb international peace and domestic political relations between the sections. Slamm praised his chieftain’s positioning, though the stance made it impossible for the former president to win the support of southern delegates. The convention chose James K. Polk as its nominee and Slamm’s New York provided the swing votes elevating Polk to the White House. Tyler saw Polk’s election as a mandate for Texas and immediately sought a treaty, which soon passed. As Polk entered office, Texans prepared themselves to become the newest American citizens. With Texas came war on Mexico. The spoils of war rotted the Second Party System, polluted relations between the United States and its southern neighbors, and condemned Americans to sectional conflicts that were only resolved with an even more terrible war. Levi Slamm died in 1862, and we can only wonder whether he ever seriously repented for the damage caused by a generation that so mixed the ideas of democratic‐republicanism and territorial expansionism.
We admit into our columns to‐day two communications, from different sources, on the subject of the contemplated annexation of Texas to the Union. This question has of late become a frequent topic of discussion, and must be considered as one of the most serious importance. The project of the annexation is urged on the ground that there is a negotiation on foot for the transfer of that territory to Great Britain. We do not wish to be understood as endorsing the views of our correspondents in relation to the matter. It is our intention to take up this matter shortly and give our opinions at length as to the merits of the proposition. Much yet remains to be said on the subject.
New York Daily Plebeian
“Annexation of Texas” (21 November 1843)
“For the Plebeian—The Annexation of Texas,”
[It] is now distinctly before the people, and as a question deeply affecting the future interest of the United States, it is receiving, though somewhat tardily, the attention of the press. There is, however, one peculiarity in the mode of handling it which deserves notice. In settling the terms on which the annexation would be allowed, Texas is always spoken of as if she would of course accept any conditions and be thankful. They who reason in this way, forget their own Saxon blood flows in its moat unconquerable energy in Texan veins. Those who fought the battle of San Jacinto, were the sons of those who woke the thunders of Bunker Hill, and penned the Declaration of Independence. The Republic of Texas is the daughter of the Republic of the United States, and the child will no more submit to undue control than did the sire. With devout and filial love, Texas boasts that she owes her birth, her progress, the means of her independence, to the United States, and entreats that in policy and government, as in blood, principles and affection they may remain one. In all her legislative and diplomatic proceedings she has carefully avoided every act which might put obstacles to this cherished view.
At first to her prayers for admission, it was objected that she was still a colony of Mexico, and it would interfere with the amicable relations of the two governments, if the United States should become a party to and a gainer by the dismemberment of a friendly nation. This was indeed a just and reasonable argument, but it is now outlawed. Texas is independent, is recognized as such by the greatest powers of Europe and by the United States—and Mexico herself tacitly admits it would cost too much to reconquer her. Whether fairly or not Texas has taken the position to make her own bargains. The next objection was, that Texas was in debt and would be an incumbrance to the Union. It is now conceded that her ample domain is sufficient to pay her own debts, and instead of incumbrance would ultimately bring vast wealth into the general treasury. To refuse that rich territory for such a reason would be exactly like an individual refusing the gift of an estate worth an hundred thousand dollars, because there was a mortgage on it for one thousand.
The great—the specious objection to Texas, however, is the slavery question, and on this quicksand it is much to be feared the best interests of the Union will be wrecked. Narrow minded and cunning politicians have managed to present this subject in an unjust and false view. They talk as if a new race of slaves had been created, and were to be perpetuated in Texas, instead of their being in truth their own colored population, ruled by their own citizens according to the Constitution of the United States, upon a soil and in a region that by their own construction, should belong to the slave holding portion of the Union. Texas has no foreign slaves more than Louisiana, and to receive her into the Union just as she stands, is only to receive back a portion of our citizens who have been tempted by a fertile soil to move a little farther into the wilderness, and who took with them the slave property guaranteed them by the laws of the United States. To abolish slavery at once in Texas, would not be consented to, as it would place her in antagonism with the Southern States, and would break up with too rude a shock her existing social relations. It is nonsense to say that England would insist upon the abolition of slavery—England would do no such thing. England never lost an inch of dominion from scruples of conscience, and never will. Her morals are as wide and as capable of extension as her Indian empire. When Texas came to her for aid and recognition, she might possibly (and only possibly) have made the abolition of slavery the price of her favors, but she saw how useful Texas will be, and she took especial care not to alienate her by pressing distasteful conditions. After Texas was recognized, and would know how to answer to please herself, England began to incite the anti‐slavery party in the United States to press their views in the most absolute manner. Nothing could be better managed. Although England has avoided giving offence to Texas, yet she has made an interesting demonstration of her philanthrophy, and without any trouble or expense to herself, set the Northern States to fight her battles. By rejecting Texas we give to England a country on our Southern frontier equivalent to Canada on the Northern, from which she can at pleasure pour invasion and distress into the border States. It should be remembered that Texas if admitted to the Union, brings as many advantages as she gains, and that it will be equally ungenerous and impolitic to insist upon what she will inevitably refuse[:] the instant abolition of slavery.
“For the Plebeian—Annexation of Texas,”
This subject is becoming of daily importance, and the impression is rapidly gaining ground that it will form a very important portion of the forthcoming message of President Tyler. It is a question calculated to create more or less excitement, as it will become a mere party or sectional subject or a great national one. That it ought to be looked upon and discussed in the latter point of view, no friend of his country will for a moment doubt. Party may seize hold of it and endeavor to distort and use it for their own base purposes, and seek to play upon the weaker judgments of the people by raising dire alarms about the extension of slavery.
There may be many who would [oppose] it, honestly perhaps, on these grounds alone, looking upon any movement or proposition calculated to extend or increase the slave population of the Union detrimental to our interests, and not in harmony with the philanthropic spirit of the age. But such should recollect that the slave population is not increased by the annexation of Texas. The institution already exists there, it forms a part and parcel of her government, and the mere transfer from an independent state to one of the sovereign states of this Union, is neither calculated to increase or diminish the number of slaves. If it is to have any effect at all, will it not rather tend to diminish the number of slave States than otherwise? Will it not prove an easy and natural outlet for the slave population of Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, &c., &c.? Looks upon in this light, it become a question which even the sensitive philanthropists of the present age, including the Hon. John Quincy Adams, may view with a favorable eye.
But there are higher questions involved in this subject—questions of national policy, involving power and right, and possibly peace or war.
From late developments, it is almost certain that a transfer of all that vast and fertile country to the all grasping power of Great Britain is in contemplation—that negotiations are already on foot between British authorities and the Mexican government, who claim the territory, and Gen. Houston, President of Texas; and for certain considerations it is said the latter consents to the transfer. Allow Great Britain to get possession, in what condition are the United States? With her Canadian possessions stretching along our whole northern frontier, pressing down upon us through the Oregon on the West, Texas filled with British vagrants on the South, and her West India possession filled with armed soldiers while in their harbors float a large portion of the British navy, ready at a moment’s warning to pounce upon us—thus hemmed in on every side, we shall virtually become subjects of Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria.
Texas of right belongs to us. Originally explored and taken possession of by French adventurers, under the protection of the French flag—held with other portions of the South Western Territory by the government of France, she undoubtedly had priority of right and had as undoubted a claim to that section of country as she had to the Territory of Louisiana, when she ceded the latter to the United States. Every consideration seems to favor the project of annexation. The institutions of Texas are already established, and in full operation under a Republican Constitution. Her population is essentially American—bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh—and without doubt a vast majority of her people look to this Union for protection from external foes as well as from traitors within. Shall the stars and stripes wave over this beautiful and fertile region, an emblem of power, proving a shield to her just rights and liberties, and bidding defiance to all foreign aggressors; or shall the British Lion quietly take possession and add this to other trophies of greatness and guilt? Texas relinquished to Great Britain, and war—war with all its horrors is inevitable. Bring it, with the Oregon Territory, into the Union, and we but take possession of our own, add to our means of wealth and happiness, and preserve the peace of the country.
“For the Plebeian—Texas,” (28 November 1843)
The editor of the Plebeian is respectfully required, by an old Democrat, to take notice that we ask for no more territory. We have too much already. It was the besetting sin of Napoleon that he would go out of the ancient limits of France. What did he provoke? The world in arms. We do not want Texas. We ask not for the annexation of a State of Gamblers. Let them remain as they are, half‐way between civilization and brutality. The moment you admit Texas, that moment you admit the most worthless population in Christendom to a participation of the privileges of freemen. Did you observe, sir, with what contumely the braggart Houston treated one of our own sons—I mean the Commodore Moore—did you see that; and are you possessed of stuff to commend, after that, any thing that is recommended by that Kentucky outcast? If he recommends the annexation of Texas, I for one object. He is too great a scoundrel to treat with upon honorable principles.
Besides all this, you seem to have a sort of latent leaning towards Texas; and, if I do not mistake the tone of your paper, you would be rejoiced to receive her with an open embrace. Beware, sir! The seeds of destruction to our excellent Republic are in that embrace.
It is hinted by one of your correspondents that Texas will pass into the hands of the petticoat monarch of Britain. Let it. Who cares a pin? Let her surround us if she chooses. There is more clear grit in the United States of America than would suffice to conquer twenty British empires. We can out‐shoot, out‐fight, out‐lick and out‐kick anything living. Your correspondent must not think to frighten us in this matter. Let England take all the world—all the States of this Union besides our own, “Empire State,” and we ask no odds of her. We are equal to anything living: and, therefore, what matters it to us that we are surrounded by other powers? Let Texas go to Great Britain if she pleases. She has a right to be a slave in her own way.
“The Annexation of Texas—Its Effects Upon Slavery,” (25 June 1844)
By Levi D. Slamm
The existence of the institution of Slavery in our Confederacy of States is an acknowledged evil, or admitted to be so, not only by a large majority of the people of those States in which Slavery is abolished, but by a majority of the people of those States in which it still exists. But whatever may be its evil it is an institution over which the General Government has no control. The people of the non‐slaveholding States are as much responsible for its existence as the people in which it is yet tolerated. Slavery is a State institution and not an institution of the General Government. A continuance of our Union is of all things the most desirable, and of course a dismemberment, of all things the most to be dreaded.
Previous to the year 1808 the increase of Slavery was from two sources—importation and the natural increase of those born among us. But by a wise and humane provision in the Constitution of the United States the importation of slaves was prohibited after the year 1808; and in 1820, Congress declared the Slave Trade to be piracy and punished with death.
Suppose we take it for granted that Texas is to be admitted into the Union, and that slavery is not prohibited, what will be its effect upon the increase of the slave population and the hope of the ultimate extinction of slavery in the Union?…Indeed, we consider the most effectual method of eventually getting rid of the institution of slavery would be the annexation of Texas. We believe that the admission of Texas without any limitations or restrictions respecting the institution of slavery would do more towards accomplishing the desirable object of the final extinction of African slavery in the United States than all the Colonization or Abolition Societies ever have or ever will accomplish. We believe with Senator Walker that slavery would, if Texas should be annexed, soon cease to exist in some of the more northern slaveholding States. The acquisition of Louisiana and Florida has been the means of diminishing the number of slaves in some of the more northern slave States. Mississippi and Alabama are States formed out of territory acquired by the purchase of Louisiana, and now have a large slave population, while the number of slaves in Delaware and Maryland, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than half a million of slaves. If Texas should be annexed, the extinction of slavery in these States is certain…
The result is, that no man who will reflect for a moment will object to annexation of account of slavery. We firmly believe that if Texas should become a dependency of England, and slavery not tolerated there; or even if it should be annexed to the Union as a free state, slavery in the United States would be perpetuated, or cease only by revolution. The area of the states in which slavery now exists, is sufficient to maintain a population of at least 100,000. And surround this slave territory with free States—confine slavery in the heart of the Union, and what prospect is there for its extinction? Admit Texas as a slave territory, and the philanthropist may hope, with some prospect at least, that the curse of slavery may disappear, not only from the Union, but from the continent of North America. At all events, admit Texas as a slave territory, and you open a door, through which, in time, perhaps not far distant, the African race will make its exit, and become incorporated with the various colored races that inhabit Mexico, Central and North America.
If we had no other reason to offer for desiring the admission of Texas but the probable extinction of slavery, that would be sufficient. The admission of Texas we consider the first step that will finally and peaceably lead to the freedom of the African race in the United States. Slavery cannot be abolished, and the slaves remain among us and be happy. All experience, all history proves it. The very prejudices, if you please, of the North, are against it—prejudices that do not exist among the different races that inhabit Mexico and South America.