11/16/12 - britain turns texas against america

In today's selection - in the 1840s, many Americans hated Great Britain. For one thing, many had been alive during America's wars with Great Britain -- the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In addition, American businesses and governments had long been dependent on British banks for loans, and disputes with British lenders during the depression of 1837 had lingered and created significant ill will. And then there was Texas. The US had rejected overtures made by Texas to become a state, because northerners knew that another slave state would tip the balance of control towards slavery in the US Senate. Therefore, congressional leaders who wanted to annex Texas played up fears that Britain was trying to turn Texas against the US to force Congress to accept Texas as a new state:

"The treaty [to annex Texas] was concluded and publicly announced in April 1844 [but required congressional approval]. The [President John] Tyler administration began a public campaign in favor of annexation, waged primarily through the Madisonian, a friendly Washington newspaper. The campaign played on the theme that annexation was not simply matter of new territory -- the United States had enough of that already, the newspaper said in November 1843 -- but a question 'touching both the welfare and honor of the nation.' It had become clear, the Madisonian claimed, that Great Britain had designs on Texas and intended to bring the republic under its control, and that it would abolish slavery within it with the aim of undermining slavery in the southern states and eventually destroying the whole union:

Her object is to attack the existence of our Government, and our Union, through the institution of slavery in the Southern States. ...The existence of our Union under a Republican government is no longer compatible with the safety of her Oligarchy. The constant intercourse between the two nations ...the effects of steam navigation in shortening the time of transit ... has placed us in dangerous proximity with Great Britain, and she has not been slow in perceiving and taking measures to remedy the dangers of it. She has been steadily and cautiously preparing the means of attack upon our weakest point.

"Suspicion of British motives regarding Texas was not new. Months earlier, for example, President Jackson had warned in a private letter to Tennessee congressman Aaron Brown that Britain could use Texas as a base from which to send troops into the south and up the Mississippi, while a second force spread 'ruin and havoc' along the Canadian border. The United States would be caught in an 'iron hoop,' Jackson said. What distinguished this new campaign was its virulence and its source: the Madisonian was clearly a platform for the Tyler administration. Many suspected Secretary of State Abel Upshur as the author of some of its most stridently anti-British columns.

"Upshur had replaced Daniel Webster as secretary of state in July 1843, and some thought this change alone could account for the shift in policy on annexation. But there was more at work than this. The Tyler administration had become extraordinarily sensitive to evidence suggesting that the British had designs on Texas. It assumed the worst as it watched the diplomatic shuttling between Austin, London, and Mexico City. Rumors reached Washington that the British government was giving aid to Mexico to support an attack on Texas. (This was unfounded, but Mexico was buying weapons from British suppliers. Some cannon forged in England in 1842 were taken as trophies during the Mexican War and are now displayed on the grounds of West Point.) In July 1843, Tyler and Upshur received more alarming news from Duff Green, an old ally whom Tyler had sent to London as a check on the American ambassador, Edward Everett, whose loyalties to the Tyler administration were in doubt. Green reported that a group of British and American abolitionists had met with Aberdeen, and that Aberdeen had endorsed a plan by which the British government would guarantee a loan that would be used to emancipate slaves in Texas.

"Green was relying on hearsay, and he had his facts wrong, While Aberdeen did meet with the abolitionists, and did express the British position against slavery, he had also told the abolitionists flatly that Britain would not give any financial inducement to Texas to abolish slavery. But no one in Washington knew this. Instead, they had Green's admonition that annexation was the only way of 'preventing Texas falling into the hands of English fanatics' who were determined to start a border war with the United States. In the fall of 1843 Green began writing directly to American newspapers with warnings about British scheming in Texas."


Alasdair Roberts


America's First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837


Cornell University Press


Copyright 2012 by Cornell University


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