The Texas Two-Step: How the Slavocracy Took Over
Since the 1830s, many enslavers had eyes on the fertile land across the Mississippi known as Texas, first as part of Spain and then Mexico. Some wanted to expand their plantations there to gain more profits. Other plantation owners were more stressed, and bankrupted in a cotton crisis. Rather than face confiscations by creditors, they packed up their slaves and equipment and hung a sign on the plantation’s door, stating ‘Gone to Texas, ‘ Spanish territory.
Mexico, which had become independent of Spain in 1824, initially welcomed U.S. settlers to the Texas region, but not without conflict. By 1829, Mexico had abolished slavery, and its ongoing practice was illegal in all their territories. Many new Texas immigrants from the U.S. were not slave owners, but many were. Making slavery legal became the root cause of the quest for independence waged by the new Anglo-Texas immigrants. The independent ‘Republic of Texas’ was first declared in 1836 and lasted ten years until its annexation by the U.S. in 1846. Mexico never recognized the claim of Texan Independence and considered the region a rebellious province, whether ‘independent’ or a U.S. state.
‘Manifest Destiny,’ then, was born and asserted with the annexation of Texas and the drive for war with Mexico. The presidential campaign of James K. Polk in 1846 saw Mexico’s annexation and called for taking California, all of Oregon, and much of the rest of Mexico. Polk’s continent-wide plans for the United States, to be taken by any means necessary, was the substantial meaning of Manifest Destiny. He first tried to buy California and everything in between from Mexico for $25 million, which Mexico refused. Polk’s aims were also opposed within Congress, where a Northern grouping saw Texas as a slave territory, giving a numerical majority in Congress to the slave states and thus sinking the Missouri Compromise.
Polk starts the war
Mexico claimed the Nueces River as its northern border, although the Republic of Texas had claimed the Rio Grande. Polk took advantage of the dispute to send U.S. troops across the Nueces and into Mexico, engaging its forces. The fight was on, and Polk called for a declaration of war, falsely claiming Mexico had invaded the U.S. and killed American troops. An initial wave of Manifest Destiny jingoism got the approval of Congress, but not without opposition. Henry Clay and several others, including a young Abraham Lincoln, newly elected to Congress from Illinois, opposed the war. As the war’s cost and casualties grew, a relatively large and powerful antiwar movement emerged. Winfield Scott’s armies entered Mexico City, ending the fighting but without an immediate settlement.
Polk had wanted to take all of Mexico but soon saw additional opposition from Southern quarters for their own reasons. The slaveowners feared for the future stability of a single expanded country with too many resident peoples of color, including those in a country where slavery had been abolished. Ultimately, the U.S. annexed Mexico north of the Rio Grande, less populated than the southern half. All Spaniards, Mexicans, and Native peoples living in the northern half became American subjects without citizenship rights. California, with a relative handful of 28,000 American settlers and soldiers, briefly declared the California Republic, but it quickly became a ‘free’ state to balance the slave state of Texas. With the discovery of gold in 1848, California’s population grew quickly, but land grabbers wiped out most of the Native peoples simultaneously.
In 1846, the U.S. also settled the Oregon border with the British at the 49th parallel, setting the area up as a defined U.S. possession, officially proclaiming it a territory. Oregon residents in 1844 had declared themselves a territory free of slavery, but uniquely. They banned not only slaves but all Blacks from any settlement. Oregon was eventually named a ‘free’ state in 1859, in exchange for opening the other former Mexican territories of the Southwest to slavery. In the same period, the Mormons migrated en mass to the ‘Great Basin’ area of former Mexico and started their own state, ‘Deseret,’ later to become Utah.
Thus Manifest Destiny was complete, with the continental U.S. stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Any celebration, however, was to be short-lived. By 1861, the U.S. saw one dividing into two again. Nearly all the slave states declared their succession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America as a white slavocracy. Next Page.