Hard Road to Texas: Texas Annexation 1836-1845

Part 1: Texas Breaks Away

Alone in the Wilderness

Branch Archer

As one of the three commissioners sent to the United States to mobilize supplies, money, and sympathy, Dr. Branch Archer traveled to New Orleans, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Washington, New York, and Richmond. Some thought the doctor charming and eloquent; others called him brash and excitable.

The Medical Story of Early Texas. Texas State Library and Archives.

The Texas Revolution caused a sensation among people back in the United States. Americans avidly followed the news coverage of the classic David vs. Goliath battle for independence, weeping with outrage at the atrocities at the Alamo and Goliad and gasping with amazement at the Texan victory at San Jacinto. The drama of the story and the pluck of the Texans convinced Americans in all regions of the country to support the Texan cause.

Besides reading newspaper stories, thousands of people had the opportunity to hear about the Texan struggle in person from the most well-respected political leader in Texas, Stephen F. Austin. Along with fellow commissioners Branch Archer and William Wharton, Austin spent the spring of 1836 traveling the United States on his way to Washington, D.C., speaking out in almost every town to explain the grievances of the Texans against the cruel and unprincipled Santa Anna.

Say to the Mexicans—Stand off! To the Texans—Hold in! If any member of Congress should vote against Texas independence his political prospects would be ruined.

—Judge John Catron, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, June 1836

Austin and the others were amazed and gratified by the enthusiastic response they received. With such deep public support, Andrew Jackson in the White House, and Jackson’s Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate, Austin felt certain that the United States would ride to the rescue of the Texan cause and follow up military victory with swift recognition and annexation. Many Americans agreed, bombarding Congress with petitions calling for the Republic of Texas to be accorded immediate diplomatic recognition as an independent nation.

But to the shock of the Texans, neither Jackson nor the Senate was inclined to take quick action. Jackson may have loved Sam Houston like a son and had his eye on Texas for decades, but his first duty was to protect the interests of his own country. In Jackson’s mind, that didn’t include going to war with Mexico. As he noted on the back of one of Austin’s missives, “The writer does not reflect that we have a treaty with Mexico, and our national faith is pledged to support it. The Texians before they took the step to declare themselves Independent, which has aroused and united all Mexico against them ought to have pondered well—it was a rash and premature act, our neutrality must be faithfully maintained.”

Question Did the United States instigate the Texas Revolution?

After San Jacinto, Austin and the others waited in vain for further instructions from the Texan government in seeking recognition and annexation. Instead, more commissioners began to arrive from the makeshift government, each of them armed with little more than the opinions and good wishes of their fellow Texans. To recognize Texas, Jackson needed to know that the Republic of Texas had a functioning government and control of the country. Too much was at stake to put much stock in this parade of well-intentioned amateurs who seemed to be making it up as they went along. In the summer of 1836, Jackson was so frustrated by the lack of reliable information from Texas that he sent his own secret agent there to ferret out the truth and report back to him.

Edmund Pendleton Gaines

Edmund Pendleton Gaines commanded the southwest military division of the United States army. Gaines was forbidden by law to intervene on behalf of the Texas revolutionaries.

Courtesy National Archives.

The failure of the Texans to negotiate competently on their own behalf proved almost fatal for the cause of annexation. As the question was delayed, the passion of the American people naturally cooled, and Congressional leaders began to express doubts. This raised another problem for Jackson. His power depended on a coalition of Democrats from the South and the North. The more time that elapsed from the stirring events of the Revolution, the more time Northern Democrats had to ponder what the addition of an enormous new slave territory would do to the carefully maintained balance of power between the two sections of the country.

Though a slaveholder himself, one of Jackson’s guiding principles was the preservation of the Union. Jackson fully recognized the threat that the slavery issue posed to national unity. If Texas annexation was the wedge that would break the country apart on sectional lines, then Jackson was prepared to sacrifice it, no matter how much he might personally favor the Texan cause.

Back in Texas, most people had very little understanding of diplomatic affairs, the workings of the executive or legislative branches, or large national issues. The vast majority of Texans considered themselves to be Americans, and to them annexation seemed a mere formality. In September, in the first election held in Texas, the people cast an overwhelming yes vote on the question of annexation to the United States and elected Sam Houston president by a landslide.

On to Part 2: Houston Keeps His Options Open>>

Click on Images Below to View Larger Versions

Map of the State of Coahuila and Texas / 1836

This map of Texas from 1836 shows not only the geography of the new nation, but the location of Indian tribes and villages and herds of of wild horses, cattle, and buffalo.

Sam Houston to Edmund Pendleton Gaines, August 1836

Edmund P. Gaines, the U.S. Army commander on the Louisiana frontier, was sympathetic to the Texas cause but forbidden by direct orders to intervene in the Texas Revolution. As this draft (written in Sam Houston's own hand) demonstrates, that didn't stop Texas patriots like Houston and Stephen F. Austin from calling on Gaines for aid against a possible Mexican invasion in the summer of 1836.

Editorial in New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, September 1836

Support for Texas was especially strong in New Orleans, then the third-largest city in the United States. During the Revolution, New Orleanians provided money, men, and arms. Afterwards, they urged prompt recognition of Texas independence.

Page last modified: December 2, 2014