Questions and Answers
Q: Was the annexation treaty the result of a conspiracy between the governments of the United States and Texas?
A: Opponents of Texas annexation would later charge that the secret treaty negotiations between the Tyler administration and Sam Houston’s government in Texas amounted to a conspiracy to sneak Texas into the Union. According to this allegation, the negotiations were nothing but a political dirty trick, deceitful and maybe even illegal.
To be sure, Upshur’s proposal to Van Zandt was carefully crafted to take political reality into account. Because of Tyler’s unpopularity in Congress, any public negotiations would be wrecked by politics, just as previous discussions of Texas annexation had been. The only hope was to keep the talks secret and then present Congress and the public with a finished treaty. And because of the terrible sectional divisions in the country, Texas could be offered only territorial admission rather than admission as a state. The reason was that for a state to be admitted, the slavery issue had to be addressed right away; for a territory, it could be deferred to another time (such as after the election).
But though political considerations pervaded the talks, an examination of the primary sources reveals no hint that the American and the Texas governments improperly colluded or put politics above the interests of the people.
Sam Houston appears to have been genuinely convinced that Texas annexation had no chance of passing the United States Senate. However, it became clear to him that Tyler and Upshur believed otherwise. Although it is always difficult to read Houston’s motives, it seems that he hoped that the negotiations would result in an American guarantee of Texas independence, including a military commitment to aid Texas in the event of a Mexican invasion. In the meantime, the interest of the United States would give Britain a push to obtain peace with Mexico and form a commercial arrangement with Texas. Houston was looking out for Texas, trying to secure the future of the republic as best he could.
As for Tyler, his election campaign was only part of the picture. Tyler sincerely believed that the growing disparity between North and South was creating a sectional crisis that would tear the country apart. In pushing for Texas annexation, Tyler felt he was upholding his oath of office to preserve and protect the nation. In Tyler’s view, by guaranteeing that the South could prosper and the slave system could continue, he was ensuring that the United States itself could continue without bloodshed or violence.