Part 5: The Final Showdown
In the interim between Polk’s election and his inauguration (then held in March), supporters of annexation worked on new political tactics to avoid a repeat of Tyler’s treaty debacle. One of their chief ideas was to balance the annexation of Texas with the admission of Oregon as a non-slave territory. The other was to engineer annexation via joint resolution of both houses of Congress, a strategy that required only a majority in both houses instead of the two-thirds vote needed for a treaty.
One thing that had changed since the Tyler treaty was the reduction in partisan rancor. Whigs were eager to leave the disappointment of the Clay defeat behind and jump on the bandwagon of the popular Texas issue. There was less talk of the evils of slavery and war with Mexico and more talk about western expansion and economic opportunity.
Opponents of annexation were still busy keeping their objections before the public. Texas owed more than $10 million (almost $200 million in 2006 dollars). Supporters had proposed that Texas sell its public lands to pay off the debt, but opponents pointed to greed and corruption, demonstrating that land speculators who had already snapped up the worthless land now stood to make a killing. Others objected to the huge size of Texas, saying that if the state ever gained population in proportion to its size, it could dominate Congress.
But with the election of Polk and the disintegrating unity in the Whig ranks, annexation now seemed a question of “how” and “when” rather than “if.” Several draft joint resolutions were put forth, but in January 1845, Representative Milton Brown of Tennessee introduced the bill that became the final basis for the annexation of Texas. The Brown resolution eliminated the debt issue by stipulating that Texas would keep its public lands in order to eventually pay its own way out of its debt. In addition, Brown’s bill provided that Texas could be divided into several states as needed to deal with future “balance” between slave states and free states, and that no slavery would be allowed north of the old Missouri Compromise line. The Brown bill easily passed the House of Representatives on January 25, 1845.
February 1845 was an intense period in the United States Senate. Both supporters and opponents of annexation could be accused of grandstanding. Opponents mounted a passionate last-ditch attempt to stop passage of the bill that almost succeeded. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended that the Brown bill be rejected. After days of debate and compromise, the matter came to a vote on February 27. The result was a 26-26 tie. At the last minute, a Louisiana senator was persuaded to change his vote, and Texas annexation passed the Senate by a single vote.
Note: You can read the actual text of the Joint Resolution on our "About Texas" website.