Part 5: The Final Showdown
Texas Makes Its Choice
When President Anson Jones tried to delay annexation to pursue more opportunities with Britain and Frances, he was burned in effigy. The Medical Story of Early Texas. Texas State Library and Archives.
There was no reluctance on the part of the Texas Congress to embrace the terms of the joint resolution. In January, the Texas Senate Foreign Relations Committee had already declared that the will of the people of Texas was emphatically for annexation. As far as most Texans were concerned, annexation would mean that their land was more valuable, that their rivers, harbors, and public facilities like forts and shipyards might finally be improved, and that the United States Army would protect them from Mexico. Those who had slaves could keep them, and those who aspired to get them could still hope. But the overriding reason that most Texans wanted annexation was simple love of country: they had never stopped being Americans.
There was a final act yet to play in the long drama. Andrew Jackson Donelson raced from New Orleans to Austin with news of the passage of the annexation resolution. When he arrived, he found that the British minister to Texas, Charles Elliot, and the French minister, Dubois de Saligny, had beaten him to the capital by four days. Elliot and Saligny had proposed to President Jones that they would make another attempt to moderate a settlement with Mexico that would allow Texas to remain independent.
Jones wanted to accept the offer. Immediately upon receiving word of the annexation resolution, Mexico had broken off diplomatic relations with the U.S. and declared the country on a war footing. However, Mexico signaled a willingness to negotiate by not reasserting its own claim to Texas. A major earthquake in April made the Mexican government even more willing to negotiate. Jones worked to delay the meeting of the Texas Congress by 90 days so that Elliot could travel south and try again to get peace and independence from Mexico.
When the news got out, public opinion in both Texas and the United States was in an uproar. U.S. newspapers, calling Elliot the “Man in the White Hat,” ballyhooed British interference in U.S. affairs. Coming so late in the game, the British machinations turned out to be a blunder that united the American people in favor of the annexation of Texas.
When sober, he was for annexation; but when drunk, or in liquor, he could express himself strongly against the measure!
-- John G. Tod, Texas Secretary of the Navy and an enemy of Sam Houston
Always politically savvy, Sam Houston abandoned Jones and the negotiations they’d worked for years to foster. In April he proclaimed that he had always been in favor of annexation, and that the long dalliance with the British had just been his clever way of attaining the goal.
Anson Jones was left holding the bag; having been immersed in the situation as a diplomat, he was unprepared to deal with the violent reaction to a relationship he had cultivated for years. At pro-annexation rallies all over Texas, Jones was pilloried as a villain and a traitor to the Texas cause. Some hotheads even tried to precipitate a war along the border at once to force Jones to send troops; others spoke openly of lynching the president. For a time, both Jones and Donelson feared that the government of Texas would be overthrown, derailing everything that had taken such agony to work out.
In letters back to the United States, Donelson recommended that American policy let events in Texas take their natural course; he was certain that public sentiment would win the day. He also worked to ensure a smooth passage in the Texas Congress. Even as feverish negotiations in Mexico finally resulted in a last-minute peace treaty—conditional on Texas remaining an independent republic—Donelson was asking legislators to pass an acceptance of U.S. annexation without conditions. He assured legislators that any thorny details about issues such as the debt, the border, and promised internal improvements by the U.S. could be dealt with later.
On June 16, the Texas Congress convened. President Jones presented the Mexican treaty and the annexation resolution from the United States. But by this time it was Donelson who was dictating the course of events, not the despised president. Swiftly the legislators rejected the treaty, accepted the U.S. offer, and created a special constitutional convention to meet July 4. The convention formally accepted the annexation of Texas and drafted a state constitution for joining the United States.
Note: You can read the actual text of the Ordinance of Annexation passed by the convention on our "About Texas" website, or go to the Tarlton Law library to review the entire journal of the Convention.
After that, it was all formalities. In an election held in November, Texas voters approved annexation by an overwhelming majority. (You can view the vote totals on our "Texas Treasures" site.) The U.S. Congress formally voted to admit Texas the following month. On December 29, 1845, President Polk signed Texas annexation into law. Texas was now the 28th state in the Union. (You can read the final version of the resolution that admitted Texas to the Union on the "About Texas" site.)
On February 19, 1846, President Jones hauled down the Texas flag and watched as the Stars and Stripes were raised over Texas. James Pinckney Henderson, the master diplomat who had helped negotiate the treaty two very long years before, was sworn in as the first governor of the state of Texas. As Anson Jones concluded, “The final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.”