Questions and Answers
Q: Can Texas divide itself into multiple states?
In 1820, the Missouri Compromise had helped save the United States from splitting along sectional lines by defining where slavery could exist in the territory gained in the Louisiana Purchase. Specifically, slavery could exist south of the 36°30'N line of latitude, and no further west than Missouri. The territory claimed by Texas extended further north and west than the Missouri Compromise lines (well into present-day New Mexico and Colorado).
In another compromise designed to overcome objections to annexation, the 1845 joint resolution that admitted Texas to the Union provided that Texas could be divided into as many as five states. Any states north or west of the Missouri Compromise lines would be free; in the others, a popular vote would determine whether slavery could exist.
The power to create new states could be exercised only by Congress, with the consent of the affected state legislatures. Congress had a long precedent to follow in the creation of new states from territorial acquisitions. For example, the Northwest Territory eventually became ten different states, and the Louisiana Purchase eventually led to the creation of thirteen new states.
In 1850, Southerners wanted to exercise the provision to create another slave state from Texas to balance the admission of California as a free state. In one of the provisions of the Compromise of 1850, Texas was instead given a payout of $10 million to give up its northern and western claims. A few years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise and made the issue of the boundaries a moot point. Although in theory Texas could still be divided into multiple states, any possibility of carving additional states from Texas ended when the Civil War settled the question of slavery once and for all.