Texas Annexation


Questions and Answers

Question

Q: Why did Texas get to keep its public lands?

In 1845, Texas was still sparsely settled with about 40,000 inhabitants. More than 225 million acres of land were still public domain—that is, they were unsettled and legally owned by the Republic of Texas. Texas had always considered this land its chief source of future revenue.

One of the compromises that won over opponents of annexation provided that Texas would extinguish its own debt. To do this, Texas became the only state in the Union to retain control of her own public lands.

Texas relinquished 67 million acres in the Compromise of 1850 in exchange for a cash payment that wiped out the debt. Future land sales were earmarked to fund Texas education. But sales proved to be disappointing. Over the remainder of the 19th century, about 86 million acres—more than half the present area of Texas—were simply given away, rather than sold, to encourage settlement and development in remote areas.

However, in the 20th century, the public lands of Texas proved to contain billions of barrels of petroleum. Revenue from oil sales sent billions of dollars into the Texas Permanent School Fund and Permanent University Fund, providing an endowment that still underlies the funding for the Texas public school system, state institutions, and the University of Texas System.

In the 1950s, the federal government tried to claim that offshore oil in the Gulf of Mexico was not covered by the annexation agreement. The “Tidelands” crisis became the most serious dispute in federal-state relations since the Civil War before eventually being resolved in favor of Texas.

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Page last modified: April 5, 2011