The Republic of Texas
1845: The Twilight Year
Part One of Two Parts
By Ira Kennedy

 

Lamar’s dream to mark ‘with the sword" the western boundary of Texas at the Pacific Ocean was as foolhardy as it was visionary. When Anson Jones ascended to the presidency of the Republic on the first Monday of September, 1844, he sought to attain by treaty what was impossible with the sword. With the assistance of diplomats Charles Elliot of England, and Count de Saligny of France, Mexico agreed to recognize Texas as an independent republic. And President Polk’s invasion of Texas and his undeclared war against Mexico began.

Peace with Mexico, and the diplomatic recognition of the republic of Texas by the nations of Europe presented an almost insurmountable obstacle to the westward expansion of the United States. Add to this fact that if the southern states joined the Republic the boundary of Texas would have stretched across half of the continent and the U. S. would face, not a civil war, which many saw on the horizon, but a world war. In its twilight year, the Republic of Texas held in its hands the balance of power in world affairs and the fate of the North American Continent.

"Texas was then a rich jewel lying derelict by the way," Anson Jones wrote. "She was without a friend who thought her of sufficient consequence to take her by the hand and assist her in her accumulated misfortunes. Guided by her interests and by a far-reaching policy, England had resolved to become such a friend. During two years she conferred important benefits upon the country, and in 1845, in conjunction with France, procured an unconditional acknowledgement of our independence from Mexico. This was the secret of the immense change which so suddenly took place throughout the United States on the subject of annexation."

The official offer from France and England on January 12, 1845 to negotiate a peace treaty with Mexico caused an immediate reaction in the U. S. On January 25, 1845 the U. S. passed a joint resolution for the annexation of Texas. The deal, however still required approval by the Texas legislature, a special convention, and a popular vote. Plus the state constitution had to be approved by the U. S. Congress.

A most unusual meeting was held in February between Ashbel Smith, President Jones’s Secretary of State and the Mexican Consul General who was travelling home from New Orleans. They met in Col. Forstall’s office. No introductions were made nor were either Senor Arrangoiz’s or Smith’s names uttered during the conversation. After the extended and comprehensive meeting, Smith came away satisfied that Mexico would make peace on the basis of independence.

While secret negotiations with Mexico were moving forward as rapidly as diplomatic relations between England, France, Texas, and Mexico allowed given the distances involved, annexation fever had gripped both the U.S. and Texas. It was the news of the day.

The secret maneuvers of all the principals involved are worthy of a modern spy novel. In a private meeting between Jones and the Charge’ de’ Affaires of England and France, Charles Elliot and Count de Saligny respectively, Jones agreed to delay any action for annexation for ninety days while the diplomats put in place the conditions for independence.

With that understanding, Charles Elliot sailed from Galveston on April aboard the Electra. Then, out of sight of land he changed ships. Aboard the Eurydice he sailed to Mexico while the Electra headed for Charleston. Little did Elliot know that George Wilkins Kendall of the New Orleans Picayune "dogged him to Galveston, and when in every grocery and bowling alley he proclaimed that he was going to Charleston, on the British Frigate Eurydice, I suspected that he was going to the City of Mexico, to prevent annexation if in his power. I was right, [and ] came out in the Picayune with the mysterious movements of the "Man in the white Hat."

Meanwhile, both official and covert agents of the U.S. swarmed over Texas stirring up the population for the purpose of annexation and against independence. Anson Jones was burned in effigy.

Because President Jones was following a clear and steadily diplomatic course, the results of which would be to offer the citizens of Texas a choice between annexation and independence; and because he had agreed with Elliot to delay any action for annexation—which agreed to, and held, in secrecy—he was seen by many Texans as a puppet of England at best, and a traitor at worst. The rabble rousers made sure of that. Of course his close friendship with Elliot didn’t help matters—Elliot was the godfather of Jones’s second son.

On April 21, 1845, Elliot wrote from Mexico to Anson Jones: "I hasten to send you the official paper of to-day, announcing the demand of this [the Mexican] Government to Congress for authority to treat with Texas, upon the basis f the preliminary conditions… there is no doubt that Congress will accede to the proposal of the Government, and that the conditions themselves will be signed by the Secretary of State before the close of this week. They will be forwarded direct to Texas without delay, by a French vessel of war, and I will come on with Saligny by the first opportunity, after I reach New Orleans."

In the past, the annexation of Texas was rejected because of the U.S. concern that Texas would pull them into a war with Mexico. At that time Texas did not have well-established diplomatic relations with the European powers. The U.S. under Andrew Jackson held out hope they could but the maverick colony; however, once diplomatic relations were set in place Texas became a player in international affairs.

The diplomatic relationship between Texas and Mexico, and the friendship between Elliot and Jones proved unsettling in the states. On May 1, 1845 Ashbel Smith, Texas’s Charge’ de’ Affairs to England wrote to Anson Jones from Boston:

"The American papers are full of speculations, too, on the chances of a war between the United States and England. I do not think there is any likelihood or prospect of a war to grow out of the Oregon question. [Texas, however, was another issue.]

"It appears to me, from such observation as I have had, that it is expected by the people of this country that the measures of annexation will be ratified by the next Congress, if acceded to by Texas."

Actually President Polk had another plan that could have resulted in a war with England. If Texas chose independence over annexation the only way the U.S. could maintain control over the affairs of the republic, and keep their options of westward expansion open, was by sabotaging the Texas/Mexico treaty.

On May 2, 1845 the U.S. offered military "protection" to Texas through Andrew Jackson Donelson, the nephew of Andrew Jackson and charge’ de’ affaires of the United States to the Republic of Texas.

"I send you the correspondence with Gen. Almonte, and late accounts from Mexico," Donelson wrote, "as the basis of the suggestion from Mr. Allen respecting the obligation of the United States to protect the western frontier of Texas in case of invasion.

"If you sanction the letter from Mr. Allen, I can make it the basis of an immediate application to the President of the Unites States, who, I doubt not, will order the troops, as soon as Congress accepts the terms submitted by me, or leave a provisional power in my hands to convey the order as soon as the exigency arises."

Ebenezer Allen served as attorney general of Texas under Anson Jones in December 1844, and for a time as secretary of state, and assisted Jones in framing the terms of annexation to the United States. Regarding the offer Jones observed:

"This letter contains proof that the application for protection to Texas came from the Government of the United States, and not from Texas. Mr. Allen was urged and over-persuaded in the matter; and it had gone so far before it came to my knowledge, I could not refuse a compliance."

At the time, the Mexican army was south of the Rio Grande and their troop movements, as nominal as they were, came about as a result of the aggressive position of the U.S. regarding Texas. As Jones wrote in his book on annexation:

"The missions of Gov. Yell of Arkansas, Gov. Wickliffe of Kentucky, Com. Stockton and Dr. Wright of the U.S. Navy, and Donelson of Tennessee, in 1845 had but one object—that of persuading or compelling me to assist Mr. Polk in manufacturing a war with Mexico, covered up, however, under a professed zeal to accomplish annexation, which stood in no need of their aid, and of protecting Texas from Mexican invasion when there was no danger of such an invasion, except from their intrigues.

"In reference to the subject of ‘protection’ to Texas by the United States, as against Mexico, I always believed the moral force of that Government sufficient; and so I always told their Ministers, and particularly Major Donelson; still in asking their protection I could not officially specify the kind, but left that to their intelligence. What I wanted was, in the event of an invasion of Texas by Mexico, brought on by our negotiations for annexation, that the United States should interpose with the necessary means, fair words at first, and blows, if blows were necessary, and could not be avoided. The protection, therefore, asked for was prospective, and contingent upon an aggressive movement by Mexico."

President Polk had more on his mind than "protecting" Texas. Why would Mexico prepare for invasion when they were busy striking a deal for Texas’s independence with England, and France? In early May the Count de Saligny wrote to Jones:

"The McKim will be off in half an hour, and I have just time enough to inform you that I have received, five minutes ago, a letter from Capt. Elliot, dated Vera Cruz on the 9th. The House of Deputies of Mexico has declared in favor of Texan independence by a majority of 41 to 13. The Senate, where the Government is stronger, is considered perfectly safe. It was expected all would be done by the 11th or 12th; and the good tidings were to be taken immediately to Galveston by the French man-of-war LaPerouse."

The President of the Republic had succeeded beyond measure. After only eight months in office he had achieved, through diplomacy, the impossible. The President’s response was simple and direct:

"I have it now. Eureka! – Annexation and independence."

Elliot and Saligny had done their work well. Regarding the efforts of Elliot, Jones noted that the Englishman "in less than four weeks achieved an exploit of which history furnishes no parallel."

By playing the forces for annexation and independence, one against the other, Jones held out for the best proposal from both. And now, the great fear in the U.S. was that Texas was to come under the influence of England and France. Because President Jones was playing his cards close to the vest, many in Texas and the U.S. were uncertain of Jones’ preference for annexation. For his part, Jones’s single-minded plan was to put the choice before the people of Texas. But the U.S. could not wait and was taking no chances. In May a U.S. fleet bent on invading Mexico arrived at Galveston.

The following is Jones’s account of the meeting with agents of President Polk:

"In May, 1845, Commodore Stockton, with a fleet of four or five vessels, arrived at Galveston… On the 28th of May, Gen. Sherman for himself and associates in the militia, and Dr. Wright, surgeon of the steamer Princeton, and secretary of the Commodore, (as he informed me,) took three days in unfolding to me the object of their visit. Dr. Wright stated that he was sent by Com. Stockton to propose that I should authorize Major Gen. Sherman to raise a force of two or three thousand men, or as many as might be necessary, and make a descent upon the Mexican town of Matamoras, and capture and hold it; that Com. Stockton would give assistance with the fleet under his command, under the pretext of giving the protection promised by the United States to Texas by Gen. Murphy; that he would undertake to supply the necessary provisions, arms and munitions of war for the expedition, would land them at convenient points on our coast, and would agree to pay the men and officers to be engaged; that he had consulted Gen. Sherman who approved the plan, and was present to say so; and, besides that, the people generally from Galveston to Washington had been spoken about it, that it met their unanimous approval; and all that was now wanting was the sanction of the Government to the scheme…

 

"I asked him if the Minister of the United States was cognizant in the matter. He then stated to me that the scheme was rather a confidential and secret one, that it was undertaken under the sanction of the United States Government, but that the President did not wish to be known in the matter, but approved Com. Stockton’s plan – that as an evidence of that to me, Mr. Wickliffe was associated with the Commodore; that the President of the United States, satisfied that annexation was in effect consummated, wished Texas to place herself in an attitude of active hostility towards Mexico, so that, when Texas was finally brought into the Union, she might bring a war with her; and this was the object of the expedition to Matamoras, as now proposed. He further stated to me that Com. Stockton was known to be, individually, very wealthy; that he had means of his own sufficient to support and carry on the expedition; and that it was desirable it should appear to the world as his individual enterprise, while at the same time I was given to understand that the Government of the United States was, in reality, at the bottom of it, and anxious for its accomplishment and for the reasons stated. I then said, smiling, ‘So, gentlemen, the Commodore, on the part of the United States, wishes me to manufacture a war for them;’ to which they replied affirmatively…

"I suppressed my feelings, and gave no expression of opinion, but suggested every objection and difficulty which presented themselves to my mind, and for three days kept them answering these objections or obviating difficulties, until they became pretty thoroughly impressed with the belief that I was thinking very seriously on the matter; and so indeed I was, but not in the way they hoped."

Jones did not intend to "be made a scape goat in such an affair. The United States Government" he said, "must take all the responsibility, and all the expense and all the labour of hostile movements upon Mexico. Somebody else must break up the state of peace. It shall not be me."

On June 4, 1845, Anson Jones noted in his diary, "I issued proclamation of Peace with Mexico. Same day received proposals of peace from the Comanche Chief Santa Anna the last enemy which Texas had. Accepted them. Now my country for the first time in ten years is actually at peace with ALL the World."

Conditions Preliminary to a Treaty of Peace Between Mexico and Texas were these: First Mexico agreed to acknowledge the independence of Texas, Texas would stipulate in the treaty not to annex herself or become subject to any country whatever, and lastly the Territorial limits would be settled by "the arbitration of umpires." It was understood by England, France, and Mexico that President Jones would present the options for independence or annexation before the government and citizens of Texas.

Jones officially offered Texans "the alternatives of peace with the world and Independence, or annexation and its contingencies." Jones was more aware than most that annexation meant war with Mexico.

As Herbert Gambrell observed in his biography of Anson Jones, "One acute danger arose from the combined activity of the United States agents and naval officers and Texan leaders disaffected with Jones. Duff Green was still in Texas, still eager for conquest; Archibald Yell and ex-Postmaster General Wickliffe had come to block British intrigues; and Commodore Stockton, U.S.N., was at Galveston with the Princeton, St. Mary’s, Saratoga, and Porpoise. On the northern and eastern borders of Texas, United States troops were concentrated—all ready to pounce on Mexico if she made a move."

Actually, the U.S. was ready to pounce in any event.

From Secretary of State Ebenezer Allen Jones received the following letter on June 5:

"I am persuaded that some unaccredited and informal (perhaps self-constituted and unauthorized) agents, acting in pretended behalf of the United States, are endeavoring to take advantage of the crisis to hurry us into hostilities with Mexico. I hope they may be disappointed, and that in spite of their efforts we shall at least be able to preserve peace at present, if not the Republic… Gen. Sherman, who returned from Galveston, is going up to-morrow to see Mr. Donelson who, as Gen. S. says, approves of a military occupation forthwith of the territory west of the Nueces by Texas, but not as Minister of the United States. I have only indirect news from Com. Stockton, who, in urging military operation of the part of Texas, seems to act through others, holding himself, in the mean time, wisely aloof.

"Under existing circumstances, I think that the policy of Texas should, for the present, be peaceful; and such a course, I trust, the nation will approve. Gen. Sherman has been strongly urged by the reckless agitators in this vicinity and at Galveston to call out the militia, and commence hostilities against Mexico, without regard to the approval or disapproval of the Executive. But I have no idea that he can be persuaded into so reckless a measure…"

And then Jones received this letter dated June 12, 1845, from England’s diplomat Charles Elliot:

"Galveston—The accounts yesterday from New Orleans are rife of immediate movement of United States forces, land and sea, to the Rio Grande, and a great deal of the like inflammable matter... It was hugely wished that you should do the work of provoking hostilities, and that somebody else should reap the advantage…"

And then there was this from Elliot on the following day:

"It occurs to me that you would do well to cause copies of your proclamation to be forwarded to Gen. Aristra, without delay; for I am greatly afraid that the news he will hear of military movements from New Orleans may lead to some sudden outbreak…

"… I have written to Mexico, in the strongest terms, suggesting complete abstinence from onward movement, let this Congress and Convention say what they may. The Mexicans had better leave the initiative in hostile proceedings to the United States, which will be no easy or irresponsible task under present circumstances. I should hope they would pause before they break up a state of peace between Mexico and yourselves. The proclamation is, I think, working sedatively already."

Elliot’s advice was well taken. What was unspoken and possible was that if Texas chose independence, war between England, France, Mexico, and Texas on the one hand, and the United States on the other could occur. And if Texas chose annexation, war with Mexico, and possibly England, was on the horizon. After all, Stockton’s plan to invade Matamoras, while Texas was at peace with Mexico, reached well beyond the limits of protecting the Republic, to the point of jeopardy.

Despite the fact that the majority of Texans, including Sam Houston and Anson Jones favored annexation, the U.S. under President Polk was taking no chances and was proceeding with his undeclared war with Mexico. The U.S. had troops on foreign soil (The Republic of Texas) and the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Polk was not out of the question. Polk’s position, simply put, was that once the annexation bill passed in the U.S., Texas was annexed and all the other details, such as approval by the U.S. Congress, plus the government and people of Texas, were mere formalities.

 

As Congress met at Washington-on-the-Brazos in Texas on June 16, the mood against Jones was volatile.

"I felt its blasts all around me," he wrote. "Demagogues, emissaries, factionists, disorganizers, and personal and political enemies, all, all united against me."

The annexation resolution was unanimously approved by the Senate and the House. They rejected the Mexican treaty, and agreed on a tribute to Andrew Jackson and a vote of thanks to ex-President Tyler. As for President Jones, who labored to obtain the best conditions for annexation or independence for the Republic of Texas, his opponents had only this:

General McLeod in the House proclaimed "the course of the Executive in relation to the question of annexation unpatriotic and unwise." McLeod then asked that Jones’s tenure as President be ended. Jones must not be "enabled to throw further obstacles in the way of this great measure, and ultimately effect its defeat."

In the Senate, James K. McCreary declared, "The President in this arbitrarily exercising the powers of negotiating a treaty has done an official act unworthy of the Executive of Texas, and degrading to the country, and has set at defiance the known and express will of the people, and therefore justly deserves censure of this body." Evidently having a change of heart, McCreary moved to table his own motion, and failing that withdrew the motion to censure.

Continued next month…