Should the United States Annex Texas?
From the time it achieved independence, Texas sought U.S. statehood. America's leaders had to decide whether to annex Texas. The 1844 presidential rivals James Polk and Henry Clay disagreed on the issue. Read their views below. Then, you make the call.
Polk Favors Annexation
“None can fail to see the danger to our safety and future peace if Texas remains an independent state or becomes an ally or dependency of some foreign nation more powerful than herself. Is there one among our citizens who would not prefer perpetual peace with Texas to occasional wars, which so often occur between bordering independent nations?”
—James K. Polk, inaugural address, 1845
Clay Opposes Annexation
“Annexation and war with Mexico are identical. Now, for one, I certainly am not willing to involve this country in a foreign war for the object of acquiring Texas…. I regard all wars as great calamities, to be avoided, if possible, and honorable peace as the wisest and truest policy of this country.”
—Henry Clay, “Raleigh Letter,” 1844
Americans Debate Expansion
Texans elected Sam Houston as their first president. He quickly asked the United States to annex Texas. President Jackson privately favored the request, but he could not overcome opposition in Congress. Northern representatives balked at adding another slave state, especially one so big and potentially powerful. For nearly a decade, Texas continued to apply in vain for annexation. Houston tried to pressure Congress by pretending to consider joining the British Empire. At the time, Britain and the United States jointly occupied the Oregon Territory in the Pacific Northwest. The prospect alarmed expansionists.
An Expansionist Becomes President
The annexation of Texas became a key issue in the 1844 presidential election. Southern expansionists supported James K. Polk of Tennessee. A Jacksonian Democrat and a slaveholder, Polk devoutly believed in Manifest Destiny. Whig candidate Henry Clay opposed annexation.
Polk reasoned that northerners would accept the annexation of Texas if they got their own prize. He promised them the Oregon Territory. Polk threatened to fight Britain if it did not concede all of Oregon. Polk's vow to obtain both Texas and Oregon helped him win a decisive electoral victory.
Polk Compromises on Oregon
However, northern Democrats soon felt betrayed by the new President. They had reluctantly supported annexing Texas because Polk had also vowed to grab all of Oregon. Instead, in June 1846 Polk compromised with the British, agreeing to split the Oregon Territory at the 49th parallel of latitude. The United States got the future states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The British kept what became the Canadian province of British Columbia. An Ohio Democrat sputtered, “Our rights to Oregon have been shamefully compromised. The administration is Southern, Southern, Southern!”
Polk compromised because the nation could not afford two wars. He wanted to fight weak Mexico rather than powerful Britain. Indeed, by the time the Oregon compromise was completed, war with Mexico had already begun.
1. Why did Polk think annexation would promote peace?
2. Why did Clay think annexation would lead to war?
3. What decision would you have made? Why?
4. Create a Poster for or against Annexation of Texas- be sure to give reasons to support your opinion