Annexation to the United States was far from automatic for Texas once independence from Mexico was gained in 1836. Sam Houston noted that Texas “was more coy than forward” as negotiations reached a climax in 1845.
William H. Wharton was Texas’ first representative in Washington. His instructions were to gain diplomatic recognition of the new Republic’s independence.
After some squabbles, the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for a minister to Texas, and President Andrew Jackson recognized the new country in one of his last acts in office in March 1837.
Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar (1838–41) opposed annexation. He held visions of empire in which Texas would rival the United States for supremacy on the North American continent.
During his administration, Great Britain began a close relationship with Texas and made strenuous efforts to get Mexico to recognize the Republic. This relationship between Great Britain and Texas raised fears in the United States that Britain might attempt to make Texas part of its empire.
Southerners feared for the future of slavery in Texas, which had renounced the importation of slaves as a concession to get a trade treaty with Great Britain, and American newspapers noted that trade with Texas had suffered after the Republic received recognition from European countries.
In Houston’s second term in the Texas presidency, he instructed Isaac Van Zandt, his minister in Washington, to renew the annexation negotiations. Although U.S. President John Tyler and his cabinet were eager to annex Texas, they were worried about ratification in the U.S. Senate. The annexation question was put off.
In January 1844, Houston again gave Van Zandt instructions to propose annexation talks. This time the United States agreed to Houston’s standing stipulation that, for serious negotiations to take place, the United States must provide military protection to Texas. U.S. naval forces were ordered to the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. troops were positioned on the southwest border close to Texas.
On April 11, 1844, Texas and the United States signed a treaty for annexation. Texas would enter the Union as a territory, not a state, under terms of the treaty. The United States would assume Texas’ debt up to $10 million and would negotiate Texas’ southwestern boundary with Mexico.
On June 8, 1844, the U.S. Senate rejected the treaty with a vote of 35-16, with much of the opposition coming from the slavery abolition wing of the Whig Party.
But westward expansion became a major issue in the U.S. presidential election that year. James K. Polk, the Democratic nominee, was a supporter of expansion, and the party’s platform called for adding Oregon and Texas to the Union.
After Polk won the election in November, President Tyler declared that the people had spoken on the issue of annexation, and he resubmitted the matter to Congress.
Several bills were introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives containing various proposals.
In February 1845, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution that would bring Texas into the Union as a state. Texas would cede its public property, such as forts and custom houses, to the United States, but it could keep its public lands and must retain its public debt. The region could be divided into four new states in addition to the original Texas. And the United States would negotiate the Rio Grande boundary claim.
British officials asked the Texas government to delay consideration of the U.S. offer for 90 days to attempt to get Mexico to recognize the Republic. The delay did no good: Texans’ minds were made up.
President Anson Jones, who succeeded Houston in 1844, called a convention to write a state constitution in Austin on July 4, 1845.
Mexico finally recognized Texas’ independence, but the recognition was rejected. Texas voters overwhelmingly accepted the U.S. proposal and approved the new constitution in a referendum.
On Dec. 29, 1845, the U.S. Congress accepted the state constitution, and Texas became the 28th state in the Union. The first meeting of the Texas Legislature took place on Feb. 16, 1846.
The entry of Texas into the Union touched off the War with Mexico, a war that some historians now think was planned by President James K. Polk to obtain the vast American Southwest.
Gen. Zachary Taylor was sent to Corpus Christi, just above the Nueces River, in July 1845. In February 1846, right after Texas formally entered the Union, the general was ordered to move troops into the disputed area south of the Nueces to the mouth of the Rio Grande. Mexican officials protested the move, claiming the status of the territory was under negotiation.
After Gen. Taylor refused to leave, Mexican President Mariano Paredes declared the opening of a defensive war against the United States on April 24, 1846. After initial encounters at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, both a few miles north of today’s Brownsville, the war was fought south of the Rio Grande.
President Polk devised a plan to raise 50,000 volunteers from every section of the United States to fight the war. About 5,000 Texans saw action in Mexico.
Steamboats provided an important supply link for U.S. forces along the Rio Grande. Historical figures such as Richard King, founder of the legendary King Ranch, and Mifflin Kenedy, another rancher and businessman, first came to the Lower Rio Grande Valley as steamboat operators during the war.
Much farther up the Rio Grande, the war was hardly noticed. U.S. forces moved south from Santa Fe, which had been secured in December 1846. After a minor skirmish with Mexican forces north of El Paso, the U.S. military established American jurisdiction in this part of Texas.
Gen. Winfield Scott brought the war to a close in March 1847 with the capture of Mexico City.
When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on Feb. 2, 1848, the United States had acquired the American Southwest for development. And in Texas, the Rio Grande became an international boundary.
Europeans, of whom the vast majority were German, rather than Anglos, were the first whites to push the Texas frontier into west Central Texas after annexation. John O. Meusebach became leader of the German immigration movement in Texas, and he led a wagon train of some 120 settlers to the site of Fredericksburg in May 1846.
Germans also migrated to the major cities, such as San Antonio and Galveston, and by 1850 there were more people of German birth or parentage in Texas than there were Mexican-Texans.
The estimated population of 150,000 at annexation grew to 212,592, including 58,161 slaves, in the first U.S. census count in Texas in 1850.
As the state’s population grew, the regions developed distinct population characteristics. The southeast and eastern sections attracted immigrants from the Lower South, the principal slaveholding states. Major plantations developed in these areas.
North Texas got more Upper Southerners and Midwesterners. These immigrants were mostly small farmers and few owned slaves.
Mexican-Texans had difficulty with Anglo immigrants. The “cart war” broke out in 1857. Mexican teamsters controlled the transportation of goods from the Gulf coast to San Antonio and could charge lower rates than their competition.
A campaign of terror was launched by Anglo haulers, especially around Goliad, in an attempt to drive the Mexican-Texans out of business. Intervention by the U.S. and Mexican governments finally brought the situation under control, but it stands as an example of the attitudes held by Anglo-Texans toward Mexican-Texans.
Cotton was by far the state’s largest money crop, but corn, sweet potatoes, wheat and sugar also were produced. Saw milling and grain milling became the major industries, employing 40 percent of the manufacturing workers.
Land disputes and the public-debt issue were settled with the Compromise of 1850. Texas gave up claims to territory extending to Santa Fe and beyond in exchange for $10 million from the federal government. That sum was used to pay off the debt of the Republic.
Personalities, especially Sam Houston, dominated elections during early statehood, but, for most Texans, politics were unimportant. Voter turnouts were low in the 1850s until the movement toward secession gained strength.
— This multi-part narrative of Texas' past, from prehistoric times to 1980, is based on "A Concise History of Texas" by former Texas Almanac editor Mike Kingston. Mr. Kingston's history was published in the 1986–1987 edition of the Texas Almanac, which marked Texas' sesquicentennial. Robert Plocheck, associate editor of the Texas Almanac, edited and expanded Mr. Kingston's history.