The conventional wisdom is generally neither and although there are elements of the issues that Silbey gives prominence in his study their importance has largely been discovered after the fact – something like the runner from Marathon who didn’t figure in histories until 600 years after the battle and now is a focal point of the story. By going back to contemporary newspaper caricatures to illustrate this post we find that the Texas annexation is the last act of Jacksonian expansionism – just as Her war for independence from Mexico in 1836 had been fostered by the Jacksonians in New Orleans – and although many elements of the coming Civil War will get their debuts in the 1846 war with Mexico that followed annexation in 1844/45 they were merely ephemeral glimmers.
A comic scene anticipating a Whig victory in the upcoming presidential election. The date is 1845, after an election supposedly decided on the Texas question, the tariff issue, and Democratic identification with Jacksonian policies. The artist ridicules Democrat James K. Polk’s advocacy of the annexation of Texas as misguided aggression. In addition, the title’s use of the phrase “Going to Texas,” contemporary code for embezzling, may be a swipe at the political spoils system associated with the Democrats since the Jackson administration. Incumbent President John Tyler also comes under attack for corruption. The scene is outside the White House. On a “Loco Foco” donkey Polk and running-mate Dallas, heavily armed and equipped with military packs, are about to depart for Texas. Dallas holds a flag with skull-and-crossbones and the motto “Free Trade,” a symbol of antiprotectionism. Around the donkey’s neck is a feed barrel full of “Poke berries.” Before the donkey stands Andrew Jackson, offering his trademark hat and clay pipe, and crooning: I give thee all, I can no more, / Though poor the offering be, / My hat and Pipe are all the store, / That I can bring to thee! / A hat whose worn out nap reveals / A friendly tale full well, / And better far a heart that feels, / More than Hat and Pipe can tell! At this the donkey brays, “Eehaw!” and Polk bids Jackson, “Goodbye General! It is all day with us. I am a gone Sucker!” Dallas exclaims, “D–n Clay!” Behind the donkey stands John Tyler, with lowered head, reflecting, “It is very odd, that after all my treachery, and the unscrupulous efforts of office holders and political dependents, this is my reward! If I had not laid by enough for a rainy day, I should slope for Texas too!” On the ground nearby lies a sign reading: For Sale A lot of hickory Poles will be sold cheap to close the concern. enquire of Polk & Dallas.” From the steps of the White House Henry Clay waves and calls out, “A pleasant journey to you Gentlemen! may your shadows never be less!” Below the title is a narrative, purportedly excerpted from the Tyler administration organ the “Madisonian” of April 1845: All wept particularly when the old chieftain approached and holding his hat and pipe in one hand and the other placed on his heart, with tremulous accent interrupted occasionally with a cough, sang the above lines, an impromptu composed by himself to the well known tune of my heart and Lute, even the sagacious Tyler was subdued and sank into a fit of melancholy abstraction; the Donkey brayed encore.
Storm over Texas : the annexation controversy and the road to Civil War Joel H. Silbey New York : Oxford University Press, 2005 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xx, 230 p. : ill., 1 map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 209-213) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
A cynical look at the opposition to American annexation of Texas during the 1844 campaign. At the head of a motley procession is Whig candidate and professed anti-annexationist Henry Clay, riding a raccoon (which looks more like a fox). He is followed by three groups of men. The first (right) are the “Hartford Convention Blue-Lights,” who shout, “God save the King!” and “Millions for Tribute! not a cent for defence Go it Strong!” Next (center) is a line of “Sunday Mail Petitioners,” led by Clay’s strongly religious running-mate Theodore Frelinghuysen, riding a donkey and dressed in clerical robes. They represent the proponents of eliminating postal service on Sundays in the United States, whose campaign was criticized by many as a threat to the separation of church and state. One of them remarks, “I go for the Good old times! wholesome, Fine and Imprisonment!” Prominent antislavery advocate William Lloyd Garrison leads the third group. He displays the banner of “Non Resistance, No Government No Laws–Except the 15 Gallon Law!” His folllowers are the “Abolition Martyrs” (far left), who have been tarred-and-feathered for their activism.
In the Spring of 1844, a fiery political conflict erupted over the admission of Texas into the Union, a hard-fought and bitter controversy that profoundly changed the course of American history. Silbey argues that the battle over Texas marked the crucial moment when partisan differences were transformed into a North-vs-South antagonism, and the momentum towards Civil War leaped into high gear.
A satire on the Democrats’ approach to the delicate question of the annexation of Texas. In marked contrast to his portrayal of the issue as a beautiful woman in “Virtuous Harry” (no. 1844-27), the artist here presents Texas as the ugly hag War or Chaos, brandishing a dagger, pistols, whips, and manacles. She embodies the threat of war with Mexico, feared by American opponents of annexation. The whips and manacles in her left hand may also allude to slavery, whose expansion into the new territory was desired by southern annexationists. Bucholzer parodies Van Buren’s evasion of the controversial and sectionally divisive issue and Democratic candidates Polk and Dallas’s motives in favoring the measure. Senators Thomas Hart Benton and John C. Calhoun confront Van Buren with Texas, whom they support on a plank across their shoulders. Calhoun says, “Come, Matty, we introduce you to the Texas Question, what do you say to her Ladyship?” Van Buren, backing away, replies, “Take any other shape but that and my firm nerves shall never tremble!” Andrew Jackson, who prods Van Buren from behind with his cane says, “Stand up to your lick-log Matty or by the Eternal you’ll back into Salt River before you know it.” In the background right are Polk and Dallas. Polk says, “What say you Dallas? She’s not the handsomest Lady I ever saw but that $25,000 a year– Eh! it’s worth a little stretching of Conscience!” (The annual salary of a U.S. President was $25,000.)
Silbey offers a swiftly paced narrative of the Texas imbroglio, with an exceptional cast of characters, including John C. Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, James K. Polk, and Martin Van Buren. He shows in particular how the Van Buren bloc of the Democratic Party – the “Barnburners” – stood at the heart the annexation controversy. We see how a series of unexpected moves, some planned, some inadvertent, sparked a crisis that intensified and crystallized the North-South divide, which then became, for the first time, a driving force in national affairs.
Seeking a middle course between the issues of the annexation of Texas on one hand and abolitionism on the other, Van Buren lost the support of southern Democrats, including elderly statesman Andrew Jackson. Here the artist portrays Van Buren as a dog with a fox’s bushy tail, leading his master (Jackson) astray. Jackson says, “Matty! Matty! it strikes me that you are leading me wrong–By the eternal! we shan’t find Texas here.” Van Buren insists, “We must take a middle course, boos. Salt river is on one side, and abolitionism is on the other.” To their left is a man wearing striped pants and holding by their tails two dogs with the heads of James Polk and George Dallas. The man may be Brother Jonathan (as Weitenkampf suggests) or, judging from his boldly striped trousers, a representative of Loco Foco Democrats. He says to Jackson, “Here, Almighty sir! are a couple of pups well broken, who will come when you whistle for them & go where you wish. “That dog” has too much fox in him.” Polk and Dallas were chosen Democratic nominees in late May.
Sectionalism, Silbey argues, had often been intense, but rarely widespread and generally well contained by other forces on the political landscape. But after Texas statehood, the political landscape was transformed into one sculpted by implacable sectional differences. The bitter discord over annexation – with slavery the core issue – was the seed from which America’s great crisis of union grew, leading ultimately to Southern secession and Civil War.
A satire on the Whig party’s anti-annexation platform. The question of whether or not to annex Texas was a large issue separating candidates in the 1844 campaign. Annexation’s serious implications for the future of slavery in the United States polarized voters between Polk, who supported it, and Clay, who opposed it. Texas, personified as an elegant and beautiful young woman holding a cornucopia filled with flowers, stands between presidential candidates Clay and Polk. Polk (left) doffs his hat and takes her hand saying, “Welcome, sister, Your Valor has won you liberty and independence, and you have fairly won the right to be identified with ‘the land of the brave, and the home of the free.'” She replies, “Shall the slanders that have been urged against your sister, sever those whose blood flows from the same fountain?” George M. Dallas, standing to the left of Polk, comments, “Slandered as she is, let him that is without sin, cast the first stone at her!” Clay (at right, arms folded) piously says, “Stand back, Madam Texas! for we are more holy than thou! Do you think we will have anything to do with gamblers, horse-racers, and licentious profligates?” A Quaker (and possibly an abolitionist) taps Clay on the shoulder and reminds him, “Softly, Softly, friend Harry. Thou hast mentioned the very reason that we cannot Vote for thee!”
The Texas controversy released demons that were never again pushed back into the bottle. Silbey argues that this brief political struggle became, in the words of an Alabama congressman, “the greatest question of the age.”
Several prospective Democratic presidential candidates travel along a canal in the “Salt River Barge,” named after the proverbial river of political defeat. The passengers are (left to right): Lewis Cass, secretary of war William Marcy, Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, former secretary of state James Buchanan, and Texas senator Sam Houston. Martin Van Buren, pictured as a fox, pulls the barge, saying, “Never fear my Coves. I’ll carry you straight, for I am well acquainted with this Road!” Houston, seated on a barrel of “Cold Water” in the bow of the barge, holds a flag marked “Maine Liquor Law” with a crown at the top of the pole. The Maine Law of 1851 was a prohibition measure subsequently adopted by several other states. Houston says, “We dont travel quite so fast as I did in Texas once!” Behind him, Buchanan looks through a periscope and exclaims, “I dont know but it looks to me as if we had travelled this way before!” Douglas, noticeably shorter than the rest, complains, “These old Fogies are out of date Young America expects Progress! I am for the annexation of Cuba, Canada, Mexico, and Japan!” Douglas represented the Young America faction of the Democratic party, a youthful element which was, among other things, expansionist in nature. Marcy, with the “50 Cents” trouser patch, conjectures, “If Matty stands by me now I think with a little manouvering the chances are in my favor!” Finally Cass, lying on his back in the rear of the barge, instructs Buchanan to “Wake me up . . . if any thing in particular happens I’m going to take a nap.” (This may be a comment on Cass’s advanced age and/or his physical corpulence in 1852.) From the rear of the boat flies a banner marked “Intervintion,” perhaps a reference to the Democrats’ advocacy of nationalist and republican movements in Europe and the Caribbean, or more particularly to American efforts on behalf of Hungarian nationalist leader Louis Kossuth in 1850. The print must have appeared before the Democratic convention in early June 1852, when the aspirations of these hopefuls for the presidency were extinguished by the nomination of dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce.