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In eighteen forty-three,
Texas was a major issue in American politics. President John Tyler wanted to make
Texas a state in the Union. But his secretary of state, Daniel Webster, was
cool toward the idea. Webster was a northerner who opposed having another slave-holding
state in the Union.
Tyler did not push
the issue. He needed Webster's political support. Then, Webster resigned. The
president replaced him with a southerner, Abel Upshur. Four months later,
Upshur began negotiations to bring Texas into the Union. But a few weeks before
those talks were completed, Upshur died in an accident.
President Tyler was
a member of the Whig Party. But he made a Democrat -- John C. Calhoun -- his new
secretary of state. Calhoun wanted Texas in the Union. But Tyler also had
another reason for wanting his help. Tyler, though a Whig, hoped to get nominated
in eighteen forty-four as the presidential candidate of the Democrats.
This week in our
series, Maurice Joyce and Stewart Spencer talk about the election of eighteen
the talks that Upshur had begun. And the treaty with Texas was signed April
twelfth, eighteen forty-four. A few days later, a letter from Calhoun to the
British minister in Washington was made public. The letter was Calhoun's answer
to a British note saying that Britain wished to end slavery wherever it
slavery in the American south. He said that what was called slavery was really
a political institution necessary for the peace, safety, and economic strength
of those states where it existed. Calhoun said that statehood for Texas was
necessary to the peace and security of the United States. He said that ending
slavery in Texas would be a danger to the American south and to the Union
Calhoun made it
seem that the United States wanted Texas -- not because of some great national
interest -- but only to protect slavery in the south. The letter created great
opposition to Texas statehood in the north. People called on their senators to
vote against the acceptance of Texas. President Tyler sent the treaty with
Texas to the Senate on April twenty-second, eighteen forty-four.
This was just nine
days before the Whig party opened its national convention in Baltimore.
Everybody was sure that the Whigs would choose Senator Henry Clay as their
presidential candidate. Clay had been working hard for the nomination for more
than two years. The Democrats were to hold their convention a month later.
Former President Martin Van Buren was the choice of most Democrats.
Both Clay and Van
Buren opposed statehood for Texas. Clay said it would lead to war with Mexico.
Van Buren agreed. As expected, Clay was chosen as the Whig Party's candidate
for president. But Van Buren was given a surprise. The Democrats adopted a rule
that their candidate must receive at least two-thirds of the votes -- one hundred
and seventy-seven of the two-hundred and sixty-six delegates to the convention.
Van Buren won a majority of the votes -- one hundred and forty-six. But that
was not enough.
voted again. But Van Buren still fell short of the necessary two-thirds. The
delegates voted again and again without giving Van Buren the number he needed.
After a time, Van Buren began to lose votes. None of the names nominated seemed
able to win the necessary two-thirds. At last, another name was proposed: James
K. Polk. Polk was at one time governor of Tennessee and Speaker of the House of
Representatives. He was a supporter of statehood for Texas.
delegates voted for the eighth time. Polk got only forty-four votes. Then they
voted again. This time, Polk received all two-hundred sixty-six votes. Senator
Silas Wright of New York was chosen as candidate for the vice-presidency. But
he refused to accept, because he did not support making Texas a state. The
Democrats then chose Senator George Dallas of Pennsylvania.
Two other parties
offered candidates in the eighteen forty-four elections. President Tyler formed
a party of his supporters and government workers. They met and nominated him
for president. A fourth group, the Liberty Party, was organized by northeastern
Abolitionists after the Democratic and Whig parties refused to oppose slavery.
Representatives from six states met at Albany, New York. They chose James
Birney for president.
Texas was the chief
issue of the eighteen forty-four campaign. President Tyler had sent the treaty
with Texas to the Senate for approval. The Senate received it just one week
after the democratic convention. Those senators who had supported Martin Van
Buren were still bitter over the party's failure to nominate him as its
candidate. They joined with the Whigs to defeat the treaty: thirty-five to
Tyler still hoped
to get statehood for Texas. James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate, also
campaigned on promises to get Texas for the United States. The Whig candidate,
Henry Clay, at first opposed statehood for Texas. But this position began to
cost him support in the South. Then he said statehood might be possible if most
of the people wanted it. This satisfied the slave owners of the South who
wanted Texas in the Union as a slave state.
Clay angered many
people in the North because he softened his opposition to Texas. Some of these
began supporting the Liberty Party candidate, James Birney. The Democrats were
able to get President Tyler to withdraw as a candidate. They told him that he
would take votes from the Democrats and might make Clay president.
charges were made against both Polk and Clay. Clay was called a gambler, a
duelist, a man of dishonest deals. Stories were told about Clay's use of strong
language and his love of card games. Whig newspapers reported that a traveler
saw a group of slaves being sold in Tennessee. Burned into the skin of each of
the slaves, the papers said, were the letters JKP -- the initials of James K.
The election was
very close. Two million seven hundred thousand people voted. Polk received only
thirty-eight-thousand votes more than Clay. But Polk got one-hundred-seventy
electoral votes. Clay got only one-hundred-five.
The election was
really decided in New York state. Clay lost the state's thirty-six electoral
votes. But he did so by just fifty-one hundred votes. He might have won the
state had not James Birney received more than fifteen thousand votes in New
believed Polk's victory showed that the American people wanted statehood for
Texas. But he knew that he could never get the Senate's approval of a Texas
statehood treaty. It would take two-thirds of the Senate vote to do so. So
Tyler proposed other action to make Texas a state. When Congress met in
December, he proposed that Texas be given statehood through a joint resolution
by both the House and Senate. Such a resolution needed only a simple majority
calling for the annexation of Texas was passed by the house in January,
eighteen forty-five, and by the Senate on February twenty-seventh. Tyler signed
the bill on March first -- just three days before he stepped down as president.
The resolution invited
Texas to join the Union as a state. It gave Texas the right to split itself
into as many as four more states when its population was large enough. Texas
could keep its public lands. But it had to pay its own debts. And Texas could
enter the Union as a slave state.
minister to Washington protested the resolution. He called it an act of
aggression against his country. He demanded his passport and returned to
Mexico. Britain and France tried to prevent Texas from becoming a state. They
got Mexico to agree to recognize Texas independence, but only if Texas would
not join the United States.
Texas thus had two
choices. It could become a state in the United States. Or it could continue as
a republic with its independence recognized by Mexico. The Texas Congress chose
statehood. President Polk looked even farther to the west for more new
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Maurice
Joyce and Stewart Spencer. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs,
along with historical images, can be found at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us
again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA
This is program #71 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION