Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.
thirty-six, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Nine years later, in
eighteen forty-five, the United States Congress passed a resolution inviting
the Republic of Texas to join the Union as a state.
Tyler signed the resolution on March first. That was just three days before his
term ended and James Polk moved into the White House as the nation's eleventh
and France tried to prevent Texas from becoming a state. They got Mexico to
agree to recognize the independence of Texas, but only if Texas agreed not to join
the United States.
two choices. It could become a state. Or it could remain a republic, with its independence
recognized by Mexico. The Texas Congress chose statehood.
in our series, Lew Roland and Jack Weitzel talk about statehood for Texas and
about the presidency of James Polk.
had campaigned for the presidency on two promises. He declared that he would
make all of Texas and all of Oregon part of the United States. The people had
elected Polk because they shared his belief that the United States should
extend from sea to sea -- from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. They felt it
was God's will, and their duty, to spread American democracy and freedom across
In the words of poet Walt Whitman: "It
is for the interest of mankind that [America's] power and territory should be
extended -- the farther, the better."
from New England were the first Americans to visit Oregon. They stopped on the
Oregon coast to trade for animal skins.
American explorers Lewis and Clark crossed the Louisiana territory to reach
Oregon. And in eighteen hundred eleven, John Jacob Astor built a fur trading
center at the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River.
explorers had given Britain claims to the same territory. The British Hudson's
Bay Company also built a trading center on the Columbia and claimed a large
area north of it. The two countries could not agree on how to divide Oregon
between them. Since there were few settlers in Oregon, Britain and the United
States agreed to occupy the territory jointly.
system worked well until the eighteen forties. Then, thousands of Americans
began moving west to Oregon. The new settlers were not satisfied with the joint
occupation agreement. They wanted all of Oregon to belong to the United States.
Polk said he thought the United States had strong claims to all of the
territory. But he said he would compromise. He offered to divide Oregon at the
forty-ninth parallel of latitude. All north of this line would belong to
Britain. All south of it -- including the Columbia River -- would belong to the
was given to Britain's minister in Washington. He rejected it, refusing even to
send it to London. He said Britain would accept nothing but the Columbia River
as the southern border of British Oregon. President Polk withdrew the offer. He
said America had no choice but to claim all of Oregon. He used strong language
and seemed to say that the United States would fight, if necessary, to defend
really did not want war. But he thought a strong position was necessary in
negotiating with Britain. He said softer treatment only led to stronger demands
from Britain. Polk asked Congress to give him permission to end the joint
occupation agreement. It did so in the spring of eighteen hundred forty-six.
the British government decided that Oregon was not worth a war with the United
States. It had demanded the Columbia River border because of the Hudson's Bay
trading center on the river. The center had been moved farther north to
Vancouver Island. So there was no real reason to continue this demand.
British foreign minister proposed a treaty that would make the forty-ninth
parallel of latitude the border between the United States and British Oregon.
The proposal was almost the same that President Polk had made earlier.
the western United States demanded that Polk reject the British offer. They
wanted all of Oregon. Polk decided to let the Senate vote on the British
proposal. The Senate accepted the treaty, and Polk signed it.
made the forty-ninth parallel the border from the Rocky Mountains to the
Pacific Ocean. The southern border of the Oregon territory was the forty-second
parallel. South of this was California. The United States, for some time, had
wanted to buy California from Mexico.
President Tyler had asked his minister to Mexico to try to buy California. The
minister, Waddy Thompson, had been to California. He described it as the
richest, the most beautiful, the healthiest country in the world. Thompson said
the port of San Francisco was big enough to hold all the navies of the world.
He said San Francisco, some day, would control the trade of all of the Pacific
little chance that Thompson could get California from Mexico. But then
something happened that destroyed any chance of getting California peacefully.
The commander of a United States navy force in the Pacific, Thomas Jones,
received news that led him to believe the United States was at war with Mexico.
to Monterey, the capital of California. The navy force arrived there in October,
eighteen hundred forty-two. Jones and his men seized Monterey and held it for
two days. He found he had made a mistake and returned the town to Mexican
officials. Jones apologized. But his actions greatly angered Mexican leaders.
They refused even to talk about selling California to the United States.
broke relations with the United States when Congress approved statehood for
Texas. Mexican officials had warned that Texas statehood would lead to war.
After Polk became president, he sent a representative to Mexico to try to
establish diplomatic relations again. A weak government was in power in Mexico,
headed by President Jose Joaquin Herrera.
first agreed to meet with the American, John Slidell, to discuss four offers
from President Polk. Earlier, Mexico had agreed to pay more than two million
dollars for damages claimed by Americans. But it did not have the money.
was to offer to pay these claims if Mexico would accept the Rio Grande River as
the border between Texas and Mexico. And America would pay Mexico five million
dollars for New Mexico and twenty-five million more for California. If these
offers were rejected, Slidell was to try to buy part of California for five million
arrived in Mexico City in December, eighteen hundred forty-five. The Mexican
government had grown even weaker. And Herrera was afraid he would be forced
from power if he met with the American diplomat.
The Herrera government fell
anyway. And the new Mexican government refused to talk with the American
representative. Slidell returned to the United States, firm in the belief that
only force could win the Mexican territories the United States wanted.
Polk shared Slidell's belief. He learned in January, eighteen hundred forty-six,
that Mexico had refused to negotiate with his representative. Polk had wanted a
peaceful settlement of the differences with Mexico. This now seemed impossible.
Perhaps, he thought, a more forceful policy would make Mexico negotiate.
Polk had sent several thousand American soldiers to Texas six months before,
when Texas accepted statehood. This force, led by General Zachary Taylor, had
camped near the town of Corpus Christi at the mouth of the Nueces River. Polk
now ordered Taylor's soldiers to the Rio Grande River. He told them to stay on
the north side of the river.
Should Mexico attack, Taylor and his men were to
strike back as hard as possible. General Taylor was glad to get his orders. For
months, his men had been training at Corpus Christi. They were ready for
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Lew Roland
and Jack Weitzel. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our series can be found along
with historical images at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for
THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #72 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION