As we begin our reading lists f0r 2007, I have a book to recommend to any who are interested in American history, Antebellum history, Manifest Destiny, party politics, convention politics, and even crowd psychology.
Yep, it is that good.
One might consider this a companion piece to the recent book John Tyler, The Accidental President by Edward Crapol, which gives great attention to the matter of the US annexation of the Republic of Texas. By focusing only on the annexation Joel Sibley is able to bring greater focus on the matter from its roots in american emmigration to the Tejas province on through political issues that were created by the land acquisition of not just Texas but also of other areas of the American SW that were part of Mexico prior to the Mexican War.
It is a fascinating story, and one that is likely not encountered in detail in the basic college history survey course.
That Silbey touches on so many different areas and makes it understandable is a testament to his writing. The fact that he has to do so is a testament to the extreme confusion and complications of the day. I found especially interesting his description of the near paranoia that pervaded national politics after 1844. There seemed to be a willingness among all parties to look at events and despite all logic and reason suspect conspiracy and hidden motives. Anti-Growth forces suspected that President James Polk was eager to acquire territory only so as to spread slavery, while annexation forces were convinced the opposition wanted to stop growth not only to stop slavery but also to keep the South in the position of political disadvantage.
A telling example of this is seen in the acquisition of the Oregon Territory and final annexation of Texas. When running for office, Polk swore he would not accept anything less from Great Britain in the dispute over the Oregon boundary than 54 lattitude, 40 longitude, but then accepted what is now the current US/Canadian border at the 49th parallel. But in Mexico, Polk not only demanded recognition of the Texas interpretation of the border (the Rio Grande) and not the Mexican interpretation (Texas was a breakaway province, and the Nueces River was the southern most border of the province), but sent in troops to hold the border (and coincidentally start a war). Practically speaking, and whatever the motivations, a two front war has always been difficult to prosecute-and if you had to fight a war in the 1840’s, who would you rather take on…Great Britain or Mexico?
Such paranoia may be said to not be extinct today in our national politics!
The machinations to bring Texas into the union, the partisan reactions in the 1844 election, the use of joint resolution instead of treaty, the use of popular sovereignity to introduce slavery into the new territories…all this is covered in fascinating detail. It is done in a way that is easily readable and digestible.
Go Read this Book-read it for the history, read if for the education and entertainment, but also read it and consider how the behavior of people doesn’t change much from era to era-only the things they want, need, and are willing to fight for.
Purchase Note: If you want to buy on line, go to alibris.com (used and overstock) rather than Amazon-you will save a few $$.