Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Texas-New Mexico Border: Clay's Proposal

Many accounts of the Compromise of 1850 treat the resolution of the Texas-New Mexico boundary dispute as an afterthought, or at least a subsidiary issue. Mark J. Stegmaier's Texas, New Mexico, & The Compromise of 1850: Boundary Dispute & Sectional Crisis places the emphasis where I think it should be:
Of all the issues presenting themselves in 1850, this one alone -- the boundary dispute -- offered the immediate potential for bloodshed and subsequent evils if Texas should send a militia force into New Mexico. President Taylor's already-strong distaste for Texans and his belief that the Texan claim to New Mexico east of the Rio Grande was invalid, combined with his stalwart inflexibility, only added to the volatility of this situation.

One reason I'm enjoying the book (thanks Sean Nalty for the recommendation!) is that it contains a number of maps illustrating different proposals that were made to resolve the Texas-New Mexico border and, in some cases, to carve additional states out of Texas. I'd read descriptions of some of these proposals, but they were always hard to visualize.

In fact, I had been looking on the net for several years to see whether anyone had posted maps showing at least some of the proposals. I never found any. It is that dearth of maps that I propose to remedy.

The boundary proposal that I was most interested to understand was that proposed by Henry Clay as part of his initial compromise plan at the end of January 1850. Professor Stegmaier describes Clay's boundary proposal as follows:
[Clay's] third resolution suggested that the boundary run up the Rio Grande "to the southern line of New Mexico" and thence eastward to the 1819 treaty line between Spain and the United States [i.e., the western border of the state of Louisiana]. However, Clay never specified where "the southern line of New Mexico" lay.

The choice for the southern border of New Mexico was (again according to Professor Stegmaier) probably either 32 or 34 degrees north latitude. Of the two, Professor Stegmaier believes that Clay must have intended (assuming he understood the geography sufficiently to have an intention one way or the other) the more northerly 34 degree line:
Clay, in devising his compromise, certainly did not intend to promote the latter view [the 32 degree line], which Texans and all other Southerners at the time would have deemed absurd. The Southern extremists in Harrison County, Texas -- which lay above 32 degrees -- were about as likely to accede peacefully to such a proposal as those in Charleston, South Carolina, would have been!

To illustrate the difference, I have taken a county map of current Texas, New Mexico and environs, drawn in rivers and some population centers, and then drawn lines across at 32 and 34 degrees. That is the map that appears at the top of this post. It should give you some idea of Clay's proposal(s), and the difference between it (or them).

Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how to label the elements (rivers and population centers) I have added. I uploaded the map to Flickr and placed labels on the map there. You may see the Flicker version here.

The version of the map at the top of this post expands to a larger version if you click on it (I hope).


  1. Sean Nalty4:40 PM

    Hi Elektratig,

    Glad to see that you enjoy the Stegmaier book. He is a tad harsh on Taylor, especially since the impression I get reading Stegmaier on Taylor is that of "Old Rough and Ready" astride "Old Whitey" getting ready to gallop off to crush the Texans. In fact, one of the articles that made it into the book was entitled "Zachary Taylor Versus the South!" Aside from that, his discussion of the LOOOOOONG legislative first session of the 31st Congress is some of the best writing on that period.


  2. Came across your blog while researching the Texas-New Mexico Border dispute for a piece I might write on my blog which seems to cover many of the same interests. as well as having many of the same websites on its blogroll. Looked around and you've got some very interesting posts.


Related Posts with Thumbnails