Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Texas-New Mexico Border: The Webster-Bell Plan

The Joint Resolution of Congress authorizing the annexation of Texas to the United States, signed by President Tyler on March 1, 1845, included a provision that up to four additional states of “convenient” size, in addition to Texas, could later be created from the state's territory. Moreover, states that were formed from Texas lying south of the Missouri Compromise line would admitted "with or without slavery":
New states, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said state of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of said state, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution. And such states as may be formed out of that portion of said territory lying south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri compromise line, shall be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as the people of each state asking admission may desire. And in such state or states as shall be formed out of said territory north of said Missouri compromise line, slavery, or involuntary servitude, (except for crime,) shall be prohibited.

Five years later, the application of California for admission as a free state threatened to upset the balance of free states and slave states in the Senate. In addition, most observers expected that New Mexico and Deseret (Utah) would prove inhospitable to slavery. One potential remedy was to take advantage of the Joint Resolution’s invitation and divide Texas into two or more states – presumably slave states – each of which would have its own senators.

Senators Daniel Webster and John Bell contemplated precisely such a plan as a key element of a compromise to the resolve the Crisis of 1850. In late February 1850, newspapers reported on elements of a compromise plan that Webster was expected to introduce. Among other things, Webster was reportedly contemplating a proposal to divide Texas into no fewer than three states. Texas itself (marked "T" on the map above) would be reduced to the area between the western border of Louisiana and the Trinity River; to the west, one new state (marked "1") would extend from the Trinity River on the east to the Colorado River on the west; even further west, a second new state (designated "2") would be created between the Colorado on the east and the Rio Grande on the west.

The northern boundary of the new states would be 34 degrees north. Land north of 34 degrees would be ceded to the federal government and included in New Mexico territory.

Webster never introduced his proposal because colleagues told him that it would be viewed as so pro-southern in New England that it would destroy his political career. However, Whig Senator John Bell of Tennessee then introduced a plan that was based on Webster's. "The propositions for the subdivision of Texas [in Bell's Plan] were exactly the same as those reported as part of Webster's plan in the press."

Mark J. Stegmaier reports that the Bell Plan "initially received some supportive comments, but [it] would fail as the basis for compromise, just as all other schemes focused on the subdivision of Texas did." There were two primary reasons for this. First, "the great majority of Northern legislators [would] not countenance a subdivision." But equally important was the fact that "the Texans did not desire it either."
Texans could appreciate the need for more slave states and the intent of the 1845 annexation resolutions to permit Texas to subdivide into as many as four additional states, but, when it came to the practical accomplishment of this, Texans were at best reticent and mostly hostile to the idea in 1850. Many were fearful of the economic and trade implications of dividing the old imperial republic into states of middling size. More worrisome was the slavery question in west Texas. The frontier region beyond the Colorado was still sparsely populated, and the whites there possessed only a few slaves. The reality was that any state in that area would probably become a free state if detached from eastern, slaveholding parts of Texas. Texans' dread of a free-soil territory or state on their norther and western border in New Mexico was only compounded when they considered that a state carved out of the frontier even closer to the settled parts of Texas would likely also become a free state.

1 comment:

  1. Just found you on a google search for William Henry Harrison - just saying hi - and I like your blog.


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