Saturday, July 25, 2009

"I placed the question on its true ground"

Having described his understanding of British intentions as of April 1843 when he became Secretary of State, John C. Calhoun then provided a tantalizing summary of his intentions in writing the Pakenham Letter and thus casting annexation as a pro-slavery issue:
The time had come to act, and for consequences to be met, be they what they might. I accepted the office with all these difficulties before me. I said this office is unacceptable to me. I go in it with no small share of reputation, if I may judge from appearances. I shall experience great difficulty in accomplishing the object for which I have been appointed and may lose much reputation; but I must do my duty. I undertook it, and when I undertake a thing I go straightforward to it. I placed the question on its true ground, that this movement was intended to bring Texas under the control of England, with a view to abolish slavery there, and through that, abolishing it throughout the country. A treaty was formed, and it shared the fate that might have almost been expected from the weakness of the Administration. It was defeated.

While obviously inconclusive, Calhoun’s remarks may be read to support my earlier speculation as to his motives. Calhoun apparently knew from the start that passage of the annexation treaty was a long shot at best. The outcome was likely to be so lopsided that he feared his reputation would suffer. Reframing the debate in terms of slavery in order to attract southern Whigs thus had little or no downside. While Calhoun and the administration would probably still go down to defeat, at least he would have “do[ne his] duty” and “placed the question on its true ground.”

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