Sunday, July 26, 2009

John Calhoun: "The line was intentionally left open"

Attentive readers may recall that, in his February 12, 1847 speech denouncing John C. Calhoun’s claimed inconsistency concerning Mexico, Senator Hopkins L. Turney asserted that the annexation treaty submitted to the Senate in 1844 had described the territory of Texas as extending to the Rio Grande:
As Secretary of State, [Calhoun] had concluded the treaty with the republic of Texas by which she was to be annexed to the United States. He (Mr. T.) had never read that paper, but he understood that it extended the territory of Texas to the Rio Grande.

In his reply, Calhoun now pounced on Turney’s mistake:
But the senator [Mr. Turney] says I had stipulated in that treaty that the Rio Grande was the boundary.

Mr. TURNEY. I remarked that I had never read the treaty, but I understood that its terms went to the Rio Grande.

Mr. CALHOUN. The senator is just as wrong in that as in all his understandings. No such thing; the line was intentionally left open. . . . It was expressly left open, in order that the boundary might be subsequently established by negotiation with Mexico. . . . As soon as the treaty was signed, I communicated directly with the Mexican Government, through our charge d’affaires, and stated that I was ready to settle all questions of difference, and amongst others the boundary, upon the most liberal principles. I did not apprehend that war would follow. But I am held responsible on the ground that if Texas had not been annexed, we should not have had a Mexican war. Is he sure of that?

Calhoun may not have “apprehend[ed] that war would follow”, but he clearly understood that war was possible. Norma Lois Peterson points out that Calhoun tried to communicate with Mexico precisely “to dispel fears of war with Mexico should annexation become a reality.”
After the treaty had been signed but before it was sent to the Senate, Calhoun tried to dispel fears of war with Mexico should annexation become a reality. The threat of hostilities, he felt, could stand in the way of ratification; therefore, he talked several times with Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Mexico’s minister to the United States, to explore the possibility of Mexico’s accepting a financial settlement to compensate for the loss of Texas and explain how crucial it was for the United States to annex Texas in order to prevent British intrigue in the that area. Calhoun sent conciliatory dispatches to Mexico by special messenger, hoping for a signal of approval before the Senate voted on the treaty.

Calhoun’s decision to emphasize the fact that the treaty failed to specify the boundary of Texas was merely the introduction to a larger point he wished to make. But for that, dear readers, you will have to await the next post.

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