Sunday, November 22, 2009

"For the sake of peace"

Henry Clay began his defense of his two Texas-related resolutions on January 29, 1850 by setting forth his views on Texas's extensive territorial claims. On the one hand, he maintained “that Texas has not a good title to any portion of what is called New Mexico.” On the other hand, the issue was not entirely clear. “I must say that there is a plausibility, to say the least of it, in the pretensions that she [Texas] sets up to New Mexico. I do not think they [arguments made by Texans] constitute or demonstrate the existence of good title, but a plausible one.”

What, then, did Clay propose? Paraphrasing his 3rd resolution, he briefly described the borders he recommended. These “embrac[ed] a vast country abundantly competent to form two or three States – a country which I think the highest ambition of her greatest men ought to be satisfied with as a State and a member of this Union.”

Perhaps because he knew that his definition of the borders would make Texas supporters unhappy, Clay moved on quickly to the payoff. He described his resolution proposing that the federal government “will provide for the payment of all that portion of the debt of Texas for which the duties received upon imports from foreign countries was pledged by Texas at a time when she had authority to make pledges.”

Although everyone knew that the amount that would be assumed was crucial, Clay denied it:
How much it will amount to I have endeavored to ascertain, but all the means requisite to the ascertainment of the sum have not been received, and it is not very essential at this time, because it is the principle and not the amount that is most worthy of consideration.

The proposal, Clay maintained, was “founded upon principles of truth and eternal justice.” Texas had invited loans to be made to her based upon representations that import duties would be “sacredly pledged” for their repayment. Upon annexation, “[t]he United States became the owners of that pledge and the recipient of all the duties payable in the ports of Texas.”
Now, sir, I do say that, in my humble judgment, if there be honor, or justice, or truth amongst men, we do owe to the creditors who thus advanced their money upon that pledge the reimbursement of that money, at all events to the extent that the pledged fund would have reimbursed it, if it had never been appropriated by us to our use.

In a small but significant way designed to bring joy to the ears of Texas creditors, Clay quickly modified the caveat in the last clause. After annexation and war, “it is impossible now to ascertain how much would have been received from that source by the State of Texas if she had remained independent.” Reimbursement should not, therefore, be limited to the amount of duties collected at Texas ports. The assumption should be that, had Texas remained independent, she would have collected such duties “as would have been adequate to the extinction of the debt to which I have referred.”

Clay then tied his two Texas resolutions together. Clay used his ringing, mesmerizing, room-filling baritone to urge “accommodation” “for the sake of peace”. Try reading his closing words on the Texas issues aloud:
But, sir, it is not merely in the discharge of what I consider to be a valid and legitimate obligation resting upon the United States to discharge the specified duty, it is not upon that condition alone that this payment is proposed to be made; it is also upon the further condition that Texas shall relinquish to the United States any claim that she has to any portion of New Mexico.

Now, sir, although, as I believe, she has not a valid title to any portion of New Mexico, she has a claim; and for the sake of that general quiet and harmony, for the sake of that accommodation which ought to be as much the object of legislation as it is of individuals in their transactions in private life, we may do now what an individual in analogous circumstances might do, give something for the relinquishment of a claim, although it should not be well founded, for the sake of peace.

It is therefore proposed – and this resolution does propose – that we shall pay the amount of the debt contracted by Texas prior to its annexation to the United States, in consideration of our reception of the duties applicable to the extinction of that debt; and that Texas shall also, in consideration of a sum to be advanced, relinquish any claim which she has to any portion of New Mexico.

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