THE decaying energies of Spain were sorely wasted by the
wars which Napoleon forced upon her. Invaded, conquered, OCCU1)ied, fought
for during years by great armies, Spain issued from the struggle in a state
of utter exhaustion. It was impossible that a country so enfeebled could
maintain a great colonial dominion. Not long after the Battle of Waterloo
all her American dependencies chose to be independent, and Spain could do
nothing to prevent it. Among the rest, Mexico won for herself the privilege
of self government, of which she has thus far proved herself so incapable.
Lying between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande was a vast wilderness of
undefined extent and uncertain ownership, which America, with some
hesitation, recognized as belonging to Mexico. It was called Texas. The
climate was genial; the soil was of wondrous fertility. America coveted this
fair region, and offered to buy it from Mexico. Her offer was declined.
The great natural wealth of Texas, combined with the almost total absence of
government, were powerful attractions to the lawless adventurers who
abounded in the South-western States. A tide of vagrant blackguardism
streamed into Texas. Safe from the grasp of justice, the murderer, the
thief, the fraudulent debtor, opened in Texas a new and wore hopeful career.
Founded by these conscript fathers, Texan society grew apace.
In a few years Texas felt herself strong enough to be (1836) independent.
Her connection with Mexico was declared to be at an end.
The leader in this revolution was Sam Houston, a Virginian of massive frame
- energetic, audacious, unscrupulous —in no mean degree fitted to direct the
storm he had helped to raise. For Houston was a Southerner, and it was his
ambition to gain Texas for the purposes of the slave-owners. Mexico had
abolished slavery. Texas could be no home for the possessor of slaves till
she was severed from Mexico.
When independence was
declared, Texas had to defend her newly-claimed liberties by the sword.
General Houston (1836) headed the patriot forces, not quite 400 in number,
and imperfectly armed. Santa Anna came against them with an army of 5000.
The Texans retreated, and having nothing to carry, easily distanced their
pursuers. At the San Jacinto, Houston was strengthened by the arrival of two
field- pieces. He turned like a lion upon the unexpectant Mexicans, whom he
caught in the very act of crossing the river. He fired grape-shot into their
quaking ranks. his unconquerable Texans clubbed their muskets—they had no
bayonets—and rushed upon the foe. The Mexicans fled in helpless rout, and
Texas was free. The grateful Texans elected General Houston President of the
republic which lie had thus saved.
No sooner was Texas
independent than she offered to join (1837) herself to the United States.
Her proposals were at A. first declined. But the South warmly espoused her
cause and urged her claims. Once more North and South met in fiery debate.
Slavery had already a sure footing in Texas. If Texas entered the Union it
was as a Slave State. On that ground avowedly the South urged the
annexation. On that ground the North resisted it. "We all see," said Daniel
Webster, "that Texas will be a slave-holding country; and I frankly avow my
unwillingness to do anything which shall extend the slavery of the African
race on this continent, or add another Slave-holding State to the Union."
"The South," said the Legislature of Mississippi, speaking of slavery, "does
not possess a blessing with which the affections of her people are so
closely entwined, and whose value is more highly appreciated. By the
annexation of Texas an equipoise of influence in the halls of Congress will
be secured, which will furnish us a permanent guarantee of protection."
It was the battle-ground on which all the recent great battles of American
political history have been fought. It ended, as such battles at that time
usually did, in Southern victory. In March 1845 Texas was received into the
Union. The slave power gained new votes in Congress, and room for a vast
extension of the slave-system.