On February 19, 1846, in Austin, Texas, the Texas Republic's president formally transferred power to the new governor of the U.S. state of Texas. The Texas Republic officially became part of the United States. The transfer, welcomed by the majority of Texans, was the culmination of years of negotiation and effort.
As early as 1826, the U.S. had tried to acquire the territory, when President John Quincy Adams offered the Mexican government a million dollars for it. Four years later, President Andrew Jackson upped the offer to $5 million. The territory was rich in fertile land, and by 1830 counted 30,000 Americans among its inhabitants. When Texas won its independence following the Texas rebels' defeat of Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna, U.S. annexation seemed the closest it had ever been to a reality.
Long Road to Statehood
Yet obstacles in the U.S. Congress and in Texas political circles would delay entry into the Union for nearly ten years. Behind these obstacles were arguments over the extension of slavery into the territory, and the all-encompassing question of what to do with the area's "Mexican" population -- really Spanish-speaking Tejanos born and raised in Texas, many of whom had supported Texan independence from Mexico.
New Englanders in Opposition
When Texas officials, lead by the Republic's president, Sam Houston, first sought U.S. annexation in 1837, the request was met with a storm of protest from Northeastern Americans. They feared the extension of slavery and the tipping of the balance between Northern and Southern states in Congress. In order to avoid a split in his own Democratic Party over the issue, President Martin Van Buren rejected the annexation request.
A Failed Land Grab
The struggling Texas Republic, burdened with debts, sought sources of revenue. Under President Mirabeau B. Lamar, a group of Texans set out on the Santa Fé Expedition in 1841. Their mission was to seize New Mexico, a Mexican territory rich in minerals, and incorporate it into the Republic. At Lamar's personal request, an otherwise reluctant José Antonio Navarro joined the group. As the only Tejano, Navarro hoped to monitor the treatment of the area's Mexican population. The expedition failed, however, when Mexican militia captured the party near Santa Fé and took them to Mexico City, where they were imprisoned.
International power struggles ultimately led to U.S. annexation. In 1842, in an attempt to re-take Texas, Mexico attacked and twice occupied the community of San Antonio de Béxar. Adding to the continued threat of Mexican re-occupation were Great Britain's intentions toward Texas. Desiring to check U.S. expansion, the British offered assistance to the struggling Republic. The threat that Texas might become a British satellite territory forced U.S. President John Tyler to reconsider the prospect of annexation.
Once again defeated in the U.S. Congress in 1844, annexation became one of the most salient issues of that year's presidential election. James K. Polk, a Democrat from Tennessee, demanded annexation and claimed that the Louisiana Purchase had included the territory. Polk's Whig opponent, Henry Clay, vacillated on the issue. With his pro-annexation platform, Polk won the election. Tyler, as one of his last acts, recommended that Texas be admitted by a joint resolution of Congress, which would require only a simple majority vote in both houses. This resolution was accepted and Texas entered the Union as a slave state on December 29, 1845. James Pinckney Henderson became the state's first governor.
Tejano Civil Rights
The struggles behind the ratification of the state's first Constitution foreshadowed the poor treatment of those in Texas who were of Mexican descent. Navarro was the only Tejano delegate to the constitutional convention, which met in July of 1845. While he supported U.S. annexation, he aggressively fought against early drafts of the constitution that were aimed at disempowering the Tejano community. While he did not have much success at retaining their rights to Tejanos' ancestral lands, Navarro was instrumental in ensuring their voting rights as American citizens. By arguing to omit the word "white" from voting restrictions, Navarro was essentially doing away with any legal rationale for the unfair treatment of Tejanos. Although the Tejano community would continually come under attack, especially with the advent of the Mexican American War in 1846 and the subsequent transfer of large parts of the Southwest to the United States, they could take their grievances to American courts. Navarro's efforts at the 1845 constitutional convention in Austin ensured that much.