No Territory and Another Mess with Texas

Did all the chaos in Congress and threats of disunion amount to political theater? Had Calhoun and other Southerners adopted the pose as a negotiation ploy? The Free Soil leadership in both houses of Congress thought as much. Seward agreed. So did the new president.

Taylor did not believe the Mexican Cession suitable for the cotton or sugar cultivation and thus slavery. He also wanted to please the Free Soilers. He had, after all, just won election without taking any position on slavery and received plenty of Southern votes. He needed the Free Soilers, had good reason to believe he could risk alienating Southern Democrats, and saw the very idea of slavery in the Mexican Cession as impractical. Therefore Taylor proposed to resolve the matter swiftly and decisively.

The Whigs adopted the platform of No Territory after losing the battle to avert the Mexican War. They would accept Texas’s enlarged border but insist on taking no further land from Mexico, except perhaps the port of San Francisco. Taylor resurrected No Territory, proposing the immediate admission of California as a state and New Mexico as swiftly as could be managed. Thus slavery in their bounds would become an issue for their state governments and not the Congress. The Californians beat Taylor to the punch but New Mexico retained its disputed border and had only one English-speaking community of significance: the Mormons by the Great Salt Lake. As the Mormons went West to avoid other Americans, relations between Deseret and Washington remained cool.

Alexander Stephens

Alexander Stephens

Taylor never shifted from No Territory. Georgia’s Whigs Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs, appealed to him as a Southerner and warned him the South would not submit to No Territory. Their intransigence exceeded Taylor’s tolerance and he informed them he planned to personally lead an army to enforce the settlement on the South and hang any traitors as easily as he hung spies and deserters in Mexico…including the two Georgia congressmen. After the exchange, Taylor told others that he had long seen northerners as the guilty party in stirring sectional conflict, but his time in office taught that the “intolerant and revolutionary” party dwelled in the South. He named his former son-in-law Jefferson Davis the rebel-in-chief. Calhoun shared Taylor’s appraisal of the South, though it pleased him where it enraged the President.

Taylor and the Northern Whigs stood firm on No Territory against the third of Congress, mostly Border State and Lower North politicians, that rallied to the Clay Measures. The rest of Congress opposed the Clay Measures for predictable sectional reasons: the Deep South would accept no free California. Potential slavery in New Mexico would destroy party support in the North.

The proposed boundaries of New Mexico, with the disputed area marked.

The proposed boundaries of New Mexico, with the disputed area marked.

And then war threatened. Like California, New Mexico remained under a military government. A small gathering of civilians and soldiers convened in Santa Fe and wrote a free state constitution. It passed a referendum in late June where less than eight thousand people voted of the sixty-one thousand or so that lived in the area at the time. The new state claimed its eastern boundary ran on the 100th meridian west, embracing all the modern Texas and Oklahoma panhandles as well as portions of the surrounding modern states.

Taylor saw this all as another step the path to a No Territory solution. Governor Peter H. Bell of Texas saw it as a blatant attempt to steal a large section of his state, which maintained its boundary still ran to the Rio Grande in the west even if the Texans had never actually controlled most of the territory and resolved to defend the claim by force. The South aligned with Texas, Alexander Stephens insisting that a clash between federal troops and Texas would spark revolution and overthrow the Union.

Taylor prepared orders for the Santa Fe garrison to stand firm against Texas and then went to spend the Fourth of July hearing speeches at the unfinished Washington Monument. There he battled the heat with spirited offensives directed at raw vegetables, cherries, and iced milk. The tainted food conquered the sixty-five year old general. He fell ill and died five days later.

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2 comments on “No Territory and Another Mess with Texas

  1. taxsanity says:

    Interesting stuff, but why on earth do you adhere to this nonsense that slavery was related to climate or soil? Yeah, I know, that was the narrative, but if you think slave owners looked at the weather to decide how many slave girls to buy, and which one’s looked the most fun, you don’t know human nature.

    Southerns, like Debow and Alexanders Stephens, could give the best sounding speeches about the lovely economic growth that came from owning slaves. YOu could buy one (he meant a female) rape her, have her do work, and then sell the children; And if you don’t think rape was common, I suggest you learn more about Robert E Lee’s slave ledgers, rape was common there. And so was selling children – or the mother.

    By necessity, when rapes begat children, the slave owner was also the father. That was the case of Frederick Douglass, but that was not unusual. In fact, at Arlington, over half the slaves were mulatto, as Elizabeth Pryor learned. WHo do you think fathered those slave children — Casper?

    Slave owners, then, were actually selling or enslaving their own biological children.

    Missouri had slavery, and you don’t see any cotton field back home there, did ya? The plan of course was to spread slavery all over the West, including California and Oregon. If LIncoln had not prevailed, we might have seen how that turned out –or if, slavery did not expand, but stayed where it was, we would see if the Toombs and others were right — white race would be exterminated if slavery did not spread.

    So when you wax on about Missouri being an unusual place for slavery, not really. Slave women still looked good to slave owners. Slave children were still born. YOu would make your slaves do the work, sell the fruit of the slave womb, but have that womb outside working.

    Did you know at Lee’s slave plantation, the women slept in a big shed, the men in another? Do you know why? Because white men — cough cough Lee — came in at night and got to rape whoever he wanted. Rapes were common. If the slave men were there, and they knew this from experience, they would try to protect the women, and be whipped, or worse, for it.

    Think of that, think real hard. This is the kind of man that owns slaves. Read George Mason’s scathing writing on men like Lee — he in effect, to update it to our vernacular, called them sociopaths dressed up for church. The religious attire and manner of speech was like perfume — to drive away the stink. George Mason knew what these guys laughed about at the slave auctions.

    Later in like Alexander Stephens admitted that much of what he saw, relating how slave women were treated, was “disgusting”. My what stories that little man could tell. But we don’t need stories, we have plenty, we know slaves bounced on women at night, paid extra for attractive looking women, and sold women to whore houses, for forced prostitution, till they died.

    And every one of those slavers, it seems, could recite more scripture than Jimmy Swaggart.

    Slavery was not about climate. It was about power, prestige, and control of women. Until you understand that, you won’t much understand why the slave masters were so good at religious yapping Slave owners felt furious that they didn’t get California, as you probably know — the discovery of gold would used up 50,000 slaves in no time.

    • “Interesting stuff, but why on earth do you adhere to this nonsense that slavery was related to climate or soil?”

      I got what I know about Zachary Taylor’s position on slavery from William W. Freehling’s The Road to Disunion, Volume One. His position, I would ask you to note, is his. I am not him and my reporting his ideas does not constitute my sharing them.

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