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MEXICAN DIPLOMACY ON THE EVE OF WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES
THE abortive treaty of 1844 for the annexation of Texas to the United States, signed by John C. Calhoun as Secretary of State in President Tyler's Cabinet, was a matter of deep interest to several other powers, and of the most vital interest to Mexico. For eight years successive Mexican administrations had continued to proclaim their undying determination to recover their lost province, although in reality they did nothing; and when rumors of negotiations for annexation became rife, Mexico did not fail to address the most solemn warnings to the United States, to the effect that the ratification of the treaty would be equivalent to a declaration of war.
Great Britain was also interested in the proposed treaty. Ever since Sir Robert Peel's administration came in, his foreign secretary, Lord Aberdeen, had given increasing attention to the fate of Texas. He saw, of course, how futile were the Mexican threats; but he was really and seriously concerned lest the new republic should fall into the hands of the United States, a consummation which, as he had good reason to believe, was probably desired by the people of Texas. On the other hand, it was certain that many of the public men of Texas, moved chiefly by personal ambition, were insistent that she should remain an independent member of the family of nations; while there was a vigorous and outspoken opposition in the United States to the project of annexation.
It seemed therefore quite possible to prevent annexation, and there were many reasons why the British cabinet should wish it prevented. In the first place, the growing power of the United States was regarded with general distrust by European statesmen, and the platform of the Democratic party in 1844 announced a policy of expansion which, if carried out, would immensely increase the national possessions. In the second place, an independent, cotton-growing Texas, especially if established under free-trade auspices, might very well prove an excellent customer for British manufactures. In the third place, British merchants and bondholders needed to see peace and prosperity in Mexico; and the maintenance of an army, under the pretense that it was needed to conquer Texas, was a constant drain on Mexican resources and a principal cause of unceasing revolutions.
And finally it was believed that as annexation to the United States would involve the perpetuation of slavery, so the defeat of annexation might result in abolition, at least in Texas.
British policy, therefore, so far as it concerned itself with Texas at all, sought to build up a strong republic-independent alike of Mexico and the United States. The problem involved three factors. It was necessary to convince the people of Texas that continued independence was better for them than annexation. It was necessary to persuade the Mexican government that the recognition of Texan independence as a fait accompli was wise and could be effected without loss of precious dignity. And it was necessary to avoid a rupture with the United States, with which relations were already somewhat strained. Most of the subjects of dispute had been removed by the Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842, but by 1844 the Oregon question had assumed a threatening aspect; and a little thing might have kindled a war between Great Britain and her best customer. As time went on, Aberdeen discovered that every move he made in reference to Texas, was likely to excite the jealous susceptibilities of the people of the United States. He had suggested to Mexico that she should recognize the independence of Texas upon condition that the latter abolish slavery, and he had even listened complacently to the suggestion that Great Britain should advance the money necessary to purchase the freedom of the Texan slaves. But protests from the United States and Texas alike, induced Aberdeen to drop this particular project.
What Great Britain needed, in order to give weight to her diplomatic representations, was evidently the support of other European nations and especially of France-for the rest of Europe did not seriously count. Spain, for the moment, was helpless. Italy and Germany were mere geographical expressions, without navies and without national interest in world politics. Austria and Russia were evidently too far off to care.
But with France there were also difficulties. Under the previous government, Lord Palmerston had managed to create a bitter spirit of animosity between the two countries which it was the task of Aberdeen in England and Guizot in France-cordially supported as they were by the two royal families-to remove. As the interests of France were small, Guizot was perfectly willing to gratify Aberdeen by a promise to support British policies in Mexico and Texas; but beyond friendly and peaceable representations France would not go. It would indeed have been matter for surprise if France at this time had proved willing to embark upon any policy that savored of
adventure. Ever since Guizot came into power in October, 1840, he had been faced by popular demands for electoral and other reforms which he was by no means disposed to grant. He had no belief in universal suffrage. Protestant bourgeois as he proclaimed himself, he profoundly distrusted the people, and he never comprehended the strength or sincerity of their demands. He practised therefore, with the cordial consent of the king, a policy of timid conservatism, of which continued peace and material prosperity were to be the fruits.
Such then were the unsatisfactory materials with which Aberdeen was compelled to work, and he may have wished to delay action till a more favorable time; but the necessity of quickly settling the affairs of Texas, if the alarming growth of the United States was to be checked, became daily more apparent as the time for the presidential election of 1844 approached. The first step must be to get Mexico to yield something of her intransigent attitude, but Mexican vanity stood firmly in the way. Yet it was apparent that Texas was already gone, and that if affairs were not soon adjusted, Mexico ran a very great risk of losing much more of her territory— notably California. California was not defensible against any naval force; so that the only way in which Mexico could possibly hope to secure that part of her possessions in the event of a war with the United States, was by foreign help. But foreign help could not be counted on unless England, or France, or both, would enter into a treaty definitely guaranteeing the integrity of the Mexican possessions. For such a guarantee Mexico must expect to pay; and the price that was asked was her recognition of Texan independence. Mexico hesitated and opportunity, which had thus knocked at her door, passed on and did not return.
The bargain was definitely proposed by Lord Aberdeen when he first heard of Calhoun's treaty. In an interview near the end of May, 1844, with Señor Tomás Murphy, the Mexican minister in London, Aberdeen said that if Mexico would acknowledge the independence of Texas, England—and very likely France-would oppose annexation to the United States, and that he would endeavor that France and England should jointly guarantee the independence of Texas and the integrity of Mexican territory.1 At the same time he proposed to the French government "a joint operation on the part of Great Britain and France in order to induce Mexico to acknowledge. the independence of Texas, on a guarantee being jointly given by us that that independence shall be respected by other Nations, and that
1E. D. Adams, British Interests and Activities in Texas, p. 168.
AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XVIII.—19.
the Mexico-Texian boundary shall be secured from further encroachment". And a few days later, in an interview with Ashbel Smith, the chargé d'affaires of Texas, he proposed a "diplomatic Act" by which England and France, acting with Texas and Mexico, were to secure and guarantee the independence of Texas and settle its boundaries.
So also in the memorandum of "points on the settlement of which the Mexican Government might agree to grant the Independence of Texas", discussed in the following autumn between the British minister in Mexico, and the Mexican government of that day, one of the clauses of the proposed arrangement was that Mexico should receive an indemnity for the loss of Texas, and also,3
the guarantee of England and France united, that under no pretext whatever shall the Texans ever pass the Boundaries marked out. The same nations shall also guarantee to Mexico the Californias, New Mexico and the other points of the Northern frontier bordering on the United States, according to a Treaty to be drawn up for that purpose.— If the United States carry into effect the annexation of Texas, to the North American Union, England and France will assist Mexico in the contest which may be thereby brought on.
The idea of any guarantee was, however, soon abandoned, partly because France was lukewarm, partly because of warnings from the British and French ministers in Washington that the least suggestion of foreign interference in the matter of Texas would tend to Clay's defeat in the presidential election of that year, and thus to the immediate annexation of Texas, and partly because the Mexican government persisted in announcing their intention to make war at once. At the end, therefore, of September, 1844, Bankhead, the British minister, had been instructed to say that if Santa Anna, then President of Mexico, "were to take the rash step of invading Texas with a view to its forcible reconquest, and if, by so doing, he should find himself involved in difficulties with other Countries, he must not look for the support of Great Britain in aiding him to extricate himself from those difficulties". But, in spite of this and other later warnings that Mexico would be left to herself if she did not heed the advice of her friends in Europe, the Mexican ministers in London
2 Aberdeen to Cowley, May 31, in Aberdeen to Bankhead, June 3, 1844. Ibid., Smith to Jones, June 24, 1844. Garrison, Tex. Dip. Corr. (Am. Hist. Assoc.), III. 1154.
Bankhead to Aberdeen, November 29, 1844. Adams, p. 188.
Aberdeen to Pakenham, September 30, 1844. Ibid., p. 186. The subjects referred to thus far in this article have been very fully discussed in two welldocumented works, Professor Adams's book already cited, British Interests and Activities in Texas, and Mr. Justin H. Smith's Annexation of Texas.
and Paris continued to haggle over territorial guarantees by the European powers as a condition for abandoning her projects for a reconquest of Texas. In repeated interviews they argued that no reliance was to be placed on the good faith of the Texans. If Texan independence were recognized to-day by Mexico, what was to prevent those people from seeking to-morrow annexation to the United States? Would not the mere fact of recognition by Mexico be cited as a proof that Texas was at complete liberty to dispose of her own fortunes? And would a mere treaty of peace and friendship restrain the Texans from new aggressions? Nothing, it was said, would hold the Texans back but the fear of physical force; which force France and Great Britain must agree to furnish if they wished to see peace and to see Texas universally recognized as an independent state."
By the end of November, 1844, the news of Polk's election to the presidency on a platform which favored annexation, had reached Europe, and foreign governments began to see that the United States was fully committed to that policy, and that any attempt by Europe to prevent it might only result in a war for which the people of France, at any rate, had no desire.®
It appears to me [wrote Maximo Garro, the Mexican minister in Paris] that the Cabinet of the Tuilleries, even though it might wish to join with that of London in taking up arms in opposition to the annexation of Texas, could never do so without exciting a general clamor against any such policy. All parties, without exception, would accuse it of forgetting that the interests of France require that it shall not take part in a struggle which, whatever its result, will weaken two of her maritime rivals and consequently contribute to the growth of her own power.
Should there be a rupture between the English and the Americans, we ought to be able to count on an alliance with the former; but if the latter should take up arms to oppose our projected expedition for the reconquest of Texas, I believe that Great Britain will only present itself as a pacific mediator, and that it would redouble its efforts to have Mexico recognize the independence of that Department, offering in that event to intervene in a more efficacious manner.
William R. King, the American minister in Paris, held similar opinions.
There should be no wavering [he wrote privately to the Secretary
3 Murphy to Minister of Relations, January 1, June 1, and July 1, 1845; Garro to same, March 25, June 17, 1845. MSS. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Mexico).
Garro to Minister of Relations, December 18, 1844. Ibid.
T King to Calhoun, December 28, 1844. Report of the Amer. Hist. Assoc., 1899, II. 1014.