“We have a republic,” said Congressman Daniel Webster in 1844. “Instead of aiming to enlarge its boundaries let us seek, rather, to strengthen its union, to draw out its resources, to maintain and improve its institutions of religion and liberty, and thus to rush it forward in its career of prosperity and glory.”
He was speaking against the admission of Texas as a state of the Union.
Webster represented one of the strongest arguments against admitting Texas: the United States was big enough already, some felt. The idea of Manifest Destiny — that the United States was destined to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific — was new at the time. Now every school child learns about this concept, but when the Republic of Texas, having just recently declared its independence from Mexico, asked for statehood, many in Congress were opposed to any further expansion of the United States.
In fact, Mexico did not recognize the Republic of Texas, though the United States did. Admitting them as a state seemed highly likely to involve the United States in a war that was not necessarily over in 1844. Britain might have supported Mexico if the Texans’ revolution turned into war between Mexico and the United States.
When a treaty between the U.S. and Texas, which would require a two-thirds vote in the House for passage, failed to get the required number of votes, supporters in Congress instead proposed a joint resolution admitting the republic as a state. This passed with just two more votes in favor than against it.
Did Texas want independence?
The president of Texas was not completely committed to statehood, and was in fact negotiating with Britain when the offer of statehood came from Congress. A referendum showed that the voters wanted statehood.
The Mexican-American War followed and Texas as well as a number of other current states were ceded by Mexico to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Other anti-statehood arguments
Hesitation about taking on conflict with Mexico was not the only argument against statehood for Texas. The Civil War, like the war with Mexico, was still in the future, but the question of slavery was creating great divisions in the United States and some Americans believed that admitting Texas would hasten the civil war they saw coming. When Texas was trying to achieve statehood, there were already 13 slave states and 13 states where slavery was forbidden. Admitting them would give slave states the majority in Congress, and anti-slavery forces were strongly opposed to this. While Texas requested statehood almost as soon as it declared independence from Mexico, Texas did not become a state for nine more years. States that did not allow slavery were determined to block the admission of another slave state.
Texas was also heavily in debt. Their revolution had been costly and the republic owed more than $12 million. The state of Texas had long battles with the various creditors, attempting to reduce the amount of the debt, but by 1902 the state and the federal government together had paid nearly all of the debt.
Apart from the 13 original British colonies, every current state had anti-statehood movements attempting to block its admission into the United States. Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, has anti-statehood factions resisting its admission into the Union, too, although statehood has fared the best in local Puerto Rico plebiscites of the 21st century and only a scant minority of Puerto Ricans are prepared to part with their U.S. citizenship.
So far, no territory has failed to become a state once statehood has been requested, though it has sometimes taken a long time to accomplish admission.