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Xii. Texas and her Annexation.

the name Texas originally designated an ill-defined and mainly uninhabited region lying between the French possessions on the Mississippi, and the Spanish on the Rio Grande, but including no portion of the valley of either of those great rivers. Though the first European settlement on its soil appears to have been made by La Salle, a Frenchman, who landed in Matagorda Bay, and erected fort St. Louis on the Lavacca, prior to 1687, he is known to have intended to settle on the Mississippi, and to have drifted so far westward by mistake. The region since known as Texas was, even then, claimed by Spain as a part of Mexico; and a Spanish expedition under De Leon was dispatched to the Lavacca in 1689 to expel La Salle; but, on entering that river, learned that he had been assassinated by one of his followers, and his entire company dispersed. De Leon returned next year, and founded the mission of San Francisco on the site of the dismantled fort St. Louis. From that time, the Spanish claim to the country was never seriously disputed, though another French attempt to colonize it was made in 1714, and proved as futile as La Salle's. The cession of Louisiana by France to Spain in 1763, of course foreclosed all possibility of collision; and when Louisiana, having been retroceded by Spain to France, was sold to the United States, we took our grand purchase without specification of boundaries or guaranty of title. For a time, there was apparent danger of collision respecting our western boundary, between our young, self-confident, and grasping republic, and the feeble, decaying monarchy of Spain; but the wise moderation of Mr. Jefferson was manifested through the action of his subordinates, so that Gen. Wilkinson, our military commander in Louisiana, and Gen. Herrera, who directed the small Spanish force on our frontier, after some threatening demonstrations, came to an understanding in October, 1806, whereby the Sabine was practically recognized as our western boundary, and all peril of collision obviated by [148] a withdrawal of the Spanish troops behind the Arroyo Honda, some miles further west. The weakness of Spain, the absorption of her energies and means in the desolating wars for her independence into which she was soon after forced by the rapacity of Napoleon, and the consequent revolutions in her continental American colonies, whereby they were each and all lost to her forever, afforded tempting opportunities to adventurer after adventurer, from Burr to Lafitte and Long, to attempt the conquest of Texas, with a view to planting an independent power on her inviting prairies, or of annexing her to the United States. Two or three of these expeditions seemed for a time on the verge of success; but each in turn closed in defeat and disaster; so that, when Spanish power was expelled from Mexico, Texas became an undisputed Mexican possession without costing the new nation a drop of blood. About this time (1819), our long-standing differences with Spain were settled by treaty, whereby Florida was ceded by her to this country, and the Sabine was mutually acknowledged and established as our western boundary. In other words, it was agreed that the region known as Texas appertained not to Louisiana, but to Mexico. Mr. Clay--then in quasi opposition to Mr. Monroe's Administration — demurred to this, and there were a few others who indicated dissatisfaction with it; but this stipulation of the treaty was so clearly right, and the course of the Administration in negotiating it so wise and proper, that all dissent was speedily drowned in avowals of general and hearty satisfaction.

Mexico having practically vindicated her independence, and all attempts to grasp Texas by force having proved abortive, Mr. Moses Austin--a native of Connecticut settled in Missouri--tried a new tack. Representing himself as a leader and mouth-piece of a band of Roman Catholics suffering from Protestant intolerance and persecution in this country, he petitioned the Mexican government for a grant of land, and permission to settle in the then almost unpeopled wilderness, vaguely known as Texas. His prayer was granted, though he did not live to profit by it. Returning, in the early months of 1821, from western Texas to Louisiana, he was robbed and left exposed to every hardship in that uninhabited region, thus contracting a severe cold, whereof he died the following June. His son, Stephen F. Austin, received the grant for which his father had sued, and under it made a settlement on a site which now includes the city of Austin.

Swarms of like adventurers, invited by the climate, soil, and varied natural resources of Texas, from this time poured into it; some of them on the strength of real or pretended concessions of territory — others without leave or license. They found very few Mexicans to dispute or share with them the advantages it presented; of government there was very little, and that not good; Texas being a portion, or rather appendage, of Coahuila, a Mexican State situated on the lower Rio Grande, with the bulk of its population west of that river. Revolutions succeeded each other at short intervals in Mexico, as in most Spanish American countries; and it was fairly a question whether [149] the allegiance sworn to the government of last year, was binding in favor of that whereby it had since been arbitrarily supplanted.

In the year 1827--Mr. John Q. Adams being President--Mr. Clay, his Secretary of State, instructed Joel R. Poinsett, our Minister to Mexico, to offer one million of dollars for the cession to us by the republic of Mexico of her territory this side of the Rio Grande. Mr. Poinsett did not make the offer, perceiving that it would only irritate and alienate the Mexicans to no good purpose.

In 1829, Mr. Van Buren, as Gen. Jackson's Secretary of State, instructed our Minister at Mexico to make a similar offer of four or five millions for Texas, including no part of the valley of the Rio Grande, nor of that of the Nueces, this side of it, and, of course, no part of New Mexico. Still, Mexico would not sell.

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