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Benton, Thomas Hart, -1858

Statesman; born near Hillsboro, N. C., March 14, 1782. Before finishing his studies at Chapel Hill University, North Carolina, he removed to Tennessee, studied law, and obtained great eminence in his profession. In the legislature of that State he procured the enactment of a law giving to slaves the benefit of a jury trial, and also succeeded in having a law passed which reformed the judicial system of the State. He had been on intimate terms with General Jackson at Nashville (1813), when a quarrel ensued, and in a personal encounter in that town with deadly weapons both parties gave and received severe wounds. He was colonel of a Tennessee regiment from December, 1812, to April, 1813, and lieutenant-colonel in the regular army from 1813 to 1815. Removing to St. Louis in 1813, he established the Missouri inquirer there, and practised his profession. He took an

Thomas Hart Benton.

active part in favoring the admission of Missouri as a State of the Union, and was one of its first representatives in the United States Senate, which post he held for thirty consecutive years, where he was ever the peculiar exponent and guardian of “The West.” He was an early and untiring advocate of a railway from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. He warmly opposed the repeal of the Missouri compromise (q. v.) in 1854. His free-labor sentiments caused his defeat as a candidate for the Senate by the ultraslavery men of his party in 1850, and in 1852 he was elected to the House of Representatives. By a combination of his old opponents with the American party (q. v.), he was defeated in 1854, and failed of an election for governor in 1856. He had then begun to devote himself to literary pursuits; and he completed his Thirty years view of the United States Senate in 1854. He prepared an Abridgment of the debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856, in 16 volumes 8vo. They contain a complete political history of the [322] country during that period, so far as the national legislature is concerned. He died in Washington, D. C., April 10, 1858.

The annexation of Texas.

On May 16, 17, and 20, 1844, Senator Benton delivered a remarkable and characteristic speech in the debate, while the Senate was in secret session, on the ratification of the treaty for the annexation of Texas. He had vigorously opposed the measure, and on the 13th offered the following resolutions, in support of which his great speech was delivered:

1. That the ratification of the treaty would be the adoption of the Texan war with Mexico, and would devolve its conclusion upon the United States.

2. that the treaty-making power does not extend to the power of making war, and that the President and Senate have no right to make war, either by declaration or adoption.

3. That Texas ought to be reunited to the American Union, as soon as it can be done with the consent of a majority of the people of the United States and of Texas, and when Mexico shall either consent to the same, or acknowledge the independence of Texas, or cease to prosecute the war against her (the armistice having expired) on a scale commensurate to the conquest of the country.

The following is an abstract of the speech:

The President upon our call sends us a map and a memoir from the topographical bureau to show the Senate the boundaries of the country he proposes to annex. This memoir is explicit in presenting the Rio Grande del Norte in its whole extent as a houndary of the Republic of Texas, and that in conformity to the law of the Texan Congress establishing its boundaries. The boundaries on the map conform to those in the memoir; each takes for the western limit the Rio Grande from head to mouth; and a law of the Texan Congress is copied into the margin of the map, to show the legal, and the actual, boundaries at the same time. From all this it results that the treaty before us, besides the incorporation of Texas proper, also incorporates into our Union the left bank of the Rio Grande, in its whole extent, from its head spring in the Sierra Verde, near the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains, to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. 4° south of New Orleans, in lat. 26°. It is a “grand and solitary river,” almost without affluents or tributaries. Its source is in the region of eternal snow; its outlet in the clime of eternal flowers. Its direct course is 1,200 miles; its actual run about 2,000 miles. This immense river, second on our continent to the Mississippi only, and but litle inferior to it in length, is proposed to be added in the whole extent of its left lank to the American Union; and that by virtue of a treaty for the reannexation of Texas. Now, the real Texas, which we acquired by the treaty of 1803, and flung away by the treaty of 1819, never approached the Rio Grande except near its month; while the whole upper part was settled by the Spaniards, and a great part of it in the year 1694--nearly 100 years before La Safe first saw Texas. All this upper part was then formed into provinces, on both sides of the river, and has remained under Spanish or Mexican authority ever since. These former provinces of the Mexican viceroyalty, now departments of the Mexican Republic, lying on both sides of the Rio Grande from its head to its mouth, we now propose to incorporate, so far as they lie on the left bank of the river, into our Union, by virtue of a treaty of reannexation with Texas. Let us pause and look at cur new and important proposed acquisitions in this quarter. First, there is the department, formerly the province, of New Mexico, lying on both sides of the river from its headspring to near the Paso del Norte — that is to say, half down the river. This department is studded with towns and villages — is populated — well cultivated and covered with flocks and herds. On its left bank (for I only speak of the part which we propose to reannex) is, first, the frontier village Taos, 3,000 souls, and where the custom-house is kept at which the Missouri caravans enter their goods. Then comes Santa Fe, the capital, 4,000 souls; then Albuquerque, 6,000 souls; then some scores of other towns and villages, all more or less populated, and surrounded by flocks and fields. Then come the departments of Chihuahua. Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, without settlements on the left bank of the river, but occupying the right bank, and commanding the left. All this — being parts [323] of four Mexican departments — now under Mexican governors and governments, is permanently reannexed to this Union, if this treaty is ratified; and is actually reannexed from the moment of the signature of the treaty, according to the President's last message, to remain so until the acquisition is rejected by rejecting the treaty. The one-half of the department of New Mexico, with its capital, becomes a territory of the United States; an angle of Chihuahua, at the Paso del Norte, famous for its wine, also becomes ours; a part of the department of Coahuila, not populated on the left bank, which we take, but commanded from the right bank by Mexican authorities; the same of Tamaulipas, the ancient Nuevo San Tander (New St. Andrew), and which covers both sides of Mexico, 2,000 miles long and some hundred miles up, and all the left bank of which is in the power and possession of Mexico. These, in addition to the old Texas, these parts of four states, these towns and villages, these people and territory, these flocks and herds, this slice of the Republic of Mexico, 2,000 miles long and some hundred broad, all this our President has cut off from its mother empire, and presents to us, and declares it is ours till the Senate rejects it. He calls it Texas; and the cutting off he calls reannexation. Humboldt calls it New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo San Tander (now Tamaulipas) ; and the civilized world may qualify this reannexation by the application of some odious and terrible epithet. Demosthenes advised the people of Athens not to take, but to retake a certain city: and in that re lay the virtue which saved that act from the character of spoliation and robbery. Will it be equally potent with us? And will the re prefixed to the annexation legitimate the seizure of 2,000 miles of a neighbor's dominion, with whom we have treaties of peace, and friendship, and commerce? Will it legitimate this seizure, made by virtue of a treaty with Texas, when no Texan force — witness the disastrous expeditions to Mier and to Santa Fe have been seen near it without being killed or taken, to the last man?

The treaty, in all that relates to the boundary of the Rio Grande, is an act of unparalleled outrage on Mexico. It is the seizure of 2,000 miles of her territory without a word of explanation with her, and by virtue of a treaty with Texas, to which she is no l)arty. Our Secretary of State (Mr. Calhoun), in his letter to the United States charge in Mexico, and seven days after the treaty was signed, and after the Mexican minister had withdrawn from our seat of government, shows full well that he was conscious of the enormity of the outrage, knew it was war, and proffered volunteer. apologies to avert the consequences which he knew he had provoked.

The President, in his special message of Wednesday last, informs us that we have acquired a title to the ceded territories by his signatures to the treaty, wanting only the action of the Senate to perfect it; and that, in the mean time, he will protect it from invasion, and for that purpose has detached all the disposable portions of the army and navy to the scene of action. This is a caper about equal to the mad freaks with which the unfortunate Emperor Paul of Russia was accustomed to astonish Europe about forty years ago. By this declaration the 30,000 Mexicans in the left half of the valley of the Rio del Norte are our citizens, and standing, in the language of the President's message, in a hostile attitude towards us, and subject to be repelled as invaders. Taos, the seat of the custom-house, where our caravans enter their goods, is ours; Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is ours; Governor Armijo is our governor, and subject to be tried for treason if he does not submit to us; twenty Mexican towns and village s are ours; and their peaceful inhabitants, cultivating their fields and tending their flocks, are suddenly converted, by a stroke of the President's pen, into American citizens, or American rebels. This is too bad; and, instead of making themselves party to its enormities, as the President invites them to do, I think rather that it is the duty of the Senate to wash its hands of all this part of the transaction, by a special disapprobation. The Senate is the constitutional adviser of the President, and has the right, if not the duty, to give him advice when the occasion requires it. I, therefore, propose, as an additional resolution, applicable to the Rio del Norte boundary only, the one which I will read and send to the secretary's table — stamping as a spoliation this [324] seizure of Mexican territory, and on which, at the proper time, I shall ask the vote of the Senate:

Resolved, that the incorporation of the left bank of the Rio del Norte into the American Union, by virtue of a treaty with Texas, comprehending, as the said incorporation would do, a part of the Mexican departments of New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, would be an act of direct aggression on Mexico; for all the consequences of which the United States would stand responsible.

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