Saturday, April 17, 2021

Ebenezer Allen and Texas Annexation

Allen H. Mesch

© Allen H. Mesch Used with Permission.

After the defeat of the Mexican Army in 1836, the newly established Republic of Texas hoped the United States would recognize Texas independence and quickly add Texas to the Union. Most of the Republic’s citizens considered themselves to be Americans and believed the “United States was waiting to embrace them with open arms.” In September 1836, Texas voted overwhelmingly in favor of entering the Union. However, Texas President Sam Houston believed the admission faced many obstacles. Despite the support for annexation, Houston thought it was premature to consider admittance when the United States and President Andrew Jackson refused to acknowledge the country's existence. The two governments were unable to negotiate an agreement for the next nine years.

Houston (1841-1844) was re-elected to the presidency after Mirabeau Lamar’s term (1838-1847). Houston chose Anson Jones as his secretary of state. Houston and Jones worked to obtain an annexation offer from the United States and recognition of Texas’ independence from Mexico. They wanted to receive both proposals simultaneously which would allow the Texas government to decide which alternative to accept. However, by the fall of 1844, the annexation of Texas appeared to be dead.

In November 1844, President Houston selected Clarksville attorney Ebenezer Allen to fill the opening created when Houston appointed Attorney General George Whitfield Terrell[1] as chargé d'affaires to Europe.[2] Allen and his family came to Texas from Maine in 1840. In September 1844, Texans elected Dr. Anson Jones (1844-1846) president. Jones’ election created a temporary vacancy in Houston’s cabinet and in December 1844 Houston asked Allen to serve additionally as secretary of state ad interim.[3]

After Dr. Jones’s election, he consulted with friends and other politicians to select officers for his cabinet. For the position of Attorney General, Jones selected a lawyer from Red River County - Ebenezer Allen.

Several years later, President Jones described his prior knowledge of Mr. Allen. Jones wrote, “... when I called him to that station I was almost a stranger to him personally, having never seen him but once or twice, and knew nothing of his opinions on this [annexation] or scarcely any other subject. I approved him because he had the character of possessing great ability and honesty.”[4]

 After Jones organized his cabinet, France and England demanded Texas send “highly appreciated” Secretary of State Ashbel Smith to represent the Republic of Texas at their courts. Jones knew he would need a person who was comparable to Smith, with “the utmost firmness and caution,” to successfully manage affairs in Smith’s absence. Jones’ cabinet recommended Ebenezer Allen to replace Smith. Allen was regarded as “a man of excellent sense, high character, and of the best disposition in this matter.”[5] In addition to his position as attorney general, Allen was “charged with the duties of secretary of state ad interim.”[6]

While Jones was non-committal about annexation, Secretary Allen was strongly in favor of independence. Two months before his appointment, he wrote to William Kennedy, the British consul at Galveston, about his position:

 You are well aware of the fact that I have from the beginning been decidedly opposed to the Annexation of Texas to the United States. It is my first object to defeat, if possible, the consummation of this most obnoxious measure, so decidedly hostile, as I conceive it to be, and fraught with such evil consequences to the ultimate prosperity and high destiny of this Country. If I am successful in the accomplishment of this great result, I shall consider it the proudest period of my life.[7]

U.S. President John Tyler reopened annexation talks. Tyler appointed Andrew Jackson Donelson[8] to represent the United States in the Republic of Texas.[9] In December 1844, chargé d'affaires Donelson was worried about annexation. The actions by the U.S. government had shifted Texas public opinion from annexation to independence and favorable commercial terms with the English.[10]

 During the U.S. Congressional debates, Secretary Allen warned Donelson that Texas officials and citizens would be disappointed with a “vague” treaty lacking a “definite, tangible, and eligible process” to achieve annexation. The Republic “would feel compelled to consider their connexion [sic] with the measure dissolved.”[11]

The U.S. Congress finally agreed to ratify a joint resolution to annex Texas. The new American President James Polk sent chargé d'affaires Donelson to Texas to persuade Texas to accept the joint resolution “without qualifications.”[12]

On March 31, 1845, Donelson presented the United States proposal to the Jones administration. President Jones received him cordially and listened carefully to his remarks. Jones preferred to hold a public election on annexation. If the voters approved annexation, Jones would call a convention to make the changes necessary for Texas’ admission to the Union. Jones said, “the gravity of the subject required him not to act in haste: and that, although he had a decided opinion, he would dwell awhile on it, until he was aided by the advice of his cabinet.”

Dr. Jones commented on his position in a memorandum written on February 19, 1850: “A party in the country have accused me of being opposed to annexation, basing the charge upon the assumed fact that the members of my Cabinet, and the other officers of the Government were opposed to it, and reflected my sentiments.” He believed Ebenezer Allen was the only cabinet member who “preferred independence over annexation.” Despite his opinion, Jones thought Allen was “perfectly ready and willing to do all” in his power to carry “out the will of the people.”[13]

While the Jones administration considered how to proceed with the U.S. proposal, the president learned about the “successful progress of the preliminary treaty with Mexico.”[14]

Donelson pressured Jones to accept the joint agreement. He sent unsolicited “suggestions” via Allen to President Jones on the approval process. Although the chargé d'affaires later apologized for interfering in the process, the chargé d'affaires continued trying to manipulate the Republic's decisions.

The public thought the Jones administration was too cautious and too slow in response to the American government. Public support for annexation grew and the animosity of Jones increased. He was burned in effigy, and threats were made to overthrow his government.[15] Texans favored the terms offered by the United States and demanded quick action by Congress or a convention of elected representatives to ratify the U.S. joint resolution and form a state government. Secretary Allen advised Jones on the state’s political situation and recommended calling a convention:

    There can be no doubt that a convention, framed upon a plan recommended by the Executive, would be as legal, satisfactory, and efficient as one formed upon a plan proposed by Congress.

    If you think the measure a safe one, and not premature, I should be glad to see your proclamation issued recommending a convention to be assembled at as early a day as practicable, and presenting a basis whereby to regulate the election of deligates [sic].[16]

Allen urged “most forcibly” that “the call of a convention, to be assembled under the advisory proclamation of the Executive, would not only neutralize and render harmless all the elements of [the] opposition, and defeat the machinations of your enemies, but would even place you in such a position that they themselves, however loath, would be bound to sustain you, and to support your course and administration.”[17] Jones did not need Allen’s warnings because the president was aware of “the storm” and felt “its blasts all around me.”[18] On May 8, 1845, President Jones instructed Allen to issue a proclamation in which Jones recommended that the citizens of Texas elect delegates for a convention to take “prompt and decisive action” on the United States Annexation proposal.[19]

The representatives to the convention met on July 4, 1845, to consider the U.S. Congress joint annexation resolution. By a vote of fifty-five to one, the delegates approved the offer of annexation. Next, the convention prepared the Constitution of 1845 for the new state.[20] Jones informed Polk “that the Deputies of the People of Texas” at their Convention accepted the United States government’s proposal for annexing “Texas to the American Union.”[21]

Jones ordered the Texas Congress to meet on June 16, 1845. He asked congress to choose between annexation or independence. Congress rejected the treaty with Mexico, approved the joint resolution of annexation, and passed motions censuring Jones.[22]

Allen sent Donelson a copy of the joint resolution adopted by both houses of the Texas Congress on June 21 and approved by the President on June 23.

Declaring the consent of the existing government of this Republic to the terms of the proposition for annexation… the people of this country have thus evinced by most decided manifestations their strong but natural preference for the advantages of voluntary incorporation into the American union, and their strong attachment to the free institutions of that great and glorious Republic.[23]

Texas voters ratified the new state constitution in October 1845. The U. S. Congress accepted the document on December 29, 1845, which became the date of Texas's legal entry into the Union.[24]

 


This article is based on Ebenezer Allen – Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy by Allen Mesch. Mr. Mesch is available for virtual book signings, podcasts, and presentations. You can order the book at Mercari (check for latest price), Amazon Books (book), and Amazon (Kindle E-book).



[1] George Whitfield Terrell (?−1846) was district attorney of San Augustine County in 1840 and he later served as district judge. In December 1841 he was made attorney general of the Republic by Sam Houston. From 1842 to 1844 Terrell was Indian commissioner and negotiated the Indian treaty at Bird's Fort on September 29, 1843. He was appointed chargé d'affaires to France, Great Britain, and Spain in December 1844 and continued in that capacity under President Anson Jones. Upon his return to Texas in 1845 Terrell was again made Indian commissioner. He was an opponent of annexation. He died on May 13, 1846. Handbook of Texas Online, Melvin B. Jaschke, "Terrell, George Whitfield," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fte22.

[2] Moore, Francis, Jr. Telegraph and Texas Register (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 9, No. 47, Ed. 1, Wednesday, November 20, 1844, newspaper, November 20, 1844; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth78075/m1/1/?q=George+Terrell), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[3] Texas National Register. (Washington, Tex.), Vol. 1, No. 2, Ed. 1, Saturday, December 14, 1844, newspaper, December 14, 1844; Washington, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth80096/), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[4] Anson Jones, Republic of Texas, 74.

[5] Annie Middleton, "Donelson's Mission to Texas in Behalf of Annexation." The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 24, no. 4 (1921): 270. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30234808.

[6] Ebenezer Allen Letter to Charles Elliott, Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), Volume II, Part II, 1169.

[7] Middleton, 258. 87

[8] Andrew Jackson Donelson (1799-1871 was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 25, 1799. He attended Cumberland College, Nashville, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1820. He spent two years as aide-de-camp to his uncle, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, before resigning his commission in order to study law. In 1829 President Jackson appointed Donelson his private secretary. Donelson remained in Washington in that capacity until the end of his uncle's second term on March 4, 1837. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed Donelson chargé d'affaires of the United States to the Republic of Texas. His duties were to present American propositions to President Anson Jones and to further the cause of annexation. Donelson performed both tasks with skill and diplomacy. In March 1845, Congress passed a joint resolution admitting Texas to the Union, provided that the state adopts a republican form of government before July 1846. He was subsequently minister to Prussia and in 1852 a candidate for the vice presidency of the United States. He died at Memphis, Tennessee, on June 26, 1871. Hugo Ellis, “Donelson, Andrew Jackson,” Handbook of Texas Online, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/donelson-andrew-jackson.Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[9] President Tyler appointed Andrew Jackson Donelson in March 1845. Handbook of Texas Online, Joseph Milton Nance, "Republic of Texas," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mzr02.

[10] Middleton, 255-256.

[11] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 505.

[12] Middleton, 266.

[13] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 74.

[14] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 453.

[15] Handbook of Texas Online, Herbert Gambrell, "Jones, Anson," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjo42.

[16] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 458.

[17] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 459-461.

[18] Jones, Memoranda, Republic of Texas, 459-461.

[19] Hard Road to Texas, Texas Annexation 1836-1845, “Part 5: The Final Showdown,” National Register Extra - -- Extra, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/anson_jones_may8_1845_proclamation.html.

[20] Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, "Convention of 1845," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjc13.

[21] “Jones to Polk,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1908 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), Vol. II, Part II, 386-387.

[22] Handbook of Texas Online, C. T. Neu, "Annexation," http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mga02.

[23] Ebenezer Allen Letter to Andrew Jackson Donelson, June 23, 1845. Hard Road to Texas Annexation, United States Diplomatic Correspondence, Texas Secretary of State records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/eben_allen_june23_1845_1.html (page 1) and https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/annexation/part5/eben_allen_june23_1845_2.html. (page 2)

[24] Handbook of Texas Online, C. T. Neu, "Annexation,", http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mga02.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Travis' Letter and the Ghosts of 1813

Today marks the 185th anniversary of William Barret Travis' letter from the Alamo. Of course, any excuse to reprint it is a good one. Here it is:

Commandancy of the Alamo — Bejar, Fby 24th 1836 —

To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world —

Fellow citizens & compatriots

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & connade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all despatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am deter mined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.

— Victory or Death

William Barret Travis Lt. Col. comdt.

 Travis' letter, and indeed the entire Alamo stand, on its face is full of bravery and bravado, but many have often wondered to what degree it was bravery or simple bombast. Did Travis really know what was facing him? Did he perhaps think that there was still hope that he could hold out and win? Historians and laymen alike have analyed and debated this. But in trying to understand Travis' stand, a huge bit of context has been universally lacking: Texas had been here before.

Twenty three years before, a ragtag army of Americans and Tejanos had gathered at the Alamo upon the news of an enemy approaching from the south promising to crush them without quarter. How they acted and how their own battle turned out held key lessons for Travis - lessons he undoubtedly knew.

First, let me step back, because most of my readers will know none of this.



In the 1812-13 revolution - frequently referred to as the Gutierrez-Magee Filibuster - a band of American volunteers crossed the border to make common cause with Tejanos in their rebellion against Spain, defeating the royalists decisively at the Seige of La Bahia and the Battle of Rosillo before declaring the independence of Texas (as a Mexican state) and passing Texas' first constitution in April 1813. The mixed Anglo-Tejano army then defeated a first Spanish counter-attack against San Antonio at the Battle of Alazán in June 1813, but were crushed by a second one at the Battle of Medina in August of that year. In that battle, the republicans were routed, pursued mercilessly, and shown no quarter. Among the officers in the Spanish force that dealt in such blood and mayhem was a young officer, Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Of course, most Texans and Americans today know almost none of this earlier revolution. But that is not true of Travis' generation. The settlers who came to Texas under Stephen F. Austin and other empresarios knew about the first revolution very well. That's because many of them were veterans.

My research has uncovered 18 verifiable survivors of the 1812-13 revolution who settled in Texas, and there were undoubtedly many more. Travis undoubtedly interacted with them and had ample opportunities to learn their stories. Some were prominent citizens of the Texas colony and later republic, like James Gaines and Warren D.C. Hall. Republican Veteran Aylett Buckner was one of the Texans killed in the 1832 Battle of Velasco, and Travis almost certainly knew him well.

But the closest connection Travis had to the 1813 war was his next-door neighbor.

Travis came to Texas in 1831 and settled in San Felipe de Austin. Though he traveled across Texas as a young lawyer, this was his principle residence for the next five years. San Felipe was a small town, and everyone knew everyone else. Travis set up his law office in a small house next door to the office of one Goodwin Brown Cotton.

 

 

Display at the San Felipe de Austin 
State Historical Site. Cotton is on the Left.

Cotton himself was a veteran of the first revolution. The young man from Louisiana had come to Texas with the Cuban rebel José Álvarez de Toledo, and helped him wrest control of the rebellion from its initial commander, José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara.  He likely worked as an apprentice to a printer from Philadelphia, Aaron Mower, who set the type for the first paper in Texas history, the Gaceta de Tejas.

Cotton likely served in the Battle of Medina himself and fled with the rest of the republicans following the defeat. He returned to Texas in 1829 and reprised Mower's newspaper, simply changing the name to English: The Texas Gazette. This he published in a small house adjacent to Travis' law office.

The Texas Gazette
Through veterans like Cotton and others, William Barret Travis would have heard all the horror stories of Medina and its aftermath. It was the bloodiest battle in Texas history. Possibly as many as 1,000 rebels were killed on the battlefield and others were hunted all the way back to Louisiana. In the brutal conquest of San Antonio that followed Medina, between 1/4 and 1/3 of the population of Texas was killed or exiled.

So, when one reads Travis' bold words, it is important to note that these are the words of a man who knew without a doubt what was in store for him. Though he hoped for relief and a long seige - the Republicans of 1812-13 had held up at the Presidio La Bahia for four months - he knew it was a long shot, and he knew what Santa Anna, who had been with the Spanish Army in its brutal conquest 23 years earlier, was capable of.

Victory or death, therefore, meant exactly that. It was no bombast.

The marker for Cotton's Print Shop at San Felipe.
(The spelling is incorrect. Cotton is correct)


Markers at the San Felipe State Historic Site, 
showing respective locations of Cotton's Print Shop
(left) and Travis' legal office (right).