How do nations go to war?
For major nations of the 19th Century, the accepted method was via a formal declaration of war, preferably after the ambassadors (called ministers at the time) had been recalled and the embassies closed. This would only happen after a long string of negotiations, unofficial communications, influence peddling, and other political intrigue. Anything less would be uncivilized.
But what happens when neither nation has yet exchanged ambassadors, or even recognized each other’s existence?
Texas and the U.S. found themselves in this exact predicament in mid-to-late 1836.
Here is the scenario:
- The Texas Republic has formed a government and written a Constitution. For the time being, it is secure due to the activities of its naval forces.
- Mexico is rocked by the collapse of its army in Texas, a new government is trying to put the pieces together, and merchants all along the coast are panicking at the thought of their own government confiscating their wealth.
- America is very much trying to play the part of the neutral third party. This is necessary for two reasons:
- The Neutrality Act prevents any member of the American government from interfering with the internal affairs of other nations.
- The political climate is such that any perceived foreign entanglements would be met with instant condemnation from opposing party members, or even members of one’s own party.
- Oh, and 1836 is a Presidential election year. And Andrew Jackson isn’t running – his appointed successor, Martin Van Buren is.
What could go wrong?
So now the Texas question is on everyone’s lips. What will Jackson do? Everyone assumes that he’ll move to annex Texas. After all, his protege, Sam Houston, was the commander-in-chief of the Texas Army (conspiracy theorists weren’t new, even in the 1800s). And Jackson was a slave owner – of course he’d want a new slave state to join the Union.
Only, Jackson never even proposed the annexation of Texas. He didn’t even recognize the existence of Texas until the day before he left office (on March 3, 1837). His political enemies swore that he was up to something nefarious. There’s no way Jackson could be opposed to the Republic of Texas, right?
Well, on September 5, 1836, Sam Houston was elected as the President of Texas. His one stated goal as President was to see Texas annexed to the U.S. Jackson was no doubt proud of his young apprentice, and secret correspondence between them almost certainly concerned their plans to accomplish Houston’s main goal.
So why, then, on September 20th, did the U.S.S. Boston attack, board, and commandeer the Texas privateer, The Terrible?
Stay tuned for Part 2…