cover image Storm Over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War

Storm Over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War

Joel H. Silbey. Oxford University Press, $28 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-19-513944-0

The convulsive rearrangement of antebellum American politics around an increasingly bitter sectional divide is probed in this enlightening historical monograph, part of Oxford's Pivotal Moments in American History series. Historian Silbey situates the debate over the 1845 annexation of the Republic of Texas in the framework of the Jacksonian party politics that dominated the United States. Both the Democrats and the Whigs, he argues, were national parties with strong support in all sections, and they cooperated to downplay sectional politics, especially the issue of slavery, in favor of a national consensus over economic policy and territorial expansion. That all changed when Secretary of State John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery firebrand, advanced the argument that Texas must be annexed to prevent it from falling into the orbit of abolitionist Great Britain, which would, he claimed, use it as a platform to undermine slavery in the United States. The policies of the incoming Democratic Polk administration, especially the maximalist claims about Texas's boundaries that led to war with Mexico, further exacerbated the sectional polarization by making suspicious Northern Democrats lend credence to Northern Whigs' claims of a conspiratorial slave power controlling national government. These developments, Silbey contends, set the stage for the 1850s breakdown of nationwide political alliances in favor of an increasingly vitriolic antagonism between North and South. Silbey presents a lucid, fine-grained political history, complete with nuanced profiles of political leaders, that illuminates this watershed era of American history. Photos.