Explore Texas by Historical ErasEarly Statehood1845-1861by Katie Whitehurst

In December of 1845, Texas became the 28th state of the United States of America. It was a change welcomed by many. As early as 1836, Texan voters had chosen overwhelmingly to support annexation. But opposition in the U.S. was strong, and the annexation of Texas came only after years of heavy debate.

Some of that debate came from Texan nationalists. But the main opposition was found in the US. The issue of slavery was central to their concerns – as it was with so many political issues in the US at the time. There had been little question that if Texas joined the U.S., it would join as a slave state. Slavery was widespread in the Republic of Texas. Although no formal census was taken in Texas until 1850, it’s estimated that in 1845 the new state had a population of about 125,000 people. Some 30,000 lived as slaves. Abolitionists in the U.S. worried that adding another slave-holding state would upset the political balance in Congress and in the country.

Mexico was a second source of concern. The memory of Texas’ revolt against Mexico remained fresh, and some dispute about the Texas-Mexico border remained. The United States was concerned that the annexation of Texas would spur trouble with Mexico, something the US sought to avoid. Despite these worries, after James Polk became President in 1844 the United States decided the benefit of adding Texas outweighed the concerns. The country would bring an abundance of land, and would help further Polk’s dream of a country that spanned the continent.

With the annexation, Texans formed a new state government with a new state constitution. It was modeled after the constitution of the United States. And, like that document, it restricted suffrage to white males over the age of 21, limiting the power of women and minorities.

The vast majority of Tejanos, Mexicans, Native Americans and African-Americans living in Texas did not benefit from annexation. Many had deep roots in the state, with families that reached back generations. But in most parts of the state, discrimination ran rampant against Tejanos and Mexicans – especially during the Mexican-American War. As settlement expanded, the U.S. government forced Native Americans off their lands and onto reservations. Early statehood also saw a rapid expansion of the African-American population in Texas. The vast majority continued to live as slaves. That status was bolstered by the state’s new constitution. Like the Republic’s, the state’s constitution prohibited free blacks from living in Texas without special permission, and it denied citizenship rights to the few free blacks who lived in the state.

Life was better for large groups of immigrants from Europe who arrived soon after statehood, drawn here by the promise of land. People from many European regions came to Texas, immigrating mostly through the port of Galveston. Many settled in close-knit communities, where traces of their cultures can still be found today. They joined a wave of immigrants from the Southern U.S., who came for land and for the ability to own slaves.

As some had feared, annexation inflamed tensions with Mexico. In 1846, the Mexican-American War erupted, as the nations battled over the location of their border and over territories far to the west. After a year and a half of fighting, Mexico conceded defeat. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in 1848, formally ending the war. Mexico agreed to recognize Texas as part of the United States and also formalized the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas. The treaty also outlined the terms of the Mexican Cession, which allowed the United States to gain a huge amount of land that would later become present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado.

The issue of slavery in the newly annexed territories added to the concerns of many Americans. The solution was the Compromise of 1850, which allowed California to be admitted as a free state, gave power to the other western territories to decide the question of slavery, and created the western border of Texas where it is today, which ended a dispute between Texas and present-day New Mexico.

The agreement did not end the controversy over slavery. And that controversy played out within the state of Texas, as well. While not every Texan was in favor of slavery, the majority of Texas voters believed that the United States government should not interfere with their ability to keep slaves.  Despite the urging of many settlers, and then Governor of Texas and Revolution hero Sam Houston, Texas joined other slave-holding states and seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  By joining the Confederate States of America, the young state of Texas helped to set the stage for an American civil war.