Saturday, September 10, 2016

We Annexed Texas the Right Way

Davy Crockett
Yesterday was a Friday, and at The Libertarian Republic I posted a list of the top five libertarian war heroes. Even though the list format tends to promote facile generalizations, I am happy with the article I wrote, and so I want to share it here.

Even though the biographies of the five men are short and superficial, using the list format enabled me to make the following point about the Neutrality Act and about how the annexation of Texas was done the right  way:

The United States was founded on the principle that residents of a geographic area should be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to be governed. It was also founded with the help of volunteers from elsewhere, like the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought in the American Revolution, just because he liked the ideas the Americans espoused. At the very start of the Republic, it was understood that any individual American could decide for himself what foreign wars he wanted to fight in and what Empire or regime he wanted to help topple, without asking for permission from the government of the United States. That's why American privateers fought on behalf of the French against Britain at a time when the United States was at peace with Britain. But wanting to put an end to this, in the Jay Treaty negotiations, Britain lobbied for the passage of the Neutrality Act, thereby putting an end to the legal pursuit of foreign policy by individual Americans for fun and profit. But this did not mean that Americans stopped trying. Aaron Burr was one example of somebody who wanted to help Hispanic colonists to liberate themselves from Spain. Long after Jefferson had ruined Burr, there were Mexican revolutionaries still writing the former Vice President letters asking for his help in their liberation from Spain. Jean Laffite, the smuggler and privateer, founded Galveston as a stronghold against Spain. But... just as they had done when he contributed to the defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the American government drove him away from Galveston so that they could give Texas to Spain on a silver platter under the terms of the Adams-Onis treaty. The United States did not drive Laffite out because they wanted Galveston for themselves. In fact, if it had been up to the American government, Texas would never have belonged to the U.S. But men like Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, when they got fed up with the corruption in Washington D.C. and opposed President Jackson's Indian Removal Act, went to help the Mexicans in Texas liberate themselves from what was now Mexico. They formed their own government, and the Republic of Texas eventually chose willingly to be annexed by the United States.
That's the story. And by looking at the biographies of the five men on my list in close succession, I think that you can see it is a single story with a unified plot line.  The theme of the story is individuals fighting against foreign governments, whether their own government allows it or not.

The Louisiana Purchase had been unconstitutional, precisely because entry into the Union was supposed to be voluntary. You were not supposed to be able to buy new territories and new constituents at the expense of the taxpayers. Jefferson was afraid that Burr was out to steal the territories that he bought, by turning the residents in those territories against the idea of eventually being annexed into the United States. This was completely untrue. Burr was going after fresh new territory south of the border. He was doing it at his own expense, without getting the United States into debt and without conscripting a single soldier.

But let's face it: Talking to the people living in American-held territories and suggesting that they might not want to be annexed would not have been treason. So even if Burr had been plotting what Jefferson thought he was plotting, it would not have been wrong.

Lots of people today do not know that Texas independence from Mexico was achieved through the rebellion of the people who lived in Texas against Mexico, including most Hispanic residents. It was not some Anglo-led plot to hurt Hispanics. It was the exact opposite of the policy being pursued by Andrew Jackson against the Cherokee nation. The government of the new Republic of Texas was inclusive.

If Davy Crockett and Sam Houston had obeyed the Neutrality Act, Texas would never have joined the Union at no cost to the taxpayers of the United States. The Neutrality Act should be repealed, so that Americans can continue to help others abroad when they choose, without involving the rest of us against our will.

But the other side of all this is that the idea of secession is something Jefferson was afraid of as early as his second term. A lot of Southerners don't know this. Once you start behaving like a Statist, buying and selling territories and the people in them, it makes you paranoid. Andrew Jackson's martial law during the Battle of New Orleans was something that happened because he did not really trust the people of Louisiana not to betray the United States to the British. He completely misunderstood them, lumping all "foreigners" together. He could not see how the French speaking population of the territory that had newly been annexed actually hated the British. But when you try to impose yourself on others, you also tend to think the worst of them.

The Neutrality Act did more harm than just destroying the individual careers of specific privateers. It put us on the slippery slope to the loss of all our civil liberties, because there in black and white in the body of the Statute the right of people to decide for themselves what government to support and which one to fight against was abridged. It undercuts the very reason for the American Revolution. It meant that we all came under the thumb of  foreign empires, if once our government negotiated a treaty with them. Thank goodness that real patriots like Sam Houston  never paid any attention to this law.


  1. I was never really interested in visiting New Orleans in the past because the people I knew there just went for mardi gra and the party. However, when you talk about the French attitudes and culture there, it does make it more interesting. It might be fascinating to go on a sight seeing tour when in the area.

    1. The next Libertarian National Convention will be in New Orleans, in 2018. I am planning to go. Maybe you could go, too, and we could explore the city together.