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July 31, 2017


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I guess the admission of the area south of Texas as one state or two would have depended on how many other free states could be admitted up until the 1860s. On the other hand, perhaps it might have been included as a part of Texas?

Including the territory as part of Texas is highly unlikely. There are multiple reasons for that. In no particular order:

(1) Federal policy was already to shrink Texas;
(2) Texas had no claim on the area;
(3) Subjugating the area to Austin would anger pro-American elites in Monterrey;
(4) From the POV of Southern senators and President Polk, more slave states was the whole point of the exercise;
(5) The area had about the same population as Texas, but was ethnically distinct, even. There were maybe 20,000 Tejanos in Texas in 1850 (out of 212,000); the area south of the Rio Grande had a population of 200,000 overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking people.

(I'm currently working on a project that will, among other things, better nail down the size and characteristics of the Tejano population.)

Add those five reasons together and it seems that bringing the area in as a separate state is overdetermined. Clever northern politicking could, however, delay its admission for a while, leaving it as a territory. That would be hard, however, what with a population of 200,000 in the area.

I'd like to drag some of my academic colleagues here to chime in, but I've rarely had luck with that ...

Hmm. With delayed statehood, would New Mexico be a relevant model for northeastern Mexico?

With a caveat, yes, I think it would.

New Leon (or perhaps "Rio Grande") would be a lot more populous than New Mexico. New Mexico didn't reach 200,000 people until a bit after 1900; New Leon would be starting with about that many in 1848. In addition, the upper class of New Leon was rather more prosperous than their New Mexico counterparts.

New Mexico saw widespread land fraud by Anglos and fairly large intermarriage between Anglo men and Hispano women, whose children appear to have married mostly Anglos. The combination meant that Anglos rapidly became the elite.

That process would be slower in New Leon and would probably not go quite as far. The Hispano upper class in New Mexico never disappeared, of course! But the equivalent group in New Leon would remain relatively more prominent in the state's public life and private economy.

Still, that said, New Mexico isn't a terrible model.

But would New Leon/Rio Grande be admitted with 200,000 even though it wasn't mainly Anglo settlers? Or would admission be delayed for perhaps a decade or two until you got more Anglos living there?

Would you necessarily get substantial numbers of Anglo-American settlers in a territory with a solidly Hispanic population? Anglo settlement in New Mexico seems to have been minimized by virtue of the presence of a surviving Hispanic settler community.

J.H.: It comes down to political skills. Southerners will want a new slave state. Northerners will not and will take any excuse to prevent it.

Let's say Polk replaces Trist with a more compliant negotiator. If Polk is smart, the treaty will write into it that the new territory is to enter the Union as a state. It would be very hard for Congress to vote against such a treaty; plenty of northern Senators would flip. The South couldn't get the Senate to re-write an existing treaty proposal, but approving a more expansive one is a much easier row to hoe.

In that world, New Leon is in as a state. An additional slave state means that the Compromise of 1850 as we know it won't happen. The South will have to give up something to swing Northerners in the face of two additional slave Senate seats ... and that something will get the Southerners to fight harder for Kansas later on. So the Civil War will likely happen on schedule.

But what if Polk's negotiator blows including statehood language in the treaty and leaves it up to Congress? (This is extremely plausible.) Now things get trickier. NM statehood was delayed because slavery never took hold in the state. That wouldn't hold for New Leon, where there were plenty of cotton lands. Slaveholders will start flooding in. And northerners will know this.

Let's think about the Compromise of 1850, which passed as five separate bills. TheThe bill organizing New Mexico passed the House by only 108-97. The prospect (or reality) of a slave NL/RG could easily flip six Northern representatives to "no."

So what does that mean?

Northerners, I imagine, would insist that keeping NL/RG away from statehood will be part of the cost of shepherding the Compromise through Congress. I imagine that the south would agree, informally, as long as NL/RG was a slave territory. Southerners would hope that as slaveowners flooded in, the pressure to admit it as a state would eventually become overwhelming. That pressure, however, would be unlikely to break before 1860 ... which means, absent unpredictable changes, the Civil War happens on schedule with NL/RG as a territory.

Randy: I don't know! I wish I did. (Anyone?) But I'm not sure it's relevant. It would be hard to keep NL/RG away from statehood indefinitely, if only because the state would likely develop a powerful Democratic machine and therefore promise secure Senate and electoral college votes. That puts statehood as part of the great American tragedy that ended Reconstruction. Which seems disgustingly plausible: the U.S. gets a Spanish-speaking state as part of the settlement that disenfranchises black Americans for a century.


Randy: actually, I can give a better answer. New Leon had a lot of unclaimed land; the terrenos baldíos. Americans with access to capital -- to buy land and slaves -- would have come in the approval of the territorial government to claim the land. More revenue for the elites in Monterrey, more connection to the South for the Americans.

A migration of elite Southerners seems inevitable; how many other Anglo settlers would follow is what I don't know.

But....would greater migration of Southern/Anglo elites and settlers to NL result in less Anglo settlement in areas that were historically taken from Mexico? How would that affect those areas? Would New Mexico territory have remained even more Hispanic than it was historically?

JH: you're asking if opening New Leon would have led to fewer white settler in NM? My guess is no. This was an era of unrestricted immigration. Opportunities in New Leon would have found settlers to take them. The ethnic make-up of white New Mexicans might change, but you'd have to know more about the source of migration into that territory than I do to reasonably opine on the counterfactual.

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