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Reminiscences of the Texas Republic
By Ashbel Smith, 15 December 1875

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It was only after several protests presented on each new development of facts connected with these hostile steamers that the government acted decisively. The Guadalupe, some time detained, was not permitted to sail until she had discharged her armament. The Montezuma was arrested, examined by order of the admiralty, and compelled to discharge her recruits and her armament before sailing. Captain Cleveland and Captain Charlewood were permitted to go in command of the ships, but were officially notified that if they took any part in operations against Texas they would be gazetted, struck from the rolls of her majesty's service.

President Houston, referring to the earnestness of these protests and apprehensive that the zeal of the Texas minister might outrun his discretion, wrote to him a private letter, advising that "when your hand is in the lion's mouth it is safest to withdraw it quietly without slapping the lion on his nose."

It is not out of place, perhaps, in these reminiscences to mention a matter and an incident which, though not strictly germane to our subject; may be deemed somewhat interesting as illustrative of the times in question. The opinion was expressed to me; by gentlemen of high standing, in England, it was more positively asserted in high political circles in Paris, that the unsettled relations between the United States and Great Britain, rendering war not very improbable, was a motive of tardy action in the case of the Mexican war steamers. For, it was averred, in the event of such war Mexico would be dragged in on the side of England. It was shortly after the affair of the steamers that Lord Aberdeen did the Texas minister the honor to inquire his opinion on the sentiments prevailing in the United States on the Oregon and north-western boundary question and "Mr Polk's 54° 40', or fight." In the conversation Lord Aberdeen remarked that the British government did not care a pin, comparatively, about Oregon and the Puget sound country; but that the universal conviction in England was that the country to the Columbia river belonged of right to Great Britain and that the United States was attempting to bully England out of it. He further stated, that public feeling in that country had become so excited on this subject, that were the queen's ministers to take army step showing a disposition to submit to the American pretension, a motion of want of confidence would within twenty-four hours be introduced in parliament, and Lord John Russell would come in as a war minister. It was thought by your speaker that Lord Aberdeen made this statement advisedly that it might be communicated to Mr. Everett, the American minister. It was so communicated to this gentleman.

The leaders of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, wielding much of the influence of their numerous affiliated associations and of their emissaries scattered abroad, were entered into the affairs of Texas and Mexico with the energy of fanaticism on the side of Mexico for the subjugation of Texas. Other things appeared to conspire with them favorably for Mexico. Mr. Packenham stated in his dispatches, as Lord Aberdeen informed me, that Mexico counted on the assistance of Spain. Shortly afterwards I learned from a high official source, in Paris, that Spain had dispatched a man-of-war to the West Indies to be in readiness to act with Mexico, and also had promised much more additional naval support. On the strength of this information I sought an interview with General Sancho, Spanish minister in London. I intimated to him distinctly that Spain, taking part with Mexico in this war, could not fail to become embroiled with the United States. I ventured to suggest that a better course would be for Spain and Texas to establish friendly and commercial relations by treaty, adding that I was furnished with powers to conclude such treaty. General Sancho replied, that he had no information on this subject diplomatically he did not choose to have any. He added that the captain general of Cuba was in the habit of taking important steps on his own judgment, without consulting the home government. I left him entertaining no doubt of the correctness of my information, and of General Sancho's knowledge of the whole matter. Santa Anna's peremptory rejection of British mediation, Señor Tornel's semi-official declaration to Mr. Packenham, already mentioned, and the cooperation of Spain enlisted by Mexico, leave no room to doubt that Mexico, was in savage earnest to subjugate Texas.

To show how far reaching were the schemes connected with Mexico, it will not be wholly out of place here to relate a statement made by Louis Philippe, in a conversation I had the honor to have with him in 1843. The king was pleased to say that they he did not indicate who "they" were---that "they" had asked him for one of his sons as a prince to place on the throne of Mexico. He continued with almost eager emphasis, "They shall never have a son of mine." Pointing towards England---the newspapers had just announced that the queen was in a delicate situation---I said if there continue to be rapid accessions to the queen's family as hitherto, England might spare a prince and their exchequer be none the worse for it. He quickly rejoined, "That will never do. That will never do; the queen's sons are protestants, the Mexicans are Catholics." On my adverting to what might be the views of Sprain and England relative to the proposed establishment of a monarchy in Mexico; the king observed "Spain is willing or favors it. England has nothing to say, makes no objection, does not appear to care about it." Was I authorized to suspect strongly that Spain was the leading power in this scheme, and that it was connected with the frigate sent and the further aid promised to Maximilian?


The projected campaign of Mexico in 1842, for subjugating Texas, had proved a failure. On the side of Texas, our finances were in a deplorable state, our credit was not yet revived; serious difficulties had arisen with the volunteers who came to Texas that year, and who might form the nucleus of a military power; our internal condition was not solid and harmonious. Mr. Packenham informed his government that these facts were well known and counted on in Mexico. But Mexico was not ready. Serious delay had been imposed on the sailing of the war steamers----restrictions had been laid on their commanders, when at length these vessels reached Vera Cruz, they were not armed, supplied, manned and officered, as it had been arranged they should be.

The Hamilton convention proving a hopeless failure, President Houston instructed your speaker to invite the governments of France and Great Britain to join with the United States in a triple representation to Mexico in behalf of peace. The British government at once signified their readiness so far as related to themselves alone. They declined to act jointly with the United States. The relations of the United States with Mexico were such as to preclude the belief that their participation would further the objects of the proposed representation. France, both the king and Mons. Guizot, accepted the invitation with graceful promptness. But the British government eventually declined to act jointly with any other power. Their good offices were urged with great earnestness on Mexico, singly. They appeared to have no immediate results, but doubtless told at a later day on the course then adopted by Mexico.

I will here relate an incident illustrative of diplomatic intercourse and an instance of masterly silence. In consequence of a conversation I had with the British minister for foreign affairs, long extracts from two dispatches were subsequently placed in my hands in Downing street for perusal. The first was a dispatch from the British foreign office, embodying a very forcible argument to show why Mexico should at once make peace with Texas on the basis of independence. Mr. Packenham was instructed to read this dispatch to the Mexican government. The second was from Mr. Packenham's dispatch in reply, acquainting his government of his having executed his instructions: He stated that a special audience was appointed for communicating to the Mexican secretary of state the dispatch in question. He read the dispatch to Mr. Bocanegra, who, he remarked, understood---English as well as he himself did---he read with great distinctness, and deliberation, giving full force to the argument. Señor Bocanegra listened with profound attention - in perfect silence-betrayed not the slightest emotion in any way during the reading. The reading concluded, Mr. Packenham having nothing to add, was himself silent. Señor Bocanegra sat for a minute or more, silent, thoughtful, motionless. Then with his usual calm courtesy he addressed Mr. Packenham on matters having no relation whatever to the subject of the dispatch. Mr. Packenham, a diplomatist of no mean ability, of much experience, added that he could not form an opinion of what influence or whether any was produced by the dispatch on the Mexican secretary of state.

I now proceed to speak of matters occurring in 1843. Upwards of a year had now elapsed since the second administration of President Houston had been inaugurated. Texas had acquired in a marked degree the respect of the great European powers and their confidence in the stability of our institutions and in our ability to maintain our independence. Mexico had been signally baffled in her attempts to renew on a respectable scale hostilities against Texas. The trouble with the volunteers had been conjured down, and tranquility reigned within. Peace with the Indian tribes and the security of our frontier had been restored without subsidy by the good faith of Gen. Houston in dealing with these aboriginal owners of the domain. The exchequers, the paper currency of the country, had reached nearly par with gold and were still rising. Not a single dollar had been piled on the mass of public debt previously incurred. This prosperity of Texas was duly reported by the British and French ministers resident here, and by European gentlemen of standing who visited Texas; and it was fully believed on the other side of the Atlantic. The confidence thus inspired naturally led the great powers of Europe I allude especially to England and in a scarcely less degree to France, to regard Texas with much favor and to wish to establish and to extend solid relations with us. They appreciated our immense natural resources for producing raw materials and consequently our means for trade. It was their interest to foster our developing industrial greatness. These powers knew it. They had the sense to know and to act on the knowledge, that in establishing and strengthening our political relations and in favoring the settlement of our political affairs, they were promoting our industrial development and at the same time, by consequence, their own commercial interests. Other European powers signified their readiness to establish international relations by treaty with Texas. The very favorable changes in the affairs of Texas which I have adverted to, were not attributed to accident, were not considered as results of that vague something sometimes called good luck. They were esteemed the legitimate effects of the sound judgment, the practical good sense, the capacity for administration of Gen. Houston. This is not an inferential opinion of mine. It was the mature opinion expressed to me more than once by high officials with whom I transacted business on the other side of the Atlantic.

Do you ask why I mention such matters? Do you inquire what connection they have with the fortunes of Texas? This good feeling in Europe thus honestly and honorably acquired, the disposition in consequence manifested by those powers to promote and foster Texas, their untiring efforts to procure honorable peace for Texas though their good offices were repeatedly rejected by Mexico, were openly invoked by persons in the highest offices in the United States, President Tyler in the, number, as proof conclusive that General Houston and his administration, and Anson Jones who succeeded him in the presidency of Texas, were plotting to sell Texas to a European power. That they were engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to sell Texas to England. I may here somewhat anticipate the mention of events, which I propose to relate further on more succinctly by a brief statement.

Evidences of the confidence inspired and the friendly disposition entertained by foreign powers, reaching Texas at that time, were then hailed with hearty satisfaction by the people of Texas. They were afterwards revived, gravely commented on, and avouched as proofs of a long contemplated conspiracy against Texas and against a broad continental American policy, not only by heated politicians, but they were tortued to mislead honest minded gentlemen. Yet all this while, up to the last moment of the incorporation of the republic of Texas into the American union; no European power ever even hinted, much less did any one propose, any political advantage or influence, or any political relation whatever, nor sought any commercial facility which should not on the same terms be equally open to the world. I surely need not add at this time of day, that no such thought even entered the minds of the gentlemen who administered the affairs of Texas during the period in question. Had there been even a shadow of anything of the kind, I must from my official position, needs have known it. It may, too, seem aliunde the record of Texas history, to vindicate the integrity, and loyal honesty of European cabinets in their dealings with Texas. But, be pleased to bear in mind that the vindication of these cabinets is at the same time the vindication of the honored chief officers of the republic of Texas. You, my younger hearers, may think it scarcely worth while to rake up now forgotten calumnies. Recollect that history is compiled by searching old documents, contemporary publications, and journals of public bodies. Charges against Sam Houston and against Anson Jones, against persons in high official position at home and persons representing Texas abroad, charges, I say, of political dishonesty, of treasonable purposes, of treasonable correspondence, of conspiracy against the weal of the republic of Texas, found frequent plate in the Houston Telegraph and in the Galveston News of those days; in fugitive pamphlets, in published letters of distinguished United States politicians, and in some American newspapers, notably in the subsidized Picayune of New Orleans. Motions and resolutions implying ground for belief in charges of this nature were introduced in the Texian congress and still stand among the printed journals of those bodies. Possibly but for the latter I might have left these stale calumnies to perish and be forgotten of their own worthlessness. It is one of the painful things in human nature, that in the great struggles for human, rights and for liberty, the principal actors entertain the worst suspicions arid make grave charges against each other. Contemplate Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Neither the cause of Texas, neither its independence, nor annexation; were viewed with favor in the northern states. Opposition to its incorporation into the union was almost universal in those states. The votes on recognition as it is termed, and annexation, twice tendered and twice spurned, furnish proof of these facts. At length however, at a somewhat later period, a pretty strong party friendly to annexation grew up there. The belief that a plan was organized or at least on foot in Great Britain to meddle with the institution of slavery in the south, in Texas first and as preliminary to meddling with and abolishing it in the then southern states, more probably than all other causes, led to the creation of the party in the northern states friendly to Texas. The same belief united the entire masses of the southern people. From the declaration of independence one hundred years ago up to a very recent time, nothing so powerfully stirred up, aroused simultaneously, the American people north and south, as the suspicion of British interference in American affairs. The belief that the purpose was entertained in England to abolish the institution of slavery in Texas, as the opening campaign of a crusade against this institution in the then United States, was the strongest original ground work of the movement which was consummated in annexation. Did there exist; in fact real ground for this suspicion, this belief? Was it truth or was it a chimera? Was it a Trojan horse filled with armed men, or was it an unreal mockery of a. huge monster evoked by politicians to practice on the people. Mr. Thomas H. Benton in his Thirty Years in the American Senate, has affected to sneer at the whole subject of an anti-slavery movement in England. How far his hatred of Mr. Calhoun and of other gentlemen misled that very able and very prejudiced statesman, cannot be ascertained. But it requires an abler man than he to sneer down or rail off the seal of truth from established facts.

I shall first make a brief succinct statement that we may not confound in one mass persons and parties unlike and wholly disconnected in action, in the matters we have now under consideration. There existed at the time in question, it still exists for aught I know, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, having its seat in London with numerous affiliated societies in Great Britain and other countries. The leaders of the society in question were meddlesome, restless, unscrupulous traffickers in spurious humanitarianism. They entered with savage eagerness into the cause of Mexico at an early period against Texas; they promoted the building and fitting out of the Mexican war steamers designed to ravage the coasts of Texas as has been stated; they did not pause or relax in their machinations to the last moment. With these individuals I believe the British cabinet, of which Sir Robert Peel was chief and in which Lord Aberdeen was minister for foreign affairs, had no sympathy; and for these individuals I believe these gentlemen had no respect. But opinion is free in Great Britain. The British ministry has no more control over such men than Mr. Secretary Upshur had over the Lloyd Garrisons, the Wendell Phillipses and John Browns of the northern states. The British ministry wanted peace; peace everywhere, peace in Mexico, peace for Texas, peace with the United States, unhampered commerce with all, and in connection with this view the prosperity of all. The opinion I then formed of the loyal integrity of the leading members of the British cabinet of that period is confirmed by a calm retrospect after these long years. Nor does the calming influence of time abate ought of the detestation I then had, for the abolitionists whom I have just alluded to. For them, history has but one parallel. The inquisitors of the Spanish inquisition burnt their victim at the stake for the good of his soul.

In my remarks at this time, about these parties, I restrict myself to matters and actions of theirs bearing on and closely connected with Texas. In 1839, an early period as you see in the history of Texas, and some four years before the period under our immediate consideration, Mr. Daniel O'Connell published a letter having reference to Texas and its institutions. In this letter Mr. O'Connell pledges himself to introduce in the ensuing session of parliament certain motions. One was: "That an address be presented to her majesty, humbly praying that she may be pleased to give directions to her ministers, to endeavor to make such an arrangement with the government of Mexico as would place at their disposal such a portion of the unoccupied territory of that republic on or near its northern boundary" to wit "embracing the republic of Texas as should be sufficient for the purpose of establishing an asylum or free state of persons of color, her majesty's subjects, who may be desirous to emigrate to and establish such free state." The republic of Texas, forsooth, a portion of the republic of Mexico three full years after the achievement of our independence, and the expulsion of every person owning allegiance to Mexico from our territory!! Texas "unoccupied" though having lived three full years under a peaceful government of law at home and recognized as an independent nation abroad!!! The impudent coolness is worthy of the individual who penned the letter, and its falsehood and iniquity are characteristic of the persons who inspired it.

In June, 1843, Lord Aberdeen informed me that two Texians had presented themselves at the foreign office, claiming to be representatives from Texas, and stating that they had important propositions, to submit from the people of Texas to the queen's government. They asseverated that these propositions looking to the prompt abolition of slavery in Texas, were sanctioned by leading citizens. Lord Aberdeen turned them over to the under secretary, Mr. Addington, until he should have an interview with the accredited minister of Texas. This interview, at Lord A's invitation, took place promptly. These two self-appointed representatives were Mr. Stephen Pearl Andrews, previously an attorney in Texas, and Mr. Lewis Tappan, one of the notorious Tappan brothers of New York City. The latter individual had never been in Texas. Lord Aberdeen, on being informed that these individuals were meddlesome intruders and not representatives of any opinion or policy in Texas, said "they will not be again received here at all." They never were again admitted to an interview with any member of the foreign office. These men had approached the foreign office on the personal introductions, and on false pretenses under the auspices of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.

The objects and policy of the anti-slavery society in their machinations and crusade against Texas were palpable, unmistakable. Slavery being declared abolished in Mexico, the subjugation of Texas by Mexico was ipso facto by organic law, its abolition in Texas. A free negro colony or state on the south-western frontier of the union, as projected and as set forth in the letter I have quoted from Mr. O'Connell, would be a refuge and rendezvous for runaway negroes from the southern states. A wound would be opened in the vitals of southern institutions; a free negro state here would be an eternal festering thorn in the side of the United States on their most exposed flank. It would serve as a base of incalculable power and convenience for hostile operations in the event of war, which could not have been long averted. This intent, these purposes, this perspective, commended the cause of Mexico to the remorseless fanatics of whom I am now speaking. The Mexican war steamers, English built, armed, manned and officered, as before related, chimed with their schemes. But enough of that enterprise. Aiming at Texas first, at the southern states afterwards, these wretched peddlers in humanity were plotting to crush out the Anglo Saxon race in Texas; to, remand this fair land back to the wilderness and barbarism of three centuries; to deluge the southern states with blood; to immolate a people sprung from a common country, speaking the same language, having in the main the same political institutions; that they might lift up a free negro for the admiration of the world, and themselves for its plaudits and for its contributions in money. It is scarcely necessary to add that their impudence was proof against the snubbing they met with in Downing street.

I have not made the foregoing statements without being sure of my facts. I attended different meetings of this society, notably the annual meetings held in June 1843 in Free Mason's Hall, Great Queen street, London. These meetings, ostensibly public, were in some degree practically secret. The card of admission of Mr. William Clark, editor of the London Morning Herald, given to me by that gentleman, carefully scanned, nevertheless procured for me admission. When plans were laid for overturning the institutions of Texas, and for using Texas as a catspaw for undermining the bordering states, it was my duty as representative of Texas, to use all proper means to ascertain them. I made memorandums at the time of the plans and counsels I heard discussed in that society. They aimed at the abolition of slavery in Texas, they scrupled not at the means nor at the consequences. They tried to launch their own government in the crusade, to compass which they recoiled from no misrepresentations. They belied their own government; they falsely represented it as favoring their schemes in order to magnify their own influence, and as it appeared to, me in order also to inveigle other cooperation. Of these facts there is no mistake. I heard the reports, I witnessed their proceedings. Plans of the plots against Texas and against the southern states were discussed, modified, laid over for further consideration in my hearing.

These facts were communicated to Mr. Van Zandt, Texas minister at Washington, as well as to our own state department, My letters were in the hands of Mr. Calhoun, who as he afterwards told me, placed them with Judge Upshur. But it was by no means through the letters of the Texas minister at London, that was mainly conveyed the information which so powerfully excited the' public mind in the United States. The purposes and boastings of the anti-slavery fanaticism were advisedly scattered broadcast. Rumor with her thousand tongues, mostly in exaggerated letters of alarmists, brought them hither. As a specimen I mention an incident insignificant enough taken by itself. Mr. A. I. Yates of Galveston wrote a letter to a Mr. Converse, an American then in London on some colonization enterprise. In a sort of postscript Mr. Yates stated that he had had an important conversation with Capt. Elliot, then British minister in Texas, on the abolition of slavery, in Texas, and that Capt. Elliot would make it the subject of a communication to his government in his next dispatches. He suggested to Mr. Converse to call at the foreign office and get a look at Capt. Elliot's dispatches! A queer idea Mr. Yates surer had of business in the foreign office. Gen. Duff Green, then in London on a singular semi-official mission, got a copy of the letter. Naturally an alarmist he had the latter of Mr. Yates, with existing comments and innuendoes, widely circulated in American newspapers. The worst effect of this publication was that through sheer ignorance of the writer, Mr. Yates, it seemed to connect the British cabinet with the abolition crusades. Other incidents of a similar character occurred at this period. Public sentiment at the south was inflamed to exasperation at the idea of British intermeddling with slavery. It was keenly resented by leading democratic statesmen of the north. Mr. Everett, American minister at London, preserved silence on these subjects till, as I had reason to believe, his attention was pointedly invited to them by his own government. Mr. Everett was an accomplished scholar, even among the scholars of Europe; a gentleman of varied and accurate information, adorned with virtues, but by temperament too timid a politician to be a statesman. Holding antislavery notions his silence appeared to be misinterpreted.

An inflamed, exasperated public opinion in the United States at the idea of British interference with our domestic institutions powerfully hastened annexation. And as the fanatical schemes of certain parties in that country have been distinctly stated to-night, it is fitting also here to narrate with exactness the course which the British cabinet actually pursued during this period in relation to this subject.

Every Englishman is opposed to slavery. This opinion is, as it were a part of the common law, and obtains universally. But he is not necessarily a fanatic or a propagandist. Careful inquiry, conducted indirectly for greater certainty, satisfied me that whatever communication may have been made by Captain Elliot to his government on abolition in Texas, if made as stated in Mr. Yate's letter, it was wholly ignored at the foreign office. Immediately Lord Aberdeen was informed that Messrs. Andrews .and Tappan were intrusive representatives, he gave orders that they should not be again received. They had but one interview and that a brief one. At that interview on their stating their errand, he remarked that it was the wish of the government, that slavery should be abolished everywhere. To the inquiry; whether the government would guaranty the interest on a small loan which should enable the people of Texas to do away slavery, he replied that his government was extremely averse to such guaranties; but, he was not prepared to say that they would, not guaranty for this purpose, "if it was the wish" of the people of Texas." This was a frank, voluntary statement made by Lord Aberdeen to me, to enable me to disabuse the Texas government of error if any existed. He had no sympathy with these schemes and maneuvers, he was manifestly disgusted at the efforts made to drag the name of the cabinet into them.

Shortly afterwards I had an interview with him ostensibly on a different matter. I then believed and still believe that this interview was had mainly in reference to the excitement caused in the United States, by the belief that machinations were going on in London with the knowledge and, as was thought, with some cooperation of the British government, for interfering with, and for the overthrow of, American slavery. To his inquiry covering the whole ground, I replied: "The excitement is a patent fact. The people of the northern states are very generally opposed to slavery. Nevertheless, almost to a man they would unite with the south, to repel any outside or foreign interference at the risk of any consequences, however extreme." In reply, Lord Aberdeen thought the excitement uncalled for-there had been no real cause for it-he regretted it---he spoke of the immense trade between. Great Britain and the United States, citing some statistical figures, as a reason why they should wish to maintain a good understanding with the United States he regretted he had said a word on the subject of slavery in America; and "since it had given so much offense across the water, he would not say another word on this subject. He requested me so to state it. Accordingly I made this statement to Mr. Everett. I communicated it to the secretary of State of Texas. I wrote it to the Texas minister at Washington. Am I in error in supposing Lord Aberdeen thought Mr. Everett somewhat remiss in keeping his government correctly informed of the agitating matters in question?

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© 1997-2006,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
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