The Reluctant Imperialist: South Carolina,
the Rio Grande, and the Mexican War
ERNEST M. LANDER, JR.*
W HEN CONGRESS, IN FEBRUARY, 1845, PASSED A JOINT RESOLUTION
calling for the annexation of Texas, the entire South Carolina
delegation voted "aye." During the congressional battle several South Caro-
linians played a prominent role. But the work of Secretary of State John C.
Calhoun was of more significance. True, Calhoun's pro-slavery letter to
Lord Aberdeen was partly instrumental in the defeat of annexation in
April, 1844. Later that year, however, his advice and counsel to President
John Tyler helped guide the annexation movement on proper course again.
Calhoun adroitly reduced the likelihood of foreign meddling in Texas
affairs, appointed the capable Andrew J. Donelson as American charge
d'affaires to Texas, and worked behind the scenes to marshal support for
the joint resolution of annexation. Finally, he wisely counseled the president
against delay. The relative importance of each of the secretary's actions is
difficult to determine, but taken together they were of considerable influ-
In general, South Carolinians looked favorably on bringing Texas into
the Union and hoped the nation's difficulties with Mexico could be re-
solved peacefully. It was not until the winter of 1845-1846 that war seemed
more than remotely possible. Several notices in the South Carolina press in
January and February speculated about the fate of John Slidell's mission
to Mexico, and its effect on Mexican-American relations. There was
some war talk, although the press at that time seemed chiefly concerned
with Oregon and other matters. A note of caution came from the Pendle-
*Mr. Lander is Alumni Professor of History at Clemson University.
iFor a complete story, see Charles M. Wiltse, John C. Calhoun, Sectionalist, i84o-
2850 (New York, 1951), I99-2l6. See also, Gerald M. Capers, John C. Calhoun-
Opportunist: A Reappraisal (Gainesville, Florida, Ig6o), 217-220; Margaret L. Coit,
John C. Calhoun: American Portrait (Boston, 1950), 361-381. Calhoun, resentful of
English abolitionist schemes in Texas, addressed to Aberdeen, the British foreign
secretary, a strong defense of the benefits of slavery to both races. When this outburst
became known publicly, it antagonized the antislavery forces in the North and thus set
back the cause of annexation.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117149/. Accessed April 26, 2015.