The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1980, Volume 26, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor


Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Texas Annexation and the Mexican War: A Political Study of the Old Northwest. By Norman E. Tutorow. Palo Alto: Chadwick House, Publishers, Ltd, 1978. Preface. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. 320 pages. $12.95.

Reviewed by Dennis E. Berge, Professor of History at San Diego State University.

In this detailed study, Norman Tutorow attempts to assess public attitudes and political behavior in the Old Northwest in response to issues generated by the drive for the annexation of Texas to the United States. He begins with the proposal from Texas in 1837 for admission to the Union, which the United States Senate rejected, and carries his analysis through the events of the mid-forties. His study culminates with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war with Mexico in 1848.

In general, Tutorow maintains that within the Old Northwest Americans divided over expansionist issues in almost the same proportion as they did on the national scene, and that they divided primarily along party lines. Democrats nationally leaned toward expansionism, and within the Northwest they followed suit, while Whig voting patterns sectionally followed the anti-expansionist bent of the party as a whole. Party alignments in the Old Northwest also broke down in almost the same proportion as they did nationally. Thus, insofar as most expansionist issues were concerned, the section was a microcosm of the nation. To this degree, at least, sectional unity was less significant than party affiliation as a factor in expansionist issues.

Tutorow also contends, however, that sectionalism ultimately entered the political picture. The Wilmot Proviso, initially proposed as an amendment to a House appropriation bill in 1846, was an attempt to separate the slavery question from expansionism. For the first time, a war-related issue provoked a heavily sectional response, and within the Old Northwest party unity began to erode. Many anti-slavery Democrats, in particular, broke with southern colleagues in what was to become an increasing commitment to sectional loyalties, while Northwestern Whigs, who were confused and vacillating on most expansionist issues, moved decisively into the antislavery camp. It was an issue that would soon sunder the American nation, and Tutorow concludes that the connection of these events with Texas annexation provided “the first direct antecedents of a sectional split that has generally been attributed to events of a decade later” (p. 212).

Tutorow’s conclusions concerning the slavery issue are not innovative, but his depiction of the Old Northwest as a political microcosm of American society on the subject of expansionism is revealing, as is his analysis of party behavior at both regional and national levels. The study is difficult to assimilate, however, for Tutorow uses an organizational scheme that forces him to shift focus constantly, and the effect is almost kaleidoscopic. His research, which ranges widely through both primary and secondary sources, is truly impressive.