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John O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” 1845

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing

  • Use this Primary Source to have students analyze an argument for the annexation of Texas into the United States.


Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836, but President Andrew Jackson declined to annex it for fear of backlash over admitting another slave state. The annexation of Texas was a major issue in the 1844 presidential campaign between Whig candidate Henry Clay and Democratic candidate James Polk. Journalist and Democrat John O’Sullivan wrote the following essay in 1845 in support of annexation. O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny as he argued for an inevitable expansion of the United States across the North American continent. Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845, but disputes over the southern border continued and contributed to the outbreak of war between the United States and Mexico in 1846.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document?
  2. What was his purpose in writing this essay?

Vocabulary Text
providence(n): God or nature as providing protection Texas is now ours. Already, before these words are written, her Convention has undoubtedly ratified the acceptance, by her Congress, of our proffered invitation into the Union; . . . Her star and her stripe may already be said to have taken their place in the glorious blazon of our common nationality; and the sweep of our eagle’s wing already includes within its circuit the wide extent of her fair and fertile land. She is no longer to us a mere geographical space—a certain combination of coast, plain, mountain, valley, forest and stream. She is no longer to us a mere country on the map. She comes within the dear and sacred designation of Our Country; . . . other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves . . . in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions. . . .
impotence(n): ineffectiveness or helplessness

Anglo-Saxon(n): in this context, a person of English descent
California will, probably, next fall away from the loose adhesion which, in such a country as Mexico, holds a remote province in a slight equivocal kind of dependence on the metropolis. Imbecile and distracted, Mexico never can exert any real governmental authority over such a country. The impotence of the one and the distance of the other, must make the relation one of virtual independence; unless, by stunting the province of all natural growth, and forbidding that immigration which can alone develop its capabilities and fulfil the purposes of its creation, tyranny may retain a military dominion, which is no government in the legitimate sense of the term. In the case of California this is now impossible. The Anglo-Saxon foot is already on its borders. Already the advance guard of the irresistible army of Anglo-Saxon emigration has begun to pour down upon it, armed with the plough and the rifle, and marking its trail with schools and colleges, courts and representative halls, mills and meeting-houses. A population will soon be in actual occupation of California, over which it will be idle for Mexico to dream of dominion. They will necessarily become independent. All this without agency of our government, without responsibility of our people— in the natural flow of events, the spontaneous working of principles, and the adaptation of the tendencies and wants of the human race to the elemental circumstances in the midst of which they find themselves placed. And they will have a right to independence—to self-government—to the possession of the homes conquered from the wilderness by their own labors and dangers, sufferings and sacrifices —a better and a truer right than the artificial tide of sovereignty in Mexico, a thousand miles distant, inheriting from Spain a title good only against those who have none better. Their right to independence will be the natural right of self-government belonging to any community strong enough to maintain it–distinct in position, origin and character, and free from any mutual obligations of membership of a common political body, binding it to others by the duty of loyalty and compact of public faith. This will be their title to independence; and by this title, there can be no doubt that the population now fast streaming down upon California will both assert and maintain that independence. Whether they will then attach themselves to our Union or not, is not to be predicted with any certainty.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What reason does O’Sullivan give for annexing Texas?
  2. Who has thwarted U.S. expansion? Who is in favor of it?
  3. Why does the author predict that California would leave Mexico next?
  4. What was working in favor of California’s secession from Mexico as the author wrote this essay?
  5. Why would California become independent, according to this line of reasoning?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. The author stated, “Whether they [California] will then attach themselves to our Union or not, is not to be predicted with any certainty”. Do you believe the author actually has any doubt about California’s future course? Why or why not?
  2. This essay makes no mention of enslaved African Americans or American Indians. Why might the author have left these groups out of his argument?
  3. Compare O’Sullivan’s reasons for California receiving independence with Thomas Paine’s arguments for the British colonists to declare independence in Common Sense, as you learned in the Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776 Primary Source.

John O’Sullivan: Annexation (1845)

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