Correspondence Between Anthony Butler and President Andrew Jackson

By what means was Anthony Butler planning to influence the Mexican government? What was the goal of Butler’s influence campaign? Butler remained in Mexico for close to six years. Why do you think his mission failed?
What are the costs to America’s reputation, both at home and abroad, when actions like Butler’s are revealed? If the British were interfering in Mexico, was this an appropriate response on the part of the U.S. government? The Monroe Doctrine warned European powers to not meddle in the Americas. Considering that warning, were Jackson and Butler merely implementing the doctrine’s principles? (See Establishment of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, Federalist 64, First Annual Message to Congress, Farewell Address, President James Madison to Secretary of State Robert Smith, Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, Annual Message The Monroe Doctrine, Selected Dispatches, Hon. Francis O. J. Smith to Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Special Message to the House of Representatives, Ambassador Henry Shelton Sanford to Secretary of State William Seward, Totten, Administrator, v. United States, The Acquisition of Hawaii.)

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President Andrew Jackson believed that the acquisition of Texas was “necessary for the security of the great emporium of the West,” New Orleans, and that the “God of the Universe had intended this great [Mississippi] valley to belong to one nation,” the United States. Jackson’s envoy to Mexico, Anthony Butler, described the acquisition of Texas to President Martin Van Buren as “the object so interesting to our government.”

Anthony Butler replaced Joel Poinsett after the Mexican government demanded Poinsett’s recall for his extensive meddling in internal Mexican affairs. But Butler was cut from the same cloth as Poinsett, and he intensified American efforts to persuade Mexico to cede the Texas territory to the United States. Both Joel Poinsett and Anthony Butler were convinced that British agents had bought the loyalty of Mexican officials, and Butler was determined to use the same tactics to sway them to the American side.

Throughout the time Butler represented the United States in Mexico (1829–35) he kept the president abreast of the techniques he employed, much to Jackson’s distress. Yet Jackson seems to have been less concerned about the use of bribery than the fact that Butler wrote openly about the tactic and seemed to lack any sense of discretion. By not sending his dispatches in code, Butler was undermining Jackson’s prospect of invoking “plausible deniability” (denying any authorization for or awareness of the activities of a supposedly “rogue” agent should he be discovered) with his frank updates of his tactics.

At one point Butler informed the president that of a $5 million government appropriation he had been given to acquire Texas, he expected to use $1 million to “purchase” various Mexican officials. Jackson and some of his sympathetic biographers later claimed that he disapproved of Butler’s bribery schemes, but the fact that Jackson left Butler in place for six years, all the while keeping Jackson and his various secretaries of state fully apprised of his tactics, makes that claim difficult to accept.

Before Butler set off for Mexico in 1829, President Jackson spoke bluntly with his new envoy, observing, “I scarcely ever knew a Spaniard who was not the slave of avarice, and it is not improbable that this weakness may be worth a great deal to us, in this case.” Jackson’s instructions sometimes included instructions to “burn” this letter. The tactics utilized by Joel Poinsett and Anthony Butler, and of course the Mexican War, led to resentment in Mexico that persists to this day and led to criticism in the United States from those who believed the use of bribery and bullying an affront to American ideals.

—Stephen F. Knott

Anthony Butler to Andrew Jackson, January 2, 1833, Library of Congress, https://
; Andrew Jackson to Anthony Butler, October 30, 1833, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, vol. 5, ed. John Spencer Bassett (Washington, DC, 1931), 221–22.

Anthony Butler to Andrew Jackson, January 2, 1833

. . .I have one road however by which I hope to reach him [the president of Mexico] and vanquish his scruples, should they [be] as it is said they formerly were, and I have besides the very man provided to do the underworking with him. . . .I may meet with difficulties and great ones. . .[b]ut I will succeed in uniting T[exas]—to our country before I am done with the subject or I will forfeit my head. I know them all well and I know how to manage them. . . .

Andrew Jackson to Anthony Butler, October 30, 1833

. . .The statement made of my intimacy with Houston is not true.1 The very opposite would have been nearer the fact, for we have had, ever since the intimation of his being regarded as unfriendly to the existing government of Mexico, a secret agent watching his movements and prepared to thwart any attempt to organize within the United States a military force to aid in the revolution of Texas. Genl Houston I am informed is connected with the New York company who you are apprised have obtained a large nominal [land] grant in Texas. In your negotiation on the subject of the boundary you must keep within your instructions, and within the limits of the five millions as the consideration money for the purchase of the country east of the Grand Prairie. By your instructions you are at liberty to apply as much of the five millions as will liquidate all claims within the territory. . . .
Be careful therefore on this point to throw upon the government of Mexico the extinguishment of all titles. . . diminishing as far as you may think it safe and proper for this object, all that will remain of the five millions to be applied generally as the consideration for the cession. Provided you keep within your instructions and obtain the cession it is not for your consideration whether the government of Mexico applies the money to the purchase of men or to pay their public debt. It is not for you to inquire how they will apply the consideration for the cession which we shall pay—all we want is a good and unencumbered cession of territory that will give us a good and permanent boundary. I pray you my dear sir, to close this negotiation soon— four years has nearly elapsed since it commenced and our boundary remains unadjusted. . . .

  1. 1. Sam Houston (1793–1863) was a leader of the Texas independence movement.
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