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Opportunities and Risks in the Southwest
Digital History ID 235

Author:   William Shaler


Decades before the phrase "Manifest Destiny" was coined, James Madison harbored ambitions for westward expansion. In 1811, the Southwestern frontier was in a state of ferment. The collapse of the Spanish government after Napoleon's invasion opened the door to revolution in Mexico. The United States took advantage of Spanish weakness by seizing West Florida in 1811.

In 1812 and 1813, Madison secretly had William Shaler (1778-1833), a trader, support efforts by Mexicans and Americans to overthrow the Spanish government in Texas. The briefly established Texas Republic collapsed in August 1813. Shaler was engaged in the China trade in the 1790s; traded furs on the Northwest Coast at the turn of the century; and lived in Hawaii in 1803 and 1804. After serving as a U.S. special agent in Havana, Shaler actively supported attempts by both Mexicans and Americans to overthrow the Spanish government in Texas. He later served as a peace negotiator during the War of 1812.

Shaler served as Madison's eyes and ears on the Southwestern frontier. In the following extracts from his letters, he reports on the opportunities and risks facing the United States in the Southwest.


Letter 50 to James Monroe, May 2, 1812:

I understand that they are persons of respectable character and fortune in Upper Louisiana, who had gone into New Mexico with a view of opening a trade with that country...they report the province to be almost defenseless, and the disposition to insurrection to be universal...the practicality of such a scheme is the general topic of conversation.

Letter 64 to James Monroe, October 5, 1812:

[American influence is] growing into an irresistible torrent that will sweep the crazy remains of the Spanish government from the Internal Provinces, and open Mexico to the political influence of the U.S. and to the talents and enterprize of our citizens...."

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Shaler to James Monroe

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