Storm over Texas is a historical novel, written by Joel Silbey, that highlights the issues that came with the annexation of Texas into the United States. One of the key themes of the book is the transition Americans had to make from a partisan to sectional party and how it foreshadowed the crisis of succession and war. As Silbey ends his book with, “Texas annexation turned out to be another sudden, resounding fire bell in the night, one that rang longer and louder, and ultimately with more effect, than any that had preceded it” (181), he sums up perfectly how the Annexation of Texas left the United States, not so united.
Joel Silbey’s qualifications are adequate. He was an educated man, having earned a degree from San Francisco State University and taught in numerous universities like the University of Maryland and Oxford University. Through his writings of Political Ideology and Voting Behavior in the Age of Jackson and The Rise and Fall of Political Parties in the United States, it is quite obvious that he is knowledgeable on all things Jacksonian. However, when writing this book, he should have become more aware of early Texas history and give credit to those who deserved it. I also find it completely disrespectful that he misprinted the last president of the Texas Republic’s, Anson Jones, name in the print (91).
However, Silbey’s analysis of the nation transitioning to a sectionalism was great. With the creation of the Free Soil Party in 1848, sectional differences were changing into confrontation. Free Soilers did not like the Wilmot Proviso as it stated that none of the territory gained from the Mexican Cession could be used at slavery territory. Although the Wilmot Proviso never passed, it articulated the goals of the Soilers: slavery should be kept in the South and not expand. Silbey made his readers aware that sectionalism did not last for long. Alongside the history, Silbey describes in detail the mentality of political leaders throughout several key historical moments from the Tyler and Polk administrations to the rise of slavery. Silbey’s special attention to the political disruption caused by the annexation of Texas brings light to not only the events that occurred but the overarching effects they had on the aftermath of the Jacksonian party system.
One of the things I didn’t like about the book was that it did not focus on the political faces who were involved in the annexation of Texas like Sam Houston. When learning about Texas history, especially it’s annexation, Sam Houston is glorified like no other, however in Silbey’s book, it was mentioned merely twice, described as “former governor of Tennessee, hero of the Texas Revolution against Mexico, and now the republic’s president” (8). I also feel that slavery was a large basis of the book. Silbey focuses so much into it, to a point where it seems like that was the only thing that caused the Civil War to occur. I agree that it created a tear in the nation as the North wanted it abolished but the Southerners called it a way of life, as he described it “when Pennsylvania Democrat David Wilmot introduced… prohibiting slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico, nearly all northern Democrats plus northern Whigs in the House voted for it while all southern congressmen voted against it,” (xii) but I do not believe it was the sole reason. With that being said, Silbey does a great job explaining how vital a role slavery played and how some politicians switched from the northern side to new parties like the Free Soilers. He cites Lincoln’s House Divided speech to explain that the way northerners saw the southerners was through the Slave Power Conspiracy.
In conclusion, Silbey states that “the surge of section anger associated with the Texas controversy crystallized, focused, and structured and then anchored what has previously been inchoate and ephemeral” (180), stating his agreement that all the events were bound to happen that led up to the Civil War.