Debating slavery by proxy

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After having been kept off the agenda of mainstream politics for 25 years, the issue of slavery’s possible expansion took center stage in the mid-1840s because it was mixed together with the proposed annexation of Texas. Debate on the proposed annexation treaty of 1844 was characterized by discussion of other issues that served as proxies for the question of slavery, which many politicians wished to avoid. After the treaty was defeated and President John Tyler urged Congress to annex Texas by joint resolution, the debate revealed much more openness to the discussion of slavery both as a reason for and a reason against annexation. These subtle but significant shifts reflected a changed understanding of what the slavery question was, and they put the nation on the path that led to civil war.


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