Like many who are unaware of the legal and political history of the Hawaiian Kingdom, many are unaware of the legal and political history of the State of Texas. While there are parallels to the Crimean and the Hawaiian situation, there are also important distinctions. Under international law, annexation is a unilateral act by an independent State, and a treaty of cession is a bilateral act between independent States. As a unilateral act, annexation is illegal under international law.
The Republic of Texas was established during the Mexican Revolution but it doesn’t mean the revolution was successful and that the Republic became an independent State. The revolution began on October 2, 1835, that included other provinces rebelling against the regime of President Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Republic of Texas was comprised of United States citizens and Tejanos (Hispanic Texans) who declared their independence on March 2, 1836. Four days later was the famed Battle of the Alamo. Although the Republic of Texas declared their independence their act was treasonous under Mexican law. It was still a part of Mexican territory, and the Republic was fighting Mexican troops through the 1840s. There was no treaty of peace whereby Mexico acknowledged the Republic of Texas as an independent State, and, therefore the revolution continued.
This was a different situation for the United States and when the thirteen colonies declared their independence on July 4, 1776. This act was a treasonous act under British law that triggered the American revolution. It did not transform the thirteen colonies into thirteen independent States. Like the Mexican revolution, battles were fought for seven years until there was a treaty of peace entered into between representatives of King George III and the representatives of the thirteen colonies calling themselves the United States under the Articles of Confederation. The treaty of peace was called the Treaty of Paris and it was signed on September 3, 1783. The treaty specifically acknowledged the former thirteen British colonies as independent States and Article 2 provided the boundaries of the new independent States. Article 1 stated:
His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States; that he treats with them as such, and for himself his Heirs & Successors, relinquishes all claims to the Government, Propriety, and Territorial Rights of the same and every Part thereof.
Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris regarding the boundaries states:
And that all Disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the Boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their Boundaries, viz.; from the Northwest Angle of Nova Scotia, viz., that Angle which is formed by a Line drawn due North from the Source of St. Croix River to the Highlands; along the said Highlands which divide those Rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost Head of Connecticut River; Thence down along the middle of that River to the forty-fifth Degree of North Latitude; From thence by a Line due West on said Latitude until it strikes the River Iroquois or Cataraquy; Thence along the middle of said River into Lake Ontario; through the Middle of said Lake until it strikes the Communication by Water between that Lake & Lake Erie; Thence along the middle of said Communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said Lake until it arrives at the Water Communication between that lake & Lake Huron; Thence along the middle of said Water Communication into the Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said Lake to the Water Communication between that Lake and Lake Superior; thence through Lake Superior Northward of the Isles Royal & Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; Thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the Water Communication between it & the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; Thence through the said Lake to the most Northwestern Point thereof, and from thence on a due West Course to the river Mississippi; Thence by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the Northernmost Part of the thirty-first Degree of North Latitude, South, by a Line to be drawn due East from the Determination of the Line last mentioned in the Latitude of thirty-one Degrees of the Equator to the middle of the River Apalachicola or Catahouche; Thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River; Thence straight to the Head of Saint Mary’s River, and thence down along the middle of Saint Mary’s River to the Atlantic Ocean. East, by a Line to be drawn along the Middle of the river Saint Croix, from its Mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its Source, and from its Source directly North to the aforesaid Highlands, which divide the Rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river Saint Lawrence; comprehending all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, and lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one Part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.
Instead of a treaty whereby Mexico explicitly recognized the Republic of Texas as an independent State by a successful revolution and provided the boundaries of the new State, the Republic sought recognition from foreign States to include the United States in an attempt to circumvent the sovereign rights of Mexico and its territorial integrity. In March of 1837, the United States recognized the Republic of Texas but failed to annex the Republic by a treaty of cession. In 1840, Great Britain entered into a treaty with the Republic for trade purposes but did not recognize it as an independent State because it was still Mexican territory.
On March 1, 1845, the United States Congress enacted a Joint Resolution for annexing Texas to the United States. It stated that “Congress doth consent that the territory properly included within and rightfully belonging to the Republic of Texas may be erected into a new State, to be called the State of Texas, with a republican form of government, to be adopted by the people of said Republic, by deputies in convention assembled, with the consent of the existing government, in order that the same may be admitted as of the States of this Union.”
At issue, and was always the issue, were the boundaries of the Republic of Texas. A treaty of peace would have settled the boundaries, like the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but without a treaty the Republic of Texas had no formal boundaries. This was acknowledged in the joint resolution that stated “Said State to be formed, subject to the adjustment by this Government of all questions of boundary that may arise with other Governments.” That other government was Mexico.
This unilateral act, under international law, was the United States intervention in the internal affairs of Mexico, which is violation of international law, and triggered the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. In the 1848 Peace Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war, the new border between the United States and Mexico began from the Gulf of Mexico along the Rio Grande river, which is the southern border of the State of Texas, then by a surveyed boundary line that runs along the southern borders of what are now States of New Mexico, Arizona and California. Article V of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo states:
The boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande, otherwise called Rio Bravo del Norte, or Opposite the mouth of its deepest branch, if it should have more than one branch emptying directly into the sea; from thence up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel, where it has more than one, to the point where it strikes the southern boundary of New Mexico; thence, westwardly, along the whole southern boundary of New Mexico (which runs north of the town called Paso) to its western termination; thence, northward, along the western line of New Mexico, until it intersects the first branch of the river Gila; (or if it should not intersect any branch of that river, then to the point on the said line nearest to such branch, and thence in a direct line to the same); thence down the middle of the said branch and of the said river, until it empties into the Rio Colorado; thence across the Rio Colorado, following the division line between Upper and Lower California, to the Pacific Ocean.
If Texas was annexed in 1845, then the boundary would not have begun from the Gulf of Mexico, but rather from the surveyed boundary line that would have begun from the mid-southern border of what is now the State of New Mexico, which is adjacent to the city of El Paso, Texas. From El Paso, the Rio Grande river goes north into the State of New Mexico. Texas had no territorial boundaries until Mexico ceded its territory north of the Rio Grande in 1848 and not in 1845.
The United States tends to view things retroactively. As an example, although the United States achieved its recognition from Great Britain in 1783, its history books say it achieved independence in 1776 when it declared it. Likewise, instead of the history books stating that Texas territory was acquired in 1848, it says Texas was annexed in 1845. Texas was never annexed in 1845 but rather acquired from Mexico in 1848.
In 1988, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) published a legal opinion regarding the annexation of Hawai‘i. The OLC’s memorandum opinion was written for the Legal Advisor for the Department of State regarding legal issues raised by the proposed Presidential proclamation to extend the territorial sea from a three-mile limit to twelve miles. The OLC concluded that only the President and not the Congress possesses “the constitutional authority to assert either sovereignty over an extended territorial sea or jurisdiction over it under international law on behalf of the United States.” As Justice Marshall stated, “[t]he President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations,” and not the Congress.
The OLC also stated, “we doubt that Congress has constitutional authority to assert either sovereignty over an extended territorial sea or jurisdiction over it under international law on behalf of the United States.” The OLC then concluded that it is “unclear which constitutional power Congress exercised when it acquired Hawaii by joint resolution. Accordingly, it is doubtful that the acquisition of Hawaii can serve as an appropriate precedent for a congressional assertion of sovereignty over an extended territorial sea.”
That territorial sea referred to by the OLC was to be extended from three to twelve miles under the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention. In other words, the Congress could not extend the territorial sea an additional nine miles by statute because its authority was limited up to the three-mile limit. Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court, in The Apollon, concluded that the “laws of no nation can justly extend beyond its own territories.”
Arriving at this conclusion, the OLC cited constitutional scholar Professor Willoughby, “The constitutionality of the annexation of Hawaii, by a simple legislative act, was strenuously contested at the time both in Congress and by the press. The right to annex by treaty was not denied, but it was denied that this might be done by a simple legislative act. …Only by means of treaties, it was asserted, can the relations between States be governed, for a legislative act is necessarily without extraterritorial force—confined in its operation to the territory of the State by whose legislature enacted it.” Professor Willoughby also stated, “The incorporation of one sovereign State, such as was Hawaii prior to annexation, in the territory of another, is…essentially a matter falling within the domain of international relations, and, therefore, beyond the reach of legislative acts.”
Like Crimea there is no treaty of cession whereby Ukraine ceded Crimea to Russia with its boundaries, and like Hawai‘i there is no treaty of cession whereby the Hawaiian Kingdom ceded the Hawaiian Islands to the United States with its boundaries. The question is who is the independent State with its rights under international law, and not an entity that has yet to achieve independence under international law.