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October 22, 1836: Sam Houston-First President of the Republic of Texas

“Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming….Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet….You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence…but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction…they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South. “

Sam Houston, 1861

 

One hundred and seventy-nine years ago Sam Houston was inaugurated as the first President of the Republic of Texas.  This was only one of many roles Houston assumed during his tempestuous life: husband, father, soldier, lawyer,  Congressman from Tennessee, Governor of Tennessee, drunk, adopted Cherokee, Major General of the Texas Army, President of the Republic of Texas, Texas Representative, Senator from Texas, but perhaps his greatest role was at the end as Governor of Texas in 1859-1861.  As secession fever built in Texas at the end of 1860 he stumped the state vigorously, although he knew it was hopeless, arguing against secession which he viewed as an unmitigated disaster for Texas and the nation.

“To secede from the Union and set up another government would cause war. If you go to war with the United States, you will never conquer her, as she has the money and the men. If she does not whip you by guns, powder, and steel, she will starve you to death. It will take the flower of the country-the young men.”

“I declare that civil war is inevitable and is near at hand. When it comes the descendants of the heros of Lexington and Bunker Hill will be found equal in patriotism, courage and heroic endurance with the descendants of the heroes of Cowpens and Yorktown. For this reason I predict the civil war which is now at hand will be stubborn and of long duration.”

All his arguments were in vain.  When called upon to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy he refused:

“In the name of the constitution of Texas, which has been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her.”

He was deposed from office on March 15, 1861.  Houston died on July 26, 1863, with his wife Margaret by his side.  He had never ceased to bemoan the Civil War raging throughout the nation.  His last words were “Texas! Texas! Margaret.”

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

22 Comments

  1. Houston seems to be one of the few leaders on either side who foresaw what the true cost of the war would be. Some Southern leaders offered to wipe up all the blood resulting from secession with their handkerchief and even Lincoln initially only called up 75,000 militia for 90 days.
    I wonder how different things would be if leaders on both sides if they had been given a vision of the carnage to come?

  2. Wasn’t one motive in setting up the Republic of Texas the extension of slavery? RE Lee I believe didn’t see the good of secession either. Kindly enlighten this ignorant Garden State Yankee.

  3. Lee indeed, like most Virginians, did not support secession over the election of Lincoln and the threat it posed to slavery.

    Only after Lincoln called upon states to contribute troops to an invasion of the south did Virginia secede.

    Houston was prescient, of course… but no great movement comes without cost; recall that the sober thinking about the war for Independence from Britain was rightly thought to be a disastrous undertaking given the vast resources and military superiority of the Brits. And yet we fought.

    So with the South, and the issue was a close one for several years. For the Confederacy, the cost for their freedom in the “second war for independence” was worth the cost. That they did not succeed is not a valid argument against their endeavor.

  4. “Houston seems to be one of the few leaders on either side who foresaw what the true cost of the war would be.”

    Both Lincoln and Davis swiftly saw how long and bloody the War was going to be. Lincoln initially called only for 75,000 volunteers because the chaotic systems that prevailed North and South at the beginning of the War had a great deal of difficulty feeding and equipping new troops.

  5. Tom wrote:
    “For the Confederacy, the cost for their freedom in the “second war for independence” was worth the cost.”

    Freedom to do what?

  6. Freedom to order their states (i.e., their societies) on whatever basis they chose, something they perceived, rightly, that the North was increasingly hostile to. The freedom to be left alone, which was becoming increasingly difficult, and with accession of the radical Republicans, promised to become even more difficult.

    Whose business is it, anyway, what object their freedom had? There’s no authority in the constitution for the federal government or any gathering of states to obstruct the activities of a sister state unless it directly conflicts with an express provision of the constitution.

  7. Much like now, if several states could gather a moral majority against abortion or homosexual marriage, it would not give them any right to interfere with those evil practices in states that adopt them.

  8. Tom wrote-
    “Freedom to order their states (i.e., their societies) on whatever basis they chose, something they perceived, rightly, that the North was increasingly hostile to. The freedom to be left alone”
    Freedom of whom to do these things? Mississippi (my home state) and South Carolina had majority black populations. So certainly not for black people to “order their states on whatever basis they chose” or black people’s “freedom to be left alone”.
    I believe in and have defended federalism, “states rights properly understood” as a bulwark against unbridled centralized authority, seen today in the government in Washington D.C. dictating to the states against the will of a majority of their people. I think the biggest blow against real states rights was not the confederacy’s loss of the Civil War, but the 17th amendment.
    Why do states exist as political entities, other than to ensure the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” of it’s people? And what if a state says to (some or even a majority of) it’s people “you are a lesser form of humanity, so the greater form of humanity in our society can abrogate your rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” ?
    Perhaps I misunderstand you Tom, but you seem be saying: “The Confederate states existed for the white people who could vote, and I’m alright with that.”

  9. Blacks could not vote in the North, either. Even during Reconstruction, many Northerners and Republicans resisted the black franchise and political equality. We don’t hear about all the civil disabilities against blacks in the North because slavery in the South was relatively worse than what blacks faced in the North.

    And yet, states’ rights are still a bedrock principle. Again, whatever one thinks of the morality of slavery, it’s irrelevant to the question of the right of a state to order its own affairs without interference from other states, group of states, or the federal government.

    You won’t get me to say that slavery is OK, it’s not, but just because I don’t agree with a practice does not mean that I think any means can be taken to eradicate it.

    In the universal practice among all the states of the day, freedom to direct a states’ activities necessarily referred to those admitted to civic life. By the way, it was not only blacks who were excluded from civil life, many poor whites were also.

    Bottom line: moral outrage cannot be allowed to trump the constitution, as Lincoln and the radical Republicans did in ostensibly making slavery the casus belli in 1862. Lincoln himself knew at the beginning of the war that extirpation of slavery was not a legitimate constitutional aim of the war, which he initially claimed was all about maintaining the “Union.”

  10. Technically, Houston was the first popularly-elected president of Texas. The first man to serve as President of Texas was David Burnet, elected to the position on March 22, 1836 by the delegates to the Convention of 1836 in Washington-on-the-Brazos. Burnet’s service, and those of the Cabinet elected with him, were always intended to be interim appointments until such time as popular elections could be organized, which was done in October of that year and resulted in the election of Houston as president.

  11. “Blacks could not vote in the North, either.”

    Untrue. Blacks did have the franchise in some states including New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire prior to the Civil War.

  12. Tom wrote-
    “Blacks could not vote in the North, either. Even during Reconstruction, many Northerners and Republicans resisted the black franchise and political equality. We don’t hear about all the civil disabilities against blacks in the North because slavery in the South was relatively worse than what blacks faced in the North.”
    Actually free blacks could vote after the Revolution in Mass., New Hampshire, NY, and Pennsylvania. and had been able to vote at other times in other states. Justice McLean called out Chief Justice Taney for ignoring this fact in the Dred Scott decision. Historically, its true that blacks weren’t fully able to exercise their inalienable rights or enjoy full political equality in the north before the civil war. But being free of having one’s children sold away from their mother and father, being able to legally remove oneself from intolerable and abusive conditions, not being treated as little more than a beast of burden, and eating the bread you earn without leave of anyone is NOT just “relatively” better and failure to see that indicates, at the very least, a lack of empathy.
    Tom wrote
    “And yet, states’ rights are still a bedrock principle.”
    No Tom, individual liberty under law is the bedrock principle. The Declaration is our “why” the Constitution is our “how”. Our Declaration recognizes (and only recognizes–not gives) the God-given rights “Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”. The constitution begins with “We the People”, not “We the States”. The ends are securing the “inalienable rights” and the “blessings of liberty”. Governments of any sort exist to secure these ends. Can you really believe states rights, as practiced by the confederate states were NOT destructive of those ends?!
    Tom wrote
    “whatever one thinks of the morality of slavery, it’s irrelevant to the question of the right of a state to order its own affairs without interference from other states, group of states, or the federal government.”
    What about the inalienable rights of blacks to “order their own affairs”? I think, with Jefferson, that any government, to the extent it is complicit in abrogating the rights of it’s citizens (and blacks were born in the south and fought in it’s wars against the British and Indians, so yes they were citizens even if the white politicians who ran the south didn’t recognize that fact) makes itself illegitimate. So blacks had the legitimate natural right to rebel, more of a right to rebel than the white confederates. And so if the northern states assisted them in this rebellion, even if they didn’t call it that at first or even realize it, they were right to help their black neighbors, which IS a bedrock principle of Christianity. They DID better than they KNEW!
    Tom wrote-
    ” just because I don’t agree with a practice does not mean that I think any means can be taken to eradicate it.”
    What means do you think would have been the rights ones to eradicate slavery? What if slave owners had resisted those means? Our Revolution in the late 1700s was justified by the facts that the British governments, by jailing colonial citizens without trial, disregarding efforts of local governments arbitrarily, quartering soldiers in citizens homes, etc was reducing British colonial citizens to little more than slavery.

  13. The Declaration is not law, the Constitution is. Much mischief has been done appealing to the Declaration instead of sticking to the Constitution.

    As I stated, I will not accept the invitation to defend slavery, but note that blacks suffered in the North as well. As a constitutional practice, like it or not, no state, states, or the federal government had any authority to interfere with the right of a state to permit slavery.

    As for the alternative to bloody civil war which killed well over 600,000 men and altered forever the original system of federalism as envisioned by the Founding Fathers? Well, the tide of history and economic necessity would eventually have made slavery cost prohibitive, and compensated gradual emancipation worked elsewhere in the world. And while standing corrected on black suffrage in some parts of the North, I would point out that this process was gradual, not done overnight or by means of violence. And it bears repeating that the vast majority of Southerners, including the soldiers who fought for their independence, had nothing to do with slavery, which was an institution mostly reserved to an aristocratic elite.

    I don’t know– how do we end abortion or homosexual marriage, the former of which has done more damage to more lives than slavery ever did? That some moral evils are or appear to be intractable does not justify throwing away constitutional government or initiating bloody civil war. I wouldn’t do it to eradicate abortion, and Lincoln was wrong to do it to eradicate slavery. Of course, the dirty little not-so-secret is that Lincoln didn’t give a damn about eradicating slavery when he launched the war, he simply seized on the issue to shore up shaky Northern support for the war and as a virtue-signal to England to keep them out of the war.

  14. If the South had seceded to defend porn or some obscenity *other* than slavery, I wonder if Christian neo-confederate apologists would spill the same amount of ink in her defense?

  15. Well, Dale, I’ve already said that if we could wage a civil war to rid ourselves of abortion, I would not do it if it meant violating the constitution. It’s cute how for neo-Unionists any discussion of secession and the constitution quickly devolves to “but slavery!”

    In other words, your insinuation that “neo-confederates” support slavery is, like the neologism “neo-confederate,” a cheap ad hominem.

  16. “Whose business is it, anyway, what object their freedom had?”

    So, if you lived in one, you’d defend the right of your State to secede to protect modern peculiar institutions like porn, abortion or birth control mandates?

  17. Tom wrote:
    “The Declaration is not law, the Constitution is. Much mischief has been done appealing to the Declaration instead of sticking to the Constitution”
    The United States Code Annotated includes the Declaration of Independence under the heading ‘The Organic Laws of the United States of America’ along with the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance. Enabling acts frequently require states to adhere to the principles of the Declaration. It is true that southern political philosophers such as Calhoun and Alexander Stephens had little use for the Declaration, and frequently attacked the principle contained in it, because they did not agree with it’s statements on human equality.
    Tom wrote:
    “no state, states, or the federal government had any authority to interfere with the right of a state to permit slavery.”
    The Northwest Ordinance set the precedence by forbidding slavery in the Northwest Territory.
    Tom wrote:
    “As for the alternative to bloody civil war which killed well over 600,000 men and altered forever the original system of federalism as envisioned by the Founding Fathers?”
    We can agree to disagree about whether the civil war altered the system of federalism. I don’t believe it did, other than to definitively determine that state do not have the right to leave the union other than by the same way they entered the union, by majority vote of congress.
    Tom wrote:
    ” the tide of history and economic necessity would eventually have made slavery cost prohibitive, and compensated gradual emancipation worked elsewhere in the world.”
    Slavery was different in the south. Slave owners were beginning to make money from nascent industrializtion. Fully 1/2 of Tradegar Iron Works 900 man workforce was leased slaves. And Lincoln tried to institute conpensated emancipation in Delaware and EVERY slaveholder rejected it.
    Tom wrote:
    ” the vast majority of Southerners, including the soldiers who fought for their independence, had nothing to do with slavery, which was an institution mostly reserved to an aristocratic elite.”
    Recent studies show that while young confederate soldiers may not have owned any slaves themselves, they were from families who did. Adding those who owned slaves directly with those whose lived with their slaveowning families before becoming soldiers, and the percentage rises to 36%.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/small-truth-papering-over-a-big-lie/61136/
    Tom wrote:
    “That some moral evils are or appear to be intractable does not justify throwing away constitutional government or initiating bloody civil war. I wouldn’t do it to eradicate abortion, and Lincoln was wrong to do it to eradicate slavery.”
    Thought experiment- In 2018, President Cruz appoints and a republican senate approves two conservative supreme court justices replacing Breyer and Ginsburg, and they reverse Roe V. Wade. California secedes from the union, and orders the U.S. government to vacate Vandenburg AFB and San Deigo Naval Base or they will be fired on by the Ca National Guard. Do you believe the U.S. military is wrong to defend the bases?
    Tom wrote:
    ” dirty little not-so-secret is that Lincoln didn’t give a damn about eradicating slavery when he launched the war”
    I think slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, “Speech at Cincinnati, Ohio” (September 17, 1859), p. 440.
    Those don’t sound like the words of a man who “doesn’t give a damn”. And Lincoln didn’t launch the war. The confederates, led by PGT Beauregard, fired on Fort Sumter first.

  18. I think, with Jefferson, that any government, to the extent it is complicit in abrogating the rights of it’s citizens (and blacks were born in the south and fought in it’s wars against the British and Indians, so yes they were citizens even if the white politicians who ran the south didn’t recognize that fact) makes itself illegitimate.

    I agree. And any state (or federation of states) that permits abortion is likewise illegitimate. Which goes to show that the current crop of Americans simply don’t have the cajones to do what their civil war era (technically, a war of secession, which is slightly different) counterparts did – fight against something they allegedly believe is an abomination.

  19. Well c matt, I believe in the rule of law, whether I agree with what’s being enacted or not. And under Jefferson’s rule as interpreted by you, all the Northern states should have faced rebellion as well, since all had to some degree or other, denied black civil rights. Alexis de Tocqueville described the situation of free blacks:

    In almost all the states where slavery has been abolished, voting rights have been granted to the Negro, but, if he comes forward to vote, he risks his life. He is able to complain of oppression but he will find only whites among the judges. Although the law makes him eligible for jury service, prejudice wards him off from applying. His son is excluded from the school where the sons of Europeans come to be educated. At the theatre, any amount of gold could not buy him the right to take his seat beside his former master; in hospitals, he lies apart. The black is allowed to pray to the same God as the whites but not at the same altars. He has his own priests and churches. Heaven’s gates are not blocked against him. However, inequality hardly stops at the threshold of the next world. When the Negro passes on, his bones are cast aside and the differences in social conditions are found even in the leveling of death. Thus, the Negro is free but is able to share neither the rights, pleasures, work, pains, nor even the grave with the man to whom he has been declared equal…

    And what of the Indians, utterly oppressed by the federal government? Point being, there is plenty of oppression to go around, not all of it in the South, simplistic portrayals notwithstanding.

    And if California wanted to secede as suggested by BPS, I’d say “great, and take Washington state and probably Oregon with you if you don’t mind!”

    All the moralism about slavery and the status of blacks does not in the slightest alter the constitutional reality that the Southern states had the right to secede to protect their interests, however they themselves saw them, and as I said, even LIncoln (who did indeed personally disapprove of slavery) knew that he had no authority to use force to abolish slavery, and only went to war to vindicate his view that the Union must maintained even if a bunch of states wanted nothing to do with it.

  20. “does not in the slightest alter the constitutional reality that the Southern states had the right to secede to protect their interests,”

    They had no such right since the right to secession was not granted by the Constitution and they had no pre-existing right to secede from the Union. As the Father of the Constitution, James Madison noted at length late in his life:

    TO N. P. TRIST. … MAD. MSS.

    Montpellier, Decr 23, 1832.

    Dr. Sir I have received yours of the 19th, inclosing some of the South Carolina papers. There are in one of them some interesting views of the doctrine of secession; one that had occurred to me, and which for the first time I have seen in print; namely that if one State can at will withdraw from the others, the others can at will withdraw from her, and turn her, nolentem, volentem, out of the union. Until of late, there is not a State that would have abhorred such a doctrine more than South Carolina, or more dreaded an application of it to herself. The same may be said of the doctrine of nullification, which she now preaches as the only faith by which the Union can be saved.

    I partake of the wonder that the men you name should view secession in the light mentioned. The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater fight to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of –98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in confounding a single party, with the parties to the Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural number, States, is in every instance used where reference is made to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia is the word respective, prefixed to the “rights” &c to be secured within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c, should unite in contending for the security of them to each.

    It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr. Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol. 2,1 with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force; and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion; and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.

    I know nothing of what is passing at Richmond, more than what is seen in the newspapers. You were right in your foresight of the effect of the passages in the late Proclamation. They have proved a leaven for much fermentation there, and created an alarm against the danger of consolidation, balancing that of disunion. I wish with you the Legislature may not seriously injure itself by assuming the high character of mediator. They will certainly do so if they forget that their real influence will be in the inverse ratio of a boastful interposition of it.

    If you can fix, and will name the day of your arrival at Orange Court House, we will have a horse there for you; and if you have more baggage than can be otherwise brought than on wheels, we will send such a vehicle for it. Such is the state of the roads produced by the wagons hurrying flour to market, that it may be impossible to send our carriage which would answer both purposes.

  21. cmatt wrote:
    “any state (or federation of states) that permits abortion is likewise illegitimate.”
    I agree!
    cmatt wrote:
    “the current crop of Americans simply don’t have the cajones to do what their civil war era (technically, a war of secession, which is slightly different) counterparts did – fight against something they allegedly believe is an abomination.”
    But I disagree with that in the current situation, because you don’t “resort to bullets when you have the resort of the ballot.” Unless we are fired upon like the British did their colonial citizens or the confederates on their fellow citizens at Ft. Sumter, and as long as we have the right to try and convince our fellow citizens by persuasion and argument to change this illegitimate government to a legitimate one, we must not resort to war.

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