Around 11:00 am, one hundred and fifty years ago today, the Texas Secession Convention voted 166 to 8 to leave the Union and join the Confederacy.
That’s a long time ago, all but ancient history to modern Americans, especially since we know how it all turned out. Let me ask you, however, if you can remember the election of 2010? Can you? It’s only been thirteen weeks since the GOP took control of the House of Representatives, causing many pundits to consider Obama’s days of importance numbered. And, yet, in this baker’s dozen of weeks, the tides have turned, haven’t they? Obama and the GOP reached some compromises, the tragic shootings in Tuscon have shocked us all, and now events in Africa have us riveted to our TV screens. My, how things have changed.
I bring up these events not for any modern political reason but to give you a sense of the passage of time since the election of 2010 and today, the anniversary of Texas claiming its sixth flag. Things can change on a dime here in the 21st Century. Not so much in the Nineteenth. By 1 February 1861, six states--all in the deep South--had left the Union (or entered a state of rebellion if you lived in Chicago). The secession crisis of 1860 had become the crisis of 1861, the southern states falling like dominoes. For all Americans in 1861, there seemed only one, inevitable result: war.
I’m not sure how my state is going to celebrate the vote today. It was, after all, just a vote. Union sympathizer Governor Sam Houston did all in his power to slow the proceedings or get the Texas Legislature to declare the secession convention illegal. The Legislature acted...by allowing the convention to use the House chambers to meet.
Houston did manage, however, to get the convention to put the question of secession to a public vote. The people of Texas responded on 23 February: 46,129 to 14,697. With renewed vigor, the convention reassembled and we finally got an event. Here is a passage from my Master’s Thesis on the Fourteenth Texas Infantry of the Civil War.
“The Texas secession convention required that all state officials swear allegiance to the Confederacy. Convinced that his beloved state was taking the wrong course of action, the governor remained holed up in his office on the day Texas state officials were to take the oath to the new government. Three times the cry carried through the halls of the state building in Austin for Governor Sam Houston to come to the podium and take the pledge, and three times the cry met with silence. Declaring the office vacant, the victorious convention member called for Houston’s successor. Never one to let an opportunity pass, the tall bearded lieutenant governor eagerly stepped forward and proclaimed his loyalty to the infant Confederate republic. Edward Clark of Marshall was now the eighth governor of Texas.”
Edward Clark would only serve for eight months. After his defeat in November, he left Austin to form the 14th Texas Infantry. But that is another post.
Time feels funny when it’s deep in the past. In these next fours years, however, we will get to experience the Civil War in real time, as the sesquicentennial anniversaries of all the major events and battles are celebrated. In doing so, we will have to remember where we were when we heard the results of the 2010 Election, our touchstone to the Election of 1860. April 9, 2014, may seem like a long way away, but, at least we know that date is coming. Try to imagine yourself a Texan on 1 February 1861, knowing the worst is coming, but knowing not when it will end. Or what it will cost. Kind of like the folks in Egypt now...