Military Adventures Beyond the Mississippi

Texan Secession

Immediately after the election of President Lincoln in the fall of 1860, both parties in the State of Texas began to take sides. At first it was evident that the Union party were largely in the majority. The Governor was himself entirely opposed to secession. In the western counties of the State the feeling was almost unanimous. Even in the capital strong Union demonstrations were made. An enormous popular meeting was held as late as December. A Union pole was raised, the Stars and Stripes were unfurled, and the national airs were played in the midst of an assemblage the largest which had ever been gathered in the city of Austin. But that same timid inaction which proved so fatal to the Union cause in other States proved equally so here. The Governor, advanced in years, and worn-out by the adventurous life which he had led, longed for repose. Instead of boldly treating treason to the punishment it deserved, he temporized and tampered with it. He would not follow in the lead of fiery South Carolina; but he condemned the imagined invasion of Southern rights by Northern politicians, and demanded a union of the Southern States for their mutual protection. He did not think secession was necessary; but he was clear abolitionism was a crime. He would not call the Legislature together; but he summoned the people to elect delegates to confer in a general Convention with delegates from the other slaveholding States. He would not plunge at once into the vortex of the whirlpool; but he would sail gradually around at the circumference for the purpose of examination.

Dreams of past adventure were sometimes enkindled in the bosom that dared not bare itself bravely to the present and inevitable conflict. He hinted at a possible separation of the State, alike from North and South; the conquest by military arms of its ancient enemy Mexico, and the establishment of a new Southwestern Confederacy. Let us not deal uncharitably with the memory of General Houston. His weakness was his greatest fault. The old man of nearly threescore years and ten was unable to sustain the reputation of the hero of forty-two. If General Houston had been ten years younger the rebel leaders in the State would never have dared what they did.

He refused to call a Convention. An irresponsible call, signed by sixty-one individuals, was issued. He refused to summon the Legislature. It was summoned to meet by one of its own members. A brave man would have called the authors of such revolutionary proceedings to instant account. The punishment of a single ringleader would have saved the State from civil war. But Governor Houston dreaded the conflict which he saw was impending. He took, unwittingly, the very measures to hasten it. He had resisted importunity. He had not the courage to face revolution. He convened the Legislature, but urged them to delay calling a State Convention, and endeavor still to preserve, if possible, the Union. His recommendations were contemptuously disregarded. He should have expected nothing else. They legalized the illegal call for a Convention already issued. They laid on the table resolutions for delay in the secession movements. They condemned coercion. They provided that if an ordinance of secession were passed by the Convention it should be submitted to the people.

The Convention assembled one week after the act of the Legislature legalizing it. The Union party in the State had paid no attention to the first call, signed by irresponsible secessionists. Living in a State but little blessed with railroads and telegraphs, they possessed no intimation of the action of the Legislature until long after the day of election had gone by. In nearly half the counties no election was held at all; in others it was but the merest pretense; in many instances not more than a quarter of the legal voters went at all to the polls. A Convention thus elected was almost unanimously for secession. An ordinance was passed in less than a week after it assembled. Delegates were elected to the Southern Congress. A Committee of Safety was appointed, who effectually took the Government out of the hands of General Houston. In eighteen days after the passage of this ordinance it was submitted to the people. It was carried by a large majority. But many voters either refused to vote or were prevented doing so. The vote was 17,000 less than at the Presidential election. The Governor refusing to acquiesce in the action of the Convention, the gubernatorial chair was declared vacant in March, 1861, and Lieutenant-Governor Clark was directed to assume the place of Governor Houston. Thus cavalierly treated by the secessionists, and despised by the Union party, whose cause his weakness had betrayed, he lived a few months in disgrace at the capital of the State, vainly endeavored to retrieve his fallen fortunes by yielding a tardy acquiescence to the secession cause, and died six months after his expulsion from the chief office of the State, neither honored by his friends nor respected by his foes.

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Last updated 10/11/2009.