Thursday, February 8, 2024

Guest Post: Sam Houston Saves the Nationality of Texas

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Charles K. Alexander II, Robbie Taylor, Brian Hartman, Allen W. McDonnell and Jeff Provine.

Feb 1, 1861 -

Delegates at a feisty state convention in Austin, Texas, voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Union. This choice was largely driven by the imperative to protect the institution of slavery as well as a general feeling that Washington had failed to live up to promises of inclusion into the country as part of annexation.

Sovereignty votes were always prone to other political considerations; notably, the US Senate had voted down the original Texas Annexation Treaty not wanting to add a slave-owning state to the Union. This was despite the sponsorship of President John Tyler, who at that stage was not aligned to any political party, having broken with the Whigs. Conversely, this particular vote in 1861 was taken against the fervent wishes of Southern Unionist Governor Sam Houston. He had only allowed the special session of the Texas Legislature to sit after it had become clear that the citizens would likely take matters into their own hands. Ultimately his voice would not be without influence. At least his powerful arguments partially succeeded because Texas would not join the Confederacy or send troops (or even sell horses) to aid its cause. If Houston had saved the nationality of Texas then perhaps it was at the cost of dooming the Cotton South to the inevitable defeat that he had predicted.

Instead, the reconstituted Republic of Texas fortified its borders and waited out the civil war between the States. Tragic events would subsequently validate this prudent choice. With Union gunboats starting to control the Mississippi River, it would have been logistically impossible for Texas to supply the Cotton South. Similarly, the Union naval blockade would prevent exports of Southern cotton via the port at Galveston. The arguments for annexation had been based on these self-evident facts, a weak economy and a tiny, divided standing army that made Texas defenseless. Indeed, from the very beginning, Houston had felt that the newly independent country, lacking hard currency and still facing threats from Mexico, could not survive on its own. He would die two years later still convinced that he was right because the Cotton South was facing early collapse as he had predicted. He, like Union President Abraham Lincoln, would be proven to be quite wrong in their prediction of the eventual outcome of the secession crisis.

The chief reason was that Virginia had led many border states and joined with Texas in a state of neutrality as the Federal government worked to resolve a compromise. Meanwhile, the Cotton South descended into the long and grinding Civil War from Tennessee to Florida and Louisiana. Paramilitary forces conducted bloody guerrilla combat in neutral states such as Missouri, North Carolina, Arkansas, and, especially, Texas turning most of the white populations in those states against the Confederacy. These factors certainly contributed to the early Southern defeat. Meanwhile, Francis Lubbock, the new President of the Republic of Texas, worked feverishly to keep the calm after massacres of German immigrants and rebelling slaves. On a positive end, the "galvanized Yanks" (Confederate POWs who volunteered to serve in forts in the West) solved the issues of Indian raids with a seeming surplus of willing soldiers.

Despite being a root cause of the conflict, the thorny issue of slavery remained unresolved, although perhaps Lincoln was waiting for the right time to issue the Emancipation Declaration. The winner of the 1864 presidential election would certainly have to deal with this matter and also to decide whether to launch a continuation war in order to force readmittance to the union. An invasion of Texas was eminently doable from a military perspective, but the decision boiled down to two overriding political factors: the Union's appetite for a second conflict and the principle of secession, which relied upon legal interpretation of the annexation treaty from 1840. The former Commanding General of the U.S. Army, George McClellan, who had served with distinction during the Mexican-American War, was nominated by the Democrats. He focused his election campaign on plans for the Reconstruction of the Cotton South after the surrender of P.G.T. Beauregard. Ironically, a military man would make a non-military choice.

There was a palpable sense that a change of presidential leadership was necessary to reconstruct the Union because it was Lincoln's election that had triggered the secession crisis, and he had extended the reach of Federal Government (e.g. by illegally suspending habeas corpus). Lincoln looked to the lame-duck precedent of Tyler who dispatched the annexation treaty by courier on his very last day in office to avoid his successor James K. Polk having to face resistance when both of them agreed with the decision. Polk could have recalled the couriers but chose not to. Lincoln therefore decided to issue the Emancipation Declaration on his very last day in office. Other weighty calculations were also in process. Understanding the national sentiment of "He got us into a war but couldn't get us out of it," Texas sued for peace and recognition as an independent nation on the very same day. President McClellan, unwilling to spill more American blood capturing another rebel state, formally recognized the Republic and granted their request for independence. Perhaps the greatest significance of these tumultuous events would be the population movement, with many German descendants leaving for the Union, and other anti-Federals arriving in search of a future outside of Washington's control.

Author's Note:

In reality, Houston was largely neutral, claiming that if Texas were to secede, it should at most revert to its independent status as a republic.

Provine's Addendum:

Perhaps the most famous "Galvanized Yank" of all would be General Robert E. Lee. While Virginia, like other Border States, never formally seceded from the Union, many Virginians sympathized with the Southern cause. Lee's oaths to the United States, however, kept him from accepting Winfield Scott's offer of being the commander of what some felt was a "conquest of the South." Instead, Lee was sent westward, where he recognized the outrageous misconduct of soldiers and failures to meet the conditions of treaties with Native American nations. Rather than appealing to Lincoln, and then McClellan, for resources that were badly needed on the fronts in the East, Lee set about bolstering trading posts, establishing new ones, and encouraging settlers and tribal representatives toward self-sufficiency in crops and locally manufactured goods. His boldest move was protecting bison herds by labeling them an economic good in the territories and thus under federal governance with the Constitution's supremacy in trade. Proper fencing and years of domestic feeding drops contained the herds against their natural instinct to migrate, leaving many of the estimated two million bison still roaming in the Great Sioux Nation reserve.


A popular story states that Confederate General Robert E. Lee, noticing that Ely S. Parker was an American Indian (specifically, Seneca), remarked, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker later recalled, “I shook his hand and said, 'We are all Americans.'”

1 comment:

  1. I'm grateful for the valuable insights and perspectives your blog consistently provides.


Site Meter