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Secession, then and now: a world of difference

It’s been interesting to see the way the big newspapers around Texas have approached the anniversary of Texas’ secession from the Union in 1861.
That is to say, zilch.
Both the Austin American-Statesman and the Houston Chronicle grabbed a quick five-paragraph note by the AP’s Mike Graczyk which simply noted that Sam Houston warned against secession at the time. None of the other papers around the state even did that much, from what I can tell.
As a newsman myself, I’d agree that such an anniversary wouldn’t rate much of a news hole – were it not for the fact that history is once again in the process of repeating itself.
The times are different, the conditions are different, the issues are different – but Texas is on its way out of the Union again. At this point, it’s inevitable.
The big difference is the fact that secession in 2011 is not a prelude to civil war.
A lot of good Old South historians like to maintain that the secession of the Confederate States was about states’ rights and that was the cause of both secession and civil war -- not slavery. They make a convincing argument, for the most part, and it is true that Abraham Lincoln himself had no intention of ending slavery when the Civil War began and issued the Emancipation Proclamation only because he thought it might incite slave rebellions in the South.
But let’s be truthful about the intentions of our ancestors, or at least the Texans. The vast majority of those who voted for secession in 1861 did so thinking it was the only way to preserve the institution of slavery. As noted in the Texas Ordinance of Secession in 1861: “They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.”
By contrast, today’s drive for Texas independence is not about reviving the Confederacy; in fact, the largest organization promoting a free Texas, the Texas Nationalist Movement, eschews any ties to the various “Southern” organizations. Instead, it’s all about a unique national culture, economy and a vision of the purpose and role of government not shared by the rest of the United States.
Several fine historical pieces about the events surrounding the 1861 secession note that most of those who backed leaving the Union were in fact émigrés to Texas from other Southern states; thus, there were strong shared cultural ties. But in the years since Reconstruction, Texas has developed its own unique culture – a mix of the many unique groups who settled in the state over the years, from those Old South cotton farmers to our original Spanish colonists, Czechs, Germans, Scots and Africans. That mix has resulted in a population which takes pride in being “Texan.” It’s a culture that can be loud and boisterous, deeply spiritual, one that appreciates tradition but adapts easily to change.
As the saying goes: “Never ask a man if he’s from Texas; if he is, he’ll tell you. If he’s not, don’t embarrass him.”
They don’t say that about New York.
The Texas of 1861 seceded with every intention of joining the Confederacy; put bluntly, the state could not have survived on its own, and some historians believe that “Emperor” Maximilian, the French puppet who headed Mexico at the time, had plans to attempt a conquest of Texas to win over the Mexican people.
Today’s Texas is far better suited to make its own way in the world. We have the world’s 12th-largest economy all by ourselves, an economy which Texas government has worked hard to diversify over the years. Yes, we have oil and cattle – and we’re among the world’s leaders in production of high-tech electronics and green energy. We have the world’s largest concentration of petrochemical refining and processing – and also rank up there in production of rice, citrus fruit and seafood.
Today’s Texas could defend itself. In addition to some 280,000 members of our National Guard, the state has eight brigades of the Texas State Guard, a non-federalizable state militia under the authority of the Governor. And by some estimates, one in ten members of the active duty military forces of the U.S. are Texans.
From a defensive perspective, we’d only have two possible “enemies” to worry about: the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico can’t even control its own towns, much less try and take over Texas cities where every other homeowner is armed. U.S. foreign policy for the last 100 years has been to support self-determination; Washington would be hard-pressed to find backing elsewhere around the world for trying to suppress a peaceful vote of the people of Texas. And there’s nothing to say that a new Texas government can’t negotiate with our larger neighbor to lease facilities like Fort Hood and Fort Bliss and to continue strong ties with our parent country.
But while culture and economy make Texas different from the other States, it is the vision of the people of Texas which makes the strongest case for independence. The residents of the other States have, time and again, voted for larger and ever-more-intrusive federal government – while the people if Texas, over and over again, have voted for more self-reliance and less dependency on handouts.
People living on the Left Coast are prone to belittle the state for its conservative nature, for example – but could Oregon, Washington or even California survive on their own without financially collapsing under the weight of their own bloated entitlement systems? Texas has no state income tax – but Illinois just increased the taxes its citizens pay by two-thirds! Sure, we’re making cuts at the state level this year; the difference is, we can do it and they can’t.
While it’s nice to recognize history, this ain’t 1861. Texans talking today about “secession” have far better reasons than did our forebears – and it makes far better sense.


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