The Course That Texas Shall Pursue

Texas Governor Sam Houston was among the small minority of southerners who opposed secession. He had refused to convene a special session of the state legislature to consider whether Texas should secede, and state officials responded by superseding him and arranging an election of delegates to a secession convention. Houston then assembled the legislature in emergency session, hoping that it would reject secession before the convention could begin.

Houston explained that even though he considered the right of secession to be legal under the U.S. Constitution, he believed that Texas should stay in the Union. He also acknowledged that a large petition in favor of secession had been signed, stating that “the people, as the source of all power,” would ultimately choose “the course that Texas shall pursue… Should the Legislature in its wisdom deem it necessary to carry a convention of delegates fresh from the people, the Executive will not oppose the same.”

To Houston’s dismay, the legislature not only overwhelmingly endorsed the secession convention, but it overrode Houston’s veto of the endorsement. The legislators even invited the conventioneers to gather in the House chamber at Austin. Then, giving a slight nod to Houston, the legislature stipulated that the convention’s decision must be put to a popular vote for it to be valid. Houston issued an ominous warning to the secessionists: “You may, after the sacrifice of countless thousands of treasure and hundreds of thousands of precious lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence, if God be not against you; but I doubt it.”

Meanwhile, Brigadier General David E. Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, sent a warning to his superiors at Washington: “Texas will certainly go out of the Union the latter part of this month. I respectfully ask instructions as to what disposition will be made of the troops now in this department.” He asked a second time for instructions in another message written five days later. Then, on the 15th, he wrote a third message, this time sharing his personal views on the matter with Lieutenant General Winfield Scott:

“I am placed in a most embarrassing position. I am a Southern man, and all these States will secede… The feeling is universal, and the people are determined to secede. Coercion might have done at first; now it cannot. As soon as I know Georgia has separated from the Union I must, of course, follow her. I most respectfully ask to be relieved in the command of this department on or before the 4th of March next. All I have is in the South, and as my health will not allow me to take an active part in the scenes that will probably be enacted, I must be a looker-on.”

Scott forwarded this to the War Department with instructions to relieve Twiggs of command. These were issued on the 28th: “Bvt. Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs, U.S. Army, is relieved from the command of the Department of Texas, and the command of that department is devolved upon Col. Carlos A. Waite, First Infantry, who is assigned to duty according to his brevet rank.” But these orders were mailed rather than telegraphed, so they would not reach Texas until February.

Although Texans did not yet know that Twiggs had been replaced, they knew that if such a thing was to happen that Waite would succeed him. They also knew that Waite was a New Yorker with strong Unionist sympathies, and they feared that he might destroy all Federal military installations and supplies, and move his forces to the New Mexico Territory, where they could threaten Texas’s western flank. Consequently, tensions increased between the secessionists and the Federals in Texas.

In the interim, Governor Houston warned Twiggs that “information has reached the executive that an effort will be made by an unauthorized mob to take forcibly and appropriate the public stores and property to uses of their own, assuming to act on behalf of the State.” Houston wanted to know what Twiggs considered his duty to do if such a thing happened. Twiggs forwarded Houston’s message to the War Department and wrote:

“As I do not think any one in authority desires me to carry on a civil war against Texas, I shall, after secession, if the governor repeats his demand, direct the arms and other property to be turned over to his agents, keeping in the hands of the troops the arms they now have… The troops in this department occupy a line of some twelve hundred miles, and some time will be required to remove them to any place. I again ask, what disposition is to be made of them?”

As January ended, the secession convention opened at Austin, with Governor Houston in attendance and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Oran M. Roberts presiding. A preliminary vote was held in which the delegates approved secession by 152 to 6. The official vote would come in February.


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