I Refuse to Take This Oath

March 2 marked the 25th anniversary of the Texas declaration of independence from Mexico. It was also the day that the Texas secession convention officially confirmed the results of the popular election that took place in late February. Convention delegates then worked to create a new state constitution and approved a resolution requiring all state officials to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy.

This was also the day that the state delegates reached Montgomery to take part in the Provisional Confederate Congress. The Congress approved a measure admitting Texas into the Confederacy.

Texas Governor Sam Houston defied the state legislature by refusing to recognize the Confederacy’s legitimacy. He also argued that the convention’s requirement to take a loyalty oath was beyond its power and therefore void. Houston asserted that he would “follow the ‘Lone Star’ with the same devotion as yore,” but he not yield to “usurpation and degradation” by taking the oath. Houston declared: “I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her. To avert this calamity, I shall make no endeavor to maintain my authority as Chief Executive of this State, except by the peaceful exercise of my functions…”

Meanwhile, Texas officials continued seizing Federal property in the state throughout the month, including:

  • The Federal revenue cutter Henry Dodge at Galveston
  • Ringgold Barracks
  • Camps Verde, Wood, and Hudson
  • Forts McIntosh, Clark, Inge, Lancaster, Duncan, Chadbourne, Mason, and Bliss

Captain Bennett H. Hill commanded the Federal garrison at Fort Brown in Brazos Santiago. Colonel John “R.I.P.” Ford led a force of Texans in demanded the fort’s surrender. Hill became a northern hero by not only refusing but threatening to arrest Ford for treason. Ford withdrew to Galveston, where he raised a larger force and then returned to demand Hill’s surrender again. By this time, Major Fitz-John Porter, assistant adjutant general to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, had arrived at the fort and convinced Hill that any further resistance was futile. Hill surrendered on the 3rd.

Command changes also took place for both Federals and Confederates. Colonel Edwin V. Sumner of the 1st Cavalry was promoted to brigadier general to replace General David Twiggs in command of Federal forces in Texas. Twiggs had been dismissed from the U.S. Army on the 1st for surrendering Federal forts to Texans. Colonel Earl Van Dorn arrived in Texas on the 26th to lead Confederate forces.

On the 16th, Governor Houston staged a dramatic protest at the state capitol in Austin. When called upon to swear loyalty to Confederacy as required by all Texas public officials, Houston ignored it. His name was called twice more and he ignored it twice more, instead whittling throughout the proceedings. Houston later issued a statement:

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas… I protest… against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.”

The Texas Convention delegates accepted Houston’s resignation on the 18th, and he was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark. Houston arrived at the governor’s office that morning and found Clark occupying his seat. Houston told him, “I hope that you will find it an easier chair than I have found it.” Clark replied, “I’ll endeavor to make it so, General, by conforming to the clearly expressed will of the people of Texas.” Houston and his family vacated the Governor’s Mansion at Austin and retired to their home at Huntsville.

Texan forces under Ben McCulloch demanded the surrender of the Federal garrison at Fort Inge, commanded by Captain James Oakes. Being a Pennsylvanian, Oakes refused to give up the fort and tried to join with the garrisons at Forts Duncan and Clark, and Camp Wood to march to either the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) or the New Mexico Territory. But the commander at Fort Duncan had already surrendered, and 1st Lieutenant John Bell Hood, commanding at Camp Wood, had already decided to join the Confederacy. Oakes therefore agreed to surrender.

Colonel Carlos Waite commanded the Federal Department of Texas until Sumner took over. This department had virtually ceased to exist when Twiggs surrendered at San Antonio. General Scott directed Waite to assemble all remaining Federal troops in Texas at Indianola, from which he could “keep a foothold in the State until the question of secession on her part be definitely settled among her own people, and, second, in case of conflict between them to give such aid and support to General Houston or other head of authority in the defense of the Federal government as may be within your power.” But by this time, Texas was already out of the Union, and neither Waite nor Houston could do anything to bring her back.

The Lincoln administration offered to reinforce Houston and Waite with 50,000 troops to help him regain his governorship and keep Texas in the Union by force. Houston responded to this offer on the 29th:

“I have received intelligence that you have, or will soon receive, orders to concentrate United States troops under your command at Indianola, in this State, to sustain me in the exercise of my official functions. Allow me most respectfully to decline any such assistance of the United States Government, and to most earnestly protest against the concentration of troops or fortifications in Texas, and request that you remove all such troops out of this State at the earliest day practicable, or, at any rate, by all means take no action towards hostile movements till further ordered by the Government at Washington City, or particularly of Texas.”

Thus ended the career of one of the most prominent statesmen in Texas history.


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