Remembering the Alamo … and remembering the rest of Texas history

 

Dan chandler, from Plano, attends a State Board of Education meeting at the William B. Travis Building, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Good day Austin:

Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a bill signing to make sex trafficking a felony in his state, said, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.”

His audience gasped.

For a politician, it was neither a smart nor a sensible thing to say.

Cuomo is expected to win renomination this week for governor, even though his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, played Miranda Hobbes, who was the smartest and most sensible of the quartet of lead women characters on “Sex and the City,” and even though Election Day is on a Thursday, instead of a Tuesday, so as not to conflict with Rosh Hashanah or the 17th anniversary of 9/11.

But I think President Trump was right in concluding that, as for as any higher ambitions, Cuomo’s remark, which I’m sure didn’t come out quite as he intended, was a career-killer from which there can be no comeback.

Yes, American politicians can get carried away with endless, pious self-congratulation about how great America is. But who wants to live in a country led by someone who doesn’t think the country is all that, or at least, was all that.

I truly believe one can accept that America was founded on the genocide of the continent’s indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans — and still believe this is a great country, maybe even, as is de rigueur among the political class, the greatest ever.

Really.

I also believe that every nation — including the former Republic of Texas — is entitled to its own mythic stories, especially one as good, and heroic as that of the Alamo.

Everybody the world over remembers the Alamo.

So, I do not begrudge the State Board of Education’s disposition Tuesday, under enormous political pressure, to continue to refer to the “heroic defenders of the Alamo” in the state’s curriculum standards.

From Julie Chang’s story for the American-Statesman:

Heeding concerns by conservatives that the State Board of Education is trying to water down how Texas history is taught in middle school, a board-nominated committee has backtracked on a recommendation to remove references to heroes and a letter by William B. Travis in lessons about the Alamo.

More than 60 people signed up to testify before the board Tuesday to express concerns about proposed changes to the state’s social studies curriculum standards, particularly those that address the Alamo, slavery, the civil rights movement and references to Judeo-Christianity in American history.

The curriculum standards serve as the framework for history, government and economics textbooks and lessons for the state’s 5.4 million public school students.

Multiple board-nominated committees, made up mostly of educators, met this year as part of a broader effort to streamline curriculum standards across subject areas. The board is expected to take a preliminary vote Wednesday on whether to accept changes to the social studies curriculum.

Elected officials and others spoke against the recommendation to change the curriculum standard that reads, “explain the issues surrounding significant events of the Texas Revolution, including the Battle of Gonzales, William B. Travis’s letter ‘To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,’ the siege of the Alamo, and all the heroic defenders who gave their lives there.”

One of the board’s committees this spring had recommended removing the reference to the letter as well as heroic defenders.

“These are the most famous words in all of Texas history,” U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, told the board after reading an excerpt from Travis’ letter on Tuesday. “I cannot fathom any possible way that one can teach Texas history without teaching William Barrett Travis’ plea to the people of Texas and all Americans and the world.”

Travis, the commander of the Texian rebels at the Alamo, sent the letter to ask for help as he was being surrounded by Mexican forces. The missive is said to have inspired many of the volunteers who ended up joining the army that Sam Houston later led to defeat Mexican forces.

Stephen Cure, the Texas State Historical Association’s director of education and a member of one of the board committees, said the panel, looking for areas to streamline, thought the language was redundant because it’s impossible to learn about the siege of the Alamo without learning about the letter or its defenders.

Under pressure, a majority of his colleagues on the committee said they would be willing to change its recommendation, Cure said Tuesday.

“The outcry from the people of Texas said that they felt it should be in there and, from the committee’s perspective, we felt that it was better to make a productive recommendation,” Cure said.

The new curriculum standard with the restored language now reads that students must learn about the siege of the Alamo, including Travis’ letter and “the heroism of the diverse defenders who gave their lives there.”

But, as Jerry Patterson, the former land commissioner and as staunch a defender of the Alamo and its heroes as one will find, noted when I talked to him Tuesday night, the controversy was really much ado about almost nothing, affording politicians an opportunity to beat their chests about a threat more imagined than real to the heroic standing of Alamo defenders in the way history is taught in Texas.

Of stripping the Alamo defenders of their “heroic” status, Patterson said, “The state Board of Education was never going to do that. Everybody knew that they weren’t going to do that. And furthermore it wasn’t this huge politically correct, conspiratorial dark cloud. It was just trying to make the language shorter. But nonetheless it created an extremely safe opportunity for politicians to bravely, at great risk— NOT — step out there and try to do something that people might like.”

From Lauren McGaughy’s story in the Dallas Morning News:

“I stand before you today as a member of one of your volunteer workgroups maligned by some of our state’s highest elected officials and respected media outlets,” Stephen Cure, the former director of education with the Texas State Historical Association, told the board. “Let’s set the record straight.”

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But Cure, who helped write the proposed changes, said the volunteers didn’t remove the word “heroic” because they thought the Alamo defenders didn’t deserve the moniker. It was taken out, he insisted, because the group was sure their heroism would be taught even without an explicit requirement to do so.

“You can’t teach the siege of the Alamo without teaching the [Travis] letter and the heroism. As the Declaration of Independence says, it’s ‘self evident,'” Cure said. “Our primary goal, or primary path, was to reduce the amount of content in the standards.”

Cure said the group recommended deleting the entire phrase — first added in 2010 — because it would be impossible for teachers to educate students on each and every person who defended the Alamo. He blasted reporters for not calling the volunteers who wrote the standards but said he didn’t reach out to elected officials who criticized their work

Here is the opinion that Ted Cruz, embroiled in a  re-election contest with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, posted on Fox News Tuesday:

The Board of Education was holding a hearing in Austin on the proposal Tuesday. Fortunately, according to the San Antonio Express-News, “the board appeared poised to keep the words in the curriculum” when it is scheduled to discuss the issue Wednesday. A final decision is expected in November.

 The advisory group, called “Social Studies TEKS Streamlining Work Group,” even recommended dropping the requirement that students in Texas should be able to explain the importance of a letter from Col. William B. Travis, commander of the rebels at the Alamo. The letter was addressed to “the People of Texas and All Americans in the World” and is known as the “victory or death letter.”

This letter has been considered a vital founding document of Texas history ever since it inspired thousands of men to take up arms in revolution to free Texas from the oppressive regime of General Santa Anna.

Travis wrote in the letter:

“The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken – I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat.”

And go down fighting Travis did – alongside scores of his comrades, from brave Tejanos such as Toribio Losoya and José Gregorio Esparza, to legends of the American frontier like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett.

The volunteers were outnumbered by at least 7 to 1 by the Mexican Army. They were surely aware of General Santa Anna’s slaughter of civilians in the rebelling state of Zacatecas the previous year, and his Mexican Army’s brutal treatment of prisoners and noncombatants.

But rather than retreat or surrender, the defenders of the Alamo defied the promise of “no quarter” from Santa Anna, and shed their blood so that Texas could be free of his oppressive regime.

Among the politically correct jargon supposedly justifying the proposed changes to the Texas social studies curriculum, one statement stood out: “Heroic is a value-charged word,” and thus it must be purged.

Indeed, “heroic” is very “value-charged.” It is not a term to be used lightly.

But the troubling implication here – in addition to scrubbing patriotism from our schoolbooks – is that our children cannot be taught history with a sense of value and valor. This is an absurd claim.

Who would teach their child about the historical reality of human slavery, and fail to call it evil? That is a true and necessary value-charged word.

Who would teach about the men landing at Normandy on D-Day to free Europe from Hitler’s tyranny, and not call them brave?

Who would tell of Mother Theresa helping the sick and poor, and not call her good?

The classroom is not supposed to be a place without values. It must be a place with the right values.

Somehow, in an age when professional athletes disrespect our flag only to get millions of dollars in advertising deals, and our public forums are increasingly devoted to tearing down our national legacy rather than building it up, it is not surprising that some bureaucrats rewriting schoolbooks should try to eliminate one more source of American pride from our schools.

But that gives Texas families a chance to be a part of history once more.

We are not called to defend the Alamo with muskets and cannon today, but to defend it in our public square, and in our schools. We can preserve the legacy of its defenders, and of all heroes throughout our history who teach us duty and faith and sacrifice.

We can value the things worth valuing.

We can remember.

By all means, remember the Alamo, and even revere the defenders as heroic.

But that does not mean that one must forget all else.

In 2003, University of Texas historian H.W. Brands wrote a piece in Texas Monthly, headlined, “The Alamo Should Never Have Happened: Generations of Texas schoolchildren have been taught that the battle at the center of the Texas revolution was our finest hour. Maybe so— but it was also a military mistake of mythic proportions.”

It closes as follows:

For decades student of Alamo history have refought the battle, debating how many people died there and where they fell. Much less attention has been paid to the larger issue of whether it should have been fought in the first place. Questioning patriotic sacrifice is bad form, especially with the powerful words of the dead commander haunting the collective conscience.

But sacrifice is not synonymous with good judgment, and in truth the defense of the Alamo was woefully misguided. Houston was correct that San Antonio had little significance for the defense of the Texas settlements. Even if Travis and the others had held the Alamo, Santa Anna might easily have left a token force to pin them there and sent the main body of his army after Houston and the rest of the rebels. Nor did the delay caused by Santa Anna’s insistence on taking the Alamo slow his advance appreciably. Santa Anna spent two weeks at Béxar, two weeks in which Houston made scant progress in organizing or training the Texas army. The rebels were no readier for battle in early March than they had been in late February, as Houston’s subsequent forced retreat east demonstrated, and they would have been far readier had their ranks included the men killed at the Alamo. Santa Anna’s losses at Béxar were considerably greater than those of the Texans, but his army was so much larger that he could afford to be wasteful.

The primary result of the Alamo’s fall was precisely what Santa Anna intended: the terrorizing of the Anglo settlements in Texas. As word raced east of the disaster at Béxar, the settlers fled toward Louisiana in what later was called, with relieved levity, the Runaway Scrape. Santa Anna had long since decided that the American colonization of Texas was a mistake, which he intended to rectify by removing the Americans. The destruction of the Alamo, and the refugee flight it precipitated, got the process well under way.

The only thing that saved the revolution (as it really became after the declaration of Texas independence on March 2, 1836) was Santa Anna’s impatience. Hoping to catch the Texas government, which had joined the flight east, he committed a cardinal sin of invading commanders: He divided his army. And then he allowed Houston, who until this point had shown every indication of retreating clear to the Redlands of East Texas, to corner him where Buffalo Bayou joins the San Jacinto River.

Houston’s victory at San Jacinto had nothing to do with the defeat at the Alamo (or the subsequent massacre at Goliad), except that it (and Goliad) furnished a rousing battle cry and an excuse for a slaughter that matched in ferocity and scale anything the Mexicans had committed. And in fact, the victory at San Jacinto, though an enormous morale booster, neither ended the war nor guaranteed Texas’ independence. The captured Santa Anna was overthrown in absentia, and the agreements he negotiated with the Texans were immediately disavowed by the Mexican government. Mexico continued to claim Texas for another decade and in 1842 succeeded twice in reoccupying San Antonio. What finally settled the Texas question was the intervention of the United States, which annexed Texas in 1845 and defeated Mexico in the war of 1846-1848.

By that time the Alamo had entered the mythology of Texas. A prime characteristic of myth is that every sacrifice serves a purpose; the larger the sacrifice, the more profound the purpose. During the Texas Revolution itself, the legitimacy of the rebellion was disparaged by opponents of slavery, who held that the chief purpose of the breakaway was to ensure the future of slavery in Texas (Mexico had outlawed the institution), and by others who judged it a landgrab by armed speculators. The sacrifice of the Alamo afforded an emphatic riposte to the criticism. Would the heroes who died there have done so for the base motives ascribed to them by their critics? Hardly. They must have fought and died to secure democracy and individual rights.

And so they did—at least some of them, and at least the rights of some people. But whether the Alamo was the proper place to do it is another question entirely. It casts no aspersion on the defenders’ courage to assert that they got the answer to this question wrong. If anything, there is a certain sublime nobility in an act that reflects bravery undiluted by good sense. And it is entirely in keeping with everything about the Texas Revolution, and with much that is characteristically Texan, that this military mistake was not the work of ignorant or fatuous commanders, as has typically been the case in history. No Raglan ordered the Alamo garrison to stand against Santa Anna; the defenders’ decision to do so was theirs alone. Texans have long prided themselves on their individuality, including their right to be wrong in their own way. For them, the Alamo is the perfect shrine.

When I talked Tuesday night to Miguel Suazo, the Democrat challenging George P. Bush’s re-election, he said. “I think it’s kind of silly not to refer to the Alamo defenders as heroes for multiple reasons.  If you’re telling Texas history and telling the Texas story, a small group of individuals fighting a major battle against long odds, I think that’s pretty heroic in and of itself, regardless of the imperfections behind some of the men if you want to delve deeper into the history.”

As Brands wrote: “What finally settled the Texas question was the intervention of the United States, which annexed Texas in 1845 and defeated Mexico in the war of 1846-1848.”

And, one need not look to a revisionist historian to get a stark appraisal of the “Texas question” that probably doesn’t and won’t find its way into most Texas classrooms. For that one need only read the extraordinary  “Personal Memoirs of  Ulysses S. Grant,” which Grant wrote as he lay dying.

 

I write this as someone who, brought up in New York, and educated in Long Island public schools, grew up believing that Robert E. Lee was a nobler and wiser figure than Ulysses S. Grant — who, I came to understand, was a drunk and later a corrupt president, or at very least a president negligent to his friends’ corruption.

(Before the Texas Senate race is over, I imagine the Cruz campaign will run ads noting that O’Rourke named one of his sons Ulysses. While O’Rourke, who studied literature at Columbia University, claims this is a nod to the ancients and that he and his wife named their son, Ulysses “because we didn’t have the balls to name him Odysseus,” I am sure it can be made to appear to be the self-loathing, political correctness of a renegade son of the South.)

And, while my sympathies were not with the Confederacy, I recall receiving in school very nearly “Birth of a Nation” instruction on the terrible failure of Reconstruction, focused almost entirely on carpetbaggers and scalawags.

As Sen. Cruz asks in this Fox opinion piece on the importance of values in the classroom, Who would teach their child about the historical reality of human slavery, and fail to call it evil? That is a true and necessary value-charged word.

Carisa Lopez, Political Director at Texas Freedom Network speaks in support of renewing a fight to have the board change the curriculum standards outside the William B. Travis Building during a State Board of Education meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Yes. Of course.

But the question is, amid being taught the heroic story of the Alamo, are Texas schoolchildren also being taught about the insidious role of slavery in the founding story of Texas, and the central role the annexation of the slave-state Texas into the Union and the Mexican-American War played in precipitating the Civil War?

From Grant’s memoir, CHAPTER III: ARMY LIFE—CAUSES OF THE MEXICAN WAR—CAMP SALUBRITY

There was no intimation given that the removal of the 3d and 4th regiments of infantry to the western border of Louisiana was occasioned in any way by the prospective annexation of Texas, but it was generally understood that such was the case. Ostensibly we were intended to prevent filibustering into Texas, but really as a menace to Mexico in case she appeared to contemplate war. Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory. Texas was originally a state belonging to the republic of Mexico. It extended from the Sabine River on the east to the Rio Grande on the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico on the south and east to the territory of the United States and New Mexico—another Mexican state at that time—on the north and west. An empire in territory, it had but a very sparse population, until settled by Americans who had received authority from Mexico to colonize. These colonists paid very little attention to the supreme government, and introduced slavery into the state almost from the start, though the constitution of Mexico did not, nor does it now, sanction that institution. Soon they set up an independent government of their own, and war existed, between Texas and Mexico, in name from that time until 1836, when active hostilities very nearly ceased upon the capture of Santa Anna, the Mexican President. Before long, however, the same people—who with permission of Mexico had colonized Texas, and afterwards set up slavery there, and then seceded as soon as they felt strong enough to do so—offered themselves and the State to the United States, and in 1845 their offer was accepted. The occupation, separation and annexation were, from the inception of the movement to its final consummation, a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed for the American Union.

Even if the annexation itself could be justified, the manner in which the subsequent war was forced upon Mexico cannot. The fact is, annexationists wanted more territory than they could possibly lay any claim to, as part of the new acquisition. Texas, as an independent State, never had exercised jurisdiction over the territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Mexico had never recognized the independence of Texas, and maintained that, even if independent, the State had no claim south of the Nueces. I am aware that a treaty, made by the Texans with Santa Anna while he was under duress, ceded all the territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande—, but he was a prisoner of war when the treaty was made, and his life was in jeopardy. He knew, too, that he deserved execution at the hands of the Texans, if they should ever capture him. The Texans, if they had taken his life, would have only followed the example set by Santa Anna himself a few years before, when he executed the entire garrison of the Alamo and the villagers of Goliad.

In taking military possession of Texas after annexation, the army of occupation, under General Taylor, was directed to occupy the disputed territory. The army did not stop at the Nueces and offer to negotiate for a settlement of the boundary question, but went beyond, apparently in order to force Mexico to initiate war. It is to the credit of the American nation, however, that after conquering Mexico, and while practically holding the country in our possession, so that we could have retained the whole of it, or made any terms we chose, we paid a round sum for the additional territory taken; more than it was worth, or was likely to be, to Mexico. To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

As William S. McFeely, in, “Grant: a Biography,” wrote: “Grant proceeded in his  Memoirs to a brief essay on how wars are begun in America. His point loses no force in the twentieth century, for having been written in the nineteenth.”

From Chapter IV: Corpus Christi—Mexican Smuggling—Spanish Rule in Mexico—Supplying Transportation.

The presence of United States troops on the edge of the disputed territory furthest from the Mexican settlements, was not sufficient to provoke hostilities. We were sent to provoke a fight, but it was essential that Mexico should commence it. It was very doubtful whether Congress would declare war; but if Mexico should attack our troops, the Executive could announce, “Whereas, war exists by the acts of, etc.,” and prosecute the contest with vigor. Once initiated there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it. Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate “war, pestilence, and famine,” than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun. The history of the defeated rebel will be honorable hereafter, compared with that of the Northern man who aided him by conspiring against his government while protected by it. The most favorable posthumous history the stay-at-home traitor can hope for is—oblivion.

 Mexico showing no willingness to come to the Nueces to drive the invaders from her soil, it became necessary for the “invaders” to approach to within a convenient distance to be struck. Accordingly, preparations were begun for moving the army to the Rio Grande, to a point near Matamoras. It was desirable to occupy a position near the largest centre of population possible to reach, without absolutely invading territory to which we set up no claim whatever.

Finally, and at length, a passage from Grant’s memoir that Ta-Nehisi Coates cited in The Atlantic on Jan. 20, 2011, under the headline, The Literary Heroism Of U.S. Grant.

Coates: “I present the following words from Grant’s memoir. This has always struck me as one of the most eloquent defenses of the Union which I’ve ever seen. I haven’t read enough Jefferson, but I have to believe that Grant is one of the greatest writers to ever occupy the White House. This is the writer enlisting the entire arsenal–literature, legal theory, history and memory all in one.”

CHAPTER XVI: THE COMING CRISIS:

Up to the Mexican war there were a few out-and-out abolitionists, men who carried their hostility to slavery into all elections, from those for a justice of the peace up to the Presidency of the United States. They were noisy but not numerous. But the great majority of people at the North, where slavery did not exist, were opposed to the institution, and looked upon its existence in any part of the country as unfortunate. They did not hold the States where slavery existed responsible for it; and believed that protection should be given to the right of property in slaves until some satisfactory way could be reached to be rid of the institution. Opposition to slavery was not a creed of either political party. In some sections more anti-slavery men belonged to the Democratic party, and in others to the Whigs. But with the inauguration of the Mexican war, in fact with the annexation of Texas, “the inevitable conflict” commenced.

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Doubtless the founders of our government, the majority of them at least, regarded the confederation of the colonies as an experiment. Each colony considered itself a separate government; that the confederation was for mutual protection against a foreign foe, and the prevention of strife and war among themselves. If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination might have been regretted. The problem changed on the ratification of the Constitution by all the colonies; it changed still more when amendments were added; and if the right of any one State to withdraw continued to exist at all after the ratification of the Constitution, it certainly ceased on the formation of new States, at least so far as the new States themselves were concerned. It was never possessed at all by Florida or the States west of the Mississippi, all of which were purchased by the treasury of the entire nation. Texas and the territory brought into the Union in consequence of annexation, were purchased with both blood and treasure; and Texas, with a domain greater than that of any European state except Russia, was permitted to retain as state property all the public lands within its borders. It would have been ingratitude and injustice of the most flagrant sort for this State to withdraw from the Union after all that had been spent and done to introduce her; yet, if separation had actually occurred, Texas must necessarily have gone with the South, both on account of her institutions and her geographical position. Secession was illogical as well as impracticable; it was revolution.

Now, the right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable. But any people or part of a people who resort to this remedy, stake their lives, their property, and every claim for protection given by citizenship—on the issue. Victory, or the conditions imposed by the conqueror—must be the result.

In the case of the war between the States it would have been the exact truth if the South had said,—”We do not want to live with you Northern people any longer; we know our institution of slavery is obnoxious to you, and, as you are growing numerically stronger than we, it may at some time in the future be endangered. So long as you permitted us to control the government, and with the aid of a few friends at the North to enact laws constituting your section a guard against the escape of our property, we were willing to live with you. You have been submissive to our rule heretofore; but it looks now as if you did not intend to continue so, and we will remain in the Union no longer.” Instead of this the seceding States cried lustily,—”Let us alone; you have no constitutional power to interfere with us.” Newspapers and people at the North reiterated the cry. Individuals might ignore the constitution; but the Nation itself must not only obey it, but must enforce the strictest construction of that instrument; the construction put upon it by the Southerners themselves. The fact is the constitution did not apply to any such contingency as the one existing from 1861 to 1865. Its framers never dreamed of such a contingency occurring. If they had foreseen it, the probabilities are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States to withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers.

The framers were wise in their generation and wanted to do the very best possible to secure their own liberty and independence, and that also of their descendants to the latest days. It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies. At the time of the framing of our constitution the only physical forces that had been subdued and made to serve man and do his labor, were the currents in the streams and in the air we breathe. Rude machinery, propelled by water power, had been invented; sails to propel ships upon the waters had been set to catch the passing breeze—but the application of stream to propel vessels against both wind and current, and machinery to do all manner of work had not been thought of. The instantaneous transmission of messages around the world by means of electricity would probably at that day have been attributed to witchcraft or a league with the Devil. Immaterial circumstances had changed as greatly as material ones. We could not and ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable. They would surely have resisted secession could they have lived to see the shape it assumed.

I travelled through the Northwest considerably during the winter of 1860-1. We had customers in all the little towns in south-west Wisconsin, south-east Minnesota and north-east Iowa. These generally knew I had been a captain in the regular army and had served through the Mexican war. Consequently wherever I stopped at night, some of the people would come to the public-house where I was, and sit till a late hour discussing the probabilities of the future. My own views at that time were like those officially expressed by Mr. Seward at a later day, that “the war would be over in ninety days.” I continued to entertain these views until after the battle of Shiloh. I believe now that there would have been no more battles at the West after the capture of Fort Donelson if all the troops in that region had been under a single commander who would have followed up that victory.

There is little doubt in my mind now that the prevailing sentiment of the South would have been opposed to secession in 1860 and 1861, if there had been a fair and calm expression of opinion, unbiased by threats, and if the ballot of one legal voter had counted for as much as that of any other. But there was no calm discussion of the question. Demagogues who were too old to enter the army if there should be a war, others who entertained so high an opinion of their own ability that they did not believe they could be spared from the direction of the affairs of state in such an event, declaimed vehemently and unceasingly against the North; against its aggressions upon the South; its interference with Southern rights, etc., etc. They denounced the Northerners as cowards, poltroons, negro-worshippers; claimed that one Southern man was equal to five Northern men in battle; that if the South would stand up for its rights the North would back down. Mr. Jefferson Davis said in a speech, delivered at La Grange, Mississippi, before the secession of that State, that he would agree to drink all the blood spilled south of Mason and Dixon’s line if there should be a war. The young men who would have the fighting to do in case of war, believed all these statements, both in regard to the aggressiveness of the North and its cowardice. They, too, cried out for a separation from such people. The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre—what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.

I am aware that this last statement may be disputed and individual testimony perhaps adduced to show that in ante-bellum days the ballot was as untrammelled in the south as in any section of the country; but in the face of any such contradiction I reassert the statement. The shot-gun was not resorted to. Masked men did not ride over the country at night intimidating voters; but there was a firm feeling that a class existed in every State with a sort of divine right to control public affairs. If they could not get this control by one means they must by another. The end justified the means. The coercion, if mild, was complete.

There were two political parties, it is true, in all the States, both strong in numbers and respectability, but both equally loyal to the institution which stood paramount in Southern eyes to all other institutions in state or nation. The slave-owners were the minority, but governed both parties. Had politics ever divided the slave-holders and the non-slave-holders, the majority would have been obliged to yield, or internecine war would have been the consequence. I do not know that the Southern people were to blame for this condition of affairs. There was a time when slavery was not profitable, and the discussion of the merits of the institution was confined almost exclusively to the territory where it existed. The States of Virginia and Kentucky came near abolishing slavery by their own acts, one State defeating the measure by a tie vote and the other only lacking one. But when the institution became profitable, all talk of its abolition ceased where it existed; and naturally, as human nature is constituted, arguments were adduced in its support. The cotton-gin probably had much to do with the justification of slavery.

The winter of 1860-1 will be remembered by middle-aged people of to-day as one of great excitement. South Carolina promptly seceded after the result of the Presidential election was known. Other Southern States proposed to follow. In some of them the Union sentiment was so strong that it had to be suppressed by force. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri, all Slave States, failed to pass ordinances of secession; but they were all represented in the so-called congress of the so-called Confederate States. The Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of Missouri, in 1861, Jackson and Reynolds, were both supporters of the rebellion and took refuge with the enemy. The governor soon died, and the lieutenant-governor assumed his office; issued proclamations as governor of the State; was recognized as such by the Confederate Government, and continued his pretensions until the collapse of the rebellion. The South claimed the sovereignty of States, but claimed the right to coerce into their confederation such States as they wanted, that is, all the States where slavery existed. They did not seem to think this course inconsistent. The fact is, the Southern slave-owners believed that, in some way, the ownership of slaves conferred a sort of patent of nobility—a right to govern independent of the interest or wishes of those who did not hold such property. They convinced themselves, first, of the divine origin of the institution and, next, that that particular institution was not safe in the hands of any body of legislators but themselves.

Meanwhile the Administration of President Buchanan looked helplessly on and proclaimed that the general government had no power to interfere; that the Nation had no power to save its own life. Mr. Buchanan had in his cabinet two members at least, who were as earnest—to use a mild term—in the cause of secession as Mr. Davis or any Southern statesman. One of them, Floyd, the Secretary of War, scattered the army so that much of it could be captured when hostilities should commence, and distributed the cannon and small arms from Northern arsenals throughout the South so as to be on hand when treason wanted them. The navy was scattered in like manner. The President did not prevent his cabinet preparing for war upon their government, either by destroying its resources or storing them in the South until a de facto government was established with Jefferson Davis as its President, and Montgomery, Alabama, as the Capital. The secessionists had then to leave the cabinet. In their own estimation they were aliens in the country which had given them birth. Loyal men were put into their places. Treason in the executive branch of the government was estopped. But the harm had already been done. The stable door was locked after the horse had been stolen.

During all of the trying winter of 1860-1, when the Southerners were so defiant that they would not allow within their borders the expression of a sentiment hostile to their views, it was a brave man indeed who could stand up and proclaim his loyalty to the Union. On the other hand men at the North—prominent men—proclaimed that the government had no power to coerce the South into submission to the laws of the land; that if the North undertook to raise armies to go south, these armies would have to march over the dead bodies of the speakers. A portion of the press of the North was constantly proclaiming similar views. When the time arrived for the President-elect to go to the capital of the Nation to be sworn into office, it was deemed unsafe for him to travel, not only as a President-elect, but as any private citizen should be allowed to do. Instead of going in a special car, receiving the good wishes of his constituents at all the stations along the road, he was obliged to stop on the way and to be smuggled into the capital. He disappeared from public view on his journey, and the next the country knew, his arrival was announced at the capital. There is little doubt that he would have been assassinated if he had attempted to travel openly throughout his journey.

State Board of Education member Marisa B. Perez-Diaz, D-District 3, speaks in support of Texas Freedom Network renewing their fight to have the board change the curriculum standards outside the William B. Travis Building during a State Board of Education meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)