It was a momentous decision, one that Willard Richardson had fought against, then accepted as Texas’ secession from the Union became all but ordained.
So it was that The Galveston News owner and publisher made his way to Austin in late January 1861 to report on the proceedings of a weeklong convention called to draft and vote on an ordinance to sever the state’s ties to the nation it had eagerly joined a mere 15 years and a month before.
Richardson’s report on the gathering’s conclusion ran in a single-page Extra edition of The News under a decidedly workaday headline: “Texas State Convention. Last Day’s Proceedings.”
“Austin, Tuesday, Feb. 5th, 1861 — The Convention met at 3 p.m. yesterday. …
“Gen. [John] Sanford … was welcomed by the President [of the convention] as the representative of the sovereign and independent State of Georgia. Having then been conducted to the President’s stand, Gen. S. delivered an eloquent address setting forth some of the objects of his mission, and the causes that impelled Georgia to secede from the Federal Union, and expressed his gratification at the prospect that Texas would also soon occupy the same position, and both States would speedily constitute part of a Southern Confederacy, in which our common rights and institutions should be preserved. …
“Enclosed I send the Declaration of the causes that have induced the Convention to adopt the Ordinance of Secession. W. R.”
The latter document — “A DECLARATION Of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union” — ran in full in the Extra; it began with an accounting of the former Republic of Texas’ Dec. 29, 1845, admission as a state:
“Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the confederated States, to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility, and secure more substantially the blessings of liberty and peace to her people.”
Left unsaid was that the consent brought with it federal funds sufficient to retire the Republic of Texas’ debilitating, multimillion-dollar debt.
The declaration then assumed the words and tenor of a white-supremacist diatribe.
“She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the Africans to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should continue to exist in all future time. Her traditions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and the other slaveholding States of the Confederacy.”
The declaration proceeded to list grievances attributed to abolitionists.
“They have, for years past, encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their re-capture. ...
“They have invaded Southern soil and murdered unoffending citizens; and, through the press, their leading men and a fanatical pulpit, have bestowed praise upon the actors and assassins in these crimes — while the Governors of several of their States have refused to deliver parties implicated and indicted for participation in such offenses, upon the legal demands of the States aggrieved.
“They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.
“They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.
“They have impoverished the slaveholding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
“They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slaveholding State. …
“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the [Union] itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as inferior and dependent races, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. …
“For these and other reasons, solemnly asserting that the Federal Constitution has been violated and virtually abrogated … and realizing that our own State can no longer look for protection, but to God and her own sons — We the delegates of the people of Texas, in convention assembled, have passed an ordinance dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America and the people thereof and confidently appeal to the intelligence and patriotism of the freemen of Texas to ratify the same at the ballot box, on the 23rd day of the present month. …
“Adopted in Convention on the 2nd day of Feb., in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty one … .”
In the decade preceding the adoption of the Ordinance of Secession, the Texas population had virtually tripled, to 604,215 people, 182,921 of whom were enslaved.
Gov. Sam Houston had argued strenuously against secession — albeit allowing that should Texans vote to do secede, the state should return to its status as a republic and not join the Confederacy — but many of the state’s newcomers hailed from other slaveholding states, and Houston’s argument was dismissed. The ordinance passed by a vote of 166 aye to eight nay.
On Feb. 23, 1861, three quarters of the roughly 61,000 Texans who voted in the statewide referendum similarly affirmed the ordinance, and, on March 2, Texas became the seventh member of the lost cause that was the Confederacy.
Two days later, on March 4, President Abraham Lincoln raised his right hand, placed his left on a Bible, and solemnly swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
Houston, the hero of Texas’ independence, the first elected president of the Republic of Texas, and, too, the third, and twice elected the state’s governor, 12 days later refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy — and his colleagues in Austin ousted him from office.
The following month, on April 12, the bloody, awful war began.