Tomorrow, February 1, is the 150th anniversary, also known as the sesquicentennial, of Texas’s secession from the Union – the worst decision ever made by leaders of this state. By 1857 the electorate had fractured along the lines of states-rights extremists and Unionists, the latter amounting to around a third of the electorate. The national political organizations that tied Texas to the Union–the old Whig party, now supplanted by Republicans, and the remnants of the Know-Nothing party–had faded into history, and Sam Houston and the Unionists were left without an organization. Briefly, a Texas nationalism movement surfaced, whose supporters (including Houston) contemplated seizing Mexican territory and gaining footholds on the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. It is unclear whether Houston embraced the revival of the Republic as an end, or simply employed the idea to forestall the secessionists. Houston ran for governor in 1859 and managed to win, mainly on the strength of his personality. But he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and ultimately was forced to yield his office. That strain of intolerance is so embedded in the Texas character that it could not spare even our greatest hero.
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I suggest a fitting way to observe the sesquicentennial of succession. The Legislature should resolve to remove the plaque in the Capitol that commemorates the Civil War in a way that should not be commemorated. It is so obscure that I doubt one in a hundred visitors has ever seen it, even though it occupies a wall just a few feet from the rotunda.
Here is the inscription:
CHILDREN OF THE CONFEDERACY CREED
Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army, and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united in an organization called “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strengths, enthusiasms, and love of justice can exert its influence.
We, therefore, pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals, to honor our veterans, to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and to act always in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors.
Erected by Texas Division, Children of the Confederacy, August 7, 1959
I don’t believe this plaque deserves to be displayed in the year 2011. I have no objection to the desire “to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army,” but that is not what this plaque is all about. It is about reaching out from the graveyard of history to seek a revisionist legitimacy for what was illegitimate. I have studied the Civil War, visited Gettysburg and Antietam and Vicksburg, and I absolutely do not accept that it is a truth of history that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor do I accept that its underlying cause was something other than an attempt to sustain slavery. It is clear from Texas (and Southern) history who the secessionists were and what they sought. This attempt at rewriting history does not belong in our great Capitol and it ought to be removed for all time. What better occasion than the 150th anniversary of secession?
[The plaque is located on an interior wall on the ground floor. From the north door, walk past the elevators and turn left before entering the rotunda. The plaque is on the wall on your right.]