When Texas Monthly called for secession
Thu April 23, 2009 11:01 am

A writer for the online Texas Republic News (“Dios, Libertad, y Tejas”) has discovered that Texas Monthly once advocated that the state secede from the Union. It’s true. The cover story (“Is Texas Too Big for its Britches?”) ran in January 1975, and we sold a lot of magazines. We knew that secession sells 34 years before Rick Perry did.

“I thought it kind of amusing that among those weighing in on the matter was Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka,’ writes author James Aalan Bernsen, ‘who loudly proclaimed that bringing up secession and independence made Perry look like a kook. It’s like the “S” word was somehow poisonous, racist or hate-filled.” (No, just, well, kooky.)

Editorial by James Aalan Bernsen - Texas Republic News

April 23, 2009

I’m a big student of Texas history, and have always been fascinated by the Republic of Texas and the annexation controversy. Thus, it was particularly interesting last week to watch the storm of controversy over Perry’s comments that seemed to invoke secession. Of course, Perry wasn’t directly advocating that, which I’ve already explained in my other column.

Most of the outrage was manufactured and fake from the usual partisan suspects. But I thought it kind of amusing that among those weighing in on the matter was Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka, who loudly proclaimed that bringing up secession and independence made Perry look like a kook. It’s like the “S” word was somehow poisonous, racist or hate-filled.

“Our magazine has made a good living out of celebrating the state’s myths, but secession was not, shall we say, a positive event,” Burka wrote.

Of course, the irony is that Burka is straight-up lying. Maybe his memory doesn’t go back that far, but mine does. Or at least my archive does, because I was only three and a half years old when this issue last came up.

The January, 1975 issue of Texas Monthly, in fact, is entirely devoted to the idea of Texas secession. Under a cover which features a woman’s shapely rear end in Daisy Duke jeans with a patchwork map of the Lone Star State on the hip pocket, Texas Monthly asks “Is Texas too Big for It’s Britches?” On the top bar over the masthead, the magazine asks the provocative question “Is it Time for Texas To Secede from the U.S. Again?”

The entire issue is devoted to a concept that Burka now says shouldn’t even be discussed at all, not even with all of Perry’s caveats and hypotheticals. But apparently, it was not something so abhorrent and repulsive for Texas Monthly to discuss in 1975 – when Texas was still a one-party Democratic state and Republicans had controlled the White House for 14 of the last 22 years. (In fact, having lost a president from the Lone Star State – and the clout that comes with it – Texas was in a position not too far different from where it is today.)

Evidently, back then, that loaded buzzword “secession” didn’t have all the evil and racist connotations that the sage of the lone star magazine world seems to think it does today.

Burka should know this. After all, in 1975, he was on the Texas Monthly staff as one of the magazine’s five Senior Editors.

True, but I wasn’t the governor.

* * * *

I have just read the original story. Despite the line on the masthead that Bernsen cites–“Is it Time for Texas to Secede from the Union Again?”–the story is not really about secession. It’s mostly about Texas dividing into five states. The headline is “Divide and Conquer.” The author of the story, Griffin Smith jr., was, along with founding editor William Broyles, the creator of the Ten Best and Ten Worst Legislators story. Now the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, he wrote:

If a random Rip Van Winkle among the Texas leaders who approved that Joint congressional Resolution [giving Texas the right to divide itself into five states] should suddenly awaken in Austin today, he would be astonished that only one state with one capital existed. Throughout the lifetime of anyone who remembered the War for Texas Independence, division–some time, some way–was simply taken for granted. Between the 1840s and the 1920s, not a single decade passed without some halfway serious effort in that direction. More than once, division missed by no more than a hairbreadth.

Smith’s somewhat fanciful piece contains a lot of serious history: one Isaac Van Zandt ran for governor in 1847 “on a platform calling for immediate division into four states. He seemed headed for victory, but he died.” In 1852 Representative Peter Flanagan proposed to split Texas along the Brazos, but his resolution was defeated, 33-15.

A fanciful look at Texas as five states followed. We picked the winners and losers in the five governor’s races.

North Texas: [Dallas DA] Henry Wade defeats [Arlington mayor] Tom Vandergriff
South Texas: [Chicano radical] Jose Angel Gutierrez defeats [governor] Dolph Briscoe
East Texas: [lieutenant governor] Bill Hobby defeats [former speaker Price Daniel Jr.
West Texas: [former governor] Preston Smith defeats [former lieutenant governor] Ben Barnes
Central Texas [LBJ son-in-law] Pat Nugent defeats [former senator] Ralph Yarborough

My favorite among the Senate races was in Central Texas: Baylor president Abner McCall defeats Roe v. Wade attorney Sarah Weddington.

In the end we did flirt with the s-word:

Ah, but let’s be realistic. The rest of the country will never go along with that five state stuff. Trouble is–if the armchair lawyers are right–the only way they can stop it is to throw out the Articles of Annexation that brought Texas into the Union in the first place. And that means the Lone Star State will have to pick up where it left off in 1845. Independent.

“Independence?…Not secession, mind you, just good old hard-earned sovereignty.”

Our independent Texas had as its basic coin the “cowchip” and 100 cowchips equaled one Bevo. The Republic of Texas would rank ninth in the world in gross national product, third in GNP per capita, and fifth in cotton. It’s too bad the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh weren’t around to pick it up.

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