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October 2nd, 2013
Bartee Haile: Time to start acting like an independent people

This Week in Texas History:
A column
by BARTEE HAILE

A year and a half after the Battle of San Jacinto, Texans finally faced two sobering facts on Oct. 5, 1837: annexation would not happen anytime soon and the time had come to start acting like an independent people.

That was the purpose of the Second Congress of the Lone Star Republic. The creation of an honest-to-goodness government was not nearly as exciting as making a revolution, but it had to be done if their new country was going to survive.

Convinced the invitation to join the Union was bound to arrive any day, Texans initially saw independence as a brief prelude to statehood. By the summer of 1837, however, they began coming to terms with the disappointing fact that annexation by the United States was not right around the diplomatic corner.

Since the unhappy electorate had thrown out the rascals of the First Congress, the Second contained only seven carry-overs. Despite their inexperience, the new lawmakers put on an impressive show for the spectators that attended the opening ceremonies.

Led by the sergeant-at-arms, the senators solemnly filed into the chamber followed by the presidential party. An entourage of cabinet members and leaders of the respective bodies escorted Sam Houston to the rostrum, where he listed the urgent items on the national agenda.

With the pomp and pageantry behind them, the congressmen concentrated on the controversial issue that had cost their predecessors their jobs. By giving the Texas Rail Road, Navigation and Banking Company a blank check, most members of the First Congress had forfeited their chances of reelection.

A bill was introduced to repeal the generous charter granted the enterprise, a rash act which had aroused the hair-trigger hostility of Texans toward bankers and speculators. But the officers of the company saved the solons the trouble. Ostracized by their neighbors and unable to attracted the necessary capital from leery investors in the U.S., they quietly put Texas Rail Road, Navigation and Banking out of its misery.

Congress then considered education, a perennial problem that plagues Lone Star politicians to this day. Although the colonists had criticized the Mexican regime for failing to provide free schools, once in charge they did no better.

The representative from Nacogdoches lobbied for a university, but his colleagues shelved the proposal by insisting grammar schools should come first. Nothing concrete came out of the debate, and the children of Texas had to wait until the 1850’s for a public education system.

Restless men with guns were harder to ignore. Veterans, many of whom still served in the idle army, demanded that the government make good on its promise of free land for those that had fought for freedom.

For weeks a special committee juggled the hot potato. When Thomas Rusk suggested everyone in Texas by April 1838 should receive the same amount of land, Anson Jones retorted only combat veterans were entitled to the bounty. Congress eventually avoided a major crisis with the passage of a compromise land bill.

Giving soldiers land with one hand, congress took away their vote with the other. To limit the influence of the military in civilian affairs, the house of representatives denied suffrage to all active-duty personnel.

Going a bold step farther, the law was applied retroactively to the recent round of balloting. As a result of the unprecedented recount, two congressmen actually lost their seats to opponents who polled a majority of the civilian vote.

As much afraid of the flood of newcomers as the army, congress also revised the residency requirement for political candidates. Anyone who had lived in Texas less than six months was declared ineligible for public office except, of course, those gentlemen that had already found their niche.

Following a recess, the Second Congress reconvened at Houston on Apr. 9, 1838. The sole topic of the last session was the deteriorating relationship with the United States.There was no mistaking the mood of the body. In the presence of the American emissary, a motion was made to downgrade the Lone Star representative in Washington from a full minister to a lowly charge d’affaires. This seemed only fair since that was the insulting rank of the diplomat the U.S. had seen fit to send to Texas.

Photo of Sam Houston (inset)

Photo of Sam Houston (inset)

Based upon a recommendation from the foreign relations committee, a strongly worded resolution demanding the “unconditional withdrawal” of the Republic’s petition for annexation went to the senate. Confident sponsors predicted prompt passage.

But last-minute pressure from Sam Houston persuaded several senators to skip the dramatic show-of-hands. When the roll was called, the anti-annexation resolution was rejected by a single vote.

Upset as they were with the procrastinators on the Potomac, Texans wisely refrained from burning all their bridges.

Visit Bartee’s new web site barteehaile.com every day to find out what happened in Texas history on that date. And while you’re there, do a little shopping at the General Store.

 

 


San Marcos Mercury columnist BARTEE HAILE welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.

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