Rick Perry put his foot into something during one of the Astro-turf “tea parties” on April 15. Someone asked him about whether Texas should secede from the United States, as a protest against high taxes, or something.
The answer to the question is “No, secession is not legal. Did you sleep through all of your U.S. history courses? Remember the Civil War?”
Alas, Perry didn’t say that.
Instead, Perry said it’s not in the offing this week, but ‘Washington had better watch out.’
He qualified his statement by saying the U.S. is a “great union,” but he said Texans are thinking about seceding, and he trotted out a hoary old Texas tale that Texas had reserved that right in the treaty that ceded Texas lands to the U.S. in the switch from being an independent republic after winning independence from Mexico, to statehood in the U.S.
So, rational people want to know: Does Perry know what he’s talking about?
No, he doesn’t. Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (still one of America’s great newspapers despite the efforts of its corporate owners to whittle it down), noted the error and checked with Gov. Perry’s history instructors at Texas A&M and his old high school, both of which said that Perry didn’t get the tale from them. (Score one for Texas history teachers; rethink the idea about letting people run for state office without having to pass the high school exit history exam.)
A&M professor Walter L. Buenger is a fifth-generation Texan and author of a textbook on Texas’ last secession attempt. (The federal occupation lasted eight years after the Civil War.)
“It was a mistake then, and it’s an even bigger mistake now,” Buenger said by phone from College Station, where he has taught almost since Perry was an Aggie yell leader.
“And you can put this in the paper: To even bring it up shows a profound lack of patriotism,” Buenger said.
The 1845 joint merger agreement with Congress didn’t give Texas an option clause. The idea of leaving “was settled long ago,” he said.
“This is simple rabble-rousing and political posturing,” he said. “That’s all it is. . . . Our governor is now identifying himself with the far-right lunatic fringe.”
Three false beliefs about Texas history keep bubbling up, and need to be debunked every time. The first is that Texas had a right to secede; the second is that Texas can divide itself into five states; and the third is that the Texas flag gets special rights over all other state flags in the nation.
Under Abraham Lincoln’s view the Union is almost sacred, and once a state joins it, the union expands to welcome that state, but never can the state get out. Lincoln’s view prevailed in the Civil War, and in re-admittance of the 11 Confederate states after the war.
The second idea also died with Texas’s readmission. The original enabling act (not treaty) said Texas could be divided, but under the Constitution’s powers delegated to Congress on statehood, the admission of Texas probably vitiated that clause. In any case, the readmission legislation left it out. Texas will remain the Lone Star State, and not become a Five Star Federation. (We dealt with this issue in an earlier post you probably should click over to see.)
Texas’s flag also gets no special treatment. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard Texans explain to Boy Scouts that the Texas flag — and only the Texas flag — may fly at the same level as the U.S. flag on adjacent flag poles. Under the flag code, any flag may fly at the same level; the requirement is that the U.S. flag be on its own right.
Gov. Perry is behind Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in polling of a head-to-head contest between the two to see who will be the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 — Hutchison is gunning to unseat Perry. He was trying to throw some red meat to far-right conservative partisans who, he hopes, will stick by him in that primary election.
Alas, he came off throwing out half-baked ideas instead. It’s going to be a long, nasty election campaign.
Update: A commenter named Bill Brock (the Bill Brock?) found the New York Times article from 1921 detailing John Nance Garner’s proposal to split Texas into five. Nice find!
Another update: How much fuss should be made over the occasional wild hare move for some state to secede? Probably not much. A few years ago Alaska actually got a referendum on the ballot to study secession. The drive to secede got nowhere, of course. I was tracking it at the time to see whether anyone cared. To the best of my knowledge, the New York Times never mentioned the controversy in Alaska, and the Washington Post gave it barely three paragraphs at the bottom of an inside page.