Guest Essayist: Sam Houston

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While the states which comprise the United States of America each have a unique story and history, the political and constitutional evolution of the great state of Texas is a compelling story in and of itself. I know, for you non-Texans your first response might be “there goes another one of those Texans who believes everything about Texas is bigger, brighter, bolder and more significant than everyplace else in the world”! Admittedly, true Texans are unabashedly proud. They hold an opinion which tends to advance the idea Texas is first in everything and the rest of the world can at best be “first runner up.” However, when one considers the fascinating history of Texas, the uniqueness of her size and the role she played in the growth and development of the United States, her role cannot be overlooked even by the most objective analysis.

Originally explored by the Spanish Conquistadors, Texas was a remote and dangerous land; vast in area and boundaries vague in definition. The aggressive nature of the Lipan Apache, as well as the Comanche and several other tribes, made ordinary settlement almost impossible. After the turn of the 18th century the Mexican government wished to establish a presence in its vast territories and set forth to establish a number of military outposts and Catholic missions, but they were wildly scattered and grew very slowly. Seeking a way to initiate colonization the Mexican authorities ultimately reached out to a gentleman who was from New England, by the name of Moses Austin. In exchange for receiving a significant land grant, Moses agreed to relocate 300 families at this own expense to this raw land called Tejas. This initial land grant to the Austin Colony which became known as San Felipe De Austin, was the beginning of mass immigration to Mexican Tejas from the United States.

At the time in the United States there was what they called an “economic panic” (a recession) and to purchase land from the U.S. Government cost $1.25 an acre and had to be paid in cash. Quite frankly, not many people at the time had cash money and there were not banks, mortgage companies, or savings and loans and the like in which to be able to secure a loan to purchase land. However, in Mexican Tejas, the holders of these huge land grants could give a settler 4,428 acres for ranching, and 177 prime acres for farming, and it was all free! FREE! Can you just imagine? Soon citizens of the United States were pouring into Tejas like water from a bucket with a hole in the bottom!

For these Anglo immigrants coming into Mexican territory, they were accustomed to certain rights, privileges and protections which were guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; however, in Mexican Tejas these rights simply did not exist. The newly created Mexican government had only recently gained its Independence from Spain and its legal background was based on a far different set of values and priorities than the U.S. Constitution. These differences were even more brazenly made apparent when in the fall of 1835 the President of Mexico, Santa Anna replaced the Constitution of Mexico with the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws). These changes effectively eliminated all state governments in Mexico including Tejas and made Santa Anna a military dictator in command of the entire Mexican nation.

For the Anglo Americans who had immigrated to Texas this elimination of state government and a creation of a conservative, strong, Catholic dominated, centralized government was simply too much and too foreign an idea to accept. Armed conflicts arose and soon the citizens of Texas eventually were in open revolt: declaring their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836.  Santa Anna attempted to enforce his authority by armed action against the Texicans and was successful at the Battle of the Alamo.  A few weeks later at Goliad, Texas Commander James Fannin surrendered his out-manned and outmaneuvered men, believing they would be treated as prisoners of war by the Mexican authorities. However, under Mexican law the Texicans were nothing other than “pirates” and on Palm Sunday of 1836, all 376 men were shot and their bodies burned as a warning to all who opposed Mexico.

At the Battle of San Jacinto in April of 1836, Texas forces under the command of Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and ended the Texas Revolution, resulting in the creation of the independent Republic of Texas. The Texas Constitution of 1836 was largely modeled after the U.S. Constitution except it expressly permitted slavery and forbid Indians or slaves to roam freely or to become Texas citizens.

Texas subsequently had revised Constitutions in 1845,1861,1866,1869 and 1876. These changes largely coincide with the significant historical events of Texas joining the Union, seceding to join the Confederacy, and then rejoining the Union of the United States. The current constitution, (the 1876 Constitution), is one of the longest state constitutions in the United States and one of the oldest still in effect. Amendments have been adopted 456 times; an additional 176 have been passed by the Texas State Legislature then rejected by voters.

Most of these amendments are due to the document’s highly restrictive nature. It states that the State of Texas has only those powers explicitly granted to it; there is no state equivalent of the necessary and proper clause to facilitate controversial legislation. Thus, the Texas Constitution functions as a limiting document, as opposed to the U.S. Constitution’s purpose as a granting document.

Right from the very start, the citizens of Texas wanted political power to vest in its individual citizens and for their government to be unable to “expand” their power at its own whim. In Texas, the right of the individual to be free from government intrusion, to be free from an expansive government, to be free from tyranny began with the societal experience of its American immigrants and was sharpened by the authoritarian rule of Santa Anna. Forever more its founding fathers wanted Texas to be free from abuse, intrusion, and over reaching by its government. The constitution of Texas so reflects this attitude and the attitude which formulates much of the current political climate of Texas today.

Sam Houston has had the good fortune to experience a wide variety of professional endeavors. He was an award-winning trial lawyer and the 1992 recipient of the Oklahoma Bar Associations “Courageous Advocacy Award”. He has been heavily involved in the horse industry having served on the Board of Directors of the National Reining Horse Association for many years. He created and hosted a national television show “Inside Reining” which received the coveted Vaquero Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for excellence in promoting the Cowboy lifestyle. He is a playwright, author, actor, public speaker, and the star of “The Lion of Texas-An Evening with Sam Houston”; a one man play about his namesake and most iconic character in Texas history. Currently he is the General Manager of the Granbury Live Theater in Granbury Texas where he proudly lives with his wife Teresa.

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