The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984

Texas and the Riddle of Secession

WALTER L. BUENGER*
SECESSION REMAINS A MYSTIFYING PUZZLE, PUZZLE, A PUZZLE WHOSE SOLUTION
in 1861 was a bloody civil war and a puzzle whose solution in our
time still defies rational explanation. From the end of the American
Revolution until the start of the Civil War, the United States survived
a series of intensely bitter internal disputes. Yet within the span of a
few months in the winter of 1860-1861 the nation split apart, and a
civil war soon began that resulted in over one million casualties. In
Texas, secession seemed all the more improbable. Texans had con-
tinually asked to become part of the Union from 1836 to 1845. Their
precarious position on the southwestern frontier reminded them daily
of the value of belonging to a large and powerful nation. Prosperity
seemed to preclude a political upheaval in 186o. The burgeoning trade
in cotton, hides, and sugar flowing out of the commercial centers of
Texas gave promise of making it one of the richest states in the Union.
Slavery, while a major part of the social and economic life in some re-
gions of Texas, was almost absent in other regions, and, except for
Tennessee and Arkansas, Texas slaves made up the smallest percentage
of the total population of any state in the Confederacy. Reflecting
its position on the border of the South, politics in Texas on the eve of
secession was dominated not by militant secessionists or unionists but
by more moderate folk, who wanted to preserve the Union and the
status quo if the costs of such action were not too high. At no time be-
fore 186o did these moderates, who comprised a clear majority of the
electorate, move persistently and urgently away from their com-
fortable middle ground. Nonetheless, before the firing on Fort Sumter
changed the political question to either defending one's home or de-
fecting to the enemy in defense of principle, Texans voted to secede
by a three-to-one margin.'
*Walter L. Buenger is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University.
1For the election returns in the secession referendum see Joe T. Timmons, "The Refer-
endum in Texas on the Ordinance of Secession, February a, 1861: The Vote," East Texas
Historical Journal (ETHJ), XI (Fall, 1973), 12-28. On the population of the southern
states and Civil War casualty figures see E[verette] B. Long, The Civil War Day by Day:

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 87, July 1983 - April, 1984. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117150/. Accessed March 6, 2015.