Heritage, Volume 13, Number 4, Fall 1995 Page: 17
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0 9 _ D fIe eS
The Texas Republic:
An Interpretive Essay
By Paul D. Lack
The 150-year commemoration of Texas statehood
brings our minds to a unique element of the Texas identity and the
events leading up to the time when Texas joined the Union.
Te xexans, however that privileged
status may be defined, are
known in-state, out-of-state,
and indeed even internationally, for having
an especially strong sense of pride and
distinctiveness. No doubt much of what it
means to be a Texan is too ephemeral and
emotional to warrant a precise definition;
thus, there seems to be a yearning to add
modifiers so as to sharpen the image.
Occasionally, folks allow themselves to
be satisfied with something vague like
"true," hut the most popular adjective seems
to be "native". This phrase is popular, no
doubt, as a way of setting oneself apart from
mere residents of the state. On the other
hand, a bold countervailing approach on
one bumper sticker proclaimed: "Yankee
by birth, Texan by choice".
Probing into these emotions is hardly
welcomed by their proponents. "Native
Texans" often resent questions about the
average length of residence of the men
who died at the battle of the Alamo (answer:
a few months) or evidence that the
longer-termed residents were leading the
flight away from the action at the time.
Whether these dialogues between imagery
and historical reality are effective in promoting
our collective understanding, historians
are obliged to make the effort especially
during occasions of heightened
The current 150-year commemoration
of Texas statehood brings our minds to a
unique element of the Texas identity. Texas
Controversy surrounded the annexation of Texas.
Archives Division, Texas State Library. Courtesy
of Texas Humanities Resource Center.
was once a proud and independent nation.
Not only do Texans have a sense of pride
and distinctiveness akin to feelings of nationalism,
we also have a national heritage.
Remembrance of that aspect of our past
almost invariably sparks either boastfulness
or recrimination. "Joining the United States
- biggest mistake Texas ever made -" is a
familiar refrain of native Texans. Isn't it
true that the terms of annexation allow the
Texas flag, unlike the emblems of other
state states, to be flown at the same height
as the United States flag?
The official stance of Texas is hardly
more restrained. The largest state capitol
building, a huge statue of founding father
Sam Houston, and best of all our state song:
"Texas, Our Texas, all hail the mighty
state...O Empire Grand and Glorious..."
The words and images are of power and
pride of the most ardent kind of xenophobia,
but they hardly square with the historical
To be blunt, the Texas nation was a mess
and in several respects a failure. Texas nationalism
in some ways has grown stronger
after the fact of nationhood than during the
life of the Republic. Texas was, quite simply,
hard pressed to survive on its own, and
it yearned for statehood from the beginning.
None of these realities should be particularly
surprising- founding a new nation
is always a hazardous enterprise. Certainly
Texas had not achieved independence
easily. Outside support in the form of
funding and manpower (at least 40 percent
of those who served in the war were volunteers
from the United States) had been
crucial. Texas struggled to achieve political
order, going through six forms of interim
governmental authority in the first
year after fighting began in October 1835.
A revealing symbol of the paradox of Texas
nationalism occurred in the first exercise of
democracy after the break with Mexico.
Voters cast ballots in the same polling to
ratify the constitution of the Republic of
Texas and to express their opinions on
annexation to the United States. Both
passed by landslides.
The electorate also elevated Sam Houston
to the presidency to replace the ineffectual
and unpopular David G. Burnet. As
a military hero and charismatic, if divisive
leader, Houston steered the ship of state
through some very troubled waters. His
policies revealed a cunning style and a
cautious agenda. Houston reduced the army
in size and its would-be despots in influence.
He refused to bow to the forces of
revenge and released captured General
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to the
United States. Houston's connections
helped secure diplomatic recognition from
his mentor, U.S. President Andrew Jackson,
and his emissaries in Europe began
negotiations for international acceptance
and aid. Within the Republic, the Texas
President pursued recognition of the land
claims of the Cherokee and accord with
other tribes. The Texas government continued
Mexico's practice of granting land
to settlers to populate the state and to
stimulate the economy.
Some issues nevertheless defied real solutions.
The infant nation began with $500
in the treasury and $500,000 in debts, and
HERITAGE * FALL 1995 17
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 13, Number 4, Fall 1995, periodical, Autumn 1995; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45411/m1/17/: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.