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Pendleton Murrah and States Rights in Civil War Texas

From: Civil War History
Volume 45, Number 2, June 1999
pp. 126-146 | 10.1353/cwh.1999.0101

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Pendleton Murrah and States Rights in Civil War Texas John Moretta Secession in Texas, as in the rest of the Confederacy, made Southern rights and the embracing ofseparation the foundation ofa new national loyalty. Confederation created a new political entity to which all Texans suddenly owed their allegiance. Since opposition to secession in Texas had been minimal, insurrectionists found it easy to suppress dissent whenever it surfaced in the months and years that followed. Once Texasjoined the Confederacy, loyalists found it difficult to pledge fidelity to a government they believed usurped the powers of the United States. As unionistJ. WalkerAustin observed, "Every man that is not willing to support the Southern Congress is to be beheaded." For most Texans, fealty to section prevailed over attachment to nation. They joined the secessionist ranks in response to Lincoln's decision to use force against the wayward states, or they simply resigned themselves to accepting the South's fate as their own.1 1 The most complete analysis of seccession in Texas is Walter L. Buenger's Secession and the Union in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984). Other valuable general studies are Oran Lonnie Sinclair, "Crossroads of Conviction: A Study of the Texas Political Mind, 1856-1861" (Ph.D. diss.. Rice University, 1975); Frank Smyrl, "Unionism in Texas, [856-1861, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (Oct. 1964): 172-95; Anna Irene Sandbo, "Beginnings of the Secession Movement in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 18 (July 1914): 41-47, and "The First Session of the Secession Convention ofTexas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 18 (July 1914): 162-94. On individual Texans who experienced great anxiety in accepting secession but who became ardent Confederates, see John Moretta, "William Pin Ballinger and the Travail of Texas Secession , "Houston Review 1 1 (Fall 1989): 3-23; Claude Elliot, Leathercoat: The Life History ofa Texas Patriot (San Antonio: Standard Publishing, 1938), 46-49, 56-59; Larry G. Gage, "The Texas Road to Secession and War. John Marshall and the Texas State Gazette, 1 860-1 861 ," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (Oct. 1958): 198-210; Alma Dexta King, "The Political Career OfWilliam Simpson Oldham," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 33 (OcL 1929): 1 12-31; Ben H. Proctor, Not Without Honor: The Life ofJohn H. Reagan (Austin: University ofTexas Press, 1962), 1 1 8-24; Phillip J. Avilo Jr., "John H. Reagan: Unionist or Secessionist," East Texas Historical Journal 13 (Spring 1975): 23-33; Edward R. Maher Jr., "Sam Houston and Secession," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 55 (Apr. 1952): 448-58; Earl W. Fomell, 7"Ae Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on the Eve ofSecession (Austin: University ofTexas Press, 1961), 267-301; J. WalkerAustin to "Son," Mar. 22 1861 , J. WalkerAustin Papers, BarkerTexas History Center, Austin, Tex. On the concept of nationalism see Boyd C. Shafer, Faces ofNationalism: New Realities and Old Myths (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972) andNationalism, Myth and Reality, (NewYork: Harcourt, Brace, Civil War History, Vol. xlv No. 2 © 1999 by The Kent State University Press PENDLETON MURRAH AND STATES RIGHTSI27 At the beginning of the war, the Confederate government was a distant entity, little more than an idea to which Southerners pledged allegiance. Moreover, traditional Southern political values had prescribed a limited role for the central government and primary reliance on state and local authorities. The war upset this established systemjust as it did many others. To direct a conflict that quickly reached an unprecedented magnitude, the Confederate government had to expand its authority in many areas. Under Jefferson Davis's strong leadership, the central government unhesitatingly assumed the task of directing the war effort. However, since the Confederacy was structured with strong powers reserved to the states, many state officials believed it was incumbent on them to protect those privileges, war or not. In many instances the actions of state officials obstructed the policies of the Davis government, which was trying to instill in Southerners a greater sense of nationalism.2 In the conflicting reactions of Confederate officials and local leaders to the exigencies of war lay one key to the fate of the Southern nation: Southerners' search for aid led them to support either those who believed in Confederate nationalism or the advocates of an obstructive state...