- Single Star of the West: The Republic of Texas, 1836–1845 eds. by Kenneth W. Howell and Charles Swanlund
In this anthology, Kenneth W. Howell and Charles Swanlund bring together sixteen scholars to examine the history of the Republic of Texas. They correctly point out that few historians have published monographs specifically dedicated to the subject since William Ransom Hogan's The [End Page 340] Republic of Texas (University of Oklahoma Press, 1946). They contend that modern scholars have largely ignored the topic, which has allowed the persistence of a mythology that celebrated the triumph of the Anglo-American male over peoples of different ethnicities, genders, and nationalities. The editors seek a broader perspective that includes these under-represented groups by identifying who Texans were, revealing their experiences, and assessing their contributions to the short-lived republic. As with most anthologies, some essays work better than others. The more successful authors provide syntheses of recent works that consider the republic within such larger contexts as the borderlands, global commerce, and multicultural communities.
The first two-thirds of the collection, however, too often ignores these issues, focusing instead on more conventional questions. In contrast to the editors' concern that the Texas Revolution has overshadowed the study of the republic, they include two essays that revisit that conflict. In the third chapter, James E. Crisp reminds the reader that Texans of this period relied on racial exclusion in the formation of their various identities. The next section consists of three essays on the nation's military history. Here, the authors offer traditional observations that assess leadership qualities, institutional effectiveness, and martial exceptionalism. The four essays that follow discuss political and diplomatic history, including individual chapters about the three men who served as president. Students of the Republic of Texas will find much of this material familiar.
The anthology succeeds when the contributors rely on the scholarship of the last several decades and tackle the questions that Howell and Swanlund offer in their introduction. In his examination of commerce, for example, Walter L. Buenger draws from the work of borderlands scholars and the now decades-old New Western History. He identifies the often surprising economic and cultural ties between disparate groups within the region and delineates the intimate connections between individual households and global trade networks. Mary L. Scheer and Francis X. Galán impressively synthesize the scholarship on women and Tejanos of the period. Scheer finds that the Republic of Texas was not a good place for women, and by exploring different groups, she determines that war and immigration significantly disrupted their lives. Galán demonstrates how Tejano communities persevered against losing their cultural distinctiveness and becoming stateless within a nation that many helped to establish. In concluding the collection, John Storey describes a population in the first years of the republic that was hostile toward religion and that resisted the efforts of Protestant missionaries from the United States to establish churches and encourage temperance. By the time of annexation, circuit riders and camp meeting organizers had successfully established Methodist, Baptist, and other congregations.
Howell and Swanlund took on a difficult task in trying to capture so [End Page 341] many perspectives within a single volume. The collection will serve as a useful resource; it will, I hope, also renew interest in the subject. While at times the essays seem to reinforce the old myths that the editors wanted to debunk, others succeed in incorporating current scholarship that will direct students toward new questions to ask about the Republic of Texas.