The Real Republic of Texas

Somewhere in the Davis Mountains of the vast Texas Trans-Pecos is a 21-year-old kid with a high-power rifle and a lot of time to contemplate his fate. He is the last defender of Richard McLaren’s “Republic of Texas” pipe dream and has chosen to risk his future among the javelinas, cougars, and rattlesnakes. If he hasn’t been rescued by his compatriots, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers will have no trouble locating him. Just look for the circle of buzzards.

Actually, his reading of history, or his latter-day pantomiming of history, caused people to refocus on the annexation of Texas. What most have discovered is that McLaren and his followers are a little misguided.

Texas was annexed in 1846 — under unusual circumstances, to be sure. To overcome abolitionist objections, President John Tyler resorted to a joint resolution of Congress. Since the Constitution provides no correct way to annex territory, this method seems as valid as the similar “purchase” of Louisiana in 1803.

Most important — considering McLaren’s argument — is the fact that Texans embraced annexation. In 1836, Sam Houston led his nation toward that goal and had held a referendum. After being rebuffed by the United States over issues connected to slavery, Houston’s successor, Maribeau B. Lamar, decided to make Texas the seat of future empire.  Under his leadership, the republic tried to enforce its claims to a vast western reserve, even invading New Mexico in 1841 and situating the capital, Austin, far to the west of the established settlements. Lamar’s Texas decimated the Indians, antagonized the Mexicans, ran up a huge national debt, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Texas was far from being a successful republic.

Houston, who replaced Lamar as president in 1841, saved the day by employing a skillful game of diplomatic flirtation. He romanced Great Britain, sending signals that Texas might in fact take its affections elsewhere. His strategy accomplished much. Great Britain was the leading abolitionist nation on earth, and a closer tie might endanger slavery in Texas. Most Texans were southerners, and felt that their slave “property” would be safer under the protection of a nation — the United States — that already recognized slavery’s legality.

The United States meanwhile was already catching a fever that would be called “Manifest Destiny” and could not stand the thought of a pro-British enclave blocking the route to the Pacific.

McLaren’s desired vote on annexation was actually called twice — in 1836 at large, and in 1845 within the legislature and a special convention. The votes were not even close. When put to the citizens of Texas for ratification, the motion for annexation carried 4,254 to 257.

If anyone should have been mad and holed-up with high-powered weapons, it should have been the citizens of Massachusetts, who were never really crazy about Texas in 1846, and can’t see much point to the place in 1997. It was, after all, the will of the United States (and by extension, Massachusetts) that was subverted in 1846, not that of Texans.

Like many special interests groups today, the Republic of Texas is simply taking real history and molding it selectively to justify present-minded political and social goals.

Last month’s entire Republic of Texas standoff was not a total loss, however. Native Texans of 1997 are starting to realize some of the feeling that the native Tejanos must have felt during the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 — or, in their eyes, the secession of Texas from Mexico. Like David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Travis, McLaren and his squad are foreigners, from Missouri, Idaho, Chicago, Kansas.

Anson Jones, the last president of the real Republic of Texas, said, as he ordered the Texas national flag lowered over the capital and the U.S. flag raised in 1846, that “the final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.”

Someone forgot to tell McLaren. And, if somebody doesn’t tell that kid from Kansas wandering about in the Davis Mountains, he is probably going to make a mountain lion very happy, or at least bring a smile to some Texas buzzard’s beak.

Donald S. Frazier is an associate professor history at McMurry University, in Abilene, Texas. He is the author of "The U.S. and Mexico at War: U.S. Expansion and Conflict with Mexico, 1821-1854" (1997) and "Blood and Treasure:  Confederate Empire in the Southwest" (1995) , and is a writer for the History News Service.

June, 1997