- The State of Texas in 1860 -- unfavorable political conditions -- election of Governor Runnels in 1857 -- secession and the African slave trade Agitated -- election of Governor Houston in 1859 -- his opposition to separate State action.
When the crisis was pending in 1860, Texas was in an unfavorable condition, politically, to promptly join her sister Southern States in the movement for secession from the United States. This was not from the lack of Southern sentiment generally pervading the mass of the people of the State, but from political differences that had resulted from the course of events previous to that time. The great struggle in the United States for the annexation of Texas to the Union exhibited parties in the Northern States, formed or forming, antagonistic to the institutions of the South, and to their extension to other territory to become a part of the United States. The fact that the Democratic party, in control of the government, admitted Texas into the Union, caused the great body of the people of Texas afterward to align themselves with that party. This action was so nearly unanimous that in six general elections for State executive officers, during the twelve years, it was not necessary to hold conventions to make nominations by the Democratic party in Texas. There were political events before the end of that time which tended to make inroads upon the unanimity, and caused the Democratic party to make nominations for governor and other executive officers in 1857, when H. R. Runnels was nominated for  the office of governor, and F. R. Lubbock for that of lieutenant-governor. One of those events was when, upon the passage of the Kansas and Nebraska bill in Congress, in 1854, Senator Houston of Texas voted against the bill, with the Northern Free Soilers, and Senator Rusk of Texas voted for the bill, with the Democratic and Whig senators of the South, except John Bell, of Tennessee, who also voted against it. This, with other votes given by Senator Houston, caused a strong opposition to be made against him politically in Texas. That, however, did not prevent him from openly and vigorously defending his course in the Senate, which drew to him large numbers of adherents, who became alienated from the regularly organized Democratic party. Another political event was the advent, from the North into Texas, of the ‘Know Nothing’ order, a secret organization, afterward called the American party, that crept almost unknown to the public into the different parts of the State, and embraced a large number of citizens who organized as a political party, advocating the extension of time to twenty-one years for the naturalization of foreign immigrants, and opposition to Catholicism. As a party they did not publicly nominate a candidate for the various offices from the lowest to the highest in the State; but their concerted action in voting for particular candidates, generally in opposition to the nominees of the Democratic party, when nominations were made, soon exhibited a strong influence in county district and State elections. Still another dangerous event was the formation in the North of the Republican party with a platform, as it was regarded in the South, embracing all the leading principles of the Northern States, as held by different portions of their people; they being centralism, federalism, free-soilism and abolitionism, upon which Colonel Fremont ran as a candidate for President in 1856.  Though not elected, he received of the popular vote, 1,341,812, and of the presidential electors, 127. This remarkable combination portended danger to all the cherished political principles of Southern Democrats and ultimately to their peculiar industrial institutions; notwithstanding which it was currently reported that if Fremont had been elected an effort would have been made by leading men in Texas for submission to his administration. The political situation was made still more perplexing by the espousal by Northern Democrats, and even by some Democrats in Texas, of what was denominated squatter-sovereignty, which was a contention for the right of a territory before becoming a State, but when organized in a territorial government, to admit or exclude slavery at its own discretion. Southern Democrats held that it was only when a constitution was framed in a territory that this could be done; and they believed they had the precedents of the acts of Congress and the decisions of the Supreme court in support of the Southern view on that subject. With all these matters agitating the minds of the people of Texas, by which differences of opinion had been generated, Senator Sam Houston became an independent candidate for governor. This was in 1857, the most exciting canvass that was ever witnessed throughout Texas. As the nominee, H. R. Runnels, did not make public speeches, Senator Houston was answered in many, if not most of the places where he spoke, by prominent Democratic orators. That brought out all of Senator Houston's powers to arouse the people in vindication of his course in Congress. He styled himself an old-time Democrat, but he was supported by the Americans, disaffected Democrats, and his old Texas friends who would vote for him irrespective of their individual views as to his course in Congress. At the election that year, H. R. Runnels received 32,552 votes, and Houston 23,628. For  lieutenant-governor, F. R. Lubbock received 33,379, his opponent, Jesse Grimes, 20,818, and F. Smith 878. Senator Houston continued to occupy his seat in the Senate until his term expired, which was before the next general election. Early in 1858 Governor Runnels delivered a message to the legislature, in which he discussed the revolutionary proceedings in the Territory of Kansas to the injury of Southern interests, and referred to the action of Congress as encouraging and not repressing the growing agitation of the slavery question, all of which made it incumbent upon each State to look to its own protection. He recommended resolutions to be passed, making provision for co-operation with other Southern States in a consultation for the mutual protection of their constitutional rights. The legislature passed resolutions (approved February 16, 1858) authorizing the governor to order an election for seven delegates to meet delegates appointed by the Southern States in convention whenever the executives of a majority of the slaveholding States shall express the opinion that such convention is necessary to preserve the equal rights of such States in the Union; and appropriated $10,000, or as much thereof as was necessary, to pay the expenses of the delegates. The second resolution provided that should an exigency arise, in the opinion of the governor, in which it is necessary for the State of Texas to act alone through a convention representing the sovereignty of the State, he is hereby requested to call a special session of the legislature to provide for such State convention. This message and the resolutions give evidence of being prompted by serious apprehension of great trouble prevailing in the minds of the people of Texas. That apprehension was justified by the long-continued agitation of the slavery question, which continually increased in virulence in the Congress of the United States, and was led by such distinguished statesmen as Sumner and  Seward. The newspapers were teeming with it from day to day. Mr. Sumner said in the Senate in 1854, ‘To the overthrow of the slave power we are summoned by a double call, one political and the other philanthropic: First, to remove an oppressive tyranny from the national government; and secondly, to open the gates of emancipation in the slave States.’ Such sentiments continued to be publicly uttered during the year 1858. Senator Seward, in his speeches at Rochester and at Rome, N. Y., presented what he deemed to be the true issue in the political controversy then pending in the United States. That issue he discussed under the following question: ‘Shall the social organization of the North supplant that of the South?’ and asserted that ‘free labor and slave labor cannot exist together in the Union.’ This doubtless reflected the real sentiments of his party, of which he was known to be one of the most prominent leaders, as he had been one of its most efficient originators. Notwithstanding all this, there was a large body of the citizens of Texas who still had confidence that the general government would be administered so as to protect the constitutional rights of the Southern people. These were classed politically as Union men; they generally objected to the action of the governor and legislature, as prematurely encouraging the sentiment of disunion among the people of Texas. Thus was raised the questions of the right and expediency of secession, which, during 1858 and 1859, up to the time of the general State election, brought out those great debates and discussions by the leading statesmen of Texas, by which the people were thoroughly aroused, although many held aloof, believing the agitation premature and that it was unnecessary at that time to submit the questions to ballot. Unfortunately, there was another disturbing subject thrust before the public view during that period in Texas. That was the African slave trade. It was advocated in a popular periodical in New Orleans, De Bow's Review,  and the Southern Commercial convention at Vicksburg passed resolutions in favor of it. At Galveston, in December, 1858, there were eighty camels said to have been shipped there to disguise the introduction of 200 African negroes, who had been landed somewhere on the Gulf coast. About that time articles appeared in a few newspapers favoring the slave trade, among the rest the State Gazette at Austin, then regarded as the organ of the Democratic State convention in Texas. These articles were generally quotations and not editorials; still they gave the paper the reputation of favoring the slave trade. In the spring and summer of 1859, a few very prominent men in Texas made speeches in favor of the trade, and they were generally understood to be strongly Southern and particular adherents of the governor and his policy; but the movement was strongly opposed by other gentlemen, both in speeches and in writing. It was in this way that the imputation was fastened on the State administration that the slave trade was favored by the governor. In the summer of 1859, Gov. H. R. Runnels and Lieut.-Gov. F. R. Lubbock were renominated, when the agitation of these political subjects increased in vigor to the end of the canvass. General Houston became again an independent candidate, under the platform announced by himself, ‘The Constitution and the Union.’ With little effort on his part he was elected. The issues then raised were both unnecessary and futile at the time. One of them, on secession, was premature; and the other, on the slave trade, was so unpopular that if it had been submitted as a practical question, nineteen-twentieths of the people of Texas would have voted against it. Although the regular Democrats for the most part disregarded these extraneous issues, still they had influence in the election. The vote was for General Houston, 36,257, and for Governor Runnels, 27,500. Notwithstanding this result, there were elected a large majority of regular Democrats  as members of the legislature, and the new State executive officers were of the same party, except the secretary and adjutant-general appointed by Governor Houston. Col. Ed Clark, the running mate with General Houston, was elected lieutenant-governor. Governor Houston was inaugurated on the 21st of December, 1859, and thus was organized at this critical period in Texas a divided administration, with a chief executive known to be strongly opposed to separate State action as a remedy against Federal wrongs, and a legislature with views not at all in harmony with his on that subject. This was made more manifest during the canvass in 1860 for President, in which the governor's leading friends supported Bell, and the great body of Democrats supported Breckinridge, the Southern Democratic nominee for President. Although the vote was somewhat divided, especially in certain counties in northern and western Texas, the aggregate vote in the State in that election restored the democracy to its former overwhelming majority. There were no electoral tickets put out for either Stephen A. Douglas or Abraham Lincoln. During this canvass there were weekly discussions by leaders on both sides, at the capital and in most other parts of the State, and toward the last of it the people were called upon to determine what should be done in the event Abraham Lincoln should be elected by the combined majorities of the Northern States. On the 14th of November, 1860, at Huntsville, Tex., a large number of citizens addressed Governor Houston a letter, asking his opinion in regard to the best course to pursue in this important period of our history. In his answer he presented at length his reasons why there was no occasion for separate State action, and defined his position by saying: ‘Here I take my stand. So long as the Constitution is maintained by Federal authority and Texas is not made the victim of “Federal wrong,” I am for the Union as it is.’