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Chapter 2:

  • The agitation and action after the election of Abraham Lincoln, President
  • -- Calls upon Governor Houston to convene the legislature -- speeches for and against State action -- call for a convention by citizens -- Governor Houston Convenes the legislature -- co-operation of States advocated as a diversion from separate State action -- the legislature and convention meet -- ordinance of secession passed -- committee on safety appointed to take the Federal property.

While the news was being received of the strong probability that Abraham Lincoln was elected, the people in all parts of the State looked to the capitol at Austin for the influence to be exerted, either for the advancement or repression of public action in the emergency then existing. Meetings were held at numerous places, and resolutions were passed requesting the governor to convene the legislature in special session, and for that purpose delegations were sent from some localities, which were courteously received by the governor, but he gave them no favorable response to their request. The newspapers were constantly filled with articles showing the urgent desire of the people generally for the meeting of the legislature to take some action for the State. In this way news of what was being done went with great rapidity over the State.

By the 15th of November, 1860, satisfactory information had arrived in Texas that Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate, was elected President, on which the Lone Star flag of Texas was hoisted at the capital city and at [13] most of the cities, towns and villages of the State. This was done, not by any concert nor upon the advice of the political leaders, but by the spontaneous uprising of the people against what was styled the ‘Black Republican administration of the Federal government.’ Then it was that the discussions at the capital and elsewhere became more exciting. Governor Houston and A. J. Hamilton, member of Congress, and many others, made violent speeches against State action; and equally vigorous speeches were made for immediate secession. The most intense excitement prevailed throughout the whole State upon hearing that other States had called conventions. About the 21st of November, 1860, a number of gentlemen assembled in the office of the attorney-general, George Flournoy, for consultation upon the condition of the people whose desire for prompt State action had so far been repressed by the chief executive. Having lost all hope that the legislature would be called together, they determined to make a call for a convention as citizens of the State, and at once fixed the date for the election of delegates on the 8th of January, 1861, and for the convention to meet at Austin on the 28th; and provided for the delegates to be double the number of the representatives in the legislature, omitting the senators, by which there would be 180 delegates. Those signing the call were more than sixty citizens, from Travis and 27 other counties, most of whom were prominent men. The call was published and gladly responded to in all parts of the State. The question then before the people was regarded as above mere politics, and such as required all persons to speak out their opinions. The judges of the supreme and district courts upon being called on gave full expression of their views, which generally were in favor of the immediate action of the State in its sovereign capacity.

On the 17th of December, Governor Houston issued his proclamation for a special session of the legislature to convene on the 21st of January, 1861, which would be [14] one week before the meeting of the convention called by the citizens. His reasons assigned for the call were that there was great excitement in the public mind in reference to our relations to the Federal government, and he wished measures provided for a free expression of the popular will; also that the necessary means might be provided for the protection of the frontier against the depredations of the Indians.

Obviously to produce a diversion from immediate State action, the governor, on the 27th of December, 1860, issued his proclamation founded upon the joint resolutions of the legislature, approved by Governor Runnels, February 16, 1858, relating to the trouble in Kansas, in which he ordered an election to be held on the 4th day of January, 1861, for seven delegates to represent Texas in a consultation with delegates from the other Southern States as to the best mode of maintaining the equal rights of such States in the Union. No such election was held and no such consultation took place; but on the 8th of January, the election was held throughout the State for delegates, who met in convention at Austin on January 28th and proceeded to organize by the election of Oran M. Roberts, president, and R Brownrig, secretary.

On the meeting of the legislature, January 21st, Governor Houston in his message favored concerted action by all the Southern States as the mode of relief, and recommended a submission of the question to a vote of the people at a general election. The legislature passed a joint resolution recognizing the convention and providing that the ordinance of secession, when passed, should be submitted to a vote of the people. This was approved by the governor on February 4th, ‘with a protest against the assumption of any power on the part of said convention beyond the reference of the question of a longer connection of Texas with the Union, to the people.’

The convention appointed a committee composed of John H. Reagan, Peter W. Gray, John D. Steele, William P. [15] Rogers, and Thos. J. Devine, to confer with the governor soon after its meeting. In the cordial reception given them, he said that when the voice of the people of Texas had been declared through the ballot box, no citizen would be more ready to yield obedience to its will or to risk his all in its defense than himself.

On February 1, 1861, the convention passed the ordinance of secession. Before taking the vote the governor and other executive officers and justices of the Supreme court were invited to be present, and the members of the legislature entered the hall which had been crowded by citizens to witness the voting. Governor Houston appeared, and, with Lieut.-Gov. Ed Clark, was seated on the right of the president. To the left were seated Chief-Justice R. T. Wheeler and General McQueen, commissioner to the convention from South Carolina. Thus, with appropriate ceremony and great solemnity, the roll was called, and responses made by each member of the convention, resulting in 167 votes for secession and 7 votes against it. By direction of the convention the president sent letters enclosing copies of the ordinance to Senators Wigfall and Hemphill, and Representative A. J. Hamilton, then in Congress, and to each one of the governors of the slaveholding States.

The legislature passed a law and another supplementary thereto, providing for a vote on the ordinance of secession by the people, and requiring the governor to issue his proclamation therefor, which was done, the election being fixed for the 22d of February, 1861, as prescribed by the convention, return of it to be made to the secretary of state in time to be counted on the 2d of March, 1861. The convention had also provided for the election and for duplicate returns to be made to it in like manner.

The convention, contemplating the acquisition of the government military stores, and the removal from the State of the Federal troops, that were estimated to number ,700 of all arms, located at the different frontier posts, [16] with headquarters at San Antonio, under the command of General Twiggs, deemed it advisable to raise funds to defray the necessary expenses. The president was authorized to negotiate a loan of $100,000, which was done in New Orleans by Gen. E. B. Nichols, appointed agent for that purpose. The convention had appointed the usual committees and in addition a committee of public safety, which was designed to act as a military committee in securing the public property and in the removal of the Federal troops.

On the 2d of February, 1861, it was resolved in convention, ‘That should the standing committee of public safety deem it essential to the public safety to appoint commissioners, officers or persons in reference to taking possession of the Federal property within the limits of this State, they shall have power to appoint such and assign them their duties and give them the instructions under which they shall act; but this power shall only extend to such cases in which the committee may deem prompt action and secrecy absolutely necessary.’ On the 4th a resolution was passed authorizing that committee to act during the recess of the convention at such times and places as in their judgment the public interest requires.

During every day of the meeting of the convention a tender of military companies was made to it, with the names of officers and privates from different parts of the State, which on each morning were announced by the president. They were referred to the committee of public safety, which was thus furnished with the information necessary to collect a force if it became desirable.

The president, to whom had been entrusted the disbursement of the money that had been borrowed, appointed Gen. E. B. Nichols as agent to perform that duty, under the direction of the committee of public safety, which was sanctioned by the convention. The committee held its meetings privately, apart from the body of the convention, acting independently within the scope [17] of the power conferred upon it. It was composed of prominent men from different portions of the State, including some who had experience in military service. They were as follows: John C. Robertson, chairman; John Henry Brown, Jas. H. Rogers of Marion county, J. R. Armstrong, A. T. Rainey, John L. Ford of Cameron county, Wm. P. Rogers of Harris county, C. Ganahl, L. M. Norris, T. S. Lubbock, J. A. Wilcox, J. J. Diamond, J. G. Thompson, T. J. Devine, W. G. Miller, John A. Green, C. L. Cleveland, Jas. Hooker, P. N. Luckett, F. W. Latham.

In the report of the committee, March 21, 1861, appears the following account of an interview with the governor as to its mode of procedure:

To the Hon. O. M. Roberts, President of the Convention:
The Committee of Public Safety beg leave to report to the convention that on the 4th day of February, 1861, having matured their plans for the seizure of the property in the hands of the Federal officers in the State, and selected the officers to perform that duty, on motion a sub-committee of three, to-wit, Gen. W. P. Rogers, Hon. W. S. Oldham, and Hon. T. J. Devine, were appointed to confer with Gen. Sam Houston, the executive of the State. The committee proceeded at once to perform that duty. On their return they were requested to make their report to the committee in writing, which was accordingly done. This report is herewith submitted to the convention.

To Hon. John C. Robertson, Chairman, Committee of Public Safety:
The undersigned committee appointed to wait upon his Excellency, Sam Houston, respectfully report that on the day the convention adjourned Messrs. Rogers, Devine and Oldham were appointed a sub-committee by the committee of public safety to wait on and confer with Governor Houston in regard to the duties of the committee, and to assure him that the committee would exercise no powers that would conflict with his, as the executive of [18] the State. The sub-committee visited the governor in the executive office. They advised him of the objects of their mission, and to prevent misunderstanding between him and the committee of public safety, and that the latter would not attempt the exercise of any powers that properly belonged to him as the executive of the State. He expressed his gratification at our visit and the assurance which we gave him. We then expressed to him the certainty, in our opinion, of the ordinance of secession being ratified by the people. We then suggested to him the propriety of securing the Federal property and arms in the State in anticipation of that event. He said it should be done by all means; that it should be done with promptness and prudently; that he had understood that unauthorized men had contemplated taking the property, and had therefore advised General Twiggs, and asked of the general the conditions upon which the arms, etc., would be surrendered to the State; that he had received an answer from the general which he would furnish as soon as his private secretary should come in, which he subsequently did. He said the property should be taken in the name of the State, inventory be made, and everything be faithfully preserved, and suggested the propriety of-removing the artillery and property pertaining thereto higher up the river; that prudent men should have charge of the expedition; that the disbursing officers should be responsible men, and should give bond, etc. Upon a question by General Rogers he stated that Cortinas might make another raid, and that the forces sent to the Rio Grande should be sufficient to repel him. It was agreed between the governor and the committee that he could not perform those duties while Texas remained in the Union and his oath to support the Constitution of the United States remained binding on him. The governor further stated that secrecy was of the first importance in our contemplated movements on the Rio Grande. In conversation he said he had heard that it had been charged upon him that he had sent a special messenger to General Twiggs in order to get arms to turn against the State convention; that it was untrue, and he never would be instrumental in the shedding of fraternal blood.


On the reception of this report the committee were very much relieved from the apprehension which existed that the State authorities might be induced to throw obstacles in the way of the plans they had adopted to obtain the Federal property. . . . . . .

I have the honor to be yours respectfully,

John C. Robertson, Chairman, Com. Public Safety.


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