Texas Politicians Move State Toward War
Bonham Daily Favorite, May 30, 1993
The early 1850's in Texas saw the rise of a political situation that was to have tragic consequences for all the people of the state. Much of the disturbing situation developed over certain economic pressures that Southerners felt were being forced on the region by Northern politicians.
In essence what was happening was a series of events that further separated the South from the North over questions of slavery, states rights, and a multitude of grievances both real and imagined. As the end of the decade approached the gulf between the two regions widened spurred by the rise of such groups as the Know Nothing Party.
The Know Nothing Party assumed the guise of a political party but in essence it was nothing more that a secret organization which claimed to support the cause of the slave owners against the Northern abolitionists. In reality, the group was strongly Unionist in its philosophy.
Stepping into the middle of the controversy was the grand old man of Texas, Sam Houston, who advocated support of the Know Nothings. Houston was rapidly losing control of his own Democratic Party and perhaps his association with the upstart group was more in reaction to his loss of control in state politics. Nevertheless, Houston's own views were strongly those of a Unionist and he made no secret of his fear of a secessionist movement.
Houston supported the slates of candidates proposed by the group and they were able to elect 25 party nominees to the Texas Legislature as well as to certain city government positions in Galveston and San Antonio. Houston continued his support in the 1855 gubernatorial campaign when the Know Nothings candidate David C. Dickson lost to Elisha M. Pease. Houston's own bid for the governor's chair, in 1857, saw for the first time Houston's defeat at the ballot box.
Uneasiness began to take hold among the Texas populace as certain events occured throughout the state and the nation. The previously mentioned suspicious fires in the summer of 1860, the meeting at Timber Creek Church, other suspected slave revolts, and importantly John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry certainly heightened fears among the general society.
Staunchly holding to his support of the Union, Sam Houston again made a bid for the governorship of Texas, Reverting to his old and successful political style, Houston literally stumped the state in a horse and buggy. In a swing through northeast Texas, Houston, at the request of an old friend, Colonel James Tarlton, made a stop in Bonham. His stay in Bonham was three days and while he was here he was the guest of Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Alexander. On the second day of his visit it was arranged for him to speak to the citizens of Bonham at a grove of oak trees about three blocks east of the square on today's Sam Rayburn Drive.
Unfortunately the text of his speech, while most certainly reported in area newspapers, does not survive. It is known that he spent time in praising the heroism of his friend Tarlton who served under his command at San Jacinto.
Houston won the election by 9000 votes over Hardin R. Runnels. Houston's popularity was to be short lived, however, as Texas and the South moved closer to secession.
By 1860 Calhoun Democrats had gained control of the State Democratic meeting and at the convention a resolution came forth from the group that supported the stand that Texas, by virtue of certain agreements as it entered the Union in 1845, had the right to secede and once again become an independent republic.
In November the worst fears of the secessionists came true when Abraham Lincoln was elected President. The turmoil began. On December 20, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union. Almost immediately there were calls from every sector of Texas for Houston to call a convention to discuss the question of secession. He refused and the Democratic Party acted illegally and called a state convention. Houston finally acceded and called a special session of the legislature which then set a referendum for delegates to the convention .
The first meeting of what was to be called "The Secession Convention" met at Austin on January 28, 1861. Delegates to the convention were those special delegates elected by the voters of each county and well as the legislative representatives from each county.
Representing Fannin County as elected delegates were A.J. Nicholson and Gideon Smith from District 29. Representing District 30 composed of sections of both Fannin and Hunt Counties were E. Early and J. Wilson. Interestingly, all of these men were slave holders. The legislative representatives were Senator Martin D. Hart, who was to achieve a large measure of notoriety as a suspected Union spy during the Civil War, and Robert H. Taylor and Thomas J. Crooks.
The second day of the convention a resolution was issued that Texas should separately secede from the Union. On February 1 the Ordinance of Secession was presented which declared that the annexation ordinance of 1845 was declared "null and void." Next it was decided that the ordinance would be submitted to voters on February 23 and if passed would become effective on March 2, 1861.(the 25th anniversary of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico.)
On February 6 an address to the people was issued by members of the legislature and delegates to the convention who were opposed to the ordinance. Among the signers of the address were Senator Martin D. Hart for Fannin and Hunt Counties, and Representatives Robert H. Taylor. The four elected delegates to the convention all voted for the ordinance of secession.
On February 23 the election on the ordinance of secession was held state wide. Of the seven existing Red River counties at that time, Bowie, Red River, Lamar, Fannin, Grayson, Cooke, and Montague, only Bowie and Red River voted in favor of secession. The Fannin County vote was 471 for secession and 656 against. Of our two neighbors to the south Hunt County voted for secession and Collin County voted against.
The Convention reassembled on March 2, canvassed the votes and on March 5 approved an ordinance uniting Texas with the newly establish government of the Confederate States of America
By a majority vote Texas and the South moved inexorably toward war.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas