Monday, August 16, 2010

Weather And History

Hot enough for you? Partisan politicking too heated for you, too? Well, quit complaining. The summer of 1860 was just as hot and the politics were even hotter. The results were catastrophic.

After the jump, the tragic story of the "Texas Troubles."

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War is fast approaching. In some ways, we're still fighting that war (see, most recently, the GOP efforts to renege on the post-Civil War 14th Amendment that guarantees citizenship to ex-slaves and their children). But at the same time, we suppress important parts of that history. Despite the requirement that all Texas schoolchildren learn Texas history, I doubt that one Texan in a hundred could tell you what the "Texas Troubles" were.

Wick Allison, in FrontBurner, links to a story in the Texas Observer about the slave insurrection panic that gripped north Texas in that long ago summer of 1860. Fires in Dallas, Denton, and Pilot Point led to vigilante mobs and the lynching of three black men in downtown Dallas. Some historians speculate that the fires were due, not to insurrection, but to the drought and heat wave and the common use of phosphorus matches (called "Lucifers") that were prone to spontaneous combustion.

Some historians think that the "Texas Troubles" pushed Texas into secession less than a year later. Maybe yes, maybe no. One third of the population of Texas was held in slavery in 1860. I suspect that racist attitudes were so firmly entrenched that secession was inevitable whether that summer of 1860 happened to be hot and dry or mild and wet. Even though revisionist historians have long argued that the Civil War was fought over high-minded principles of federalism and states' rights, those principles were strained to breaking point over the down-to-earth reality of slavery.

Just as the American revolutionaries felt compelled to put to paper the reasons why the colonies declared their independence from England, Texans felt compelled to put to paper the reasons why they were declaring their secession from the United States of America. Read it. It's impossible to pretend that slavery wasn't the root cause of secession.

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States."

So, the next time you are tempted to curse the heat, take a step back and be thankful that the "Texas Troubles" triggered by a heat wave 150 years ago are now distant history. History that we should acknowledge and study and pledge to never let happen again.

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