Texas seceded from the Union in early 1861 and joined the Confederate States of America. Texas was the seventh state to secede and the last to secede before the firing at Fort Sumter, the start of the Civil War. The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of the United States and fears that Republican control of the executive branch would threaten slavery and the traditional rights and liberties of Americans caused the secession crisis in Texas and elsewhere.
Many Texans believed that slavery was vital to the Texas economy and to its future growth. In fact, slavery had grown rapidly in Texas after annexation in 1845. By 1869, slaves made up about 30 percent of the population. Due to limited transportation, plantations were mainly along the river valleys of eastern Texas and the coastal counties near Houston and Galveston. Only cotton grown in these places could reach a market. In other parts of Texas, slavery was almost non-existent and the economy depended on livestock, corn, or wheat.
Some Texans were slow to accept secession, or never accepted it. The state’s diversity produced areas of resistance to secession. On the other hand, the recent immigration of many Texans from the lower South and their dependence on cotton and slavery influenced many to follow the lead of South Carolina and the rest of the lower South. Ties to political parties and ideology could sometimes determine people’s attitudes toward secession. In general, Democrats supported the rights of individuals to own slaves. Local needs also influenced attitudes toward secession. Slaveholding Whigs in Galveston were often involved in extensive commercial dealings with merchants in England and New York. Along the frontier the ability of the U.S. Army to protect the citizens influenced attitudes toward secession. Well-protected areas opposed secession; poorly protected areas supported it.
On February 23, 1861, Texas went to the polls to vote on secession. The results were 46,153 for and 14,747 against. Texas secession from the United States became official on March 2, Texas Independence Day. On March 5, the Secession Convention reassembled and took steps to join the Confederacy. Among these was the writing of a new state constitution. The Constitution of 1861 differed little from the Constitution of 1845, but it placed slavery within the bounds of the law, and it made it illegal to free any slave in Texas.
All current state officials were obligated to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. This marked the end of the long political career of Sam Houston. Houston refused to take the oath because he thought that it was unconstitutional for Texas to join the Confederacy without public debate. On March 26, the convention adjourned. Texans had chosen to secede from the Union. The stage was set for them to fight and lose a bloody civil war.
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