". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

*America's Great Debate* Texas, New Mexico, the U.S. Civil War

The years of my young adulthood were lived in New Mexico. One of the first things this born and bred midwesterner learned when moving to the southwest was that Texas was the Evil Empire, and her inhabitants were to be given no welcome anywhere because their objective was to make New Mexico Texas. Texas and Texans were the enemy. The proof of this was how Texans had taken over the valuable purse quarter horse races and prizes of Ruidoso Downs. This was only one of the reasons that southeastern New Mexico, part of the High Plains, or the Llano, was referred to at times by the further north New Mexicans as "Little Texas." In those days I wasn't aware of the many other reasons for the lcoal dislike of Texas, which reach much further back into our national history, history from before either the state in which I was born or New Mexico were states, but only territories. Though New Mexico claimed statehood even later (1912) than North Dakota (1889), the southern U.S.A. was greedy for the region by the close of the 1830's.

It's a complicated tale. East Texas was settled early by slaveholders out of Louisiana and other cotton growing southern states, notably Andrew Jackson's Tennessee. Sam Houston was among the many Tennesseans who hoped to put their failures in the home state behind them by starting over in Texas. As well as Indian Removal, taking the Floridas from the Brits, and the destruction of the Bank of the United States, gaining Texas was Andrew Jackson's goal. Texas as a state would be a slave state adding power to the southern slave state coalition, and a state focused on 'western state' interests, that Jackson and his like-minded southern power brokers envisioned for Tennessee and Kentucky. Among those interests was access and dominance of the Pacific coast, i.e. California. California had to be added to the US flag as a slave not free soil state; a slave state California would give the south and the west direct access to the Asian trade -- and control of California's gold. Jackson, recall, was a specie only man, who regarded currency as the devil's work. Therefore, to perfect Jackson's, i.e. God's will and work, California had to belong to the South.The road to owning California for the southern states, and later, when the War came, was via Texas, and then New Mexico -- which at this earlier point also included what became the state of Arizona in 1912, along with New Mexico.

See how inter-connected all this history is, all driving to the Civil War, all this history which by-and-large isn't taught in history classes. By-and-large we ignore most of U.S. history between the Louisiana Purchase and Lincoln's election. Then we jump to Fort Sumter and the Civil War, and all those glorious bloody battles.

Louisiana Purchase 1803 -- Jackson and many others insist that Texas is part of the Purchase; Mexico refuses this claim of its territory.

Texas Revolution against Mexico 1836 -- results in the Republic of Texas

Before the Mexican - American War, Texans routinely looted the trade between lower Mexico and Santa Fe, and the lucrative trade along the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and Santa Fe. The excuse was that this was part of the Texas Republic, and Republic was not only frackin' broke, it was deeply in debt. (So much for what grand economic sense it was for a region to have no federal government, no industry, no trade, and only slave labor cash crop agriculture and all open carry weapons all the time by everyone.)

Thus the appropriately named Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, a South Carolinian who succeeded Sam Houston as the Texas Republic's second president, was convinced that Annexation would reduce Texas to undeserved vassalage to the USA. Tariffs! Taxes! Justice system! He chose, instead, a war that would seize all Mexico's territory between the Sabine River to the Pacific Ocean for Texas, making Texas a continental power in its own right. He sent a 300 man force to Santa Fe as the first step. Need we say it was a complete fiasco, before they got anywhere near Santa Fe? When the few survivors finally reached Santa Fe, they -- in the grand tradition of U.S. sense of its great goodness in every engagement of conquest -- expected to be greeted as heroes. Instead the Santa Fe authorities sent them as prisoners of war to Mexico City. In retaliation (1841) Texans launched another invasion of Mexican territory with 1200 militia, who raped, murdered, pillaged and burned up and down the territory. But they didn't get to Santa Fe.
Texas Annexation April 1845 -- The U.S. took Texas because Texas threatened to partner with Britain -- imagine how that would sit with Old Hickory, who hated them with a mighty passion and not only because of the Floridas. Texas accepted annexation partly to have the U.S. government to assume its massive debt load -- and help against the Indians who also hated Texans -- also, not incidently, as the pretext of war against Mexico, which objected to its territory being taken over by the U.S. --and having Texas institute slavery in those lands. Mexico was a non-slave nation, imagine that.Texas, state or Republic, claimed its boundaries included New Mexico, and all the way up into Colorado, all Mexican territory, and Mexico was an interloper -- not to mention slave stealer, i.e. slaves escaped to Mexico were free.

Andrew Jackson dies 1845 -- not quite living long enough to see Texas officially part of the United States

Texas statehood December1845

Mexican - American War 1846 - 1848 -- brought the southwestern territories, which Texas and many other southerners declared were all part of Texas, much as many Virginians still liked in their dreams to claim most of North America to the Pacific according to their interpretation of the old Virginia Company charter, which King James I vacated (1625). What we also acquired with this vast territory from Mexico was the failed-to-pass-Senate-several-times, the Wilmot Proviso which declared "neither slavery nor any involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any territory acquired in the war against Mexico." The Proviso began as a rider to an appropriations bill early in the Mexican- American war as part of what might have enabled peace negotiations. As mentioned, the Wilmot Proviso failed to pass in the Senate in several incarnations, defeated by the slaveholding states' coalition. However, the Wilmot Proviso remained vividly invoked by the memories of all honorable southerners, as the opening attack upon their rights, perogatives and entitlements as honorable southerners, the opening wedge to destroy them, ready to leap to the attack within any economic and territorial proposal that did not explicitly uphold and expand the rights to slaves, slavery and the slave trade.

Texas Governor George T. Wood 1848 -- impatient with how President Polk and the government were moving in D.C. sent a lawyer, Spruce Baird, to carry his writ of jurisdiction to Santa Fe. Due to Baird's own primary interest in getting rich and general incapacity (he didn't speak Spanish), the New Mexican authorities refusal to recognize such a writ (they were Mexicans, for pete's sake!) and the near impossibility of communications over such distances in such a landscape at the time, the Baird mission failed.

Back in D.C, we have President Zachary Taylor. He had developed a distaste for and distrust of Texans as the most troublesome loose cannons -- in the Mexican-American War (which Taylor, like the later President Grant, believed was declared only for the sake of the slaveholders in general and the Texas slaveholders in particular). He declared the blood thirsty undisciplined Texas Rangers caused him more trouble than the Mexican army, pillaging and murdering as they did, up and down the country (evidently their favorite form of activity). President Taylor had even less respect for Texas's imperial claims to these territories. Recall this is the same era in which Taylor had to pull the Mississippi governor's Cuban filibuster ship from the fire of Spanish warships down in Pensacola. (The MS gub also expected his invasion forces to be met with Cuban flowers of joy as liberators, whereas the invasion was successfully resisted with the people's guns, hostility and aggression -- and that was before the Cuban army and navy arrived.)

Since their bids to take over New Mexico were thwarted and refused the Texans whipped themselves into a racist frenzy that declared the brown "greaser" New Mexicans were in rebellion against them, thereby besmirching their honor that could be restored only by bloody war. In full-blown national political crisis now, Texas howled for secession, and the seizure by force of the Territories. There were those in states like Louisiana, who were willing to provide aid and assistance to make it possible. Ironically it was Calhoun who brought these plans to an end, lobbying and cajoling and preaching non-stop to all the southerners that if Texas seceded -- losing its senators and representatives -- their own power in the United States would be endangered, and thus so would be slavery.

Even this cursory run-down explains why the dislike and distrust of Texas runs so deep in New Mexicans' historical dna. When one comes to this history fresh it's mind-boggling to see in such detail how deeply slavery was embedded in the history of even regions like New Mexico that are not really hospitable to slave labor cash crops -- but only if one believes that slavery was only about growing cotton -- which it wasn't, which is why slavery wasn't going to 'just wither away in due course,' and why we had a civil war over slavery, not over states rights or tariffs or U.S. invasion of the south -- they invaded the north first with the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), with the shooting invasion of the Kansas-Nebraska territory out of Louisiana and Missouri, and taking Fort Sumter.

Texas secedes from the USA and joins the CSA 1861 -- its first order of business, to invade New Mexico and from there realize Texas and the southern states old objective, to take California for slavery. But then there was the Texas debacle in New Mexico we know as the Battle of Glorietta Pass (March, 1862).

All these matters and many more are presented in granularity in Fergus M. Bordewich's first-rate history, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (2012), from Simon & Schuster.

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