Texans celebrate March 2 each year as the date in 1836 when Texas declared its independence from Mexico.
March 2 in another year is also significant, but forgotten and rightfully never celebrated.
On March 2, 1861, Texas seceded from the Union.
That later March 2 should be remembered for its fearful shortsightedness. Texas’ Secession Convention, in its “Declaration of Causes” for leaving the Union, included:
“In all the non-slave-holding States, … the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, … based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law.”
The Texas convention’s fear of Northern states criticizing slavery was shortsighted. The U.S. Constitution of 1787 gave the national government no authority to interfere with slavery in the existing states.
Lincoln disavowed any such authority.
The Constitution enhanced the power of slave-holding states by counting a slave as three-fifths of a person for the allocation of representation in Congress, increasing the number of congressional districts allocated to the slave states and thus correspondingly enhanced the weight of Southern votes.
The Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution gave slave-holders a right to recapture escaped slaves who fled to a free state — without using the word slave:
“No person held to the Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered upon Claim of the Party to whom such Services or Labour may be due.” (Article IV, Section 2)
Some Northern states passed statutes to protect freed slaves, but in 1842 the U.S. Supreme Court in Prigg v. Pennsylvania declared those laws unconstitutional.
Slave states received great protection in the required procedure to amend the 1787 Constitution: ratification by three-fourths of the states.
In 1860 there were only 33 states. The 11 states that formed the Confederacy could have blocked any proposed amendment to outlaw slavery.
Finally, slave-holding interests were well-protected in 1861 by their representation in Congress and on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Democrats held a majority in the Senate, 38 to the Republicans’ only 26. It would have required only four Northern Democrats to vote with the senators from the 15 slave-holding states to block any anti-slavery legislation.
As late as 1857 in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court had held that Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, there was one vacancy on the Supreme Court. The one and only opponent of slavery died a month after Lincoln took office.
No matter whom Lincoln nominated, the other seven justices had voted with majority in Dred Scott and still supported slavery.
Informed reflection about how the Constitution and its governmental structure actually were working might have prevented Texas secession.
Texas lost in war and went through nearly 12 years of lawlessness and military occupation. The rightful end: The evil of slavery was defeated.
Harold D. Hammett is a Fort Worth attorney.