With more than 5 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or finally realizing Texas toast is just regular bread with thicker slices. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,163,023-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: Republic Of Texas
What it’s about: From 1836 to 1846, it was even harder to mess with Texas, as the Lone Star State was its own country. Shortly after Mexico won independence from Spain, a group of Americans led by Stone Cold Stephen F. Austin settled in the province of Tejas, with permission grandfathered in from the Spanish governor. Mexico’s first government, a constitutional monarchy, allowed Austin’s group, known as the Old Three Hundred, to continue their settlement. More Americans followed, but when Mexico became a Republic in 1823, the government was less keen on settlers crossing the border. Finally in 1830, President Anastasio Bustamante blocked further immigration, as Mexico didn’t want Americans bringing the practice of slavery with them. After years of skirmishes and threats from both sides, some of the ex-Americans declared independence from Mexico, calling themselves Texians, and their new nation the Republic Of Texas.
Strangest fact: In its short history, Texas had seven capital cities—five in the first year alone. In 1836, the fledgling government had an interim president, David G. Burnet, and cycled through temporary capitals in Washington-On-The-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco, and Columbia. Things settled down the following year, with a full-time president, Sam Houston, who set up a capital in… wait for it… Houston. The Texas constitution mandated no one could serve back-to-back two-year terms, so Houston’s vice president, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, was elected in 1838 (with Burnet as his VP), and moved the capital again to Austin (named for Stephen F., who had died only a few months after the new nation was born). Houston came back for a second term following Lamar, but the new capital stuck, and remains the state capital to this day.
Biggest controversy: Texas’ two big political issues were co-existence with the Comanche who lived in Texas, and the country’s future as an independent state. Houston advocated peaceful coexistence with the Comanche, and negotiated peace with them. He also wanted Texas to join the United States. Lamar was violently oppose to both, hoping to expand Texas to the Pacific, and declaring war on the Comanche (which ended when Houston took office again and restored peace).
Thing we were happiest to learn: Besides restoring peace with the Comanche, Houston’s faction also won out in applying for U.S. statehood. He had pushed the U.S. to annex the Republic almost as soon as it was formed, but neither the Democrats nor the Whigs wanted a large new slave state upsetting the delicate balance that held in the decades before the Civil War, not to mention antagonizing Mexico. But in 1843, President John Tyler, at odds with both parties, pushed to annex the Republic, hoping a dramatic expansion of the United States would win him a second term. Congress rejected Tyler’s annexation treaty, and his own Whig Party rejected him for a second term, nominating Henry Clay. Clay’s Democratic opponent, James K. Polk, ran on an expansionist, pro-annexation platform, and after he won the election, lame duck Tyler called on Congress again to annex Texas. This time, with Southern Democrats hoping the addition of Texas would help bolster slavery, the Senate narrowly passed the bill, and Tyler sent it to the House on his last day in office. One of Polk’s first acts was to accept Texas as the 28th state. (Polk would then expand on this gain by invading Mexico and seizing everything between Texas and the Pacific Ocean, and then resolving a border dispute with Britain that established Oregon Territory as part of the U.S.)
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: As difficult as this is to fathom, Texas was even more racist as an independent republic as it was as part of the Confederacy. The constitution granted immediate citizenship to “all persons” living within Texas’ borders when independence was declared, but took pains to exclude “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians.” American blacks brought to Texas as slaves would remain slaves, but unlike American slave owners, Texian slave owners couldn’t free their own slaves without Congressional approval. Free blacks were banned from living in Texas without special permission from Congress. When Texas did join the United States, it was it as a slave state. Not only that, in exchange for the U.S. government covering Texas’ mounting debts, it was agreed that Texas’ territory could be divided into several new slave states. (Texas kept its modern borders, but some of the Republic’s territory is now part of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming). And, of course, Texas would only be part of the U.S. for 16 years before attempting to secede in the interest of preserving slavery.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The Republic was actually the second try for Texan independence. In 1810, the Mexican War Of Independence began, a long battle that would result in Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821. In 1813, many Americans crossed the border to help, as overthrowing a European colonial power was a cause Americans were sympathetic to. With their help, rebels in the north of Mexico, calling themselves the Republican Army Of The North, won several battles against the Spanish and declared an independent Republic Of Texas. It was short-lived, however, as after four months, the Army Of The North was soundly defeated by the Spanish, and the Republic was dissolved. However, veterans of the short-lived Republic would survive to participate in Texas’ second revolt—this time against an independent Mexico.
Further down the wormhole: While California was briefly referred to as a Republic, it was never an independent state—the Bear Flag Revolt was an unsuccessful revolt against Mexico in 1846. As such, Texas and Hawaii are the only U.S. states to be sovereign countries. While countries are generally fairly practical arrangements, Idealist philosopher Georg Hegel believed the state to be a spiritual entity, describing it as, “the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth.” But how far will it exist on Earth? Last week, we looked at some unrealistic predictions of the near future; next week, we jump far, far ahead into Wikipedia’s Timeline Of The Far Future, to see where Earth and humanity will be thousands, or even millions of years hence.