Texas: It’s Like a Whole Other Country
Texas has always been different.
As Texans are fond of telling outsiders (even themselves), it’s the only part of the United States that was once a sovereign nation. That’s the basis for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism’s slogan, “It’s Like a Whole Other Country”. Texas insurgent forces won independence for Texas on the battlefield in 1835 and 1836. Texas was a Republic from 1836 until it joined the United States in 1845. Texas then seceded from the Union along with the other Confederate States of America in 1861, and rejoined the United States with the South’s defeat in 1865.
There is a general belief amongst most Texans that some sort of special “get out of the Union free” Easter Egg was implanted in the documents that joined Texas to the United States. However, not even the Texas Secede! website believes such a thing: “No such provision is found in the current Texas Constitution (adopted in 1876) or the terms of annexation.”
Texas established one more difference between itself and the rest of the Union on Tuesday: in an election cycle when the Tea Party has been declared dead and buried, Texans showed that, in Faulkner’s words, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” They advanced former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz as the Republican candidate in the general election, where he should cruise to an easy victory over Democratic nominee Paul Sadler.
As a native Texan myself, I think I have a visceral understanding of the state. Texans, except for those of the First Nations, came from elsewhere, often as outlaws.
In 1805, Samuel Acass “Cass” Griffith was born in Colleton County, South Carolina. He married Barbara Way Davidson in 1830 and three children were born in South Carolina: John (b. 1831), Charity (b. 1833) and Samuel Arthur “Moss” (b. 1836). By 1840, the family had moved to a large plantation near Meridian, Mississippi and were major slaveowners. There, Benjamin, Barbara, Mary Harlow and the smallest Griffith child, Ellis Ringold, were born between 1840 and 1846.
The family moved to Sebastian County, Arkansas in 1858, where they were the largest slaveholders in the county. It’s hard to think of Fort Smith, Arkansas as the Wild West, but indeed it was, in those days. After the Civil War, Judge Isaac Parker plied his trade here; this is the territory of Charles Portis’ novel True Grit. A little trouble with the law and you could find yourself hiding out in the hills of the nearby Choctaw Nation, just a short gallop away.
A little trouble with the law was what happened to the Griffiths. At the time of secession, these native South Carolinians, true to their heritage, took up arms against the North. The eldest brother, John Griffith, became a Colonel. As was the custom of the time, his three younger brothers, Sam, Ben, and Ellis, fought alongside him. Ellis, only 15, was a mere private, but the other men called him “Major” as a joke (that being the rank just below Colonel) and the nickname stayed with him the rest of his life.
The Griffith brothers fought throughout Arkansas and Mississippi. In his most successful engagement, Colonel John Griffith and his men sank the Union steamship USS Petrel near Yazoo City, Mississippi on April 22, 1864. After the April 1865 peace signed in Appomattox, John and his brothers gave themselves up to the Union Army in early May and were paroled later that month.
What came to be known as The Lost Cause dominated the Griffiths’ lives. According to the family lore my grandmother taught me, the family was “besieged by carpetbaggers”.
They weren’t carpetbaggers. They were Federal marshals.
Ben joined with “The Swamp Fox of the Sulphur”, Cullen Baker, one of the most notorious outlaws of the time. Ben himself killed a freed slave for having the temerity to own, and publicly ride, a mule. A highly romanticized Cullen Baker appears in the Louis L’Amour novel The First Fast Draw but he wasn’t so much a fast draw as a psychopath with a hair-trigger temper.
Ben Griffith was hunted down and killed by Federal marshals on July 20, 1868, aged 28.
Baker himself returned home after his gang disbanded in December of that year, and within a few weeks was poisoned by a neighbor who he had previously tried to hang, which makes the current politics of Homeowners’ Associations look pretty lame by comparison.
The Griffith family, who presumably supported The Lost Cause and the Baker Gang’s rampage, went into hiding. According to Richard Griffith,
John Griffith and several other former Confederate officers, who found the situation intolerable, organized a resistance group and attempted to retaliate against the militia officers who were responsible for the actions of the militiamen. As a result, John and his brother Ellis and others were forced to flee the state [of Arkansas] to avoid arrest. It has been said by some of the family that there was ‘a price on their heads’. John and Ellis went first to Missouri, under assumed names; then to New Orleans, where it is said they became involved in political struggles; and finally to Texas, still under assumed names and avoiding Union soldiers.
Of course, no Census or other records exist to document what the family was doing during that period. The Griffiths were typical of the second generations of Texans, those who came to the state after the Civil War. Texas Exceptionalism is in large part the story of my forebears.
Twelve years after the end of the War of Northern Aggression, eldest brother John Griffith’s natural leadership abilities could not be denied. He organized the town of Buffalo Gap, Texas, just south of Abilene.
John worked to organize Taylor County, signing bonds for the first officers. He wanted Buffalo Gap to be the county seat, and it was at first, but the railroad came through north of Buffalo Gap at a site which later became Abilene and the county seat was moved there. John was very disappointed that Buffalo Gap did not become the county seat, and because of this, he soon moved his family to Kimble County, where he is listed at Junction in the 1880 census.
West Texas, then as now, is a desolate place. Until the discovery of oil at the turn of the century, it was a hard place to make a living. The Griffith family must have felt very much like the Israelites of Exodus. “Major” Ellis Ringold Griffith became a Texas Ranger, now charged with enforcing the laws he and his brothers had scorned just a few years before. “Major” Griffith is my great-great-grandfather. His DNA, and his Frontier Battalion spirit, is in me.
I think most Texans of Caucasian descent would tell a similar story. Texas Exceptionalism is a subset of American Exceptionalism.
Until the 1960s, Texas was Democratic. The Republicans represented the hated carpetbaggers and Federal marshals. The Democrats represented insurgency and anti-establishmentarianism. My first political contribution was a nickel sent to help President Lyndon Johnson with his 1964 re-election campaign. (The 1964 election split my household. My dad was a Goldwater Republican and my mom, a Johnson Democrat.) Then Johnson advanced the civil rights and Great Society programs started by his assassinated predecessor. Legend has it that as President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he said to aide Bill Moyers, “We’ve just lost the South for a generation.”
It has taken the Democrats much longer than that, now three generations and counting, to regain Texas — if they regain it at all.
Tom DeLay and his Texas protegés invented the modern gerrymander, calling for a redistricting (legal but highly a-traditional) between census years when the Republicans took control of the Texas Legislature in 2003. The case fighting this mid-decade redistricting went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Solicitor General Ted Cruz argued for the redistricting plan:
The Texas Legislature acted because in their judgment Texas deserved a map where the majority of the voters could elect a majority of the congressional delegation. And that’s exactly what happened under the plan passed in 2003.
The case, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. Perry, was decided in 2006 by what one analyst called at the time “a 2–3-4 decision”. A deeply divided Court refused to strike down the Texas redistricting plan on the basis of partisan gerrymandering (which it clearly was), holding partisan gerrymandering A-OK Constitutionally, while invalidating one district based on the grounds that it was a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Now it’s six years later, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is retiring. (One might chalk her retirement up to another Republican Senator tired of partisan bickering in Washington, as Michael wrote earlier this week.) Her chosen successor, also supported by the Republican establishment and Governor Rick Perry, is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
Cruz defeated Dewhurst soundly, by a whopping 14 percentage points, 57–43. He now faces Democratic sacrificial lamb Paul Sadler in the general election November 6. Cruz leads Sadler by 10 points, 44–34, in what few polls we currently have. With that huge undecided percentage, and the primaries of both parties just concluded, no doubt more polling will focus on the Cruz/Sadler race.
Will Cruz crash and burn, as did the Tea Party candidates Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, and Joe Buck did in the Tea Party-friendly 2010 election? Cruz, like Angle, O’Donnell, and Buck, was endorsed by Sarah Palin. Cruz can bring plenty of crazy to the table: he believes in the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory which I wrote about previously and which has now, post-Aurora theatre shooting, morphed into an U.N. plot to take away American guns. He’s already amassed a record of three “mostly true” statements, two “false” and two “Pants on Fire” statements on PolitiFact, while his opponent Sadler has a two “true” and two “mostly true” record.
Is he crazy enough to lose this election in a Cook Partisan Voting Index R+10 state? (Interestingly, Texas is tied with North Dakota as the ninth-most-Republican state in the PVI rankings, and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is close to Republican Rick Berg in non-Rasmussen polls.)
Can Texas elect its first Democratic Senator since Lloyd Bentsen was elected to his last term in 1988?
When, if ever, will Texas turn from red to purple or blue?
- Will the UN Small Arms Treaty Finally Move Texas to Secede? (thelonestarwatchdog.com)
- James Moore: Crazy Down in Texas (huffingtonpost.com)
- Tea Party favourite Ted Cruz scores win over Rick Perry-backed David Dewhurst in Texas Senate primary (news.nationalpost.com)
- We’re Back!!! Hey, Who Ever Left? Ted Cruz Wins Texas Senate Primary In A Victory For Tea Party (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- Cruz downs Dewhurst in bruising race (kxan.com)
- Ted Cruz Trounces GOP Establishment Favorite David Dewhurst In TX Primary (thegatewaypundit.com)
- TEA Party candidate defeats RINO in Texas! (fellowshipofminds.wordpress.com)
- Move over, Rubio: Cruz’s star rises (politico.com)
- Tea Party hoping for upset in Texas Republican Senate runoff (reuters.com)