Houston: “The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln”
Everyone knows that Sam Houston, governor of Texas during the secession crisis of 1860-61, opposed secession and opposed Texas joining the Confederacy. He famously predicted a long and bloody war would follow, with disastrous consequences for the South regardless of the outcome.
But I recently came across this address he made in Austin, sometime during the 1860 presidential campaign, in which Houston laid out the pro-slavery argument against secession. It’s a very different take on an old dispute:
[The seceded states] will soon whip themselves, and will not be worth whipping back [into the Union]. Deprived of the protection of the Union, of the aegis of the Constitution, they would soon dwindle into petty States, to be again rent in twain by dissensions or through the ambition of selfish chieftains, and would become a prey to foreign powers. They gravely talk of holding treaties with Great Britain and other foreign powers, and the great advantages which would arise to the South from separation are discussed. Treaties with Great Britain! Alliance with foreign powers! Have these men forgotten history? Look at Spanish America! Look at the condition of every petty State, which by alliance with Great Britain is subject to continual aggression!
When [the Union is] rent in twain, British Abolition, which in fanaticism and sacrificial spirit, far exceeds that of the North (for it has been willing to pay for its fanaticism, a thing the North never will do), will have none of the impediments in its path, now to be found. England will no longer fear the power of the mighty nation which twice has humbled her, and whose giant arm would, so long as we are united, be stretched forth to protect the weakest State, or the most obscure citizen. The State that secedes, when pressed by insidious arts of abolition emissaries, supported by foreign powers, when cursed by internal disorders and insurrections, can lay no claim to that national flag, which when now unfurled, ensures the respect of all nations and strikes terror to the hearts of those who would invade our rights.
But if, through division in the ranks of those opposed to Mr. Lincoln, he should be elected, we have no excuse for dissolving the Union. The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if the battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union. With a majority of the people in favor of the Constitution, shall we desert the Government and leave it in the hands of the minority? A new obligation will be imposed upon us, to guard the Constitution and to see that no infraction of it is attempted or permitted. If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.
No tyrant or usurper can ever invade our rights so long as we are united. Let Mr. Lincoln attempt it, and his party will scatter like chaff before the storm of popular indignation which will burst forth from one end of the country to the other. Secession or revolution will not be justified until legal and constitutional means of redress have been tried, and I can not believe that the time will ever come when these will prove inadequate.
It’s interesting to see a prominent figure as that arguing against secession for the protection of the peculiar institution. But then again, Big Sam was never entirely conventional.