Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Houston: “The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 22, 2014



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.





11 Responses

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  1. M.D. Blough said, on December 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    There was a handful of pro-slavery advocates who made the same argument against secession. Unlike the FireEaters and their naive and self-centered view of the world, this minority recognized that the tide had turned decisively against chattel slavery in the rest of the “Western” world and that the protections of the US Constitution, while imperfect from the pro-slavery viewpoint, were far stronger than the slave states would have as an independent nation. These advocates were about as effective in persuasion as Cassandra was in Troy.

  2. Leo said, on December 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    This is extremely interesting! In my research of pro-union Mississippians, I have come upon a few bits of information about planters in Washington county and Natchez, MS who were against secession. I never realized just how divided the state was on this topic until I started digging deeper. The subject of unionists in Mississippi was totally ignored in my Mississippi history class.

    • Jimmy Dick said, on December 22, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      Of course it was. It doesn’t fit with the united south picture that is a mainstay of the lost cause. See how fast this stuff unravels once you begin to question it? I’m in Missouri and you hear all about the guerrillas and how they resisted the Union bravely. Then you begin to dig into the records and find information that shows something else. I did a presentation on the 1862 Northeast Missouri campaign by Joseph Porter. At the end of the campaign when he was heading south with a few hundred men the Union executed 10 guerrillas at Palmyra. This of course set off Jefferson Davis who threatened to execute Union soldiers in retaliation, but he quieted down later.

      Today that is remembered as the Palmyra Massacre where 10 men were murdered by a butcher by many people. However, since the men were executed as a means to stop guerrilla activity in the region, a question comes to mind. Did guerrilla activity in the area stop? The answer is yes. The next question is were these men guerrillas? The answer is yes. One was a confirmed oath breaker and legally his execution was justified under the rules of war at that time. The other nine were not justified executions as such, but they were still shot.

      Many of the writings I’ve read on this massacre were written with the southern view in mind, but when you place it in the 1862 context of an ongoing guerrilla war you begin to understand why it occurred. Porter’s guerrillas were not popular and in many cases not supported by the majority of the people. Guerrilla warfare is not conducive to the full observance of the laws because the guerrillas themselves do not follow the rules. Porter’s men were shot for the murder of a civilian. He was also not the first civilian murdered by Porter’s men either. So when you begin to dig into the context of the situation you can understand why a commander who had been in western Missouri for the first half of 1862 battling guerrillas there was pushed to take an action like the one he took.

      Where are the romantic visions of guerrilla warfare when you dig into the facts? They vanish because they are illusions. Missouri was torn apart by that warfare. The secessionists could not pull the state into the confederacy because the people didn’t want secession. That part gets ignored by the neo-confederates because they try to project a state’s rights fight in Missouri. There was never a state’s rights issue here. The argument was over slavery and that was confirmed by the people from the very era itself. The people wanted to stay in the Union, but a minority wanted to secede. They destroyed a good amount of this state for their petty and vain ambitions. You won’t hear the neo-confederates admit that either because they deny everything that doesn’t fit their lie.

      The number of men in uniform tells the real story. 180,000 total men in uniform (round figures) with 150,000 for the Union and 30,000 for the confederacy.

      • Andy Hall said, on December 22, 2014 at 9:36 pm

        And of course that vicious partisan warfare didn’t end in 1865 — it just gave rise to men like the James and Youngers. I suppose I should thank them, because men like that made life so untenable that it prompted my Missouri relatives to relocate to Texas.

      • Leo said, on December 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

        I have learned more Mississippi Civil War History on my own than I ever learned in my Mississippi History class. I know not everything can be covered, but I am astounded at what was left out when I was in high school. Speaking of high school, I found this review of the textbook used as late as 1980 in my freshman class. I believe that book is no longer used and a more appropriate and honest textbook is in the schools.

        Also, in my research, I recently discovered the former confederates/redeemers destroyed most of the records and evidence relating to Southern Unionists during the war. I can only conclude they did this to further Lost Cause Mythology.

  3. Colin MacDonald said, on December 23, 2014 at 5:57 am

    As a Scot, it is always very difficult not to switch off from a piece of writing when the terms ‘Britain’ and ‘England’ are used interchangeably.

    • Andy Hall said, on December 23, 2014 at 8:37 am

      I understand, but in this case there’s nothing I can do about it — it’s in the original.

  4. jfepperson said, on December 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Andy, by any chance do you have a complete e-text of that speech by Houston you could send to me? Or a printed version?

  5. jarretr said, on December 28, 2014 at 11:26 am

    I remember a few years back when Rick Perry invoked Sam Houston to justify secession to Texas Tea Baggers. Good times.

  6. Foxessa said, on December 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    The primary lens of my end-of-the-year essay on the most thematic reading I did this year is “My Year in Mississippi.” Spending so much time there early in the year was, as I expected, meant I learned a great deal — but I had no idea how fascinating what I learned and continued to learn was going to be.

    This is just a bit of it: The State of Jones: The Small Southern County that Seceded from the Confederacy, by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer.

    Back to working on the essay.

    All best for 2015, Mr. Hall, to you and yours and your blog commentators!

    Love, C.

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