Texas secession movements principally focus on the secession of Texas during the American Civil War and the activities of organizations that have existed since the 1990s. The United States Constitution does not address secession of states and the issue was a topic of debate from after the Revolutionary War up until the Civil War, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Texas v. White, that states cannot secede. Texas claimed to be a sovereign state for nine years prior to the negotiated annexation with the United States, but its claim was not recognized by Mexico, nor did Texas actually control the entirety of its claimed territory. This history has affected the state's politics ever since, including its standing in the Confederacy in the Civil War to education and even tourism in the 20th century. Modern secession efforts have existed in the state at least since the 1990s, focusing first on the Republic of Texas organization founded by Richard Lance McLaren and later on the Texas Nationalist Movement headed by Daniel Miller.
Discussion about the right of U.S. states to secede from the union began shortly after the American Revolutionary War. The United States Constitution does not address secession. Each of the colonies originated by separate grants from the British Crown and had evolved relatively distinct political and cultural institutions prior to national independence. Craig S. Lerner has written that the Constitution's Supremacy Clause weighs against a right of secession, but that the Republican Guarantee Clause can be interpreted to indicate that the federal government has no right to keep a state from leaving as long as it maintains a republican form of government.
The question remained open in the decades before the Civil War. In 1825, Alexis de Tocqueville observed, "If today one of these same states wanted to withdraw its name from the contract, it would be quite difficult to prove that it could not do so. To combat it, the federal government would have no evident support in either force or right." However, Joseph Story wrote in 1830 in Commentaries on the Constitution that the document foreclosed the right of secession. On the eve of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln argued that states were not sovereign before the Constitution but instead they were created by it.
Current Supreme Court precedent, in Texas v. White, holds that the states cannot secede from the union by an act of the state. More recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated, "If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede."
After the final engagement at San Jacinto in 1836, there were two different visions of the future of Texas: one as a state of the United States and the other as an independent republic. Sam Houston promoted the first, as he felt that the newly independent country, lacking hard currency and still facing threats from Mexico, could not survive on its own. The other was promoted by second Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar, who felt that it was Texas's destiny to be a nation that extended from the Louisiana border to the Pacific Ocean. For this reason, Lamar is considered the father of Texas nationalism.
The Republic under Lamar incurred large-scale debt, and suffered from a poor economy and inadequate defenses, which led to the annexation of Texas into the United States in 1845. Since then, the state's time as an independent nation has been the basis of a lasting sense of national identity.
The history of Texas in the Civil War has distinctions from the rest of the South, in part because of its history of being independent previously. Much of Texas's dissatisfaction was not only tied to opposition to Lincoln and his view of states' rights (which they also viewed as a transgression of the annexation agreement), but also because they did not feel that Washington had lived up to promises of inclusion into the country as part of annexation. In 1861, Sam Houston still strongly supported remaining in the United States primarily for economic and military reasons. However, those promoting secession used not only elements from U.S. history such as the American Revolution and the Constitution, but also the Texas Revolution and elements from the history of the Republic of Texas.
In 1861, a popular referendum voted to secede, making Texas the seventh and last state of the Lower South to do so. Some wanted to restore the Republic of Texas, but an identity with the Confederacy was embraced. This led to the replacement of Texas themes for the most part with those of the Confederacy, including religious justification given in sermons, often demanded by petitioners. The transference to the Stars and Bars was in the hope of achieving the inclusion perceived by some to be denied by Washington. However, that shift was never complete. Clayton E. Jewett wrote in Texas in the Confederacy: An Experiment in Nation Building that its identity remained somewhat separate from the rest of the Confederacy. James Marten wrote in Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State, 1856-1874 that it battled between loyalty to the Confederacy and dissent and its ambivalence may have been enough to assure Southern defeat.
During the war, Texas was spared most of the actual fighting, with only Galveston seeing any military engagement with Union forces. However, the war did take a serious toll in the way of chronic shortages, absence of men at home to run the economy, military setbacks and fear of invasion. Although Lincoln recognized Texas's history as an independent nation, his definition of the Union meant that Texas forever ceded this to be subject to the Constitution.
After the end of the Civil War, Texans maintained a "rebel" or Confederate identity instead of a completely Texas one as a way of still defying the United States. After the Civil War, it provided a haven for others in the Confederacy leaving claimed devastation. From that time to the present, a "Lost Cause" mythology has continued in Texas and other areas of the South. However, for the most part, overt discussion of the right of states to secede ended, replaced by another mythology based on the indivisibility of the territory. This did not end Texas's identity as at least somewhat different from the rest of the United States. Unlike southern states, Texas began emphasizing its cowboy heritage and connection with the U.S. Southwest, even influencing the rest of the U.S. identity in the 20th century. For many Texans, the history of the Republic of Texas is considered a time of independence and self-determination often in contrast to interference by the federal government in Washington. Texas requires a course in the state's history in the seventh grade where these ideas can also be found.
In the 1990s, Texas began to use the slogan "Texas. It's Like a Whole Other Country" especially in domestic ads for tourism, and still can be seen today. However, public imagination remains split on the visions of Texas as state and nation that Houston and Lamar had in the 19th century. The two can appear as a conflict between rural and urban Texans but the Lamar vision can be found in the cities as well. Texas did not join in festivities for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War as it was thought that the commemoration would have reopened old unhealed wounds.
There have been efforts to promote Texas secession in the state at least since the 1990s. At this time, Richard Lance McLaren founded the Republic of Texas organization based on his property called the Davis Mountains Resort in Jeff Davis County, becoming the most active and influential secession group at the time. Essentially the organization claimed that the United States annexed Texas illegally and considered it to be held captive. The organization held itself out as an alternative government, based on the principle of very limited powers.
McLaren had both supporters and enemies. His supporters generally believed that globalization was a threat to constitutional rights and against Christian principles. Tactics of the group included filing liens against properties, disavowing state and federal authorities, and opening an "embassy". McLaren's legal filings were so numerous that the county clerk gave them a separate cabinet. Members of the Republic of Texas group listed grievances with the U.S. government, such as accusing the government of a corrupt judicial system, paganism, and of creating illegal treaties and illegitimate agencies. Members of the group also stated that the U.S. government had set itself above the people and had exercised its global influences unlawfully against the Constitution. The Republic of Texas members placed a lot of emphasis on the Branch Davidian incident near Waco as an example of all that was wrong with the U.S. government.
In the summer of 1996, injunctions and other court proceedings against McLaren were well underway. In July of that year, McLaren held a press conference a block away from the state courthouse in Austin stating that he refused to appear because he did not recognize the legitimacy of the court. McLaren was jailed for a month by a federal judge for failing to show in court. After his release, McLaren's rhetoric grew stronger. In March 1997, he wrote to the federal government to claim 93 trillion dollars in reparations to Texas for the Civil War. By this time, the Republic of Texas organization had fractured into three factions. When two of McLaren's groups were arrested, McLaren took two hostages and holed up with armed supporters on his property, leading to a standoff with Texas Department of Public Safety . However, the siege ended with McLaren and twelve others giving up without violence. In November of that year, McLaren was convicted of kidnapping and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. McLaren was also convicted of federal mail fraud and bank fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Dallas. He is imprisoned at the William P. Clements Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, near Amarillo, Texas, and is scheduled for release on June 15, 2041.
As of 2003, there were three groups that claimed to be the Republic of Texas with different web sites, but without McLaren named as a leader.
The Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), headed by Daniel Miller, evolved from one of the factions of the old Republic of Texas in the late 1990s to early 2000s. However, the organization has disassociated itself from the Republic of Texas and the tactics of McLaren, instead opting for more political rather than confrontational or violent solution. The group has county-level groups in most parts of the state.
According to its website, the objective of the Texas Nationalist Movement is "the complete, total and unencumbered political, cultural and economic independence of Texas". Unlike its predecessor, TNM claims to work peaceably with the current political system, and to reject use of force to achieve its goals. TNM is an unincorporated association under the laws of the State of Texas. The organization focuses on political support and advocacy, and education surrounding the issue of secession. In January 2013, members of the TNM rallied at the state capital in Austin to promote the resolution, resulting in one mention of secession by one lawmaker on the opening day of the legislative session. In May 2016, the Texas GOP narrowly rejected bringing a resolution for secession to a floor vote at the 2016 Texas Republican Convention.
The rise of membership in the Texas Nationalist Movement coincided with other secession-related news events not part of that organization. Governor Rick Perry, at a political rally in 2009, addressed the possibility of secession. During the rally, many in the crowd began to chant "secede, secede", to which Perry remarked, "If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?" Perry subsequently clarified that the comment was tongue in cheek and that he does not support secession. His remarks sparked controversy and harsh criticism from government officials and pundits, such as Jeff Macke and Joe Weisental.
After Perry's comments received news coverage, Rasmussen Reports found that about 1 in 3 of those it polled believed that Texas has the right to secede from the United States, although only 18% would support secession and 75% would oppose secession. In another poll, 60% of Texans surveyed opposed becoming an independent nation. However, 48% of Texas Republicans surveyed supported it. The reaction from outside the state was also strongly split, including those who wanted to get rid of Texas.
After the 2012 presidential election, bumper stickers and signs saying "secede" began appearing in Texas. The election also triggered a wave of petitions on the White House "We the People" website. While the Texas petition was not first to appear, it overtook those of the other states with over 125,000 signatures, well above the 25,000 to trigger a response. The petition stated that secession would "protect the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government" and defend Texans from "blatant abuses to their rights" The Texas secession petition was followed by one allowing Austin to secede from Texas and stay part of the union. The White House issued a 476-word response rejecting the idea.
In June 2016, when a 52-48 majority in the U.K. voted to leave the European Union (EU) using the hashtag #Brexit on social media, there was renewed interest that Texas formalize efforts to secede from the U.S., using the hashtag #Texit.
|Polling organization/client||Sample size||Support secession||Oppose secession||Undecided||Lead|
|12-14 August 2016||Public Policy Polling||944||26%||59%||15%||33%|
|2-6 September 2010||Public Policy Polling||538||15%||72%||13%||57%|
|August 2009||Rasmussen Reports||--||18%||75%||7%||57%|
|Polling organization/client||Sample size||Support secession||Oppose secession||Undecided||Lead|
|12-14 August 2016||Public Policy Polling||944||40%||48%||12%||8%|