The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State during the Civil War Era

Article excerpt

The Shattering of Texas Unionism: Politics in the Lone Star State During the Civil War Era. By Dale Baum. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Pp. xx, 283. $37.50, ISBN 0-8071-2245-9.)

The variables that shaped Texas politics in the antebellum and Reconstruction eras both were and were not like those of other states that formed the Confederate States of America. Unlike other slave states, Texas had an extensive international boundary, expansive western settlements, two considerable ethnic groups--Mexicans and Germans--and, in Sam Houston, a governor who was a fierce opponent of disunionism and secession. Yet, like other southerners, most white Anglo-Texans were committed to and defended the institution of slavery and the racist assumptions and assertions that undergirded that institution. It is within this context that Dale Baum explores the problematic nature of unionism in the late 1850s and post--Civil War Texas down to the election of Republican governor Edmund J. Davis in 1869. Baum's analysis focuses primarily on election results and relies heavily on quantitative analysis. As such it underscores the virtues and lays bare the shortcomings of this methodological approach.

Baum persuasively argues that unionism in Texas is understood less by what it stood for, since it had neither a shared ideology nor agenda, than by what it and its adherents opposed--the Democracy. Sam Houston's election to the Texas governorship in 1859, for example, was a reaction to the state's Democratic fire-eaters, whose aggressive proslavery agenda alienated the party's rank and file, and Governor Hardin R. Runnels's inability to bring peace to the state's western frontier. Baum demonstrates that while Runnels's former supporters stayed at home in droves, new and heretofore nonvoters supported Houston's candidacy. The strength of Houston's unionist appeal, therefore, was more illusory than real.

If the absence of concern over national issues related to slavery contributed to Houston's victory, John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry and the breakup of the Democracy in 1860 changed all of that. Baum argues that during the secession crisis slaveholders and nonslaveholders alike rallied to the defense of the institution and subsequently the cause of the Confederacy. …