The Republican Party’s war on democracy knows no bounds. With no policies and no meaningful solutions to the country’s problems to offer, conservatives have continued their efforts at retelling our white supremacist history in such a way as to deny not only the racism of white landowners in the construction of our country’s white supremacist system but also to deny the rights of all people who don’t own land, and all people who aren’t white citizens of our country. Part of this manipulation is to frame the discussion about history inside of a hysterics-producing culture war that argues against a more robust analysis of the history as it denies and whitewashes entire sections of how and why things happened the way they happened.
In an attempt to act like they are doing something proactive while also figuring out ways to hypocritically rewrite history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed House Bill 2497. The bill is supposed to appeal to critical race theory ‘fraidy cats by promoting the “patriotic education” of Texans. Called “The 1836 Project,” the legislation will set up a commission to figure out what to write on pamphlets given to Texas constituents receiving their drivers’ licenses. 1836 marks the year that Texas received independence from Mexico. Of course, only certain Texans received “independence,” and the rest of those folks were Black and brown and Indigenous nations.
Here’s Abbott and a crew of sycophants selling Texas a slice of history devoid of context or … most of the history.
This move comes at the same time that Abbott and Republican legislators are moving to restrict discussions of critical race theory throughout schools. The above bill also requires that the 1836 Project promote “the Christian heritage of this state.” Unless that “Christian heritage” simply means talking about the Texas Christian community’s use of Paul’s Epistle to Philemon and other such bastardizations of the Old and New Testaments to support slavery, I doubt this has anything to do with teaching history.
Texas’ fight to become independent from Mexico heightened right around the time that Mexico banned the import of slaves into the territory. In fact, Mexico and Anglo-Texan landowners were at odds over slavery from the moment Mexico concluded its own war of independence in 1821. After various restrictions on the expansion of slavery in their Texas territory, Mexico banned slavery in 1829, with then-president of the Republic of Mexico, Vincente Guerrero, declaring all enslaved people emancipated. Anglo-Texan landowners worked on loopholes that allowed them to continue holding slaves and importing them into the territory for years.
Texians developed a scheme with which new settlers could evade Mexico’s ban on slavery. According to historical records, before leaving the United States and crossing into Mexican Texas, slave owners would meet with a notary public and draft a document in which slaves were given a specific value. The contract stipulated that though they would gain their freedom when they stepped on Texas soil, they would enter into a period of internment, in which they would work to pay off the debt of their value that they now owed to their previous master. Any costs for clothing or food or housing would be deducted from their “wages,” which were around $20 a year. Any sum not paid off by the time they died would be assumed by their children. Any of the former slaves’ children who were born after their parents passed into Texas would begin paying off their debts when they reached adulthood, presumably being considered property of the master until that point. Cheap labor from enslaved Black people was so central to the success of the early Texian colonies that settlers worked very hard to maintain it.
Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836. Texas subsequently applied for and became a state in our United States of America in 1845. At the time of the Texas Revolution in 1836 there were estimated to be around 5,000 slaves in Texas. By the time Texas was annexed into the United States there were an estimated 30,000 slaves in Texas, and by 1860 “the census found 182,566 slaves—over 30% of the total population of the state.” I guess that’s just a coincidence?
Let’s go to the other video tape! Texas’ ”Declaration of causes: February 2, 1861: This is the Lone Star State’s “declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union.”* Here are some highlights [Note: The “she” spoken of in the Declaration is Texas]:
- “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery—the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits—a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. ”
- “The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States.”
- ”In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.”
- That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.
It turns out that Texas isn’t exceptional. At all. In fact, Texas’ history of slavery, slavery dependence, Christian hypocrisy, and white supremacy is pretty predictable and sadly pedestrian in comparison to the rest of the United States. One of the more unique aspects of Texas’ history is how little Texans and white supremacists like Abbott understand it. Texas was such a “shit-hole” Republic that thousands of Black slaves fled the state for Mexico in the two-plus decades of independence the Lone Star State had before the Civil War. The only thing “exceptional” about Texas is that it was so behind the times, it took until June 19, 1865 for Texans to realize they had had their asses handed to them in the American Civil War, and had lost.
Abbott has one aspect of Texas history and heritage correct: white supremacist attempts to drag human progress backwards, using racism, in the interests of big business power and profits. The problem with the snowflake crews across our country is that they are unwilling to face reality: While our country was founded with a sense of independence from authoritarian forms of government, much of it was built on the backs of African slaves. In fact, white Anglo-Saxon dominance in the wealth of our country was built on the backs of new immigrants from all over the world, with dehumanizing practices of murder and torture and rape visited most frequently upon people who weren’t white Americans. Our railroads and gold mines and cotton fields were all built, dug, and tilled by cheap labor in the service of a white supremacist system.
*Fun Fact: There are 21 mentions of slavery in the 24 paragraphs of this bit of history—and about 10 of those paragraphs are single sentences!