Our Congress is in recess. Again. They have more recesses than a kindergarten class and do less. At such times it might be a good idea to take a look at how we have done things here in Texas from the git-go. In a rented shack in Washington-on-the-Brazos Texans met in March of 1836 to set up a Texas that pretty well resembles the way our state government works today, except for part about barring preachers from holding public office, dividing up the booty from captured ships and being drafted for road work. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s set the scene and, no, this isn’t a history lesson, Pilgrim, it’s why you are no longer in Ohio and why today’s Congress members should take notes.
Texas leaders had been considering independence, without Santa Anna’s blessing, you understand, for some time. Finally word went out over social media – smoke signals, tom-toms and what somebody said at the tavern – for elected delegates to gather at a mud village along the Brazos River. On the first day of March, Texans – eventually numbering 59 — assembled in a convention. Twelve were natives of Virginia, ten of North Carolina, nine of Tennessee, six of Kentucky, four of Georgia, three of South Carolina, three of Pennsylvania, three of Mexico (including two born in Texas), two of New York, and one each of Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada. Two, including Sam Houston, had served in the U.S. Congress. They met in freezing weather in an uncompleted building (no windows) rented for use of the convention by a group of Washington business men who, incidentally, never got around to paying the rent.
The convention declared all able-bodied men ages 17 to 59 liable for military duty and offered land bounties of 320 to 1,280 acres for service from three months to one year. Those men who left Texas to avoid military service, refused to participate, or gave aid to the enemy would forfeit their rights of citizenship and the lands they held in the republic. It authorized its agents in the United States to seek a $1 million loan and pledge land for its redemption.
In a matter of days, Texas’ forefathers wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, organized the ad interim government, and named Sam Houston commander in chief of the military forces of the republic. Why so fast? Two reasons: Much of the wordage in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was directly lifted from the U.S. documents. (See; Trump: Melania) The other reason was during the proceedings the Battle of the Alamo was raging and soon word reached the delegates that the Mexican Army was headed their way, nooses and rifles in hand. For these reasons, and probably the lack of windows, the Constitution was brief (less than 6,500 words).
So what did these men agree on? The usual stuff when creating a brand-new nation: two houses of Congress — Senate and House — a president and judges. Ministers and priests were ineligible to hold public office. Because the delegates didn’t like bankers, debt collectors and IOUs, imprisonment for debt was abolished, and monopolies and primogeniture were prohibited. The document specified that the president would serve three years and could not succeed himself in office. So Houston served as the republic’s president until 1838, sat out a term, then served again from 1841 to 1844, all perfectly legal. That’s no doubt where Vladimir Putin got the idea to do the same thing. The president would be the commander in chief of the army, navy, and militia, but could not “command in person” without the permission of Congress. No doubt they put that in with Houston in mind. Members of Congress would serve one-year terms. Senators were to serve three-year overlapping terms, with one-third elected each year.
The constitution legalized slavery but prohibited foreign slave trade. Immigrants from the United States could bring slaves with them. Free blacks could not live in Texas without the consent of Congress. Citizenship was granted to all, with “Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted.” The amending process was so complex that none was ever adopted. Incidentally, Article Fourteen of the Declaration of Rights reads, “Every citizen shall have the right to bear arms in defense of himself and the republic.” None of this “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” foggy interpretation. Texans could pack heat. Period. A citizen who had not received his land grant was guaranteed “one league and one labor of land” if the head of a family; single men over 17 were assured of “the third part of one league of land.”
These guys weren’t through. (This stolen from Compano Bay Press): Later in 1836, from October through December, 44 men (no women present) convened in a drafty clapboard house in the town of Columbia. Many were the very men who had met back in March. It was the first session of the first Congress of the Republic of Texas, and the gang drafted some interesting articles. Again, no minister or priest could hold office in the national government. They granted Deaf Smith, Sam Houston’s trusted scout and spy, any house in San Antonio that was to his liking, so long as the government could find a legal reason to confiscate it. (Smith replied, “Eh? Eh? I don’t want a mouse.) Officers and men of the Texas Navy could divide booty amongst themselves after capturing an enemy vessel. They set the northern border of the Republic at the 42nd parallel, just south of present-day Wheatland, Wyoming, and “All free males, Indians excepted, between the age of 17 and 45 years” could be conscripted to work on the public roads.
And that’s how they did it. Quick and simple. Wonder what would happen if we told today’s Congress that the Mexican Army was on the way?
Ashby amends at firstname.lastname@example.org