Correspondence between James Martin Calhoun, commissioner from Alabama, and Gov. Sam Houston of Texas
AUSTIN, January 5, 1861
His Excellency Governor SAM HOUSTON:
Dear Sir: I come as the accredited commissioner of the State of Alabama to consult and advise with yourself and the members of the State Legislature and of the convention of Texas as to what is best to be done to protect the rights, the interests, and the honor of the slave-holding States. Neither the Legislature of Texas nor any convention being now in session, and my speedy return to Alabama being required, my conference must be of necessity confined to yourself, with a request that my communication to you may be communicated to the Legislature of Texas when it shall assemble, as I am pleased to learn it will at no very distant day. In the performance of this my duty, under all the surrounding circumstances, I have only simply to say that Alabama, through her Legislature, being the first to move in the direction which may probably result in the severance of all connection with the Federal Government as the only means of saving her citizens from the utter ruin and degradation which must follow from the administration of that Government by a sectional, hostile majority, desires to assure her sister slave-holding States that she feels that her interests are the same with theirs, and that a common destiny must be the same to all; that, therefore, whatever may be the course which she may deem it proper to take to meet the dangers by which she as well as they are surrounded, she will do so with an earnest desire that there may be in the present and in the future an unbroken bond of brotherhood and Union between herself and Texas and every other slave-holding State; that she will not act with rashness or thoughtlessness, but with mature and deliberate consideration; that she will, by all means, endeavor to avoid the doing of any act which may shake the confidence or alienate the friendly feelings of her sister slave-holding States; that whatever may be the determination of her people, to be assembled in their sovereign character in convention on the 7th instant, they will still cover themselves and posterity under the folds of the old Constitution of the United States in its purity and truth.
It is perhaps my duty to give Your Excellency my individual opinion that the action of the convention to assemble on the 7th instant will be to withdraw the State from the present Union, and to take her position as a sovereign and independent State, seeking and desiring a near and perfect union with all the other States of the South as speedily as possible. This will, however, have been decided one way or the other, and be made known to the Legislature of your State by the time it shall assemble.
Hoping and trusting that there may be no discord between the States of the South; that unanimity, confidence, wisdom, prudence, and firmness may mark the course of all, and that a kind Providence may rule over and guide and protect us in our day of gloom and danger.
I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. J. M. Calhoun,
Commissioner from Alabama;
DEAR SIR: Your communication of the 5th instant, informing me of the objects of your mission on the part of the State of Alabama, is before me. As a citizen of a sister State, bearing an appointment as commissioner to Texas from her Chief Executive, I welcome you here, and trust that whatever ideas you may adopt in reference to the political opinions of the people of Texas you may bear back with you the evidences of their kindness, hospitality, and friendship. Having convened the Legislature of the State with a view to its providing a mode by which the will of the people of Texas may be declared touching their relations with the Federal Government and the States, I cannot authoritatively speak as to the course they will pursue. A fair and legitimate expression of their will through the ballot box is yet to be made known. Therefore, were the Legislature in session, or were a legally authorized convention in session, until the action taken is ratified by the people at the ballot box, none can speak for Texas. Her people have ever been jealous of their rights, and have been careful how they parted with the attributes of their sovereignty. They will reserve to themselves the right to finally pass upon the act involving so closely their liberties, fortunes, peace, and happiness; and when, through the free exercise of that sacred privilege which has ever until now been deemed the best security for the liberties of the people and the surest means of remedying encroachments upon their rights they have declared their will, then, and then only, can any speak for Texas. Until then nothing but individual opinions can be expressed, and mine are entitled to no more weight than a long acquaintance with the people and a continued intercourse and communication with them would justify.
That there is a difference of opinion existing in Texas in relation to the course necessary to pursue at this period none can deny. Citizens alike distinguished for their worth and public services hold opposite views; and while all are united in the determination to maintain our constitutional rights, they differ as to the mode of accomplishing the same. In this I do not include that reckless and selfish class who, moved by personal ambition or a desire for office or spoil, desire a change of government in the hope that aggrandizement will attend them. I believe, however, that a large majority of the people, recognizing the obligations they owe to the Border States, who have so long stood as barriers against the assaults of Abolitionism, desire to concert such measures as will not only conduce to their safety but the benefit of the entire South. As Executive of the State I have deemed it my duty to present to the other Southern States a proposition for a consultation having that object in view. Alabama has not yet responded to the same, and although the tenor of your letter indicates that she will pursue a different course, I trust that when the great interests at stake are duly considered by her people they will determine to join with Texas and a majority of the Southern States in an honest and determined effort to obtain redress for the grievances which the North has put upon us ere they take the fatal step, which, in my opinion, ultimately involves civil war and the ruin of our institutions, if not of liberty itself.
If Alabama has been the first to move in the direction which may possibly result in the severance of all connection with the Federal Government, it is a matter of pride to me that Texas has, in the time of peril, been the first to move in that direction calculated to secure Southern unity and co-operation. Texas is the only one of the States which possessed, ere her connection with the Union, full and complete sovereignty. Though she brought an empire into the Union and added vastly to the area of slavery, she arrogates to herself no especial privileges, nor has she yet consulted her own safety or interest, save in common with that of the entire South. Knowing the obligations which she took upon herself when she came into the Union, she has thus far shown no desire to relieve herself of those obligations until it is manifest that the compact made with her will not be observed. Having made an effort, in concert with her sister slave-holding States, to secure the observance of that compact and failed in that effort, it would then be her pride to sink all considerations prompted by her own ambition and share a common fate with them; but if, on the contrary, they, consulting their own interests and their own inclinations, neither seeking her counsel nor co-operation, act separately and alone, and abandon a Union and a Government of which she yet forms a part, Texas will then be compelled to leave a policy whereby she has unselfishly sought the good of the whole South, and will pursue that course which her pride and her ancient character marks out before her. Were I permitted to trust alone to the tenor of the first part of your communication, and had you given me no assurance of the fact that although Alabama desires to assure her sister slave-holding States that she feels that her interests are the same with theirs, and that a common destiny must be the same to all, and that she will, through her convention which assembles to-day, the 7th instant, withdraw from the present Union and take her position as a sovereign State, I could give you more assurances of my co-operation as Executive of Texas with Alabama in the present emergency. Should Alabama, without waiting for the action of Texas, withdraw from the Union, and Texas, by the force of circumstances, be compelled at a future period to provide for her own safety, the course of Alabama, South Carolina, and such other States as may follow their lead will but strengthen the conviction already strong among our people that their interest will lead them to avoid entangling alliances, and to enter once again upon a national career. No claim would then exist upon Texas, for her co-operation has not been deemed important at a time when it was essential to her safety, and her statesmen will deem that she violates no duty to the South in imperiling once again her Lone Star banner, and maintaining her position among the independent nations of the earth. If the Union be dissolved and the gloomy forebodings of patriots be realized in the ruin and civil war to follow, Texas can “tread the wine press” alone in the day of her misfortune, even as her freemen trod it in the past; and if she fails in the effort to maintain liberty and her institutions upon her own soil, she will feel that posterity will justify her and lay no blame at her door. Texas, unlike Alabama, has a frontier subject to hostile incursions. Even with the whole power of the United States to defend her, it is impossible to prevent frequent outrages upon her citizens. The numerous tribes of Indians, now controlled by the United States, and restrained by treaty stipulations and the presence of the army, would by the dissolution of the Union be turned loose to provide for themselves, and judging from the past it is not unreasonable to suppose they will direct their savage vengeance against Texas. The bandits of Mexico have within the past year given an evidence of their willingness to make inroads upon us could they do so with impunity. These are some of the consequences of disunion which we of the border cannot shut out from our sight. If Texas has been compelled to resort to her own means of defense when connected with the present Union, it is not to be supposed that she could rely for protection on an alliance with the Gulf States alone, and having grown self-reliant amid adversity and continued so as a member of the Union, it will be but natural that her people, feeling that they must look to themselves, while sympathizing equally with those States whose institutions are similar to their own, will prefer a separate nationality to even an equal position in a confederacy which may be broken and destroyed at any moment by the caprice or dissatisfaction of one of its members. Texas has views of expansion not common to many of her sister States. Although an empire within herself, she feels that there is an empire beyond essential to her security. She will not be content to have the path of her destiny clogged. The same spirit of enterprise which founded a republic here will carry her institutions southward and westward. Having when but a handful of freemen withstood the power of that Nation and wrung from it her independence, she has no fear of Abolition power while in the Union; and should it be the resolve of her people to stand by the Constitution and maintain in the Union those rights guaranteed to them, she will even be proof against the “utter ruin and ignominy” depicted in your communication. A people determined to maintain their rights can neither be ruined nor degraded, and if Texas takes upon herself the holy task of sustaining the Constitution, even in the midst of its enemies, history will accord her equal praise with those who sought only their own safety and left the temple of liberty in their possession.
Were I left to believe that Alabama is disposed to second the efforts made to secure the co-operation of the South in demanding redress for our grievances, or that her course would in the least depend upon that of Texas, I would suggest such views as sincere and earnest reflection have induced. But as you express the opinion that Alabama will, through her convention, without waiting to know the sentiments of the people of Texas, act for herself, there can be no reason why I should press them upon your attention, nor is it a matter of importance whether they reflect the popular sentiment of the State or not. They would be alike unavailing. Nor will I enter into a discussion as to how far the idea of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States will be acceptable to the people of the States forming a Southern confederacy. That Constitution was a compromise of conflicting interests. It was framed so as to protect the slave-holding States against the encroachments of the non-slave-holding. The statesmen of the South secured a representation for the three-fifths of our slave property. Whether this and other provisions of that instrument will be deemed applicable to States which have no conflicting interests so far as slavery is concerned is not for me to say; but I cannot refrain from expressing the opinion that if the proud and gallant people of Alabama are willing to “still cover themselves and their posterity under the folds of the old Constitution of the United States in its purity and truth,” the rights of Texas will be secure in the present Union, so long as that Constitution is preserved and controls the administration of the Government; and although the “administration of the Government by a sectional, hostile majority” will be distasteful to the feelings of Texas, if she can, by fair and constitutional means, induce the majority to yield obedience to the Constitution and administer the Government in accordance with it, the triumph will be hers, and we will escape the miseries of civil war and secure to us and to our posterity all the blessings of liberty which by the power of union made us the greatest nation on earth.
Recognizing as I do the fact that the sectional tendencies of the Black Republican party call for determined constitutional resistance at the hands of the united South, I also feel that the million and a half of noble-hearted, conservative men who have stood by the South, even to this hour, deserve some sympathy and support. Although we have lost the day, we have to recollect that our conservative Northern friends cast over a quarter of a million more votes against the Black Republicans than we of the entire South. I cannot declare myself ready to desert them as well as our Southern brethren of the border (and such, I believe, will be the sentiment of Texas) until at least one firm attempt has been made to preserve our constitutional rights within the Union. In conclusion, allow me to say that whatever my be the future of the people of Alabama, my hopes and ardent prayers for prosperity will attend them. When I remember their progress and the evidences they have had of the blessings of free government, I join you in the belief that they “will not act with rashness or thoughtlessness, but with mature and deliberate consideration.” Forty-seven years ago, to prevent the massacre of her citizens, it was upon her soil that I gave the first proofs of my manhood in devotion to the Union. The flag that I followed then was the same Stars and Stripes which the sons of Alabama have aided to plant on many a victorious field. Since then Alabama has risen from an almost wilderness region (under the fostering care of the Federal Government and the power embraced in union) to a great, wealthy, and prosperous people, and obtained a position which without union with the other States she could not have achieved for ages, if ever.
Receive for yourself and the people of Alabama, whose accredited commissioner you are, the assurances of my esteem and consideration.
I have the honor to be, your most obedient servant,
Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series IV, vol. 1, pp. 71-76