January 28, 1861: Why is Texas considering secession?

Oran M. Roberts
Oran M. Roberts

Roberts was a justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1861, when he served as president of the secession convention. He resigned to join the Confederate Army during the war, where he was colonel of the 11th Texas infantry regiment. He was made Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1864. He was elected governor of Texas in 1878.

From the journals of the Texas Secession Convention, first day, January 28, 1861:

The election of a president being first in order, Mr. Gray nominated the Hon. 0. M. Roberts of Smith county.

Mr. Fields nominated the Hon. Wm. B. Ochiltree of Harrison county, who respectfully declined and moved that the Hon. 0. M. Roberts be declared the president of the Convention by acclamation.


On motion of Mr. Rainey a committee of three were appointed by the President “pro tem” to wait upon Mr. Roberts and conduct him to the chair.

Mesrs. Rainey, Flournoy and Gray were appointed the committee.

On taking the chair the President remarked, “I bow to the sovereignty of the people of my State. All political power is inherent in the people. That power, I assert, you now represent. We have been congregated in obedience to the public will, by the spontaneous and voluntary concert of the people of this State, to consider and dispose of questions equally as momentous and more varied than those that were solved by our revolutionary forefathers of ’76!

The crisis upon us involves not only the right of self government, but the maintenance of a great principle in the law of nations — the immemorial recognition of the institution of slavery wherever it is not locally prohibited — and also the true theory of our general government as an association of sovereignties, and not a blended mass of people in one social compact.

However grave the issues now presented may be, I trust this body will be fully adequate to their solution, in such manner as to preserve the rights of the State. While not insensible to the great honor conferred upon me by this body of distinguished citizens, I am aware that my selection is attributable more to my position in the judiciary of the State than to my experience or knowledge of parliamentary deliberations. It is an indication to the world that this movement of the people of Texas has not originated in any revolutionary spirit of social disorder, and I doubt not that the moderation and wisdom of your deliberations and acts will demonstrate it.”

So, in the view of this distinguished Texan, there are three issues before the convention: the right of self-government, the recognition of slavery, and the sovereignty of states (which seems like a repeat of the first). As usual, the only “state’s rights” invoked are the right to secede and the right to own slaves.

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