By Lawrence Phillip Knight, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
DEDICATED TO THE UNION:
SAN ANTONIO FROM THE DEMISE OF THE KNOW-NOTHINGS TO THE ELECTION OF LINCOLN
The political fight between the Democrats and the Know-Nothings showed that the broad definition of American offered by the Democrats was far more appealing to the voters of San Antonio, many if not most of whom were not natives of the United States, than was the proscribed definition offered by the Know-Nothings. The utter defeat of the Know-Nothings left the Democrats uncontested in politics, and as is common in a one party system, division began to occur within the party. The line of division became clear after the 1857 election. Though thoroughly defeated in his campaign for governor because of his association with the Know-Nothings, Sam Houston nevertheless became the rallying point for opposition to the regular Democrats. The Houston faction, or Union Democrats, were composed of those who supported Union, members of the now dead Know-Nothings, and survivors of the old Whig Party. They supported Union and opposed reopening the slave trade while the Democrats, now led by Governor H.R. Runnels supported a states rights Union and the reopening of the slave trade. On the strength of the alliance that made up the Union Democrats rode the hopes for the Union in Texas.
If one looked solely at the gubernatorial election in 1857, the above fusion appeared stillborn. Sam Houston handily lost his bid to become governor. What was true in the state was true in San Antonio; Houston received only 36 percent of the city's vote--274 of the 815 cast. However the gubernatorial vote was not a vote for Runnels' states rights position but a vote against Houston and the Know-Nothings. Isaiah Paschal, a strong supporter of the Union, was elected as the state senator from Bexar County, and two of the four state legislators from San Antonio, Ángel Navarro and Jacob Waelder, were also Union Democrats. Further proof of the Union sentiments of the people of San Antonio was the election of 1859, an election that once again pitted Governor Runnels against Sam Houston, the leader of the unionists in Texas. Two questions of utmost importance were answered by the 1859 gubernatorial election: did Houston's ties to the Know-Nothings still hurt him, and how did the Germans and Hispanics in San Antonio vote?
San Antonio was composed of three precincts for state elections (see Figure 1). Precinct one corresponded with city ward one; it was the city's oldest section and was that part of the city south of Commerce street and west of the San Antonio River. Precinct two corresponded with city ward two; it was that part of the city north of Commerce street and west of the San Antonio River. Precinct three corresponded with city wards three and four, was the newest part of the city, and was that part of the city east of the river. The ethnic make-up of the heads of household, the male heads of household, and the percentage of the three dominant ethnic groups in each are shown in tables and graphs below (see Tables 2 and 3 and Figures 2-5).
Whether or not each ethnic group voted in proportion to its population is unknown (Olmstead declared that the Hispanics did not) but by population of heads of household, the
Hispanics were most numerous in precincts one and two while the Germans were most numerous in precinct three. Geographically, the Hispanics were most numerous west of the river and the Germans were most numerous east of the river.
To determine how the Hispanic and German voters viewed Houston and other Union Democrats in 1859--to see if the odor of the Know-Nothings lingered in the nostrils of those two groups--the 1859 vote was analyzed in two ways, the percentage of non-native male heads of household compared to the percentage of Houston's vote, and the percentage of the dominant non-native male heads of household compared to the percentage of Houston's vote (those of unknown nativity were omitted). Precinct one was comprised of 81 percent non-natives (46 percent Hispanic). In that precinct Houston won 242-126, garnering 66 percent of the vote. Precinct two was comprised of 79 percent non-natives (44 percent Hispanic). In precinct two Houston won 244-163, or 60 percent of the total votes. Precinct three was comprised of 77 percent non-natives (39.8 percent German). In percent three Houston was thoroughly defeated 89-153, receiving only 38 percent of the vote--roughly what he received in the city in 1857 (see Table 4). Prima facie it appeared that the Hispanic voters held no grudge against Houston for his Know-Nothing ties, but the German voters did. There were many factors, however, that complicated the election.
ETHNICITY OF HEADS OF HOUSEHOLD FOR SAN ANTONIO, 1860
Ethnicity Precinct 1 Precinct 2 Precinct 3 City
Hispanics 52 42 19 33
Tejanos (14) (20) (9) (13)
Mexicans (36) (22) (10) (19.5)
New Mexicans (2)
United States 10 20 17 16
Slave States (4) (8) (12) (9)
Free States (6) (12) (5) (7)
Europe 28 30 60 44.5
Germans (14) (12) (36) (24.5)
Other 2 2 1
Unknown 8 6 4 5.5
SOURCE: United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; numbers were derived from a random sampling of the census. NOTE: Numbers in parenthesis further clarify the ethnic make-up of San Antonio; 20.5 percent of the heads of household were women.
The election for national congressman in 1859 pitted unionist Andrew Jackson Hamilton, who was never affiliated with the Know-Nothings, against T.N. Waul. Hamilton's strong unionism should have made him an easy victor in San Antonio if the city were strongly unionist. Hamilton was defeated in San Antonio, however, 421-597, garnering only 41.3 percent of the vote to Houston's 56.5 percent. Hamilton won only precinct one, 211-164; in precinct two he lost 155-250, getting only 38.3 percent of vote; and in heavily German precinct three Hamilton was thoroughly defeated 55-183 garnering only 23 percent of the vote--almost 15 percentage
ETHNICITY OF MALE HEADS OF HOUSEHOLD, SAN ANTONIO, 1860
Ethnicity Precinct 1 Precinct 2 Precinct 3 City
Hispanics 45.9 44.1 13.6 27.7
Tejanos (8.1) (20.6) (5.7) (9.4)
Mexicans (35.1) (23.5) (8) (17.6)
New Mexicans (2.7) (.6)
United States 8.1 14.7 18.2 15.1
Slave States (2.7) (5.9) (12.5) (8.8)
Free States (5.4) (8.8) (5.7) (6.3)
Europe 32.4 32.4 63.7 49.7
Germans (16.2) (11.8) (39.8) (28.3)
Other 2.7 2.9 1.2
Unknown 10.8 5.9 4.5 6.3
SOURCE: United States Eighth Census (1860), Bexar County, Texas, Population Schedules; numbers were derived from a random sampling of the census.
NOTE: Only one of the male heads of household in the sample was not of voting age.
points fewer than Houston's miserable showing. The complicating factor in the Hamilton-Waul race was that Waul was considered a native son by San Antonians. In 1860 Waul was credited by the Ledger and Texan with being from San Antonio--though the 1860 census showed that he lived in Gonzales County. Thus no conclusion concerning Union sentiments in the city could be drawn from the Waul-Hamilton election.
Another contributing factor in the election was the presence of Ángel Navarro, who ran for state representative. Navarro's presence on the ballot with Houston certainly helped overcome any lingering animosity held for him by the Hispanic community. In fact in precinct one, the most heavily populated by Hispanics Houston had his greatest percentage of victory, 65.8.
Even Houston's loss in precinct three may have been more affected by local factors than by his recent association with the Know-Nothings. No Union Democrat won in precinct three, not even the German candidates Gustav Schleicher and Jacob Waelder--the former of whom lived in precinct three. In his race against Anglo Columbus Upson, Schleicher won precinct one 201-140 (59.8 percent), precinct two 227-159 (58.1 percent), but lost precinct 3 102-148 (40.8 percent)--he won the city precincts 530-447 (54.2 percent). In precinct three Waelder lost to Anglo T.T. Teel 98-122 (44.5 percent)--this in a precinct in which the German male heads of household comprised 38.9 percent of the voting population. Three questions need to be considered when looking at the vote. Was the defeat of the Union Democrats attributable to Houston's association with the hated Know-Nothings? Were the Germans angry with Schleicher and Waelder? Were the Germans supporters of states rights? The vote for Houston, Schleicher and Waelder appears to give credence to a lingering distaste for Houston and for those who associated with him. While Waelder garnered 44.5 percent of the vote in precinct three, Schleicher received 40.8 percent and Houston only 36.8 percent. That does not, however, explain why Schleicher and Waelder fared more poorly in precinct three than did fellow Union Democrats Maverick and Camp who received 48.9 and 49.3 percent of the vote respectively. If the Germans were angry with Schleicher and Waelder, what was the basis of their anger? The answer was, perhaps, supplied by Adolf Douai, the abolitionist editor of the San Antonio Zeitung. According to Douai, Waelder and Schleicher allied themselves with the slave power of the state to force Douai out as editor of the paper. Waelder and Schleicher had invested in the Fischer and Miller Grant hoping to sell their land to German immigrants. The grant, and therefore the hoped for profits, were voided for non-compliance. Only a legislative act could reinstate the grant, and the slave power that controlled the legislature, again according to Douai, refused the reinstatement unless the voice of abolition in Texas, his, was stilled. German immigrants coming to Texas needed to understand that Texas was and would remain a slave state. Therefore Douai was forced out, but not before he exposed Waelder, Schleicher and the plan. Readers of the Zeitung were certainly influenced by Douai's version of the events. His version, coupled with the affiliation of Waelder and Schleicher with former Know-Nothing Houston, further confused the German voters. The Germans firmly opposed the Know-Nothings in 1855 and 1856 and Houston in 1857. They would need more than compromised German leaders to make them vote for Houston in 1859. This did not indicate, however, that the Germans preferred states' rights above the Union, however.
Despite their defeats in precinct three, the Union Democrats all won their elections, though Hamilton lost Bexar County. The election of 1859 presented mixed signals and contained too many complicating factors to allow for easy conclusions. It seemed, however, that the Hispanic voters had no lingering animosity to Houston, while the Germans voters did. The interpretation would become simpler in eighteen months when the voters of San Antonio were faced with a choice between Union and secession. Before that vote, however, much occurred that caused San Antonians to question the desirability of Union.
Walter Buenger in his Secession and the Union in Texas discovered a number of factors which caused the people of Texas to seek secession as the solution to their problems. In addition to the enduring legacy of the Know-Nothings and their effect on ethnic voting, those factors included the lack of protection of the Texas Indian frontier, the unsettled situation along the Texas-Mexican border as revealed by the Cortina affair, John Brown's raid, the "incendiary" incidents of the summer of 1860, and the election of Lincoln to the presidency of the United States. Anna Irene Sandbo, in her "First Session of the Secession Convention in Texas," also noted that while the editors of newspapers that supported the regular Democrats never outwardly called for secession before Lincoln's election, they prepared the population for secession in case Lincoln won. How these factors were perceived in San Antonio is critical to understanding the vote of the citizens of the city on secession. To better understand the events of the time, one need know that the San Antonio Ledger and Texan was the voice of the Democrats and the San Antonio Herald (daily and weekly), the old Know-Nothing paper, was the voice of the Union Democrats.
Indian troubles, never completely removed from Texas' western frontier, of which San Antonio was the primary city, became critical in 1859. In the summer and fall of 1859, numerous attacks occurred, including one at Bandera reported in August and one at Eagle Pass reported the next month. By early October the situation was deemed so grave that a group of San Antonio's citizens met to discuss ways for the city to protect itself against Indian attacks--including the raising of militia companies in the city. None of the discussions dissuaded the Indians and "innumerable Indian depredations" continued through the rest of the year according to the Ledger and Texan. The paper also joined the Herald in suggesting that Congress was solely to blame for the unprotected Texas frontier. Both papers reported that neither the people of Texas nor the interests of the state were "of sufficient importance to attract the attention of that body, and it neglected to give us protection or the means of defense." Yet for all the anger aroused, the Indian problem did not become a crisis in San Antonio. An article in the Ledger and Texan entitled, "What Shall be Done with the Comanches," revealed the lack of panic, fear, or hatred a crises would have caused. In the article the Comanches were labeled neither murderers, beasts, nor barbarians, but were termed "rascally creatures." Their crimes, in order, were listed as stealing the good horses, killing the bad ones, stealing cows, and, finally, murdering citizens. The answer to the problem was to forego the wishes that Congress act; instead, the state should send out its own rangers. The war should be total--no peace given until the Indians were subjected. Yet subjected did not mean slaughtered; in fact the Indians were to be treated with kindness. "Remember that these self-same Comanches, against whom you are going to fight, fell from the fashioning hand of the same Creator who made you. Be merciful." After the war was won, Texas should simply "let the U.S. Government foot the bills to the state." But the total war did not occur, nor were the minutemen companies ever formed. Instead U.S. troops, sometimes with the help of ranging companies, defeated the Indians in a number of skirmishes, and United States army officers like Lieutenant W. B. Hazen and Major Earl Van Dorn were afforded hero status in San Antonio. Although the small victories by the army did not end the Indian menace--further attacks continued into the summer--they returned the problem to its everyday status. Despite the snipes at Congress (and therefore at the Union) for lack of protection, the San Antonio papers evinced no anti-Union sentiment throughout the Indian problem. True, protection from the Indians was not all the citizens wished it were, but it seldom had been. Perhaps the Indian problem, especially in 1859, would have been deemed more serious had not two other threats occurred in the fall of 1859, John Brown's raid and the Cortina affair.
John Brown's raid occurred in October, 1859 and was reported in the Herald on October 25. The initial report on the event was one paragraph long, noted that "the insurgents were a motley crowd of whites and negroes"--all of whom were abolitionists, and finally reported that the leader, Brown, was killed in the event. A later report took a more sinister turn. Brown was not dead, notable citizens from the North had aided him financially, and William Seward, the leader of the Republican Party, knew of Brown's plan in advance. A following report in the Herald noted that those who accompanied John Brown were outfitted with the latest in weapons, proving that persons of means were behind the raid. Beyond the above facts, the Herald remained silent on the issue, and certainly laid no blame on the Union as a result of the raid. The Ledger and Texan, however, seemed to be of two minds on the event. One article carried by the paper noted that Gerrit Smith, one of the conspirators in the raid, was insane. That being the case, the raid could have been dismissed as an aberration caused by madmen, and would have had no effect on the Union. Two other articles, however, were of a different tone. In an article copied from a paper in Columbia, South Carolina, the Ledger and Texan took a decidedly separatist stance. The article purportedly proved that the Republican party, led by Seward, Greeley, and Hale, was responsible for John Brown's raid, because, though too cowardly to take any actions themselves, they had created the environment from which John Brown sprang. It was also asserted that the Republicans were abolitionists, and the paper warned that were a president elected from that party, "the Southern States must weigh well the moral effect which submission" to him would have. Another article in the secessionist vein noted that the danger of John Brown and the abolitionists extended to San Antonio. "The Abolitionists have announced that they have selected Western Texas as one of the points from which slavery is to be attacked." Abolitionists (and by association Republicans) ought to be dealt with harshly. Their speech endangered property and "the lives of thousands," and they should be tarred and feathered and run out of the state. But far more important, the paper remarked that were a Republican elected as president in 1860, secession would be the South's only choice. There were many John Browns in the North, and without a president to stand for southern rights, as Buchanan had and as a Republican president presumably would not, the South would have no protection. John Brown, the paper noted, had done one good deed for the South, he had unified it--but southern unity did not bode well for the Union. The Herald abhorred Brown's actions but entertained no thoughts of leaving the Union as a solution; however, the Ledger and Texan, though striking a divided note, at least considered secession as a solution. Perhaps the ambiguity in the Ledger and Texan resulted from its multiple owners and editors. N.A. Taylor, the last owner of the Ledger, teamed with Aeneas Macleod and T.T. Teel to form the Ledger and Texan. All were regular Democrats--Taylor was one of the secretaries at the Democratic meeting in July that selected Teel to run for state representative, Taylor was a delegate to the Democratic State Convention in Austin, and Macleod later supported Breckinridge in the presidential election--but the depth of their respective loyalties to states rights and Union were not revealed.
Despite the separatist bent of the Ledger and Texan, the flurry of reports concerning Brown were short lived, though they served notice that at least some of the city's citizens might support secession in the event of a Republican presidency. The threat of secession, however, was ameliorated by the brevity of the coverage concerning John Brown's raid, the small number of slaves in San Antonio, and the balancing voice of the Herald, which leveled no accusations at the Union, though it attacked the Republican Party. Again, as with the Indian crises, the event was overshadowed by another more important to the citizens of the city, the Cortina affair. John Brown's Raid did not directly touch the citizens of San Antonio; the actions of Cortina did.
Juan Cortina, a prominent Mexican who owned land on both sides of the Rio Grande, shot and wounded the sheriff of Brownsville in June 1859. In September he led a group of Mexicans who captured that city. Two months later he followed up his Brownsville victory with a victory over a Texas force led by William G. Tobin of San Antonio. Following his victory over the Texans, Cortina brilliantly portrayed himself as the leader of all of the oppressed Mexican citizens of Texas. His fight, he declared, was not for himself but for them and for their rights as people. He issued a stirring proclamation to the Mexican people of Texas on November 23, 1859: "Mexicans! My part is taken; the voice of revolution whispers to me that to me is entrusted the work of breaking the chains of your slavery." At this point Cortina's force was estimated at between 500 and 1,200 men. However, Cortina's victory was short lived. By January he had suffered a major defeat which scattered his men. The feared threat of a prolonged guerrilla war did not develop, and by May 1860, Cortina was reported to have fled to the interior of Mexico.
In hindsight the affair, at least as far as it affected San Antonio, seemed small; yet the Cortina affair aroused San Antonio far more than the Indian attacks, John Brown's Raid, or any other event until Lincoln's election. Of importance to this study are three questions. How did San Antonio respond to the Cortina affair, why did San Antonio respond so dramatically, and what effect did the events have on unionism in San Antonio?
San Antonio's responses to Cortina's attacks were multi-faceted and immediate. Tobin organized a company of fifty men, acquired provisions for sixty days for it from the citizens of San Antonio, led his men to Brownsville, and on the way notified the governor of his actions and requested the governor's permission to do what he had already done. In his letter to the governor, Tobin rationalized his actions by noting that his company had formed to protect the citizens of Brownsville "who [were] being attacked by the Mexicans." Two more requests to form companies to fight against Cortina were also received by the governor from citizens of San Antonio. James Wilcox wrote that governor that he "could raise one hundred good and serviceable men in 24 hours, ready to follow me anywhere." Also a group of thirty-nine Hispanic citizens of San Antonio requested the authority to establish a company to fight against Cortina in January, 1860. The requests of Wilcox and the Mexican citizens were rejected, but both showed that the citizens of San Antonio, Anglo and Hispanic, were prepared to fight against the perceived threat of Cortina.
While Governor Runnels used men from San Antonio to fight against Cortina, Governor Houston chose two men from San Antonio to ascertain the cause of the problems and to attain peace. N.A. Taylor, co-editor of the Ledger and Texan, and Ángel Navarro, one of the state representatives of Bexar County, were commissioned by Governor Houston to travel to Brownsville and gather information for him. Navarro was no doubt chosen because he was of Spanish ancestry, spoke Spanish, and was, like Cortina, an upper class Hispanic with whom Cortina could relate. Perhaps another reason was that Ángel's father, José Antonio Navarro, was the state's most famous Tejano citizen, and Ángel carried a letter from his father to Cortina. In the letter the senior Navarro related that he understood the feelings that had motivated Cortina to resort to violence, but that for the sake of the Mexican people on both sides of the border, Navarro urged Cortina to stop the bloodshed.
Ángel Navarro's letters to Governor Houston concerning Cortina lacked the sympathy of his father. Cortina was a murderer and thief, and warrants for his arrest had been outstanding in Brownsville for years, but Cortina's influence on the Hispanic voters of Brownsville was so great that the Anglo leaders of the city found it more desirable to court Cortina than to arrest him. What had been a local feud, Navarro reported, was allowed by the corrupt leaders of Brownsville to become a true crises. Navarro, overreacting, wrote, "I believe that this matter will result in a war between our country and Mexico."
Tobin, his fifty troops, James Wilcox, the thirty-nine Mexican citizens, N.A. Taylor, Ángel Navarro, and José Antonio Navarro were all San Antonians directly involved in the Cortina affair. That certainly made the events personal to the people of San Antonio, but it was the coverage of the affair by the city's newspapers that brought the Cortina affair home. Cortina's attack on the sheriff and his taking of Brownsville were reported by the Herald in early October, though with no hint of hysteria. Not until November and the defeat of Tobin's troops by Cortina did the papers of San Antonio note that the Cortina affair was serious, and the Herald called for 600 men to fight him. It was, however, Cortina's proclamation to the Mexican people that fully aroused the newspapers of San Antonio to the danger Cortina posed. In December the Ledger and Texan devoted much of its weekly edition to Cortina. For the first time, it seemed, the Ledger and Texan realized that Cortina had taken a city in Texas. Not only had he captured Brownsville, but he controlled much of the Valley, and had stopped the United States mails from running in that area. Equally distressing, the citizens of Brownsville had been forced to request that Mexican troops enter the town and protect the American citizens. Cortina's rise from a mere bandit to a commander of a force numbering as much as 1,200 troops also troubled the writers of the paper. Most astounding, though, was that a Mexican bandit had "the sympathy of the whole Mexican race with very rare exceptions," a sympathy and popularity that grew with Cortina's success and his presence on United States soil, and which mocked the ability of Texas or the United States to protect its citizens and territory.
The defeat of Cortina's forces in January, 1860, and the accession of Houston to governor acted to quell the border violence, but from November, 1859 to mid January, 1860, the citizens of San Antonio responded personally to the Cortina affair by their presence at the scene, by letters, and by reading the newspapers and discussing the news. The response involved the citizens of San Antonio in the Cortina affair in a way in which they were not involved in Indian attacks or John Brown's raid.
Why such a response? Though neither Tobin, his troops, the Navarros, Taylor, Wilcox, nor the thirty-nine Mexican citizens of San Antonio stated why they responded so fervently to the Cortina affair and not to other events. Nor did newspapers of San Antonio define their response. Certainly part of the response was the historic context from which the citizens of San Antonio worked. San Antonio was a battlefield between Mexicans and Texans in 1835 and 1836, twice in 1842 Mexican forces successfully invaded San Antonio, and in the war against Mexico in 1846 the U.S. Army was headquartered in San Antonio. Thus, the city was no stranger to bloodshed with its neighbor across the Rio Grande. Cortina's call to all Mexicans also threatened the people of San Antonio. Even if the Hispanic citizens of San Antonio did not respond to Cortina's call or even opposed it, there were plenty of Hispanics outside of San Antonio who might respond. San Antonio was also linked economically to Mexico through trade, and Cortina's actions not only temporarily stopped that trade, but threatened to do it permanent damage. Finally, Cortina's ability to invade Texas, capture a Texas town, and control a good part of the Rio Grande Valley for weeks revealed that neither Texas nor the United States offered much protection to their citizens. A larger question was, what would happen if the Mexican government joined Cortina and waged war on Texas, as Navarro predicted? If Cortina's little band could not be contained, what would happen if a real army marched out of Mexico? Neither John Brown nor the Indians posed the threat to San Antonio that Cortina and the Mexicans posed, therefore, the response to Cortina was equal to the perceived threat.
Despite the perception that the Texas border was vulnerable, however, there was no sense that leaving the Union was a solution to the border problem. In fact leaving the Union would worsen the problem, since it took the intervention of United States troops (combined with the already assembled Texas forces) to defeat Cortina. With the threat gone the Ledger and Texan reflected on the events of the past few months. In an article entitled "The Mexican Question," the paper noted that the real problem along the Rio Grande had little to do with the United States or Cortina. Mexico was on the verge of anarchy and could not control its own citizens. The solution was for President Buchanan to use his executive powers to establish order in Mexico. Ángel Navarro in a letter to Governor Houston suggested the same thing. The Mexican border would continue to be a source of trouble for Texas as long as the Rio Grande was the border. The United States should seize the border area--effectively pushing the border back a hundred miles--and annex it. Navarro realized that initially annexation would be rejected by the Mexican citizens involved, "but with the great mass even this would yield before the same course of Justice and humanity which characterized the United States in its annexation and acquisition policy." Finally the Ledger and Texan noted that the United States had enough naval vessels in the Gulf of Mexico to "knock all Mexico into a cocked hat."
Rather than diminish the attachment to the Union, the Cortina Affair actually clarified the blessings of the Union. True, the Texans and Americans generally had been caught off guard by Cortina, but the real problem lay with conditions in Mexico--conditions that would be corrected in any part of Mexico annexed by the Union. The Union made Texas desirable, and the Union, for all it faults, made Texas safe. Rather than leave the Union, San Antonians wanted to expand it.
But Texas' misfortunes were not over, and the memories of John Brown's raid were resurrected by a series of events that became known as the Texas Troubles. The troubles consisted of a number of mysterious fires and well poisonings that occurred in numerous Texas communities in the summer of 1860. Towns effected included Dallas, Denton, Pilot Point, Belknap, Gainesville, Waxahachie, Navarro, Henderson, and Lancaster as well as others. The importance of these events was their timing--the summer prior to the critical presidential election of 1860--and those who were accused of the crimes--slaves acting under the influence of abolitionists who infiltrated into Texas. San Antonio had slaves, and since the abolitionists were so covert, it might have them as well. These events were reported widely in the newspapers of Texas and also carried in the San Antonio papers, but the newspapers of San Antonio carried little of the hysteria that was evident in the newspapers of much of the rest of the state, nor was there any hysteria in San Antonio concerning the slave inhabitants of the city. Some citizens complained to the city council that the slaves of San Antonio were too free, the Chief City Marshall Byrn arrested some white men and fined them for “improper conversation with negroes.” The paper noted with great seriousness that “[t]imes are evil, and we hope that all suspicious characters will be closely looked after.” Beyond the three related non-events and continued reports from other Texas cities of fires, however, no events remotely like revolt or abolitionist intervention occurred in San Antonio. Nevertheless, the perception of danger from the slaves continued, and caused the city council to entirely restructure the city's slave codes, which severely restricted, at least on paper, the activities of the slaves in San Antonio. Beyond strengthening the slave ordinances, however, no actions were taken, and there was no sense that the affair warranted an exit from the Union.
The series of events that shook Texas in 1859 and 1860 gave shape to the presidential election as it drew closer. Soon after Houston's election as governor in August 1859, the Herald foretold that because of Houston's victory and his pro Union stand that he would be attacked by fire-eaters throughout the South. It was precisely such attacks that proved that Houston should be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. No other Democrat could so unite the party and the nation as Houston. Houston's nomination never occurred, and the editor of the Herald was correct in his prediction that none of the other Democratic leaders was able to unite the party.
Handicapping study of the presidential campaign in San Antonio in 1860 is the absence of copies of the Herald, an ardent supporter of Houston for Governor in 1859. Most difficult to ascertain was why the Herald shifted its support from Houston to Breckinridge in the summer of 1860. Nevertheless, issues of the Ledger and Texan and of a new Union paper, the Alamo Express, revealed much about the politics, thoughts, arguments, and ideologies of the election of 1860.
The defining moment for the national Democratic Party in 1860 was their national convention in Charleston, South Carolina. The Ledger and Texan noted with pride that its own reporter was at the convention, but whether that reporter was from San Antonio or simply someone contracted to report for the paper was never made clear, since the reporter's name was not revealed. The reporter noted the breakup of the convention in Charleston and placed the blame solely on Douglas and his squatter sovereignty. The reporter supported the upcoming southern convention and believed that only it could save the Union. The editor of the paper, however, thought otherwise. He believed that the Richmond or "secession" convention should be repudiated; if it were not, the Republicans would win the election. To underscore the seriousness of a Republican victory the editor reminded his readers of Seward's "Irrepressible Conflict" speech. A week later the editor was even more firm in his belief that the Democrats must present a united front. In an article entitled, "Where Shall We Go," the editor determined that the only solution to the divisions in the nation was to hang on to the old party even if it meant supporting Douglas. If the Democrats split, the Republicans would win, "the only possible result of which would be the utter annihilation of the union." A bit of a change occurred a week later. The Ledger and Texan still opposed the Richmond or southern convention and remarked that it was "a purely sectional affair--more so perhaps than the Black Republican Convention at Chicago." Democrats from the South should instead attend the Baltimore Convention, not to support Douglas, however, but to insure his defeat. However, the paper reiterated that even Douglas was preferable to a Republican.
Douglas' victory at the Baltimore Convention revealed more than a split among the nation's Democrats, it also revealed a split among the editors of the Ledger and Texan. Suddenly the paper that preferred "even Douglas" no longer did so; instead Breckinridge was the preferred candidate. The paper reported that the Constitution and Union were in great danger and that only the Breckinridge and Lane ticket (the most radical of the Democratic candidates) could save them. The two proofs used to support that supposition, however, seemed weak. The Breckinridge slogan of "equal rights to all sections of the great confederacy" seemed almost as shallow a hope for victory as did the remark about Lincoln's appearance: "few would be disposed to vote for a man who looked so like the devil." Perhaps that was why Taylor's support for Breckinridge was lukewarm. Taylor, the junior editor, had previously supported Douglas but now joined the senior editor Aeneas Macleod in supporting Breckinridge. Taylor explained that "our senior supports Breckinridge as a Democrat...the junior supports him as a Southerner." Taylor's lukewarm support did not seem widespread; the city soon united behind Breckinridge.
On July 21, 1860 the Herald joined the Ledger and Texan and announced its support for the Breckinridge ticket--Houston soon withdrew from a race he knew he could not win. From that point, the Breckinridge movement swept through the city. The next week saw the Ledger and Texan report a list of 149 men of Bexar County who supported Breckinridge. The list of names cut across ethnic lines with no fewer than twenty-nine German natives and five Hispanic citizens of San Antonio on the list. But once the Breckinridge and Lane ticket was accepted, its supporters became dogmatic. Not only did they demand that all Democrats support Breckinridge, but that they condemn all who formerly supported Douglas. This was too much for Taylor. He explained that he had supported Breckinridge for the sake of unity, but he refused to condemn the supporters of Douglas. However his greatest revulsion was reserved for a resolution at the endorsement meeting that praised William Lowndes Yancey and all others who had shattered the Democratic Convention at Baltimore. Taylor believed that the supporters of Breckinridge were going "to destroy the Union itself." Taylor's final thought concerning the meeting held at Alamo Plaza that had so oppressed him was, "let us hope that the shade of Milam and Crockett lingered not here that night." Following the meeting, Taylor resigned from the Ledger and Texan.
Another important moment for the Democrats occurred on September 29, when the "Democratic Club of Bexar," also named the "Bexar County Breckinridge and Lane Club," revealed its list of officers. Included as vice-presidents of the club were not only long time Democrats, but such Union stalwarts as Maverick and Navarro; an earlier organizational meeting had included another Union man, Waelder. Waelder, however, confessed that he had never been in the Houston camp. Instead, in 1859 he entered the race against Teel because he was urged to by a large number of people. His appearance on the ballot running against another Democrat led to the perception that he was a Houston man. However Waelder offered two pieces of proof that he was not. Before running against Teel, he had asked for and received Teel's permission, as a fellow Democrat, to do so. Also he had supported Louis T. Wigfall's bid for the senate after the election in 1859--a candidacy not supported by any other member of the Bexar delegation--all unionists. The coalition that elected Houston as governor in 1859 was now mostly in the Breckinridge camp, and, joined with the regular Democrats, the alliance was unbeatable--although it was not unchallenged.
The challenge came from James P. Newcomb the editor and proprietor of the new Alamo Express. Newcomb, apparently a born newspaper man and the embodiment of the early history of the newspaper in San Antonio, began working on the Western Texan in 1851, moved to the Ledger in 1852, started his own newspaper, the Alamo Star, in 1854 at the age of sixteen, and the next year started the Herald and espoused the Know-Nothing cause, a great portion of which was nationalism. After a brief try at college in Vermont, and a visit to Nova Scotia, the land of his birth, he returned to San Antonio. As was often the case a political cause placed him back in the newspaper business in 1860; that cause was the preservation of the Union. Newcomb felt compelled to start a new paper for two reasons: his old paper, the Herald offered no counterpoint to the Ledger, and it had "deserted the ways of righteousness and political honesty and turned down the broad road of political sin," because it supported the sectional candidate Breckinridge. Newcomb quickly stated the Alamo Express' purpose. "Politically, we are in favor of an opposition to secession and disunion whether headed by Lincoln or Breckinridge." The second reason for Newcomb's joining the fight was the organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC).
The KGC were initially formed to conquer Cuba, Mexico, and Central America, bring them into the Union as slave states, and thus, preserve the Union by increasing the power of the slave states in the national government. Texas became a center for the KGC because of its proximity to Mexico. The original goal was never attained, in fact was jettisoned early in the organization's life. In its place came the desire to establish a slave empire of the southern states independent of the Union. Newcomb believed that the organization was initially composed of and led by dupes, like its founder George W.L. Bickley. Secessionists of a radical stripe, led by the likes of Yancey, however, used the secret organization's "castles" to spread secessionist doctrine and create a paramilitary organization to influence voters through terror. Newcomb's view was supported by J.W. Pomfrey, a former Knight who wrote an exposé about the group: "Bickley and his satellites were used for no other purpose than to be thrown overboard when they were no longer needed." The KGC was organized in San Antonio by March 1860, and was headed by some of the leading men of the city. J.M. Carolan, former mayor, was the Castle's captain; George Cupples, a former councilman, was lieutenant; José Antonio George Navarro, a former city collector and son of José Antonio Navarro, was treasurer, and J.H. Beck, a former city councilman, was inspector, and the only slave owner of the group; all however were Breckinridge men. Apparently Navarro considered himself to be Anglo since one of tenets of the organization was that "the Anglo-Saxon race has never found its equal in all walks of intelligence and virtue; it has never displaced a race equal to itself, and in all human probability never will." Newcomb considered all Knights "sworn to treason," because they were determined to bring secession by force if they could not do so by the ballot.
To counter the secessionist tide, Newcomb began the Alamo Express and supported Bell. However he was in favor of fusion between the supporters of Bell, Douglas, and Houston--any one of whom was preferable to Breckinridge. Newcomb's message was unvaried throughout the campaign. Breckinridge was the candidate of disunion and his supporters were masters of deceit--none worse than the treacherous Herald. While the Ledger and Texan, Newcomb's long time opponent, stressed Breckinridge's loyalty to the Union, the Herald focused on the conspiracy theory that the abolitionists had caused most of the troubles in the South and Texas (John Brown's raid, the Cortina affair, and the incendiary incidents) by secretly aiding slaves. Newcomb quoted the Herald's interpretation of the conspiracy, that "all these fearful circumstances of destruction point unerringly to one common origin." Newcomb would have none of it.
No sensible or reasoning man...can come to this very erroneous conclusion. How could the burning of the entire state of Texas effect the election of Lincoln? If this incendiarism were the result of political policy and scheming, suspicion would point to the Yancey men as the criminals, for it does seem their extreme desire to get up a rabid Southern feeling just at the full tide of the Presidential contest."
Newcomb also wondered why in this grand fantasy the Indian attacks could not have been included.
The culmination of Newcomb's effort was a Union meeting sponsored and reported by the Alamo Express. Even this meeting, however, showed the futility of those who opposed Breckinridge. The meeting was sponsored by such Union supporters as Paschal, Schleicher, and Wilcox, who, along with Newcomb, resolved to stand against sectionalism and support fusion. However the fusion supported was only in opposition to Lincoln; the resolution for fusion vowed to support any candidate, Bell, Douglas, or even Breckinridge (Houston withdrew from the race in August), who was most likely to defeat Lincoln, thus Breckinridge was aided by the Union rally, and the fusion attempt was nullified.
Two other meetings held in San Antonio prior to the election are worth noting. The first occurred in late September and was a debate between electors pledged to Breckinridge and Lane and George Paschal, from Austin and brother of Isaiah Paschal, who was pledged to John Bell. Waul was the primary speaker for the Breckinridge ticket, and he focused on the belief that only the Breckinridge ticket could defeat the Republicans and save the Union. He, therefore, urged all Democrats to support Breckinridge and put aside petty quarrels. Waul's speech lasted past midnight, which put Paschal at a distinct disadvantage. Because of the lateness of the hour, his speech was brief but basically the same as Waul's with the names reversed. Bell not Breckinridge was the only candidate who could defeat the Republicans and save the Union. Paschal, however, revealed a weakness in his candidate. Bell had been a Whig. Paschal, a life long Democrat, believed the time had come to put aside petty politics and unite behind Bell despite his political past. To the voters, though, the message of both candidates was similar, and in San Antonio, a city that had never voted Whig, that gave little opportunity to Bell.
Perhaps the most illuminating meeting of the Democrats of San Antonio occurred in late October. At that meeting Isaiah Paschal, who still campaigned for Douglas, debated Upson, who campaigned for Breckinridge. The debate, as recorded in the Ledger and Texan, was certainly skewed toward Upson, but the arguments of each man were important to ascertain the thoughts and arguments of the day. Paschal's argument was that a vote for Breckinridge was a vote for secession. Many good men were deceived by the Breckinridge camp, not knowing a vote for Breckinridge was a vote for secession and lawlessness, since secession, in his opinion, was unconstitutional. Americans had the right to rebel, not secede. But Breckinridge and his deceivers were themselves deceived. Secession was exactly what the Republicans hoped for; if the South seceded, the Republicans would control the rump of the Union. Those who voted for Breckinridge were, then, actually voting not only for secession, but were merely tools of the Republicans. Were Lincoln elected, Paschal thought that the South should submit as had the nation to the Alien and Sedition Acts. The South had no right to secede, and had, as yet, no reason to rebel. Paschal went on to defend Douglas as the true nominee of the Democratic Party. He alone commanded the majority of Democrats nationally and was the only legally nominated Democratic candidate. His platform, the Cincinnati Platform, was the true platform of the majority of the Democrats and the only platform which embodied the Compromise of 1850, which promised non-intervention of the Federal government concerning slavery. Breckinridge and the Galveston platform demanded federal intervention in slavery. Finally Paschal sought to solidify his accusation that the Breckinridge camp hoped for secession by accusing United States Senator Wigfall of Texas and the chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Texas, Major Marshall, "of being strong disunion men."
Upson's rejoinder to Paschal was that Paschal had the issues wrong. Of primary importance was the Constitution and the equality of the states under it; both should be preserved. Second was the issue of slavery (an issue not mentioned by Paschal). Upson believed that a Republican controlled government would intervene to destroy slavery. The question was therefore, could slavery be preserved within the Union, or must the slave states leave to protect slavery? He then attempted to technically pick apart Paschal's argument, but his primary points were that Douglas was not the majority candidate of the Democrats, a fusion party united behind Douglas was a ruse to keep the Democratic party disorganized, the purpose of the Republicans was not disunion but subjection of the South, and the supporters of Breckinridge were not disunionists. Upson believed that disunion was "among the greatest of national calamities." However, he noted that there was a greater calamity, "submission to a government of unlimited power."
Paschal's efforts revealed the fatal flaw in the claim of the Breckinridge camp that they were for the Union. Their Union sympathies ended where the institution of slavery began. But Paschal did not pursue that avenue, and his support of Douglas, whose electors would not even appear on the ballot in Bexar County, left the voters of San Antonio with no real alternative to the Democrat Breckinridge.
By early November, the Ledger and Texan admitted that Breckinridge could not win the election; the only hope for defeating the Republicans was that no one would win the required electoral votes, and that the election would then be decided by the House of Representatives. Breckinridge did not win the national election, but he carried Texas, Bexar County, and San Antonio, the latter by a huge margin. Breckinridge won all three city precincts against Bell, his only opponent on the Bexar County ballot. He carried precinct one 331-158, precinct two 155-32, and precinct three 239-23; his city total, 725-213 gave him 77.3 percent of the city's vote.
The events that caused Texans to consider disunion did not have that effect upon San Antonio, at least not through the campaign of 1860. Neither Indian attacks, John Brown's raid, the Cortina affair, the Texas troubles, nor the 1860 campaign altered the basic idea of the citizens of San Antonio that the Union was worth preserving. Nor did the voice of the Democrats of San Antonio, the Ledger and Texan, introduce the idea that a victory by Lincoln was cause for secession during the presidential campaign. The paper remarked on that possibility immediately following John Brown's raid, but the only time that specter was raised during the campaign was in the Paschal-Upson debate. Instead the paper's stance was always that the Union must be preserved and only a South united behind Breckinridge could preserve it. The voters of San Antonio were never convinced that Breckinridge was a secessionist; rather he offered them status quo. He campaigned on the platform that slavery must be protected against Federal intrusion, that the Union must respect the rights of the states, and, in truth, he was the only Democratic candidate on the ballot. With no clear reason to do otherwise, the voters of San Antonio voted for Breckinridge and retained the idea that to be an American in San Antonio one must support the Union.
Of the events noted at the beginning of the chapter only the reaction to the election of a Republican president awaited a decision. Isaiah Paschal stated that a vote for Breckinridge was a vote for secession. Upson declared that a Republican presidency was a sufficient reason for secession, because a Republican president would oppose slavery. Before looking at the reaction of the people of San Antonio to Lincoln's election, it is necessary to look at the institution in San Antonio that Upson and the Breckinridge ticket thought superior to the Union.
Texas, Secretary of State Election Returns, 1857, Bexar County (Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin; cited hereafter as ADTSL); Members of the Legislature of the State of Texas, (Austin: The State of Texas, 1939), 27-30.
Texas, Secretary of State Election Returns, 1859, Bexar County (ADTSL); the votes for Navarro for precincts one or two were not recorded in the Secretary of State's papers nor in the San Antonio papers.
Walter L. Buenger, Secession and the Union in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984) 45-47, 50-59, 99-102, Anna Irene Sandbo, "First Session of the Secession Convention in Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 18 (Oct. 1914), 165 (cited hereafter as SHQ).
San Antonio Daily Herald, Oct. 25, Nov. 4, 7, 9 1860; San Antonio Ledger and Texan, Nov. 22, (first quotation), Dec. 24, 1859, (second and third quotations), July 14, 1860; San Antonio Ledger July 20, 1859.
San Antonio Daily Herald, Oct. 5, 1859; William G. Tobin to Governor H.R. Runnels, Nov. 27, 1859, Governors' Papers: Hardin Richard Runnels (ADTSL);San Antonio Ledger and Texan, Dec. 10, 1859 (quotation), Jan. 28, May 12, 1860.
William G. Tobin to Governor H.R. Runnels, Oct. 11, 1859, James A. Wilcox to Governor H.R. Runnels, Nov. 3, 1859, Governors' Papers: Hardin Richard Runnels (ADTSL); P.L. Buquor to Governor Sam Houston, Jan. 17, 1860, Governors' Papers: Sam Houston (ADTSL).
Sandbo, "The First Session," SHQ, XVIII, (Oct. 1914), 163; San Antonio, Council Journal, Book C, June 18, 1860, 254 (City Clerk's Office; cited hereafter as SACCO); San Antonio Ledger and Texan, July 28, 1860 (quotations); San Antonio, Ordinances, Book 1, 1850-1868, "An Ordinance to Regulate the Conduct of Slaves and Free Persons of Color in the City of San Antonio," 01-106, Aug. 25, 1860 (SACCO).
San Antonio Ledger and Texan, Sept. 29 (quotations), 22, 1860; State Gazette Appendix, Containing Official Reports of Debates and Proceedings of the Seventh Legislature of the State of Texas, 2 (Austin: John Marshall & Co., State Printers, 1858) 28-29, 116-120.
William H. Bell, "Knights of the Golden Circle, Its Organization and Activities in Texas Prior to the Civil War (M.A. Thesis, Texas College of Arts and Industries, 1965), 25, 135; Buenger, Secession and the Union, 156; J.M. Pomfrey, A True Disclosure and Exposition of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Including the Secret Signs, Grips, and Charges of the Three Degrees as Practiced by the Order (Cincinnati: privately printed, 1861) iii (first quotation); San Antonio Ledger and Texan, July 28, 1860; unnamed pamphlet on the Knights of the Golden Circle (San Antonio: Herald Steam Press, n.d.), 4 (second quotation) (CAH); James P. Newcomb, Sketch of Secession Times in Texas and Journal of Travel from Texas through Mexico to California, including a History of the "Box Colony," (San Francisco: privately printed, 1863), 6 (third quotation).
San Antonio Alamo Express, Aug. 25, 1860; an example of the Ledger and Texan's attempt to convince voters of its Union loyalties was its denial of Newcomb's report that Breckinridge supporter J.H. Beck supported secession if Lincoln were elected; a report that was true, see San Antonio Alamo Express, Oct. 8, 1860.