This Day In History: March 2

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On March 2, 1861, Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union.

The first official move for secession actually came a month earlier, on February 1, when a state convention voted 166 to 8 in favor of the measure. The issue then had to be ratified by a statewide referendum, which was held on February 23. After only 18 out of 122 counties went against secession, independence was officially declared on March 2.

The Texans who voted to leave the Union did so over the objections of their governor, Sam Houston. A staunch Unionist, Houston’s election in 1859 as governor seemed to indicate that Texas did not share the rising secessionist sentiments of the other Southern states.

However, events swayed many Texans to the secessionist cause. John Brown’s raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in October 1859, had raised the specter of a major insurrection of enslaved people, and the ascendant Republican Party made many Texans uneasy about continuing in the Union. After Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in November 1860, pressure mounted on Houston to call a convention so that Texas could consider secession. He did so reluctantly in January 1861, and sat in silence on February 1 as the convention voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession. Houston grumbled that Texans were “stilling the voice of reason,” and he predicted an “ignoble defeat” for the South. Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy and was replaced in March 1861 by his lieutenant governor.

Texas’ move completed the first round of secession. Seven states—South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas—left the Union before Lincoln took office. Four more states—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas—waited until the formal start of the Civil War, with the April 1861 firing on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina, before deciding to leave the Union. The remaining states where slavery was legal—Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri—never mustered the necessary majority for secession.