October 22, 1836 –
Freedom isn’t free, but sometimes it is more costly to live for than to die for.
Deep in the hill country of south Texas, Col. William Barret Travis and 181 of his fellow patriots hunkered down in a crumbling adobe church and fended off over a thousand professional soldiers under the command of Antonio Lopez Santa Anna for thirteen days of heroic sacrifice. Thirteen days that the Texian reinforcements under General Sam Houston desperately needed.
Now we all know they won their freedom, but I’m interested in what came afterward. October 22, 1836, marks the anniversary of the swearing in of the first President of the Republic of Texas, and a whole new adventure in the perils of liberty.
What happened after those fateful battles at the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto was not a new enterprise in human history, but one for which Texas could look for inspiration from the founding of America. They had to craft a constitution and form of government that would balance the rule of a popular majority against the rights of individuals.
They had to govern themselves while keeping open the possibility of joining the United States, or even, in the latter days of the Republic, becoming a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. They had to transition smoothly through the realities of a multi-racial population in the midst of a fast changing world. They had to get by with extremely limited means. And most of all, they had to find a way to hold down one of the world’s largest expanses of land with just under the current population of my hometown of Oregon City, Oregon.
I don’t know what Sam Houston was thinking during the moments of October 22, 1836, in which he became the first President of Texas. But I do know that his six and a half foot stature and commanding personality made it pretty obvious how he intended to approach national politics in Texas.
For him, it was a matter of how quickly they could join the Union, plain and simple.
Later on, this decision came under some historical revision. Losing the Civil War inspired many in the south to question their choice of joining the Union in the first place. And Texas’ nine-year stint as an independent country, tumultuous as it was at the time, took on a certain status of legend.
Whether life would have been better for Texas as an independent republic all those years is doubtful. Whether it would be better starting now is a question far beyond our purposes here (but seriously, the answer is yes). This much we know: liberty finds no refuge in chaos, but it also doesn’t find refuge in too much certainty.
Maybe it’s the fiery spirit of independence that makes a people free, whether they’re living under the Mexican Constitution of 1824 or the United States. And just maybe, knowing you could be independent if you had to be is the best way you have of honoring the legacy of heroes like Sam Houston.
Freedom is worth dying for, but sometimes it’s even harder to live for.