8/7/12 - a government dithers -- filled with judases, scoundrels, and wolves

In today's excerpt - many people lament the current rancor, personal vitriol, and divisiveness in US politics, and they long for the civil politics of the past. But they forget the bitter rancor of Jefferson and Hamilton, the vicious personal attacks against Andrew Jackson and his wife, and the years of hate that brought the American Civil War. In fact, the world's political past has had as much venom as civility, and that venom has most often come when the issues themselves have been most dire -- slavery, war, secession, and financial crisis. And so it was that at the very moment when Texas was seeking independence from Mexico, its provisional government, led by Governor Henry Smith, was degenerating into chaos. And Texas Lieutenant Colonel James Neill, in San Antonio de Bexar preparing to defend against advancing Mexican President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, sought in vain for his government's guidance:

"On January 8, a Comanche appeared in [San Antonio], the bearer of bad tidings. 'His nation is in an attitude of hostilities toward us,' an understated [Texas Lieutenant Colonel James] Neill wrote to the Texas General Coun­cil. The last thing the Texians needed was hundreds of Coman­che warriors assaulting them. Fortunately, the Indian leaders were willing to discuss the situation, and quite possibly a treaty, but it needed to be done soon. Through the first half of January, though, Neill received no reply at all from anyone.

"It would be a while before Neill and the Bexar garrison would find out why no answer was forthcoming. Besides the simple fact that the provisional authority had no money and no source of revenue, relying almost solely on donations and loans -- Stephen Austin and the two other Texian ambassa­dors were in the United States doing all they could to drum up support in cash and manpower -- there was a more serious problem. The government was quickly degenerating into a chaotic mess. Tellingly, it had failed to take advantage of the respite from military activity afforded by the victory at Bexar on December 10. The Texian leaders had been presented with an opportunity to address the immediate problems they faced, particularly that of provisioning the army. Instead, they had done almost nothing.

"Upon receiving Neill's expresses ..., [Governor] Henry Smith forwarded them to the General Coun­cil with a letter excoriating the council for its actions. Smith was severely lacking in diplomatic skills but acutely aware of the danger of dithering while a large army was marching into Texas, a habit polished to perfection by the General Council. Smith and the General Council also differed on other matters large and small -- most important, whether Texas was a Mexi­can state (the council's position) or an independent nation, which was Smith's position. As a consequence, their relation­ship was rocky. Then it got worse.

"In his letter, he called the General Council members scoundrels, Judases, and wolves. ... He tried to suspend the council members; they in turn voted to impeach him. Smith refused to countenance their actions and continued to exercise the powers of his office -- or at least he attempted to, given the weakened state of his sup­port, for he was essentially powerless. The two factions spent more time blasting each other with charges and countercharges than applying themselves to the task at hand. Several General Council members left San Felipe in disgust, and when a two-thirds quorum then failed to be reached, those remaining appointed a new governor and a small advisory committee to act for the General Council until a constitutional convention could convene almost two months later, on March 1."


James Donovan


The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo--and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation


Little, Brown


Copyright 2012 by James Donovan


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