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American History, Texas Style


Wondering what kind of country the Tea Party would create? Texas offers us a glimpse. Governor Rick Perry, who just put down a challenge from establishment Republican candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison, loves to stoke the Tea Party flames. Appearing at one Tea Party rally, Perry once railed against President Barack Obama, and went on to state:

Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that… My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that.

That’s a pretty impressive history lesson. Who knew about Texas’s special right to leave the union? Interestingly, however, the Supreme Court actually ruled on this claim in Texas v. White (1869), saying it was incorrect. Not that Perry would care what the Supreme Court has to say, of course. While Rick Perry’s Texas ponders leaving the union, its history-book guardians are busy reshaping the nation’s historical past.

Critical to the entire process is an effort to fictionalize the history of the revolution and the preparation of the Constitution. The Texas armchair historiographers are convinced that America is and always was a Christian nation—so the fact that certain Founding Fathers were in fact deists has to be deleted. Back in February, Russell Shorto look an in-depth took at this controversy in “How Christian Were the Founders?” for the New York Times Magazine. One resolution put before the Texas school book body proposed deleting Thomas Jefferson from a curriculum and adding Jean Calvin.

Although two thirds of the schoolbook board members are Republican, they don’t have a very friendly attitude towards the founder of their own party. But they have plenty of respect for the founders of the Confederacy. One initiative they pushed through recommends that students read and compare the inaugural addresses of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, following the criticism of one Republican member that the focus on Lincoln alone was “distorting.” The Jefferson Davis inaugural, a powerful exercise in political obfuscation, is a tirade against the power of the federal government, reading like a speech that might be delivered at a Texas Tea Party, while never getting around to discussing the South’s real grievance—the proposal to end slavery.

Texas school children won’t be reading about the “slave trade” any more in any event, because that term has been banned in favor of the “Atlantic triangular trade.” A million Africans were transported in hideous conditions into slavery in America; a vastly larger number perished in the transit. But apparently studying these facts will give us an unduly negative view of slavery, and it may even taint our understanding of capitalism (which, by the way, is also banned as a concept, in favor of the “free enterprise system”).

In Texas, the Tea Partiers are the guardians of the past, and they’re using their toehold to shape a future.

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