CHURCH-STATE SEPARATION IN ANTEBELLUM TEXAS: EXCHANGING ONE TYRANNY FOR ANOTHER
The American Civil War constitutes a watershed event in the history of the United States on many levels. While there has never been any doubt that religious belief and religious spokesmen played a pivotal role in that conflict, it has only been in relatively recent years that this aspect of the buildup to disunion and war has been studied at length by historians. With church-state separation making the news in recent days on several fronts, including whether one’s religious beliefs should trump the government’s interest in enforcing health care mandates, it behooves us to evaluate how our society handled similar issues in the past and what lessons can be learned from that experience.
The history of Texas during its colonial, revolutionary, and antebellum periods leading up to secession and Civil War in 1861 provides us with a case study of church-state relations during that time, the cultural mindset of the political, military and religious leaders of the day regarding church-state separation, and the influence that mindset exerted upon the proslavery society that ruled Texas by the early 1860s. By examining the words and actions of those leaders as contained in various public documents, records, newspapers, correspondence, books, and legislative materials, it is possible to gain a clearer picture of the antebellum Texas culture with regard to church-state relationships.
It became clear as the documents were reviewed that Texas leaders, both religious and secular, advocated church-state separation and sought to incorporate it into the fabric
of Texas government and society. At the same time, they sought to rid Texas of any and all vestiges of abolitionist belief and advocacy. It was the combination of these two forces that brought about an evolution of church-state separation theory in Texas from an anti-Catholic reaction in 1836 to a staunch proslavery hegemony in 1860 which was far more tyrannical than any Catholic system had been under Spanish and Mexican rule.