Texans love to remind people that we were once an independent republic. We throw that around a lot. People from California, Hawaii, and even Vermont like to push back that they too were once sovereign nations. But Texas is bigger. And we were an independent country for almost a decade. California didn’t last a month, though they did get that cool bear-flag from their republic days. Texas had its own flag as well. It was a single star on a field of blue. It’s the origin of the “Lone Star State” nickname. Our current flag still has the lone star to remind us of our days as an independent republic. Did I mention that we were once an independent republic?
We have a pledge that goes along with our state flag. Texas school children learn it in kindergarten and say the pledge every day, right after performing the same ritual to the American flag. Some people might call it brainwashing or indoctrination. I like to think of it as an act of appreciation for those who came before you, and the land you call home.
For non-Texans, or new Texans, the emphasis on everything Texas takes some getting used to. But Texas isn’t like other states. It has an identity that transcends regional culture. It’s neither Southern like Georgia or Alabama, nor Southwestern like New Mexico or Arizona. It has a distinct culture that is a product of the Anglo-Celt men and women who settled the region when it was still part of Mexico. Most of the people who came here were pioneers, drawn to Texas for two reasons – land and liberty.
Land was plentiful and so cheap as to be free. To attract settlers, Stephen F. Austin and other land agents commissioned by the Mexican government could offer immigrants a league of land (about 4000 acres) and protection under Mexican law if they swore allegiance to the flag of Mexico. Apparently, pledging allegiance to a flag has a long tradition in Texas.
The other reason people came to Texas was liberty. Settlers in Texas could expect to be left alone on their land. The Mexican government was decentralized and ineffective. Local governments were almost nonexistent. Civilization was carved out of the wilderness with a short-axe and long-rifle. When Mexico centralized power under Santa Ana and tried to run the Anglo settlers off their land, the Texians (as they were called back then) defended their land and liberty to the death. And you all know the story of the Alamo, the most sacred of Texas shrines.
The most important part of the Texas story is the one that is usually overlooked. None of the people who fought and died for Texas land and Texas liberty were from Texas. They were all immigrants. Stephen F. Austin, a son of privilege and education, came from the Arkansas territory to make money and something of himself. In a story worthy of a Jane Austen novel, Sam Houston came from Tennessee to escape a broken heart and a damaged reputation. Also from Tennessee, David Crockett left a dying political career and a young family to find a new home. The early Texians weren’t just displaced Americans either. There were numerous immigrants from Europe and Great Britain. One of these, Henry Fanthorp, came from England to escape the sorrowful loss of his wife and children from disease. He started an inn where many of these other men stayed during the early days of the Texas Republic. The inn still stands today. I took my children on the 4th of July weekend to sit on the front porch, watch the Spanish moss blow in the warm summer breeze, and wait for the stage coaches that come no more. Now people come by car, moving van, and air plane. And this is the mystique of Texas……
Over 150 years later, people still come to Texas for the same reasons as the old fellows. They come for a fresh start. They come for a chance to make something of themselves. They come for cheap land and affordable housing. And they come for liberty.
In Texas we pride ourselves in staying out of peoples’ way so they can benefit from their own labor. It’s no wonder that industrious people from all over the world still see Texas as a bulwark of opportunity in an increasingly regulated world. A quick drive around Houston will reveal business, law offices, and medical practices operated by people from Viet Nam, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Mexico, China and numerous other countries. These people now proudly call themselves Texans. And Texas continues to be a magnet for people seeking a better life than in the states which they leave behind – places like California and Louisiana. With the downturn in the economy, a whole new wave of Americans have painted GTT on their doors (Gone to Texas) in the fashion of the pioneers who came here when there was little but trees and prairie.
Texans don’t expect much from government. They’re independent-minded and place a high value on self-sufficiency. That’s the Texas way. It’s what political scientists call our “political culture.” It explains why there is so much opposition to government expansion in Texas politics and why there is such a high rate of gun ownership. People who are self-reliant choose to provide for themselves, and defend their land and liberty in the same manner, rather than rely on local authorities.
While this independent attitude sounds harsh to some people, it also means that if you work hard and are successful, nobody in Texas will hold your riches against you. We have no state income tax. Your money is yours to keep. And there is an old cowboy rule among Texans – you never ask the size of man’s ranch or how many cattle he has. It’s his property. There’s no good reason to ask.
Texas is still the great magnet that it was almost 200 years ago. I understand why people come here. And if you do come, it would be nice if you learned the little pledge that goes along with our flag. Its short, and it’s the neighborly thing to do.
Honor the Texas flag;
I pledge allegiance to thee,
Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible.
By Chris Hammons, PhD
Professor of Government