What Makes Texas Texas? A Memorial Day Meditation

“I would love it,” ChristmasBeard wrote in the very first comment on “Calling All Texans,” the post this past weekend in which I asked what makes Texas Texas, “if we could get Joshua Trevino to weigh in on this.”

That struck me as a darned good idea, so I dropped Josh a line. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, you won’t be for long: Vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation–the outfit, as it happens, that’s sponsoring my visit to Texas to interview Gov. Perry next month–Josh is a rising conservative star.)

“Texas is properly understood,” Josh replied, “as an expression and achievement of the American spirit.”

Below, Josh’s answer in full. A meditation on the nature of the Lone Star State–of these United States.


“I’ll begin my answer with a passage from T.R. Fehrenbach’s 1968 Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, pages 256-257:

“‘…. Significantly, Hispanic and European observers have continually called the true Texan — the descendant and inheritor of the frontier experience — the most ‘European,’ or territorial, of Americans. The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land.’

313502_f1024.jpg“This is right, and explains much about the undeniable uniqueness of the Texan character. As Steinbeck observed, ‘Texas is a nation in every sense of the word …. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.’ That was true in 1836, and remains so in 2012. I remember well returning to the Rio Grande borderlands in 2009, visiting the towns and byways of my ancestors, and returning with sorrow to California [where Josh then worked], feeling exactly as if I were heading back into exile.

“But this does not, I think, answer your question, which seeks to understand why Texas stands out as a beacon of prosperity and good governance almost alone in modern America. Texas and Texans, after all, were unique from the start, with a national creation narrative matched only by the Mormons and the United States itself. Yet modern Texas — demographically multicultural, economically diversified, and attractive to roughly one thousand American migrants per day for the past several years — is something new in American history. We’ve been a big state forever. To my mind, we’ve been the best state forever. But our objective dominance in jobs and prosperity — to the point that we match and even beat California, which God has amply blessed with advantages we lack — is recent, and the explanation is not simply the unique Texan character.

“The explanation is the unique American character. Texas, for all its glory and independent heritage, is properly understood as an expression and achievement of the American spirit.”When Colonel William Barret Travis wrote his famous letter from the doomed Alamo on February 24th, 1836, he did not address it to the provisional government of the Republic of Texas, nor even to Texans alone. ‘To the People of Texas,’ he wrote, ‘& all Americans in the world …. I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.’ Just a few days later, the embattled patriots of Texas declared their independence, listing among their grievances this key point:

 “‘The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America. In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed ….’

images-1.jpg“Texas, from the start, has been an explicitly American project, morally indistinguishable from the project of the American Founders, and impossible without the light of their example. This is where I dissent from the great Fehrenbach: the closest 20th-century counterpart to Texas isn’t the State of Israel, flattering though the comparison is. The spirit of Texas is the spirit of America — the America that won the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War, rallying to the cause of liberty whatever the cost.

“When you, a Californian — or an Illinoisan, or a New Yorker, or a Michigander — look at Texas and wonder at how we achieved prosperity with comparatively little governance, you are merely repeating the question that emigrants from Europe and around the world used to ask themselves about the United States of America. Yes, we are great to ourselves because we are proudly, uniquely, inescapably Texan: but we are great to you because of the American Dream.

“It’s still here. It’s alive. This is still a place where a man can make himself, forge his destiny, and succeed or fail according to his efforts and the mercy of his God. This is still a place where a young boy growing up in a tiny hamlet called Paint Creek, in a home with no indoor plumbing and a washtub on the porch, can become the most consequential Governor in half a century. This is still a place where a refugee from Communist Vietnam can put down roots and see his business flourish. This is still a place where a wildcatter will take a chance on an unproven patch — and strike it rich.

images-1.jpg“There is a profound sadness in knowing that this, the classic American Dream, now strikes so many Americans as alien, and makes them wonder what makes Texas ‘different.’ The reality is that their states, not ours, are different: different from what America has been, ought to be, and can still be. Though we Texans revel in the admiration of the right-thinking men and women of the other 49 states, we also yearn for the day when that American Dream belongs to all of America …. again.

“America made Texas great. If Texas can help make America great once more, it will be a debt repaid.