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Saturday, April 21, 2007

On The Vagaries Of History, Or, Texas, Know Thyself

A document produced in the heat of our Nation’s birth, back in that distant time of 1776, remains etched in our consciousness today for its revolutionary declarations regarding the roles of Citizen and Nation.

To this day it remains as relevant as it did then, both as a rallying cry for Freedom, and an expression of our greatest aspirations as a People.

Another document, produced in the town of Washington, remains much less well known, yet that document also offers great relevance, and warnings that shine clear and bright through the fog of today’s politics.

“When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.”

Sound familiar?
Wait, there’s more...

“When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.”

We have before us a manifesto, which warns against the dangers of a Government that would disregard all interests but the Army and the priesthood, which has seen a Government fail in its duties to protect the rights of its citizens, and which has been forged in a political environment where moderation had disappeared.

A document that was really concerned about the merging of Church and State:

“In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.”

Has anyone guessed the identity of this document that has provided these quotes?

For those who have not, it is the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Texas.

I don’t know if you saw the George Bush/John Kerry debates in 2004, but I can recall Mr. Bush telling Kerry we would never allow other nations to be, in effect, “the deciders”; that the opinions of other nations are not what should guide America’s actions.

In March of 1836, Texans took a different view:

“Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.”

Texans knew the consequence of the denial of civil liberties, and that is addressed here as well:

“It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.”...

...”It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.”...

...”It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.”

Apparently Mexico also had an “enemy combatant” problem, and a Guantanamo of their own.

The Declaration also warns that the very ability to have a working democracy depends on an effective educational system.

Compare this, from the Declaration:

“It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.”

To this:

“In a recent essay on the history of education in Texas, historian James Smallwood claims that "from the early Spanish era down to the 1980s, the story of education, allowing for occasional setbacks, has been one of great strides forward . . .." He ends his article, published in the collection of essays Texas: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, by arguing that "The Spaniards would have marveled to see one of the best educational networks--from primary grades to graduate schools--in the United States."

Compare Smallwood's optimistic analysis with an announcement made by the Texas Education Agency on July 13, 1984, concerning the results of the first pre-professional skills tests given primarily to sophomore college students who wish to be enrolled in schools of education to become future teachers of the children of Texas. The students had to earn passing scores in math, reading, and writing. Of the 2,738 students who took the test at 51 of the 65 teacher training institutions in the state, 46 percent failed. Worse, only 10 percent of the blacks and 19 percent of the Hispanics who took the test passed, compared to 62 percent of the Anglos.

Education officials with the TEA called the results "depressing." Disastrous might be a better word. The results of this test, like many other achievement tests given to students and teachers alike, point to a fundamentally troubled public education system. "I don't blame the students per se," said Education Commissioner Raymond Bynum. "After all, they graduated from a high school and passed some college English and math courses. I don't know who's to blame."

And it now appears those unprepared teachers have had their impact-the American Legislative Exchange Council reported that Texas 8th-graders have moved up from 41st in the nation to a solid 39th in a 2005 evaluation.

Texas Government has, as you might expect, gone a bit crazier than usual recently, and you need look no further than the history of Tom DeLay and Texas' 2003 Redistricting to find an excellent starting point.

Texas education went national with “No Child Left Behind”, with apparently predictable results, and we can only guess what effect this would have on the Federal Government over time.

This election is an opportunity for the US to look to its founding principles, to reconsider what kind of a Nation we really are, and to make choices that more correctly reflect our history and heritage.

And so it is for Texas.

So in closing, a suggestion:

Take some time today, read your Republic’s founding document, heed its warnings, and let’s make choices that are better for Texas, better for America, and better for the rest of the world.

As wise men in Washington, Texas said on March 2, 1836:

“Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind...”

Even in Texas.

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