Saturday, August 25, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 26

Texans Prepare to Vote on Constitution, late August, 1836

Most Texans know that delegates at Washington on the Brazos issued a Declaration of Independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. What is not so widely known is that the delegates also wrote a constitution for the government they hoped would result from the Declaration. The victory at San Jacinto made the Republic of Texas possible, and the constitution, written in haste, needed the approval of the electorate. An election for that purpose was scheduled for the first Monday in September, 1836.

The delegates at Washington on the Brazos worked under considerable duress. Generals Santa Anna and Urrea, at the head of Mexican armies, were sweeping through Texas. News and rumors about those advancing armies meant that the delegates had to consider not only constitution writing, but also military affairs and possible escape routes.

The constitution writers naturally incorporated large parts of U. S. and state constitutions with which they were familiar. There were several provisions concerning religion. #3 in the Declaration of Rights stated No preference shall be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship over another, but every person shall be permitted to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience.

Article V Sec. 1 stated Ministers of the gospel being, by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, ought not to be diverted from their great duties of their functions: therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to the office of the executive of the republic, nor to a seat in ether branch of the congress of the same.

One of the delegates at Washington on the Brazos representing Shelby County was a Methodist preacher, William C. Crawford. Homer Thrall gives Crawford credit for blocking an even greater prohibition against political participation by clergy. Thrall maintains that the original motion called for disenfranchising preachers and thereby preventing them from holding any office.

These clauses had two interesting effects related to Methodism in the early days of the Republic. The first concerned hiring chaplains for the Texan Congress. Although motions to authorize chaplains were introduced in October when the Congress convened, some members thought that hiring a chaplain would be an indication of favoritism toward that chaplain’s denomination and opposed the office. Chaplains were finally authorized on Dec. 22. Littleton Fowler and William Allen, whom you know through previous columns assumed the chaplaincies.

The other effect was even more important. Methodists were eager to establish colleges and needed the Congress to charter them and provide subsidies in the form of land grants. The granting of a charter to a sectarian institution was seen by many Congress members to be a governmental preference for one denomination. Rutersville College’s original charter submitted to the Congress had to be modified to satisfy those concerns. The word "Methodist" did not appear in Rutersville's charter. The college eventually received a land subsidy too.

The language banning ministers from the high political office was retained in the constitutions of 1845 and 1866.


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