This Week in Texas Methodist History July 13
Methodists Piggyback on Political Meeting at San Jacinto Battle Ground, July 1850
Where ever an axe blazes a tree, a Methodist preacher immediately followed. G. W. Paschal
How eager were Methodists in Texas to save souls from eternal damnation? So eager that they were alert to take advantage of crowds assembled for other purposes. In July 1850 they took advantage of a political meeting held at the San Jacinto Battle Ground to conduct a camp meeting. After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to have all those people there and not preach to them?
The political meeting was a protest of the proposed cession of Santa Fé and other territory Texas claimed north of 36o 30’ North Latitude, eastern New Mexico, etc. A little background may be necessary: The acquisition of territory from Mexico via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 reignited the controversy of slavery in the West. In 1820 the controversy had been postponed by the Missouri Compromise which extended the southern boundary of Missouri (36o 30’ north latitude) to the continental divide as the boundary between slave and free territories. The acquisition of a vast portion of Mexico upset that compromise.
Texas was a slave state, but claimed lands north of 36o 30’ as its own. Santa Fé was the only settlement of consequence in the entire region. Its history was much older than the Texas Republic, and the Texas claim on it was tenuous at best. Santa Fé’s real economic ties were to Missouri via a famous overland trail---never to Texas as the ill-conceived Santa Fé Expedition of 1841 demonstrated.
A compromise was working its way through the U. S. Congress that included redrawing Texas boundaries to their current configuration, indemnifying Texas $10,000,000 and kicking the slavery question down the road a few more years.
In anticipation of the passage of the compromise, New Mexicans organized, drafted a proposed constitution, and petitioned Congress for statehood. The political meeting at San Jacinto was to protest the proposed “loss” of New Mexico.
The political meeting was called by James Morgan of New Washington, and Ashbel Smith was elected chair. They met in the same grove of trees in which the Texian Army had encamped on the night of April 20, 1836 which now was studded with headstones for the men who had fallen in battle. Although they claimed a state-wide constituency, most of the attendees were from Harris, Galveston, and Liberty Counties. They were treated to speeches denouncing the Compromise of 1850. One of those speakers, George Washington Paschal of Galveston had a plan for overcoming the acknowledged cultural divide between New Mexico and Texas. He suggested sending Methodist preachers as agents of civilization to New Mexico. Never mind that Spanish and Native Americans had created a synthesis of Roman Catholicism and Native American religions in northern New Mexico long before Methodism was even thought of. Here are Paschal’s words as reported by the Houston Democratic Telegraph and Texas Register, July 18, 1850.
Judge P.(aschal) in substance said that the chairman had happily explained why the place, the ever memorable battle ground of San Jacinto, was selected for the expression of the sentiments of a large assemblage, from different portions of the state. And it seemed against him his first notions, that the time and assemblage was not inappropriate. A Methodist Camp Meeting was another proof of the zeal of that denomination. Where ever an axe blazed a tree, or a pioneer erected a hut, there the Methodist preacher immediately followed, as the pioneer of morals and gospel truth. And he was sure that we could not have a better security for the possession of Santa Fe, than the sending among the people, who believed their religion a part of the government, a few Methodist preachers.
Political meetings of the era always appointed a committee to draft resolutions to send to government officials, and that was done in this case. The speeches and resolutions are full of irony. The speakers condemned the idea that a group of New Mexicans could hold a convention and try to secede from Texas. Many of those same speakers in the next decade argued just the opposite—that the southern states had the right to leave the Union and form a confederacy.
G. W. Pachal was not among that group. When Civil War came, he was a staunch Unionist and supported Sam Houston in his many struggles of 1860-61. Paschal was threatened with mob violence and retreated from public life during the war, but in 1869 moved to Washington, D.C., and became identified with the Republican Party.