Saturday, October 03, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   October 4

Representative Elkanah Brush Rebuffed in Attempt to Name Chaplain, October 5, 1836

Many Texans can recite in great detail the stirring events of the first months of 1836.  In just a few months, from January to April of that year the events that shaped our historical memory came in rapid fire order---the Siege of the Alamo, the Declaration of Independence, Goliad, the Runaway Scrape, and the Battle of San Jacinto—all occurred in a brief span that we Texas historians facetiously call “Texas Lent,”   approximately 40 days that created a new country.

Far fewer Texans can recite the events that occurred in the second half of 1836 as the scene shifted from winning independence to creating a government strong enough to protect the people from the various military threats that still existed, provide a stable currency, perfect titles to land, create courts for the administration of justice, provide postal service, and so on. 

The establishment of a new government under a new constitution took place fairly easily, mainly because the founders used the United States as a template.  Except for  Tejanos including such men as Navarro, De Zavalla, and Seguin, all of the new military and political leaders were recent arrivals from the United States.  Many of them had been politically active before they emigrated so by the fall of 1836 the Provisional Government which had won the Revolution was replaced by a constitutional republic.  

As previously noted the founders used the United States as a template, but in the area of church-state relations, the writers of the Texas Constitution of 1836---mainly Jeffersonian in their outlook—were able to write the strongest possible separation language into the founding document. 
At one time during the constitutional debates it was proposed that clergy should be denied the vote.  That was changed to a prohibition of clergymen holding office in the final version.

A primary interest of the founders was their fervent belief that the government should not favor any denomination or sect over another.  In addition to their Jeffersonian outlook, they also remembered the privileges of the Roman Catholic Church under Mexican rule.

Representative Elkanah Brush of Refugio was initially thwarted in his attempt to have a chaplain named for the Texas House of Representatives.  On October 5, 1836, he moved that the House appoint a Chaplain whose main duty would be opening each day’s session with a prayer.  The Chaplain would receive the same pay as the members—five dollars per day. 

Representative Thomas Jefferson Green* of Bexar, who had previously served in the Florida Legislature, objected.  His argument makes sense even today. 

. . .if he were a Methodist, he would feel much aggrieved at seeing a Catholic priest perform mass previous to their deliberations in that assembly;  he therefore objected to the resolution. For his part he did not know but that 600 different sects might claim the same privilege. 

Brush’s resolution was tabled, but about a month later revived.  Both the House and the Senate appointed Chaplains—including Littleton Fowler.  

Some of us are still troubled by the presence of legislative chaplains.   Tax monies collected from all persons---believers, non-believers alike—and used to pay someone to deliver a prayer seems like a direct governmental subsidy of religion and inevitably  privileges one religion over another. 

*Green later moved to California and was elected to the State Senat.  As a very young man he had served in the North Carolina Assembly.  He thus became one of the few people to serve in fourdifferent legislatures.


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