Commentary: Gov. Perry needs history lesson on secession

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 17, 2009 

We can only hope Rick Perry was kidding when he said Texas legally "would be able to leave" the United States anytime.

If not, "he's a fool," the head of the Texas A&M history department said Thursday.

I checked with the governor's old schools to see whether they teach Texas history differently at A&M or Paint Creek.

A&M professor Walter L. Buenger is a fifth-generation Texan and author of a textbook on Texas' last secession attempt. (The federal occupation lasted eight years after the Civil War.)

"It was a mistake then, and it's an even bigger mistake now," Buenger said by phone from College Station, where he has taught almost since Perry was an Aggie yell leader.

"And you can put this in the paper: To even bring it up shows a profound lack of patriotism," Buenger said.

The 1845 joint merger agreement with Congress didn't give Texas an option clause. The idea of leaving "was settled long ago," he said.

"This is simple rabble-rousing and political posturing," he said. "That's all it is.  . . .  Our governor is now identifying himself with the far-right lunatic fringe."

Perry avoided further history lessons Thursday, instead saying that he wants to "re-establish" the U.S. government.

On Wednesday, after one of those purely nonpartisan "tea party" rallies in Austin, Perry told reporters: "Texas is a unique place. When we came into the Union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave."

He went on to say that he hopes Washington pays attention and that there's "no reason" to leave.

Perry might be confused about a clause in the agreement that would let Texas divide into five states, Buenger said.

"I don't know what they taught when Rick Perry was in school here, but he's invented most of this," Buenger said. "They don't teach it now."

Perry has talked before about his Paint Creek school principal and basketball coach, Tom Pritchard.

Pritchard, now 76, also taught history and social studies in Paint Creek for 11 years. He moved to Millsap in Parker County and retired to Brock.

When I called Thursday, he laughed.

"He said we can secede?" Pritchard repeated

"You know, we got in by only one vote," he said, referring to the first ballot in the U.S. Senate.

"That's why people think we can just up and secede anytime."

Then Pritchard added in his lecture tone: "We cannot."

Pritchard still likes his former player and student.

"Aw, he probably didn't give it a whole lot of thought," Pritchard said. "It was probably just something that popped into his head. That was an erroneous comment – I think he's a very dedicated individual, and he's really dedicated to Texas."

Perry now says some people got the wrong impression about whether he thinks Texas should secede.

But he's still wrong about the history.

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