This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, December 1, 2013.
The holiday season is upon us, with Thanksgiving just passed and Christmas right around the corner. As we gather with friends, family and loved ones, it’s only natural and proper that we reflect upon the blessings we enjoy – not least of them the blessings of liberty.
It’s a blessing that Texas has had to fight for more than most.
Most Texans know Sam Houston’s famous quote about the fierce independence of the Lone Star State: “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.” What they don’t usually know is the context: not a defiant gesture toward Mexican tyranny but a reproach to the United States Senate, in which Houston served as it debated the disposition of the territories won in the Mexican War.
Houston advanced for the state of Texas the same claim made by the old Republic of Texas – that New Mexico was properly its land. When Washington disagreed and set up the New Mexico Territory, the great man uttered his famous warning.
Texas has always had a fraught relationship with Washington. The Texas Revolution and the Texan character were direct and acknowledged creations of the American heritage. The Texas Declaration of Independence, after all, explicitly referred to the tradition of American independence, and Travis’ famous Letter from the Alamo appealed to “all Americans in the world.” That heritage was – and remains – foremost a heritage of liberty, and it sat uneasily at points with the claims and ambitions of a federal government that too often forgot the prerogatives of the states that created it.
From Houston’s day to now: We can only envy that generation of Texans whose greatest objection to federal power was that it did not put Santa Fe under the Lone Star. Today, Texas prospers in large part because it rejects the model of big government advanced by Washington – and it resists D.C.’s attempts to extend its control ever further into our communities, our endeavors, our homes and our lives. We see that centralizing, controlling ambition in too many spheres today: from the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to quash the material sources of Texas prosperity; to Department of Justice endeavors to oversee the mechanisms of democracy in our own communities; to underhanded efforts by the Internal Revenue Service and others to suppress political dissent; to the tottering edifice of “Obamacare” itself.
Texas rejects them all. Our principled independence is not rooted in a rejection of the American compact but in a profound acceptance of its most fundamental principles: among them, the sovereignty of the states as enshrined in the 10th Amendment.
Fortunately, Texans largely agree that we can’t just give D.C. whatever power it wishes at the expense of state prerogatives. For just one example, Texas has been at the forefront of the states rejecting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. And my own organization, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has been engaged in this fight ever since an up-and-coming legal light named Ted Cruz founded our Center for Tenth Amendment Studies – now our Center for Tenth Amendment Action.
Defending the liberty of the states is ultimately defending the sanctity of our homes – and if there’s anyone who values and appreciates that, it’s Texans. During these holidays, with the warmth and fullness of our homes at the forefront of our thoughts, we ought to recall, if only for a moment, our part in keeping them safe and free. Generations ago, in a much darker time, in a much more dire struggle, Winston Churchill addressed the American people on Christmas Eve 1941. He said:
“Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”
We live in a better world because Americans, and Texans, showed the “sacrifice and daring” of Churchill’s exhortation. Our children will live in a better world if we give them no less.
“Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may,” said Sam Houston. As Texans, our mission is to make sure that fierce independence, rooted in liberty, never fades – in this holiday season, and in all the ones to come.
Rollins is President and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation