Traces of Texas, back when it really was a whole other country
By John Kelly,
Last week, Answer Man ventured deep into the heart of Texas — or at least into its diplomatic past, when it was its very own sovereign nation. Between 1836 and 1845, when it joined the Union, the Republic of Texas sent representatives to Washington and Washington sent representatives to Texas.
Several readers pointed out that Texas sent diplomats to other countries, too. The republic was recognized by the governments of France and Britain, which were interested in the fledgling nation for reasons of trade and international gamesmanship.
Texas had an office on the Place Vendome in Paris. In London, the Texas legation was near St. James’s Palace. Its location is marked today with a plaque that reads: “In this building was the legation for the ministers from the Republic of Texas to the court of St. James, 1842-1845.”
The plaque was set in place in 1963 at the behest of the Anglo-Texan Society, a group formed in 1953 to promote cultural exchanges between the country and the former country. Novelist Graham Greene, of all people, was the first president. He and his film producer friend John Sutro were inspired to start the group after being charmed by two Texas sorority sisters in an Edinburgh tea room.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, membership was open “to persons of either sex who have some definite connections with both Texas and Great Britain.”
The society soon became basically an excuse to eat Texas food. There is nothing wrong with that. Answer Man imagines that the 2,800 pounds of beef that was flown in from Houston in 1954 for a big Texas-style barbecue at a film studio outside London was appreciated by the sallow-skinned, mutton-eating Brits.
The society had many such affairs before disbanding in 1979.
Answer Man gathers that with the reelection of President Obama the talk in Texas about seceding from the union has only increased. Of course, as mentioned last week, the state’s annexation agreement did not include a provision for that. Several readers pointed out that the annexation law did, however, have language allowing Texas to split itself into several smaller states. The relevant passage: “New States of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may, hereafter by the consent of said state, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution.”
This means that Texas could conceivably be split into five states, giving the territory a total of 10 U.S. senators.
“I have always wondered why they have not exercised this option,” wrote David Rosenbaum of Arlington.
Well, Texas can’t decide on the matter unilaterally. Re-read that passage: “shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the Federal Constitution.”
“That’s the little bit that Texans like to forget,” said Randolph B. Campbell, chief historian of the Texas State Historical Association and a professor at the University of North Texas. “Obviously, Congress has got to agree.”
Randolph said the notion of carving off at least one other state was bandied about during Reconstruction. Republican lawmakers in Texas discussed creating West Texas so the entire state would not be run by conservative Democrats. Obviously, that did not happen.
Earlier this month we closed the book on the most interesting life of Harrison G. Dyar, Smithsonian entomologist, tunnel digger, adulterer, eugenicist. Readers may wonder about one little loose end: What became of his wife, Zella Dyar, who divorced him after she learned that he had been sleeping with a kindergarten teacher named Wellesca Pollock?
On Aug. 14, 1938, Zella was sitting on a bench near the pier in Long Beach, Calif., when she was hit by a trailer pulled by a car, said Marc Epstein, the entomologist working on a Dyar biography. She was treated at the scene for leg lacerations but later collapsed and was found unconscious in the hallway of her hotel. She died four months later and was buried in Forest Lawn cemetery.
As for her ex-husband, Dyar is buried with Wellesca in the Pollock family plot in Washington’s Glenwood Cemetery. His grave is unmarked. Wouldn’t it be nice if the entomologists of America raised funds for a handsome stone?
Speaking of funds, we’re a week into this year’s campaign to raise money for Children’s National Medical Center. All gifts go toward the hospital’s uncompensated care fund, which pays the medical bills of underinsured children.
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For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.