Division of Texas

By: Claude Elliott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

The congressional joint resolution for the annexation of Texas, passed on March 1, 1845, provided that new states, not to exceed four, could be carved out of Texas, the new states to be entitled to admission to the Union, with or without slavery if south of the Missouri Compromise line, and without slavery if north of that line. The gubernatorial campaign of 1847 centered around the division of Texas into East and West Texas-East Texas being a slave state and West Texas being a free state-but the death of Isaac Van Zandt, chief proponent of division, ruined the hopes of the divisionists. In 1850 Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri introduced a bill to reduce the size of Texas, and Senator Henry Stuart Foote of Mississippi proposed a new state east of the Brazos River, to be called Jacinto, but the proposal received little consideration in the Senate. On February 16, 1852, a joint resolution was introduced into the Texas legislature proposing that Texas be divided into East Texas and West Texas, but the measure was defeated by a vote of 33 to 15.

With the end of the Civil War, carpetbag administrations were keenly interested in the possibility of more carpetbag positions, which would result from the establishment of new states. The Constitutional Convention of 1866 gave much attention to the division of Texas. On March 6, 1866, a resolution was introduced providing for a state east of the Trinity River to embrace thirty-eight counties and be called East Texas. A countermove proposed that Texas sell to the United States all territory lying west of a line beginning at the mouth of the Pecos River, thence up the stream to Fort Lancaster, thence to the point where the 102d parallel crosses the Red River. These resolutions did not come to a vote.

In the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, Elisha M. Pease proposed that the state sell to the United States all territory west of a line running from the mouth of the Pecos River to the northwest corner of Hardeman County. The question of division was referred to a special committee of fifteen. Later in the convention the so-called congressional plan of division was evolved. This plan called for division into three states: East Texas, Texas, and South Texas. As this plan grew in favor in the convention, two proposals were made to weaken the forces supporting it. William Wallace Mills of El Paso proposed the sale of all West Texas to the United States, while Andrew J. Hamilton proposed the division of the state into three parts, the Brazos River to be the boundary between East and West Texas, and the third state to be north of the thirty-second parallel. To complicate the matter further, James P. Newcomb proposed a new plan of division that would have made the Colorado River the boundary line between two states. Over this maze of plans the members quarreled to the ignoble end of the convention without tangible results. The Texas radicals having failed to divide the state, a new plan emerged in Congress in 1869. This proposal, to divide Texas along the Colorado River, the part south and west to be designated the state of Lincoln, never emerged from the committee to which it was referred. On February 25, 1870, the Howard Bill, closely resembling earlier proposals in Congress, was introduced. It called for two territories, Jefferson east of the San Antonio River, and Matagorda west of the Colorado. The remaining portion of the state should retain the name Texas and be readmitted to the Union in accordance with Reconstruction plans. The two territories were to be admitted when they were deemed ready to exercise the functions of statehood. In Texas itself, Edmund J. Davis's regime came forth in 1871 with a proposal for a four-part division into western, northern, eastern, and southern. Congress failed to take final action, however, as did the Texas legislature.

The question of division continued to be discussed at intervals after Reconstruction. In 1906 it was proposed in Congress that Texas establish four independent legislatures, all functioning under one governor. According to the plan the state was to have eight senators, but the proposal met with only passing interest in Texas and no favorable action from Congress. In 1909, during the struggle over prohibition, division was again discussed, but the talk failed to crystallize into party policy.

Failure to reapportion representation after the Thirteenth Census brought new agitation on the division question in 1914. The growth of the western part of the state made it necessary for more representation from that section, a need the legislature ignored. West Texans were also annoyed because few state institutions were established in their region. The result was the proposal in the Texas Senate for the state of Jefferson, to be composed of the Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth, Twenty-eighth, and Twenty-ninth senatorial districts. No more than six senators supported the measure, and other proposals to the Thirty-fourth Legislature were equally fruitless. In 1921 the veto of a bill calling for the location of an agricultural and mechanical college in West Texas revived the whole question. Mass meetings were held in West Texas, but the agitation died down quickly.

In the 1930s John Nance Garner proposed a division that called for the maximum number of states permitted under the law, East Texas, West Texas, North Texas, South Texas, and Central Texas. Garner's arguments were familiar. Texas was too large, the sections of the state have contradictory interests, the West and South deserved increased representation in the Congress, candidates for office have too great a difficulty in carrying their program to all sections in an election campaign, and the people of the new states would be able to elect representatives more conversant with their needs. The Garner plan, like all others, came to naught.

After the 1930s division proposals were not taken seriously. In 1969 San Antonio Senator V. E. "Red" Berry proposed the formation of two states, North and South Texas. Senator Bob Gammage also proposed division in 1975. Generally, these later proposals sought the increase in political influence that multiple Texas states could stand to gain with two senators each in the federal government. In 1991 state representative David Swinford submitted a House bill to make the Panhandle into something called the state of Old Texas. The bill was not considered.

Weston Joseph McConnell, Social Cleavages in Texas (New York: Columbia University, 1925). Donald W. Whisenhunt, The Five States of Texas: An Immodest Proposal (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Claude Elliott, “Division of Texas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/division-of-texas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994