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November 19, 2012

Slate: How Texas could mess with us

(Continued)

A few years ago, while conducting research for a novel I was writing about Lone Star politics, I discovered a short clause in the state's 1845 annexation agreement that's well known to any serious state historian, though far less well known to the average Texan. Buried beneath some highly boring details about how the republic's resources were to be transferred to the federal government in Washington is language stipulating that "[n]ew 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."

Put plainly, Texas agreed to join the union in 1845 on the condition that it be allowed to split itself into as many as five separate states whenever it wanted to, and contingent only on the approval of its own state legislature. For more than 150 years, this right to divide — unilaterally, which is to say without the approval of the U.S. Congress — has been packed away in the state's legislative attic, like a forgotten family heirloom that only gets dusted off every now and then by some politician who has mistaken it for a beautiful beacon of hope.

Could the current crop of Texas secessionists use the division clause in pursuit of their separatist goals? It would certainly be worth a shot. Naturally, it took the Machiavellian political mind of Texan Tom DeLay — the former House majority leader, currently out on bail while appealing a 2011 money-laundering conviction — to put the pieces of a tenable scheme together. The day after Perry blew his secessionist dog whistle to that reporter back in 2009, DeLay went on MSNBC's "Hardball" to cheerfully defend his governor's remarks. When host Chris Matthews insisted (correctly) that unilateral secession was illegal and couldn't take place, DeLay stopped his maniacal grinning for a moment and cited the division clause.

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