The Rhetoric of Exclusion: Assumed vs. Stated

In my Texas History class, this week and the next two weeks are devoted to the question: “How revolutionary was the Texas Revolution?”

Yesterday’s lesson was “Blacks from Africa to Texas.” We looked at the development of enslavement in Texas; how (unlike in the British Colonies) it was transplanted as a pre-existing, very established institution by White  settlers in Texas; the debate related to enslavement between the Mexico government and settlers in Mexican Texas; and briefly at the institution after the Texas Revolution. Tomorrow we will look at Women and the Texas Revolution – Black Women, White Women, Hispanic Women, and Native Women. Over the next two weeks we will look at the Texas Revolution and historical memory, manifest destiny and the Mexican War, and the institution of slavery as Texas became a “slave society.” 


This week in particular we are looking at the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas. You can read a copy of this here. One of my goals this week is to get students to examine the rhetoric of stated vs implied exclusion.

This Constitution specifically prohibits Blacks and Indians in the following places: 

Article I, Section 7: The senators shall be chosen by districts, as nearly equal in free population (free negroes and Indians excepted) as practicable

General Provisions, Section 10: All persons (Africans, the descendants of Africans, and Indians excepted) who were residing in Texas on the day of the declaration of independence shall be considered citizens of the republic and entitled to all the privileges of such.

(This document also prohibited non-enslaved Blacks from residing in the state without special permission. Enforcement increased and decreased. Later on, perhaps in an attempt to cover up the illegal importation of Africans directly from Africa, Texas passed a law allowing non-enslaved Blacks to voluntarily enslave themselves.)

That this exclusion of Blacks and Indians is specifically stated is interesting. Why was it necessary to specifically state what had been assumed before? At this time, I do not have a direct answer per se, but by applying knowledge from other historical situations, this stated exclusion indicates there was more tension–a lot more tension–and fear in the air and challenges to prevailing mores. The institution of enslavement was one of the main–if not the main–causes of the Texas Revolution. Texas Enslavers were constantly worried about the security of being able to have their human “property” — due to both racism and that they had a lot of money invested. In 1836, the average enslaved person was sold for $575 ($15,000 in 2013), and in 1860, $800 ($23,000 in 2013). The 1835 enslaved population was at least 5,000 and by 1860 it was at least 183,000. Like most other “slave societies,” Texas’s enslaved black population ranged from about 25-30 percent of the total population. 

In two places–when it came to who could hold office and the establishment of new counties–the Republic of Texas Constitution excludes females. But elsewhere says:

Every citizen of the republic who has attained the age of twenty-one years, and shall have resided six months within the district or county where the election is held, shall be entitled to vote for members of the general congress.

In this case, especially since we know Women were not allowed to vote, the exclusion and inequality was assumed. 

Just as in the Declaration of Independence and in the United States Constitution, when the so-called Founding Fathers wrote “We the People” and “all are created equal” and similar rhetoric, it was so-assumed that this only included White cis-Men that it was not necessary to spell it out. Although we still have far too much inequality today, the equality we do have would be insane and morally wrong to the George Washington and others celebrated by our founding myths. Except for some minor threat from the British, the institution of enslavement was very secure and very established in the United States when the Constitution was written. No one needed to specifically exclude in writing those racialized as Black because “all are equal” did the job sufficiently.