Right before he made that comment, Perry had told the same reporter that "when [Texas] came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave, if we decided to do that." To the extent that Texas' future right to secede from the United States may have been discussed, argued, and/or wished for upon the state's annexation, the governor was technically correct in saying that it was an "issue." But Perry's wording suggested that a right to secede was built, as some sort of term or condition, into the original joint resolution of Congress that brought the Republic of Texas into the union.
That simply isn't true. Texas' so-called "right" to secede is no more than a politically emboldening myth, the boastful residue of the decade it spent as a sovereign nation before joining America. There's simply nothing in the state's official annexation papers, or in any other contemporaneous documents for that matter, to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, over the last century and half this myth has proven harder to kill than a mound of East Texas fire ants. As recently as 2009, the pollster Rasmussen Reports noted that nearly one-third of Texans believed their state could unilaterally split off from the U.S. if it chose to do so. In the state's 2008 Republican Senate primary, Larry Kilgore, a secessionist who openly had proclaimed his hatred for the federal government, received more than 18 percent of the vote—representing almost 250,000 ballots cast—in his race against the incumbent, John Cornyn.
But while it may not enjoy any such right, Texas can legitimately claim to be holding an unusual ace up its sleeve, which—should it ever be played—could end up altering the face of the U.S. map even more significantly than secession would. And were it to be played deftly, that ace could even set the stage for the very secession scenario that Micah H. and his separatist compatriots so passionately envision.
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.
In 1930, a few years before he muscled his way into the White House as Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, House Minority Leader John Nance Garner led a crusade to divide the one state he represented into five, along regional lines. Together with their progenitor, the new states of North Texas, South Texas, East Texas and West Texas would, in Garner's words, "transfer the balance of political power from New England to the South and secure for the Southern States ... prestige and recognition." At a time when Texas was solidly Democratic, the threat of eight new Democratic senators in Washington would also, in his view, have the added benefit of chipping away significantly at the Republican majority's power