HistoricalTexas v White Holds Confederate States Never Left Union
In Texas v White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Texas never legally left the Union during the Civil War because the U.S. Constitution did not allow states to unilaterally secede. Accordingly, the acts of the insurgent state government were “absolutely null.”
The Facts of Texas v White
In order to resolve a boundary claim, Congress provided $10 million in U.S. bonds to the state of Texas. The bonds were redeemable in 1864. After the Civil War broke out, the insurgent legislature of Texas repealed a state law requiring the bonds to be indorsed by the governor. It also organized a military board, which was authorized to provide for the defense of the State by means of any bonds in the treasury. The military board subsequently sold several of the bonds to defendants George W. White and John Chiles in exchange for war supplies.
After the Civil War ended, the reconstruction government sought to reclaim the bonds, arguing that their transfer by the Confederate state legislature was invalid. In the suit that followed, the defendants alleged that the U.S. Supreme Court did not have original jurisdiction because Texas was no longer considered a state. The defendants further maintained that the bond transfer was valid because it was made to benefit the citizens of Texas.
The Court’s Decision in Texas v White
The Supreme Court sided with the state of Texas, holding that it still retained ownership of the bonds. Chief Justice Salmon Chase authored the Court’s opinion.
With regard to the Court’s jurisdiction, the majority held that Texas never left the Union. “When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation,” the Chief Justice explained. “All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State.”
The majority further held that the Ordinance of Secession and actions taken in support of the rebellion were null and void. Chief Justice Chase wrote:
Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, and of every citizen of the State, as a citizen of the United States, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union. If this were otherwise, the State must have become foreign, and her citizens foreigners. The war must have ceased to be a war for the suppression of rebellion, and must have become a war for conquest and subjugation.
The Court also held that Texas could reclaim the bonds. In so ruling, the Court distinguished between acts taken to maintain order and acts in furtherance of the Confederacy. Chief Justice Chase wrote:
It is not necessary to attempt any exact definitions within which the acts of such a State government must be treated as valid or invalid. It may be said, perhaps with sufficient accuracy, that acts necessary to peace and good order among citizens, such for example, as acts sanctioning and protecting marriage and the domestic relations, governing the course of descents, regulating the conveyance and transfer of property, real and personal, and providing remedies for injuries to person and estate, and other similar acts, which would be valid if emanating from a lawful government must be regarded in general as valid when proceeding from an actual, though unlawful, government, and that acts in furtherance or support of rebellion against the United States, or intended to defeat the just rights of citizens, and other acts of like nature, must, in general, be regarded as invalid and void.
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Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.