The Alamo in American History


“We are taught to see the Alamo as one of the great exhibits of American valor. I beg to differ. It depends on what you mean by “American.” The Alamo is an exhibit of Texan valor and Southern valor. If we call it “American” we might start to think about the US Army and then of the US government, neither of which deserves any credit for the Alamo.

Soon we have conflated the heroes of the Alamo with the US government soldiers so eloquently eulogized by Lincoln, who destroyed the “Union” and founded the “nation” at Gettysburg. When we have slipped into this
way of thinking we have falsified the central story of American history by erecting a fake nationalist continuity of struggles for liberty. We have perverted the meaning of the Alamo, whose heroes sacrificed for the liberty of their land and their posterity.

The forces that triumphed at Gettysburg were still in the making at the time of the Alamo. But already, a significant segment of Northern Americans (the Blue counties in the last election, if you wish) were denouncing the heroes of the Alamo, their fellow countrymen, as enemies – as violent frontier barbarians and pirates engaged in spreading the sin of slavery and stealing from the harmless Mexicans.

These people kept Texas out of the “Union” for ten years. Texas finally was allowed to join the Union, wisely reserving in her accession the right of secession. Fifteen years after Texas entered the Union, these same Northern forces mobilized two million men, a fourth of them foreigners, to destroy the liberty of Texas and keep it captive, as they openly boasted at the time, for the North’s economic benefit.

At the same time, triumphant New England pundits and German Forty-Eighters used the victory to convert American history from what had been a story of constitutional republican liberty into the story of a Redeemer Nation leading the march of humanity into an ideal future of Massachusetts-writ-large.

So let’s be careful to know what we mean when we say “American history,” lest we misrepresent both history and the republican tradition. Unless we are careful as to what is meant by “American history” we might even end up, God forbid, equating the heroes of the Alamo with imperial wars against remote foreign peoples and the ignorant, vulgar demagogues of the media who support such “battles for freedom.”

(Defending Dixie, Searching for Fleas: American Historians and Their History, excerpt, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, pp. 43-44)