Friday, March 13, 2009

Sam Houston
Samuel Houston (March 2, 1793 - July 26, 1863) was a 19th century American statesman, politician, and soldier. Born on Timber Ridge, just north of Lexington in Rockbridge County, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, Houston was a key figure in the history of Texas, including periods as President of the Republic of Texas, Senator for Texas after it joined the United States, and finally as governor. Although a slaveowner and opponent of abolitionism, he refused, because of his unionist convictions, to swear loyalty to the Confederacy when Texas seceded from the Union, bringing his governorship to an end. To avoid bloodshed, he refused an offer of an army to put down the rebellion, and instead retired to Huntsville, Texas, where he died before the end of the Civil War.

His earlier life included encouraging emigration to Tennessee, time spent with the Cherokee Nation (into which he was adopted and later married into), military service in the War of 1812, and subsequent successful involvement in Tennessee politics. Houston is the only person in U.S. history to have been the governor of two different states, Tennessee and Texas, although others were governors of multiple American colonies.

A fight with a Congressman, followed by a high profile trial, led to his emigration to Mexican Texas, where he soon became a leader of the Texas Revolution. He eventually supported annexation by the United States rather than seeking long term independence and expansion for Texas. The city of Houston was named after him during this period. Houston's reputation survived his death: posthumous commemoration has included a memorial museum, a U.S. Army base, a national forest, a historical park, a university, and the largest free-standing statue of an American figure.

Early life
Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793,on his family's plantation near Timber Ridge Church, outside Lexington, Virginia, in Rockbridge County, to Major Samuel Houston and Elizabeth Paxton Houston. He was one of nine children. His father was a member of Morgan's Rifle Brigade during the American Revolutionary War. He was of Scots-Irish descent.

Receiving only a basic education, young Sam, with his family, moved to Maryville, Tennessee following the death of his father in 1807. His mother then took the family to live on Baker Creek, Tennessee. He ran away from home in 1809 and resided for a time with the Cherokee tribe of Chief Oolooteka on Hiwassee Island. He was adopted into the Cherokee Nation and given the name Colonneh or "the Raven". He returned to Maryville in 1812, and, at the age of 19, founded a one-room schoolhouse. This was the first school ever built in Tennessee, which had become a state in 1796.

War of 1812
In 1812 Houston reported to a training camp in Knoxville, Tennessee, and enlisted in the 7th Regiment of Infantry to fight the British in the War of 1812. By December of that year, he had risen from private to third lieutenant. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, he was wounded in the thigh by a Creek arrow. His wound was bandaged, and he rejoined the fight. When Andrew Jackson called on volunteers to dislodge a group of Red Sticks (Creek Indians) from their breastworks (fortifications), Houston volunteered, but during the assault, he was struck by bullets in the shoulder and arm. He returned to Knoxville as a disabled veteran, but later took the army's offer of free surgery and convalescenced in a New Orleans, Louisiana, hospital. Houston became close to Jackson. Following his recovery he was assigned as an Indian agent to the Cherokees. He left the army in March 1818.

Tennessee politics
Following six months of study at the office of Judge James Trimble, Houston passed the bar examination in Nashville, after which he opened a legal practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was made attorney general of the Nashville district in late 1818, and was also given a command in the state militia. In 1822 he was elected to the House of Representatives for Tennessee, where he was a staunch supporter of fellow Tennessean and Democrat Andrew Jackson, and was widely considered to be Jackson's political protege, although their ideas as to the treatment of Indians differed greatly. He was a Congressman from 1823 to 1827, re-elected in 1824. In 1827 he declined to run for re-election to Congress and instead ran for, and won, the office of governor of Tennessee, defeating the former governor, William Carroll. He planned to stand for re-election in 1828, but resigned after marrying 18-year-old Eliza Allen. The marriage was forced by Eliza's father, Colonel John Allen, and never blossomed into a relationship. Houston and Eliza separated shortly after the marriage, for reasons Houston refused to discuss to the end of his life, and divorced in 1837, after he became President of Texas.

He spent time among the Cherokee, married a Cherokee widow named Tiana Rogers Gentry, and set up a trading post (Wigwam Neosho near Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation), apparently drinking heavily the entire time. During this time he was interviewed by Alexis De Tocqueville. His alleged drunkenness and abandonment of his office, and wife, caused a rift with his mentor Andrew Jackson, which would not be healed for several years.

Controversy and trial
During a business trip to New York and Washington, D.C., Houston was embroiled in a fight with an anti-Jacksonian Congressman. While Houston was in Washington in April 1832, Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio made accusations about Houston in a speech on the floor of Congress. Stanbery was attacking Jackson through Houston, and accused Houston of being in league with John Van Fossen and Congressman Robert S. Rose.

The three men bid on the supplying of rations to Indians who were being forcibly dispossessed and relocated because of Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830. Stanbery, now carrying two pistols and a dirk, refused to answer Houston's letters; infuriated, Houston later confronted Stanbery on Pennsylvania Avenue as Stanberry left Mrs. Queen's boardinghouse, and beat him with a hickory cane. Stanbery did manage to draw one of his pistols, place it at Houston's chest, and pull the trigger—the gun misfired.

On April 17 Congress ordered the arrest of Houston, who pleaded self-defense, and hired Francis Scott Key as his lawyer. Houston was found guilty, but thanks to high-placed friends (among them James K. Polk), he was only lightly reprimanded. Stanbery then filed charges against Houston in civil court. Judge William Cranch found Houston liable, and fined him $500, but Houston did not pay it, and left the country.

The publicity surrounding the trial resurrected Houston's unfavorable political reputation, and Houston made plans to go to Texas. He asked his wife, Diana Rodgers (also known as Tieana Rodger) to go with him, but she preferred to stay at the log cabin and trading post. Later she married a man named Sam McGrady, and died of pneumonia in 1838. Houston married again after her death.

Houston left his home with the Cherokee in December 1832, and was immediately swept up in the politics of what was still a Mexican state, Texas. There has been speculation over the years that Houston went to Texas at the request of President Andrew Jackson to seek the annexation of the territory for the United States, but no documentation to prove the suspicion.

Houston attended the Convention of 1833 as representative for Nacogdoches, and emerged as a supporter of William Harris Wharton and his brother, who supported independence from Mexico, the more radical position of the American settlers in Texas. He also attended the Consultation of 1835. He was then made a Major General of the Texas Army in November 1835, then Commander-in-Chief in March 1836, at the convention which met at Washington-on-the-Brazos to declare Texan Independence. He negotiated a settlement with the Cherokee in February 1836.

Republic of Texas
On March 2, 1836, his 43rd birthday, Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. He soon joined his volunteer army at Gonzales, but was soon forced to retreat in the face of the superior forces of Mexican General (and dictator) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, whose soldiers killed all those at The Alamo Mission at the conclusion of the Battle of the Alamo on March 6.
At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, however, Houston surprised Santa Anna and the Mexican forces during their afternoon siesta. In less than 18 minutes, the battle was over. Badly beaten, Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco, granting Texas independence. Although Houston stayed on briefly for negotiations, he returned to the United States for treatment of a wound to his ankle.

Houston was twice elected president of the Republic of Texas (the first time on September 5, 1836). He served from October 22, 1836, to December 10, 1838, and again from December 12, 1841 to December 9, 1844. On December 20, 1837, Houston presided over the convention of Freemasons that formed the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, now the Grand Lodge of Texas.

He put down the Cordova Rebellion of 1838, and while he initially sought annexation by the U.S., he dropped that hope during his first term. In his second term, he strove for fiscal prudence, and worked to make peace with the Indians and to avoid war with Mexico, following the two invasions of 1842. He had to act over the Regulator-Moderator War of 1844, which caused him to send in the militia.

Settlement of Houston
The settlement of Houston was founded in August 1836 by brothers J.K. Allen and A.C. Allen. It was named in Houston's honor, and served as capital. Gail Borden helped lay out Houston's streets.

In 1835, one year before being elected first President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston founded the Holland Masonic Lodge. The initial founding of the lodge took place in Brazoria and was relocated to what is now Houston in 1837.

The city of Houston served as the capital until President Mirabeau Lamar signed a measure that moved the capital to Austin on January 14, 1839. Between his presidential terms (the constitution did not allow a president to serve consecutive terms), he was a representative in the Texas House of Representatives for San Augustine. He was a major critic of President Mirabeau Lamar, who advocated continuing independence of Texas and the extension of its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean.

On May 9, 1840, in Marion, Alabama, Houston married Margaret Moffette Lea, with whom he had eight children. He was 47 and she was 21. Margaret acted as a tempering influence on Houston. Although the Houstons had numerous houses, only one was kept continuously, Cedar Point, on Trinity Bay from ca. 1840 through 1863.

U.S. Senator
After the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845, Houston was elected to the U.S. Senate, along with Thomas Jefferson Rusk. Houston served from February 21, 1846, until March 4, 1859. He was a Senator during the Mexican-American War, when the U.S. acquired vast expanses of new territory in the Southwest from Mexico as part of the war's concluding treaty.

Throughout his term in the Senate, Houston spoke out against the growing sectionalism of the country, and blamed the extremists of both the North and South, saying: "Whatever is calculated to weaken or impair the strength of [the] Union, – whether originating at the North or the South, – whether arising from the incendiary violence of abolitionists, or from the coalition of nullifiers, will never meet with my unqualified approval."

Houston supported the Oregon Bill in 1848, which was opposed by many Southerners. In his passionate speech in support of the Compromise of 1850, Houston said "A nation divided against itself cannot stand." Eight years later, Abraham Lincoln would express the same sentiment.

Houston opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, and correctly predicted that it would cause a sectional rift in the country that would eventually lead to war, saying: " ... what fields of blood, what scenes of horror, what mighty cities in smoke and ruins – it is brother murdering brother ... I see my beloved South go down in the unequal contest, in a sea of blood and smoking ruin." He was only one of two Southern senators (the other being John Bell of Tennessee) to vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He was even considered a potential candidate for President of the United States. But, despite the fact that he was a slave-owner, his strong Unionism and opposition to the extension of slavery alienated the Texas legislature and other southern States.

Governor of Texas
He twice ran for governor of Texas as a Unionist, unsuccessfully in 1857, and successfully against Hardin R. Runnels in 1859. When he was elected, it made him the only person in U.S. history to be the governor of two different states, as well as the only governor to have been a foreign head of state.

Despite Houston's being a slave owner and against abolition, he opposed the secession of Texas from the Union. In 1860, he offered the following prediction: "Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it. The North is determined to preserve this Union."

Despite Houston's wishes, Texas seceded from the United States on February 1, 1861, and joined the Confederate States of America on March 2, 1861. This act was soon branded illegal by Houston, but the Texas legislature nevertheless upheld the legitimacy of secession. The political forces that brought about Texas's secession also were powerful enough to replace the state's Unionist governor. Houston chose not to resist, stating, "I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her. To avert this calamity, I shall make no endeavor to maintain my authority as Chief Executive of this State, except by the peaceful exercise of my functions ... " He was evicted from his office on March 16, 1861, for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, writing,

"Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies ... I refuse to take this oath."

He was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark. To avoid more bloodshed in Texas, Houston turned down U.S. Col. Frederick W. Lander's offer from President Abraham Lincoln of 50,000 troops to prevent Texas's secession, stating in his response, "Allow me to most respectfully decline any such assistance of the United States Government."

Final years
In 1854, Houston, having earlier made a profession of Christian faith, was baptized by the Baptist minister, Rufus C. Burleson, who was later the president of Baylor College (later, Baylor University). At the time Burleson was the pastor of the Independence, Texas, Baptist Church in Washington County, which Houston and his wife attended. Houston was also a close friend of another Baylor president and Burleson's predecessor as pastor at the Independence church, the Reverend George Washington Baines, maternal great-grandfather of Lyndon B. Johnson.

In 1862, Houston returned to Huntsville, Texas, and rented the Steamboat House; the hills in Huntsville reminded him of his boyhood home near Maryville, Tennessee. Houston continued to be an avid member of the Masonic Lodge, transferring his membership to Forrest Lodge #19, in Huntsville. His health deteriorated quickly over the next few months as he could not rid himself of a persistent cough. In mid-July, Houston was struck with a severe chill, which developed into pneumonia. Despite the efforts of Drs. Markham and Kittrell, on July 26, 1863, at 6:16 p.m., Houston died quietly in Steamboat House with his wife Margaret by his side. His last recorded words were, "Texas. Texas. Margaret". The inscription on his tomb reads:

A Brave Soldier. A Fearless Statesman.
A Great Orator – A Pure Patriot.
A Faithful Friend, A Loyal Citizen.
A Devoted Husband and Father.
A Consistent Christian – An Honest Man.

While Sam Houston is buried in Huntsville, Texas, his wife Margaret Lea is buried in the City of Independence, Texas.