A Classy Conclusion to the Career that included Texas Independence
To Americans who follow the fall of the Alamo, the Goliad Massacre, and the subsequent defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, most are aware that Texas sets up a republic that lasts nine years, and that it messes up the relationship between the Americans and Mexico (and Britain, to some extent) until John Tyler and his last Secretary of State John C. Calhoun get Texas into the Union in 1845. Texas had several Presidents (one, Mirabeau Lamar, was a cousin of Lucius Lamar, another of the Senators discussed in the book PROFILE IN COURAGE), but it's best President was Sam Houston. Houston had been Governor of Tennessee once (an ally of his friend Andy Jackson), but a personal family scandal led him to throw away his career there, live with some friendly Indians for five years, and then move to Texas and reenter politics. His story is well told in Marquis James' great biography THE RAVEN (Houston's nickname).
After 1845, Houston was elected to the U.S. Senate. A leading personality there, he was never among the elite (Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Benton, Douglas, Seward), but was a regional celebrity. He was also (unlike Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Douglas, and Seward) one of the few would-be Presidential office seekers who actually had been head of a national government - albeit a poorer country known as the Republic of Texas. But Houston could not get close to any nomination by the Democratic Party. He was regarded as "unreliable".
His closest to becoming a serious Presidential candidate was in 1856. In a year that had James Buchanan as the Democratic candidate, and John C. Fremont as the newly formed Republican Party's first candidate (neither figure really worthy of the office) it was worth considering the nomination of the anti-foreigner/anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" or "American" Party for the nomination. Houston and George Law were the two leading contenders for the nomination, but it was decided to go along with another man with Presidential experience: Ex - U.S. President Millard Fillmore. Fillmore ran and got 800,000 votes, and the electoral votes of the state of Maryland. Buchanan won.
Houston was defeated for the Senate soon after, but that didn't matter
he got elected to the Governorship of Texas. Unfortunately, he was
elected in 1859...just as the slavery issue heated up on the final road to the Civil War. Houston was a slave owner, but like Benton and Webster he was a nationalist, and he was pretty contemptuous of the leadership (the "fire eaters") of the Secession movement: William Yancy, Rhett of South Carolina. So he did not seem very engaged by the activities of these men who wished to create a Confederate States of America.
The chapter on Sam Houston in the Kennedy book (that is dramatized in this episode of the series) was of how Houston was confronted in 1861 by one of the last southern state conventions to vote to secede. When approached by his supporters in Texas, the old man condemned the convention. It was retroactive - going back on what he had helped bring about in the 1830s and 1840s. He knew men who gave their lives so that Texas would be part of the Union, and he was damned if he was going to betray their sacrifice.
Houston got a message during this period. President-elect Abraham Lincoln promised, once he was inaugurated, he would send troops to help Houston keep the state in the Union. Houston thanked Lincoln, but said that he did not want bloodshed by Texans against Texans.
So the crisis went on. Houston watched helplessly as the convention voted 1) to secede and join the Confederacy; and 2) to require the government officials to agree to a loyalty oath to the Confederacy. Houston was approached to take the oath, and refused. He was booted out of the governorship.
J.C. Cannon played Houston as a grand, grizzled old Roman - who has seen much more in his lifetime than these young pups who kick at him. Wrapped in his Mexican serape shawl, under his broad brimmed hat, the grim faced Cannon stares defiance at the conclusion as Warren Stevens, his young Lt. Governor Edward Clark, comes to him to ask for the last time if he will take the oath. "And who are you Sir?!", asks the defiant and disgusted Cannon. It was a wonderful moment.
Yet Kennedy again misses the historical follow-up. Yes, Houston was replaced, but as the war continued and got bad in the west, more and more Texans questioned the wisdom of their joining those foolish fire eaters from the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. Texas was pretty lucky in the war - unlike Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, or Missouri, there was not much fighting in Texas (one major backwater campaign - the Red River Valley Campaign in 1864). An army under General Sibley was sent to invade New Mexico and Arizona (and hopefully reach Nevada and California). It met with disaster, most of the men dying of thirst in the deserts. Texans had little to see that showed they were on the winning side.
Houston was watching this with quiet glee and determination. He was thinking of pulling a fast one on those fire eaters - with his growing support, he'd call another convention to temporarily restore the Republic of Texas, forcing the government officials to swear allegiance for that republic as opposed to the Confederacy! Of course, such a secession would have shaken the southern cause to it's roots, as half their country would have been gone.
Unfortunately, Houston's age and health could not hold up. He died in July 1863. Pity his timing would have been perfect - he died just after Vicksburg fell, and after Lee's defeat at Gettysburg.
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