Updated: Jan 16, 2021
The story of Sam Houston is one of an early American Statesmen. Statesmen. Not usually a term you hear thrown around today. It fits Houston pretty well one would reckon. I suppose the question should then be what made this man a statesman? For this, a simple biography will be provided.
Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, on March 2, 1793, Houston would arise among his seven siblings as the most famous. He would leave his home at the age of 16 to live amongst the Cherokee in Tennessee, and spend nearly three years amongst them. Herein, he learned the language and earned the name Black Raven. He served in the U.S Army during the War of 1812, where he participated in the Southwestern campaign against the British-backed Muskeegee (Creek) Tribe. Here he was grievously wounded at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. After the Creek War, he acted as a subagent for the U.S Government for the removal of the Cherokee from Tennessee in 1817.
Houston would attain his first elected position when he ran unopposed as a Representative for Tennessee, serving from 1823-27. He would become Governor of Tennessee in 1827, but would, in the end, leave office after a failed marriage to one Eliza Allen in 1829. Again he would go to the Cherokee and worked on their behalf to argue for them before the U.S Government as well as to expose fraud practiced by government agents against the Cherokee. During this period he would be formally adopted into the tribe. It was in 1832 that Sam Houston would finally end up in Texas.
Arriving on orders from then Pres. Andrew Jackson to negotiate treaties with Native Tribes in order to protect trade between Texas, then controlled by Mexico, and the United States, Houston would first set foot in Texas in 1832. By 1833 he had established himself fully in Texas and quickly engrained himself in the politics of the region. Of course, the issue of the day is what the majority of Anglo-American residents of Texas should do with the Mexican government?
The Texas of this period was populated primarily by Anglo-American immigrants. This immigration was encouraged by the Mexican government in order to populate this northerly and sparsely populated region, which they were desperate to secure their claim. However, tensions between these settlers and the Mexican government quickly arose, with the demand of Texas statehood and a less restrictive federal government being common complaints. The situation unequivocally changed when the Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who the Texans had actually supported in hopes of being able to achieve their political goals, took power in 1833 via a coup. By 1835 the Texans had opted for independence.
Sam Houston would come to the fore when in 1835 he was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Texan army. Things did not initially go well for Houston as throughout the winter of 35-36, he was forced to make an extended retreat across Texas with his 900 man army. However, at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, the Texans under Houston were able to defeat the numerically superior forces of Santa Anna and ultimately capture him. Herein, Texas would achieve her independence.
From here, Sam Houston would have a long political career serving his adopted home of Texas. The Encyclopaedia Britannica honestly summarizes this best:
This triumph secured Texan independence and was followed by Houston’s election as president (1836–38; 1841–44) of the Republic of Texas. He was influential in gaining the admission of Texas to the United States in 1845. Houston was elected one of the new state’s first two senators, serving as a Union Democrat from 1846 to 1859.
In 1859, Houston would serve his final term as an elected official as the Governor of Texas. This was at a rather bad time in our nation’s history (too put it mildly). Here would be Houston’s finest hour.
The Slave South was threatening secession if the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860. Spoiler alert: he was. As the southern States began one by one to secede, Houston took the painful position of standing against Texas’ secession. He urged his fellow Texans not to heed the siren song of secession. His words were not heeded. After he refused to swear his loyalty to the Confederacy, he was deposed in 1861. Barely two years later, Houston would die in his Huntsville, Texas home.
So why should we call this man a statesman? Well, if it were not obvious from this brief summation of his life, the man got around. He was there when events happened and he helped shape those events and, thus, shaped American history. But this, to this author, seems to be the least of his qualities. He seemed to truly love his home in Texas, as evidenced by the fact that he never openly sided with the Union and in fact eventually agreed to stand with the Confederacy. He did not waver with the political winds, and for this became the bedrock for the politics of the Lone Star State. The greatest summation of the man can be seen on his tomb in Huntsville, Texas. It 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.
“Sam Houston.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Sam-Houston.
“History.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/place/Texas-state/History#ref79045.
(As a note about the inscription on Houston’s tomb, I am unable to find a source for it, however, I am reasonably confident it exists.)