As our new and ferociously protective new President Donald J. Trump takes on the world in his effort to correct everyone who has ever wronged us, it seems that some are fighting back. Sort of. One of these seems to be Mexico.
We have quite an ancient (for America) history with Mexico, as we have had numerous shared borders, most of them disputed. One of these, Texas, was its own country for a while, a republic whose first President was a man named Sam Houston.
Sam Houston was a man almost too remarkable to describe. Parts of his life are still shrouded in mystery, and parts of his life are still unapologetically horrible. We do know that he was the only person “to have become the governor of two different U.S. states through popular election, as well as the only state governor to have been a foreign head of state.”
He was born in Virginia in the last decade of the 18th century, and on the death of his father he moved to Tennessee with his family. There he spent much time with the Cherokee Indians, and began his life long devotion to this Indian tribe. He joined the Army, soon became known as a fierce fighter, and served under Andrew Jackson to whom he became quite close. Houston resigned his commission at the conclusion of the Creek Wars, in part because he irritated his military superior John C. Calhoun by dressing as a Cherokee in a meeting, moved back to Nashville, where he studied law for a few months, and was elected attorney general of Tennessee. He later served two terms in Congress, (where he also often dressed as a Cherokee), then ran for and was elected to the Governorship of that state.
Soon after becoming Governor, Houston married Eliza Allen, in 1829, who was from a very influential Tennessee family. Almost immediately after the marriage, however, the bride went back home, and the marriage was dissolved, with no explanation; none, actually, has ever been provided. Further, Houston then resigned from the Governorship, it was said under pressure from his “in-laws.” The Governor then left the state altogether and went back to live with the Cherokees.
For the next 6 years Sam Houston lived with the Cherokee Indians in the Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma, not only taking Cherokee citizenship, but also marrying a Cherokee woman, whose name was Tiana Rogers. He was known alternately by his fellow Cherokees at this time as “Black Raven” or “Big Drunk,” as he was known to imbibe a bit, and he was a large man, said to be, from differing reports, either 6’2”, or 6’6” tall. He was involved in various endeavors for his tribe, however, and in one of them, a special envoy for the tribe, in 1832, he went to Texas to try to secure a land grant for the Cherokees, and though it didn’t work, it did succeed in getting him involved in nascent Texan efforts to extricate itself from Mexican rule.
Soon a convention of Texans was called which voted for independence and selected Houston as commander-in-chief of the fledgling Texas Army. After the disastrous defeat at the Alamo, Sam Houston, the Army veteran, ordered a series of strategic retreats, which though not endearing him to his troops, did give Houston the time to train his ill-equipped and poorly provisioned army. On April 21, 1836, Houston “caught the Mexican forces under General Antonio López de Santa Anna completely by surprise as they camped along the banks of the San Jacinto River.” Spurred on by the battle cry “Remember the Alamo,” which had just recently occurred and loomed large in Houston’s and his troops’ minds, General Houson’s “800 men defeated a force twice its size in a mere 18 minutes.” The spectacular rout at the Battle of San Jacinto forced Santa Anna to surrender and sign an armistice that granted Texas independence.
With Trump-like speed, the Republic of Texas was formed, with General Sam Houston being elected its first President, with 80% of the vote against opponents Stephen F. Austin and Henry Smith. Prohibited by the Texas constitution from running for consecutive terms, Houston served in the Texas legislature before being elected president of the self-proclaimed Lone Star Republic once again in 1841, and served as Texas’ President again until 1844.
It was actually a good thing that Sam Houston’s successor, Mirabeau Lamar, was not able to continue on as President of Texas, as what he fought for, and intended to continue fighting for, was to achieve the following: the “continuing independence of Texas, annihilation of American Indians, and the extension of Texas’s boundaries to the Pacific Ocean.”
After Texas joined the United States in 1845 as its 28th state, a move Houston and most Texans strongly supported, Houston was elected as one of the state’s two new senators.
He was then United States Senator from Texas, serving from 1846 -1859. In the Senate, Houston was known for “his staunch Unionism and his friendship for the Indians,” as well as occasionally coming to Senate meetings dressed as a Cherokee Indian.
In Washington, his “apparent fondness for alcohol, women and brawling again provoked sharp controversy and added new chapters to his legend.” In politics, he was an “enthusiastic supporter of the Mexican-American War,” although he was greatly disappointed that it did not end in the annexation of Mexico.
In yet another demonstration of the contradictory nature of this remarkable fellow, Sam Houston , though a slaveholder himself, repeatedly voted against the spread of slavery to new territories of the United States during his 13 years in the Texas Senate.
Sensing that Texas was “moving toward secession,” he decided to run for Governor as an independent Unionist in 1858, which he did successfully. Despite his great work and charismatic efforts, however, Texas did secede and the inimitable Sam Houston was forced out of office in 1861.
He was also an ardent advocate of the Union, and was the only Southern governor to oppose secession in the years leading up to the Civil War. Over his opposition, a Texas state convention voted on February 1, 1861, to secede by a margin of 168 to 8. When Houston “refused a month later to swear allegiance to the Confederate States of America, the Texas legislature deposed him and replaced him with the pro-Confederacy lieutenant governor.” Houston turned down a Union offer to lead a 50,000-man force against the Confederate rebels and retired to Huntsville, Texas, where he died in 1863.
Sam Houston did marry a third time, a good soul who bore him eight children and who tried to reform him. It is probable that this didn’t quite take, and it is known that Sam Houston never stopped drinking. It is also fact that he never stopped loving his Indian brethren, and never stopped fighting for them along with his beloved Texas, especially against Mexico who never stopped trying to get it back. As Sam Houston was quoted as having said: ““Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.”
It seems like a bit of Sam Houston’s been reborn in our current President, doesn’t it? With Donald J. Trump, I’d bet on the US in whatever conflict emerges with Mexico in 2017.
Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects.. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.