Saturday, May 2, 2009

Reap the Fearful Harvest: Sam Houston and the Texas Secession Crisis

Houston-Sam In recent weeks, Texas Governor Rick Perry mentioned the possibility of secession to a partisan crowd at an anti-tax rally in Austin. Upon hearing that, I could not help but recall my graduate research into another Texas governor and another time when Texas’ secession was being discussed. To listen to Governor Perry, one would think we were truly entering a dark and dangerous period in our history. The fallacious creation of a sense of crisis is often the tactic of a desperate politician who seeks attention. They love to tell the public that we face forbidding challenges, untold problems, and that the future is very uncertain. In this case, Perry suggests that the radical move of secession might be the answer.

Of course, the times are not as dark as he suggests. Perry is just another politician who cannot rise beyond his own personal ambitions. He is the sort of man for whom personal success and electoral victory are the sole guiding beacons, not principle, not what is moral, nor even simply right. Unfortunately, we have far too many of his ilk.

However, on occasion in our history, the times have truly been dark and there have been leaders who were willing not merely to stand for what they viewed as right, but who would risk everything its defense. This kind of political and moral courage is, perhaps, all too rare in our recent history, but certain examples from our collective past stand out and deserve to be studied and remembered. One of the most incredible of these examples, and certainly one the most dramatic, was, ironically for Rick Perry, the stand of Sam Houston against the secession of his beloved Texas.

Before I tell you the story of Houston and his fight against secession, I have to insert a personal note. Before I began my research into Houston, I had what was probably a stereotypical view of this famous Texan, assuming him to have been a vain, ambitious, and somewhat unsophisticated populist leader. However, I would find something entirely different. The library I employed for my research had volumes of Houston’s personal papers, including letters, speeches, and various memoranda. These revealed a man who not only had an astute political and legal mind, but who was extremely literate, passionate, and wise. He also possessed a keen insight into the people that, unlike many politicians of his day, extended far beyond Texas. As a result, he foresaw impending disaster, and he did his utmost to warn his countrymen of what was coming should they follow the path of secession. Now, let me tell you Houston’s story.sam-houston-painting

Texas fight for independence from Mexico was legendary in its own right, and Houston played a key role in that conflict. Later, in 1845, as president of the young Republic of Texas, he would guide her into union with the United States. Texans were naturally proud their accomplishments, and of their statehood. Not surprisingly, Unionist sentiments were strong in Texas during the 1850s and the process required to mute those feelings and allow secession from the Union in 1861, what Houston referred to as “stilling the voice of reason,” was a painful one, marked by violence and political upheaval.

In late 1860, as the secession crisis began to cast its growing shadow across the United States, Texas stood out as a distinctive and somewhat unlikely member of the new Confederate nation. Its recent history as an independent republic along with its climate, economy, population, and internal politics, all set it apart from the rest of the South. Unlike much of the Lower South, which would lead the secession process, Texas was a land of tremendous diversity, with a vast, isolated, and uncivilized frontier region. To be certain, Texas had seen remarkable changes in the years since its revolution against Mexico in 1836. Cities had sprung up where there was once nothing more than isolated villages, plantations and farms had overtaken empty prairie land, and even railroads had begun to appear. However, it was also still a rugged and untamed place that one young diarist would later call “the dark corner of the Confederacy.”

At the same time, however, Texas had become increasingly tied to the Lower South and to the cotton-based economy driven by black slavery. Cotton, those who emigrated from the Lower South to grow it, and the black slaves who harvested it, became an increasingly powerful part of the Texas economic and political landscape in the decade prior to the Civil War. But, despite the growing power and influence of cotton and the Lower South, and, again, unlike much of the South, Texas politics remained diverse and contentious, with a strong two-party character. As the secession crisis approached, the political distinctions among Texans centered primarily on the Union and Texas’ place in it.

Texas had grown rapidly since joining the Union, with a huge influx of immigrants from the Lower South, the Upper South, and a few Northern states, as well as from Europe. In fact, by 1860 10 percent of the population would be of foreign birth, with the majority of those from Germany. These various immigrant groups began to cluster in certain areas and, as a result, the state could be divided into different regions, where each reflected a dominant immigrant group as well as clear economic, cultural, and political distinctions. North Texas and West Texas consisted a band of counties that bordered the Red River, next to the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma, and then stretched south into the Hill Country region. These areas of the state were inhabited primarily by immigrants from the Upper South, with some large concentrations of German communities. In this region, the farms were small, grew mostly wheat and corn, and slaves were almost nonexistent. These farms were also primarily subsistence in nature since there were no nearby markets and no adequate transportation system to get crops to the distant cities of the state.

The isolated settlements and farms of North and West Texas were constantly under the threat of attack from marauding Comanche, who controlled virtually all the land west of the Pecos and Concho Rivers, as well as the Kiowa and Lipan-Apaches. As a result, the United States government, in the form of the U.S. Army, played an important role in the lives of these Texans. Thus, the U.S. Army, which symbolized the Union to these Texans, became a crucial part of survival, and, therefore, the Union was not simply an abstract concept to the people of these regions.

South Texas, meanwhile, was even more isolated than the North and West Texas regions. Here, ranches with livestock were more prevalent than farms and, with the exception of the city of San Antonio, the area was a made up of isolated villages inhabited primarily by Mexican Texans, referred to as Tejanos. Most residents were very poor and illiterate, and the counties were often politically dominated by a single Tejano family. Thus, here, there was little sense of attachment to the Union, and less interest in the emerging sectional issues of the time.

It was the eastern region of Texas, however, that had become the economic powerhouse of the state. Here, the area was dominated by those from the Lower South and it was here that the plantation economy had taken root. The vision of economic prowess this region generated was so powerful that those who were not from the Lower South still wanted to emulate its success. In fact, even those Texans who did not live in East Texas came to see the future of the state in terms of East Texas’ economic success.

Still, despite economic growth in East Texas, as the secession crisis approached, only one Texas family in four owned slaves. However, those who did dominated the Texas economic, political, and social structures. These families owned 73 percent of the state’s real property, 71 percent of all improved acreage, and over 60 percent of all livestock. Yet, the real power of these slaveholders was felt in politics—some 70 percent of the state’s political leadership in 1860 were slaveholders.

Perhaps the most important way in which Texas differed from the rest of the South, especially the Lower South, was in its politics. During the 1850s, the Democratic Party was virtually the only political party in most of the Southern states. Nevertheless, in Texas, there had been a viable two-party system ever since the state had entered the Union. One of those parties was always the Democratic Party, but the competing party’s identity changed during the 1850s. At first, the Whig Party was the opponent to the Democrats and it was moderately successful. Its platform of stability, economic growth, and adherence to traditional American and Protestant values was popular with prosperous planters, merchants, and the growing professional class. However, by 1854, it was rapidly dying in Texas because it had opposed the Mexican War and Texan border claims in New Mexico. However, its biggest failing in the eyes of Texan voters was its perceived identification on the national level with abolitionism.

With the death of the Whig Party, there still was a persistent ideological vacuum to be filled in Texas, and that vacuum was over the issue of nationalism, of support for the Union. As the 1850s progressed, many Texans came to see the Democratic Party as increasingly radical on the issue of secession. Former Whigs and Democrats who were Unionists needed another party and Sam Houston would rise to fill that void.

Throughout the 1850s and, indeed, through the entire secession crisis to follow, Texas politics revolved around a single constant figure—Sam Houston. Houston was described by one historian as “hard, brave, stubborn, proud, and canny…an intensely ethical and honorable man.” Even the Democratic Party in Texas, which was described as being more a party of personalities than issues, revolved around pro-Houston and anti-Houston factions. Houston truly was a giant of the times, and a man of deeply felt principles. In 1854, he outraged Democrats while serving in the U.S. Senate by voting against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, for which he was openly described as a traitor to the South. Houston believed strongly in the principle of the Union, and the destiny of the American nation. He believed the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a product of Southern sectionalists and would demand a Northern response. He argued the eventual result would be bloodshed in Kansas and the possibility of secession and sectional violence. When the bill passed, Houston stood on the Senate floor and said, “Mark me, the day that produces a dissolution of this Confederacy will be written in the blood of humanity. All that is horror in war will characterize the future of the people. Preserve the Union and you preserve liberty. They are one and the same, indivisible and perfect.”

Houston’s vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his fervent fight against sectionalism resulted in a major effort to purge him from the Democratic Party in Texas. The Democrats, who had previously been somewhat unorganized in Texas, instituted a strong central state organization during 1856, complete with a convention system. Using the newfound power of this organization, the Democratic Party ousted Houston from its ranks and had him removed from his Senate seat in 1857. But, these moves backfired on the Democrats and resulted in the creation of yet another opposition party.

Many Texas Democrats were angered by the new organized convention system employed by the party, viewing it as confining and believing it was putting too much power to determine candidates for office in the hands of a few. However, more importantly, many Democrats were even more disturbed by the party’s increasingly shrill position on national issues, specifically their position on maintaining the Union. Ardent Texas Unionists wanted a new party and a new leader-Sam Houston gave them both. Backed by powerful, influential former Whigs and Democrats, Houston formed a new opposition party, styled as the Union Democrats. They created a slate of candidates for statewide and local offices and opposed the Democrats with ferocity in 1859’s state elections.

Houston, now 66 years old, waged a campaign that would become famous in the annals of state politics. He attacked the incumbent governor, Democrat Hardin Runnels, on his failed frontier defense policies, the Democrats’ convention system, and their support for reopening the slave trade. Houston staged a highly personal campaign, aptly termed as “rip-roaring” by Texas historian, T.R. Fehrenbach: “He traveled the state in a buggy, wore an old duster, orated on hot days without a shirt, slept in great plantation houses and farmer’s dog-run shacks. Everywhere he went, he raised cheers, cheers for Houston the hero, Houston the man.” The approach worked and Texans rallied to their former president and his emotional pleas for the maintenance of the national union. In a stunning and brilliant victory in the elections of August 1859, Houston was elected as governor and a fellow Union Democrat, Andrew Jackson Hamilton, was elected to one of the state’s two congressional seats.

Houston’s inaugural address would have a telling passage on sectionalism and the Union. He reminded the audience that, when Texas became a state, “she entered, not into the North, nor into the South, but into the Union. When our rights are aggressed upon, let us be behind none in repelling the attacks; but let us be careful to distinguish between the acts of individuals and those of a people—between the wild ravings of fanatics and the public sentiment which truly represents the masses of a State.”

The acts Houston referred to were those of John Brown in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and, closer to home, Juan Cortina in Brownsville, Texas. Brown’s raid and the subsequent statements of support by Northern abolitionists had outraged Texans, making them fearful of slave insurrection. Cortina, meanwhile, was a Mexican bandit with a grudge against local officials in Brownsville. In September 1859, he rode into the city with his men, shot four citizens down in the streets, opened the city jails, and raised the Mexican flag over the city. He held the city for two months and it finally took a concerted effort by Texas Rangers and U.S. Army troops to drive him back into Mexico. While the raid by Cortina was totally unrelated to Brown’s acts, the militant secessionists in the state began to say that his acts were also inspired by abolitionists. These incidents were accompanied by a sudden increase in the intensity of Indian raids along the frontier and, as the crucial year of 1860 began, there was an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the state.

With the stage set, the last half of 1860 and the first months of 1861 would see momentous and tragic events that would move Texas toward eventual secession. But, the process of secession did not occur easily nor did it ever occur completely in the minds of some Texans. While there was a small minority of ardent, passionate secessionists, most Texans perceived the value of the Union, and only came to endorse secession only after Lincoln’s election. In fact, some would never abandon the Union. But, just as important, none of these groups truly believed secession would lead to war. One of Houston’s most ardent supporters and a man of loyalty to both his state and the Union, James W. Throckmorton, said after the Civil War, “There were few people who felt that they were going to war because of oppressing wrong, or outrage. There was not one in a thousand who felt that sufficient cause existed demanding of him his life, his all.”

Throughout the months of the crisis, Sam Houston was a dominant and central force—strong, unwavering, and stubbornly loyal to both the Union and his state. He would always maintain that, even after Lincoln’s election, there was no reason for Texas to leave the Union, urging Texans to ignore the radicals and let the constitutional system redress any wrongs that might be done. In the weeks before Lincoln’s election, he was already pushing the people to wait to see if injustice would truly be done by a Republican administration and, even then, to let the system work. In August 1860, he wrote to a political acquaintance in Alabama:

“For every wrong which the South complains, there is to be found in the Magna Carta of our rights a constitutional remedy…With proper regard to these administrations can the conservative masses of the Country be expected to follow in the lead of demagogues, who, unmindful of the teachings of the past, and deaf to the pleading appeals of the future, would fire the mind of disunion, and immolate upon the alter of a worse than maddened fanaticism the very spirit of liberty.”

However, Houston would discover that, given the tense atmosphere in Texas, the spark that fanaticism needed could spring from unlikely sources, even the weather. In July 1860, as the presidential campaigns began, the temperatures in North Texas soared to over 100 degrees and there had been no rain for months. As a result, wooden buildings became dangerously dry timber boxes and a series of serious fires broke out in several North Texas towns. Regardless of reality, what should have been a tragic event caused by nature was portrayed as an abolitionist conspiracy that became known as the Texas Troubles. The state’s secessionist press built these fires into stories of slave uprisings, murder, rape, poisoned wells, and attempted assassinations. Despite the fact that there were few slaves in the region, hysteria still spread rapidly. Vigilante committees were formed in Dallas, Denton, and other North Texas cities; arrests of suspects, both black and white, were made without basis in fact; and over 50 people were lynched. While the violence was confined to North Texas, the secessionist press made sure that fear was spread throughout the state.

Realizing how this hysteria might effect the coming presidential elections, Houston responded by, first, creating a political movement designed to place men from Texas in the electoral college who would vote for any candidate that might beat Lincoln. Second, he initiated a campaign that urged patience and reason. On September 22, 1860, at a mass meeting sponsored by the Union Club of Austin, Houston gave an impassioned address that laid the basis for that campaign. In perhaps the most eloquent oration of his political career, Houston delivered what was essentially his valedictory address.

Houston’s speech and his anti-secession platform centered around five critical themes. First, he reminded the audience of the blessings of the Union, and that the Founding Fathers had created a Union and Constitution intended to “strengthen all, to bind all together, yet leave all free.” He asked his listeners to show him the evidence that this was in vain, and pointed out that the nation had grown strong, had become an empire in its own right, and, still, the rights of the individual had been maintained. Next, Houston urged a sense of nationalism over sectionalism. He told the crowd he did not come “…to speak in behalf of a united South against Lincoln. I appeal to the nation. I ask not the defeat of sectionalism by sectionalism, but by nationality.” Because the secessionist forces argued that secession could take place peacefully, without threat of war, he pointed out that a united South would create a united North, and that anyone who believed there would be no strife or violence was foolhardy. He said that, “Strife begets strife, threat begets threat, and taunt begets taunt, and these disunionists know it.”

Then, Houston urged a faith and belief in the Constitution as a protective shield, as a guarantor of their rights. He told them that, should Lincoln be elected, it was no cause to abandon the Union. “The Union is worth more than Mr. Lincoln, and if a battle is to be fought for the Constitution, let us fight it in the Union and for the sake of the Union,” he argued. “If Mr. Lincoln administers the Government in accordance with the Constitution, our rights must be respected. If he does not, the Constitution has provided a remedy.” The other distinction Houston drew between his position on constitutionalism and his opponents’ was that, while secessionists professed to be defending the Constitution, they were doing quite the opposite. He said, “Here is a constitutional party that intends to violate the Constitution because a man is constitutionally elected President. Here is a constitutional party that proclaims it treasonable for a man to uphold the constitution.”

Houston then went further in his characterization of the secessionists by proclaiming them a dangerously corrupt group, who would make themselves the aristocratic and dictatorial rulers of the state. Houston reached back to his populist, Jacksonian roots, warning the people of these anti-republican designs.

“I warn the people to look well to the future. Among the unsatisfied and corrupt politicians of the day, are many who long for title and power. There are wealthy knaves who are tired of our simple republican manners; and they have pliant tools to work upon the forum and with the pen. So, long as the Union lasts, the masses need not fear them—when it falls, aristocracy will rear its head.”

In the end, however, Houston’s strategy would fail. Texans voted overwhelmingly for John Breckinridge and, across the nation, the Democrats split, resulting in Lincoln’s election. Houston called for calm following the election and, in late November, he sent a joint resolution of the Texas Legislature to all Southern governors calling for them to all sit down as statesmen and resolve their differences amicably. However, his calls went unheeded and, as South Carolina seceded in December, the voices asking for similar action in Texas became stronger and louder, calling for a convention to formally consider the issue of secession.

Houston responded stating that, as governor, it was his duty to uphold the Constitution and, therefore, he could not convene the legislature for the purpose of starting a revolution. Several members of the legislature then petitioned Houston to convene the legislature but, when he did not respond, they called for a convention independent of the governor. This idea for an undoubtedly illegal convention matched the vigilante thinking the times seemed to be creating. Hoping to stave off more such lawless behavior, Houston finally relented and called for a special session of the legislature to meet on January 21, 1861. Its purpose would be to consider Texas’ relationship to the Federal government. However, in his proclamation, Houston stipulated that this special session should have only that purpose and that any action affecting Texas status in the Union must be put to the people for their vote via a popular referendum.

As the legislative session and convention dates approached, Houston became more agitated and concerned. He feared a mob mentality would result from the convention and, on the eve of the legislative session, he wrote General Twiggs, commander of the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas, warning him to be on guard lest secessionist forces try to seize the forts in the state as well as the arsenal in San Antonio. He dispatched his militia commander, General Smith, to see Twiggs and assure him that the state would help defend any threatened Federal property. In addition, Houston began to become more fatalistic and his view of the future became darkly prophetic. In the days before the legislative session, secessionists dispatched an old Houston comrade, John Reagan, to visit with Houston and try to secure his cooperation with the upcoming convention. Reagan called upon the governor but Houston was adamant in his opposition. Then, he looked Reagan in the eye and told him, “The people are going to war on the question of slavery, and the firing of the first gun will sound the death knell of slavery.” When Reagan countered that the mercantile interests of the North would insure no such war would occur, Houston told him pointedly that the passions against slavery and disunion in the North would overwhelm any such financial interests.

On January 21, the legislature convened as scheduled, quickly endorsed the Secession Convention, and offered the House chambers for its use. However, they also agreed with Houston on the issue of a popular referendum and stated so in the joint resolution. Houston would eventually approve the resolution, but specified that the convention could assume no powers beyond that delegated by the people and the legislature—it could only vote on the issue of secession and nothing more.

The Secession Convention met the following week and its sessions would be characterized by high drama. By the end of the second day, a draft ordinance of secession was hammered out which accused the Federal Government of failing to defend the frontier, and of being a threat to the property and interests of Texans, rather than a shield against such aggressions. It dissolved the ordinance by which Texas became a state and declared it to, once again, be a sovereign nation. The ordinance further stated that a referendum on secession would be placed before the people on February 23, 1861 and that, if approved, it would take effect on March 2, 1861—the 25th anniversary of Texas independence from Mexico and Sam Houston’s birthday. The convention delegates chose to put the ordinance to a vote of the delegates on February 1, 1861.

At midday on the day of the vote, the House galleries were full and, after Houston took his seat to observe the voting, the delegates were seated and the polling began. The final vote was in favor of the ordinance by a staggering 166-8. Of the eight men who voted to remain in the Union, seven were from North Texas and six were slaveholders. As the convention erupted in wild applause at the final outcome, Houston quietly left the chambers and the eight men who voted “no” slipped outside. They would pose standing together to have their photograph taken. It would be 66 years before the photograph would be printed or publicly displayed in Texas. For his part, Houston would issue a letter to the convention stating that “when the voice of the people of Texas has been declared through the ballot box, no citizen will be more ready to yield obedience to its will, or to risk his all in its defense, than myself. Their fate is my fate, their fortune is my fortune, their destiny is my destiny, be it prosperity or gloom, as of old, I am with my country.”

The convention then began to finish its business but, in doing so, it set the stage for further controversy. First, it was proposed that delegates be dispatched to the convention being held in Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of forming a Southern Confederacy. The debate over this proposal raged for two days with some delegates arguing that such appointments were outside the scope of their authority and that; further, it would be inappropriate to send these representatives prior to the popular referendum. In the end, however, those who favored the proposal were victorious.

HrptwiggsC The convention also decided to authorize its self-appointed Committee on Public Safety to remain in operation. The committee was instructed to provide for the defense of the state, which some delegates and Governor Houston saw as another usurpation of power. Despite the fact that the referendum was still weeks away, the committee decided on its own to begin seizing Federal property in the state. They sent a three-member commission to see General Twiggs in San Antonio and negotiate a peaceful surrender. Twiggs, who was a Georgian and a state rights sympathizer, had been asking Washington for instructions but had yet to receive any. Now confronted with this request, he agreed to surrender all supplies and property in exchange for an honorable withdrawal of his troops, but only after the secession ordinance had been ratified by the referendum. While negotiations continued, the commission decided to act and, on February 16, Ben McCullogh, a famed Texas Ranger and Mexican War hero, arrived in San Antonio with 1,000 men and seized all Federal property in the city. Twiggs felt he had no choice but to surrender his forces and order the transfer of all U.S. Army supplies and property in Texas to the representatives of the committee.

Despite Houston’s calls to the people to be prudent, reasonable, and conservative, it was too little and too late to stem the tide. When the votes were counted on February 23, the secession ordinance won, gaining over 62 percent of the popular vote. Only 18 counties voted against the ordinance and in only eleven others was there a vote of over 40 percent against secession. Not surprisingly, the only counties opposing secession were clustered along the Red River in North Texas and in the Hill Country of West Texas. Unionism in Texas had been mortally wounded, injured by fears of slave uprisings, Black Republicanism, and a loss of faith in the value of the Union as a protective force against instability.

The Secession Convention reconvened to canvas the vote, and, once the count was complete, Governor Houston issued a proclamation that, as of March 2, 1861, Texas was once again “a Sovereign and independent State.” Houston was as good as his word—the people had chosen the path of secession and he would go with them. However, in Houston’s mind, Texas would now simply reclaim its position as an independent republic and return to the status it had held from 1836 to 1845. Up to this point, with the exception of the seizing of Federal property, there had been a remarkable and calm adherence to proper procedure and the rule of law. However, as soon as the referendum was complete, this rapidly changed.

The Secession Convention now took matters into its own hand and exceeded the authority given it by the legislature and stipulated to by Houston when he approved the legislature’s joint resolution. Rather than concluding its business following Houston’s proclamation, the convention remained in session and, on March 5; it adopted an ordinance uniting Texas with the Confederate States of America by a vote of 109 to 2. Houston promptly informed the convention that this was beyond their jurisdiction, that their vote was not binding, and that they were to adjourn immediately. He told them he would refer the matter of joining the Southern Confederacy to the legislature, which would reconvene on March 18. The convention delegates responded by refusing to adjourn and voting unanimously that they had the power to do whatever was necessary to defend the state and complete its union with the Confederate States of America. To that end, on March 14, they adopted an ordinance requiring all state officers to take an oath of allegiance to the new Confederate constitution before Monday, March 18, 1861.

Houston was outraged. He stated that the convention was not only acting beyond its charter, but was also making Texas “subject to a Government which her people had had no share in making, and a Constitution which few of them had ever seen.” The situation was made all the worse when Houston received a dispatch from the newly appointed Confederate Secretary of War, Leroy Pope Walker, informing Houston that the Confederate government “assumes control of all Military Operations in This State.” Houston responded, telling Walker to inform President Davis that Houston did not recognize his authority or the actions of the Secession Convention. Further, he would only uphold those actions agreed to by the people of Texas, and that he would pursue no course “annexing them to a new Government without their knowledge or consent.”

Despite his strong legal and moral position, Houston could not stop the convention from continuing to take Texas into the Southern Confederacy. On March 15, the members of the convention and all the state officers, except Houston and his Secretary of State, E. W. Cave, took the new oath of allegiance. On the evening of March 15, the convention dispatched George Chilton of the Committee of Public Safety to see Governor Houston. Houston received Chilton at the governor’s mansion, and listened politely and calmly to the convention’s message. They decreed that Houston was to appear before the convention the next day at noon and take the oath of allegiance.

Chilton left and Houston said good night to his wife and their children. Throughout the long night, they could hear him pacing the floors outside their bedrooms. He remained awake all night, praying, looking for an answer. In the end, he simply could not bend to consensus and abandoned his principles. He sat at his desk, wrote a letter to the people of Texas and then, as the morning arrived, he told his wife, Margaret, “I can never do it.”

He walked to the Capitol building where a large crowd had gathered to see what Houston would do. Houston went up the stairs to his office, set the letter he had written on his desk, and sat down to whittle on a block of wood. Downstairs in the House chamber, the convention members reconvened and at precisely noon, the secretary called out Houston’s name three times. However, Sam Houston did not come down from his office to take the oath. The convention immediately passed an ordinance declaring the governor’s office vacant and appointing Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark to the position.

Houston’s friends suggested to him that there were men willing to use armed force to keep him in office, but the governor declined. In addition, President Lincoln offered twice in March 1861 to use Federal troops to keep Houston in office. The first offer was delivered by Colonel Frederick West Lander, who reported that Houston refused any such assistance. Next, Lincoln sent another agent to see Houston with a letter that proposed sending 70,000 troops to Texas and, reportedly, offered to give Houston a generalship. Houston called Throckmorton and three other close friends to the library of the governor’s mansion to discuss Lincoln’s latest offer. Only one of the group voted in favor of it. Houston concurred with the majority, but said that, had he been 20 years younger, he would have indeed fought to keep Texas in the Union. On March 30, 1861, Houston left the governor’s mansion and returned to his home in East Texas. BE062126

While returning home from Austin, Sam Houston would give the final public speech of his political career. Urged by old friends to say a few words to an, at times, angry crowd in Brenham, Texas, Houston told his audience, “The die has been cast by your secession leaders, whom you have permitted to sow and broadcast the seeds of secession, and you must ere long reap the fearful harvest of conspiracy and revolution.” Of all Houston’s prophetic forecasts, this one would be the truest of all. In his mind, the interests of the Confederate States of America and Texas were not one in the same. He could see the bloody war that was coming and he feared for his state and its people.

Sam Houston’s leadership is a bright light in this dark period of America’s history. In a time of great peril, he displayed boundless courage, dedication to the Union, strength of conviction, and, above all, a remarkable sense of personal integrity. Despite his love for the Union, when the people of Texas spoke their mind via a popular referendum, he was prepared to lead them out of that Union. Had Texas elected to remain an independent state, he would surely have remained at its head so long as he was able to do so. Nevertheless, when the Succession Convention turned the state towards the Confederacy without the consent of the people or their constitutionally elected legislature, Houston could not follow. He would sacrifice almost everything to remain true to his believes. In July 1863, Sam Houston died at his mansion in Huntsville, and would never see his beloved Texas once again in the Union.

The recent events in Austin are an insult to the legacy of a truly great American and legendary Texan. Rick Perry should be ashamed.


  1. Good to see a Houston researcher help set the record straight on his thoughts about secession in light of Gov. Perry's recent tirades.

  2. Excellent. Thanks for this. How history tends to repeat itself (much to our misfortune).