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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

The Republic's First President

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

Usually, the argument about who first served as president of the Republic of Texas involves David G. Burnet, who was appointed interim president by the Consultation that declared Texas independent on March 2, 1836, and Sam Houston, first elected president in September. Maybe Richard Ellis has a claim, too.

Ellis, a distant relative of Martha Custis Washington and Dolly Madison, was born in the "tidewater" area of Virginia in 1771. He "read for the law" with the firm of Wit and Wickham and opened his own practice in 1806. By 1817 Ellis had established a successful plantation in Alabama and became a prominent figure in the area's public affairs. He served in the Alabama Constitutional Convention, as a circuit court judge, and helped establish Franklin College, evidence of considerable investment in the future of the area.

Then Ellis moved to Texas. He first visited Texas, as did Thomas Jefferson Rusk, in pursuit of debtors; both caught the "Texas Fever" on contact. In Texas at the time of the Fredonia Rebellion in 1826, Ellis was among those who tried unsuccessfully to convince its leader, Haden Edwards, to give up his effort for the good of other empresarios and settlers before the arrival of Mexican troops.

Ellis obtained a grant of a league of land located in the Pecan Point area in what became Bowie County-but at the time its ownership was disputed by the United States-not to mention Texas and Arkansas. As a result, in 1836, Ellis was elected to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention AND to the Texas Consultation meeting in Washington-on-the-Brazos in March 1836. He did not join the Arkansas meeting, but he did attend the Texas convention and was elected its president.

Ellis presided, then, while the Consultation adopted George Childress' draft of a declaration of independence of Texas from Mexico on March 2, 1836, and continued to preside during the drafting of a constitution for the new republic, approved on March 17. Does this mean that Ellis served as president of the Republic of Texas for fifteen days from March 2 until March 17?

It does if you want it to do so.


Archie P. McDonald, PhD
All Things Historical
June 4, 2007 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas

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