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Texas | Columns

PRESIDENTS OF
THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD
We Texans used to brag a lot more than we do now, and one source of pride was that Texas alone of the forty-eight states had been an independent republic before we annexed the United States.

That statement right there is full of braggadocio, isn't it?

Anyway, the admission of Hawaii tampered with our claim to exclusiveness in independent nationhood, though those little bitty islands did spend more than sixty years as a territory before becoming a state while we made the metamorphosis in a flicker after nine years of independence.

Four presidents served the Republic of Texas during that time. First came interim president David G. Burnet, who was selected for the post by the second meeting of the Consultation in March 1836. Burnet was never elected by the people, so he was really a caretaker for the Consultation for six months until Sam Houston became the first elected president of the Republic in September.

Houston served for two years -- a constitutional limitation for the first president only; successors served three-year terms, though none could succeed themselves immediately. Here is a list of Houston's problems: no money, or really any way to raise it, but a mountain of debt from the revolution; Mexico repudiated the Treaties of Velasco in which Santa Anna agreed to Texas' independence to save his life, and could have mounted another invasion at any time; and Texas was unrecognized by the nations of the world. Houston sought immediate annexation, on any terms, but anti-slavery forces prevented the US from accepting Texas.

Houston was succeeded in 1838 by Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, who had served as Houston's vice president. It is difficult to imagine men more different in physique, personality, or program.

Houston was a large, boisterous man, Lamar slight of build; Houston was all action, while Lamar was more reserved and thoughtful; and Houston wanted to get Texas into the Union as quickly as possible and bequeath its problems to the larger US, but Lamar wanted Texas to remain independent, even expand to California. Most Texans probably think their concept of self-reliance and independence are the legacy of Houston. In fact, these traits better describe Lamar.

Lamar could not retain the presidency in 1841, so Houston took another turn. Lamar had spent millions of borrowed money, but Houston spent only $600,000 in three years and renewed efforts to join the Union. He got close. His administration negotiated a treaty that would have added Texas to the US as a territory, but it failed by a single vote in the US Senate. That rejection affected presidential elections in both nations and produced annexation advocates in both -- James K. Polk in the US and Anson Jones in Texas.

Jones served a year in which Congress admitted Texas as a state by joint resolution, effective December 29, 1845. Jones styled himself thereafter as the Architect of Annexation but the claim is hollow for he actually reaped the seeds sown and tended by old "Sam Jacinto" for six of the preceding nine years.

Texas would still be the largest state except Alaska came right along with Hawaii and messed that up, too.


All Things Historical
February 17-23, 2002
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)

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