Presidents of the Republic of Texas, Sam
Houston and Mirabeau Lamar, differed in many ways. Many of the differences
were personal and unimportant in the political scheme of things, like Houstonís
love of flashy clothes and his reputation for frontier boldness, and Lamarís somber
dress and enjoyment of quieter pastimes such as reading and poetry. However, both
men were strong leaders, and their vastly different visions for the new Republic
would do much to shape the future of Texas.
Houston by Elizabet Ney
Houston took office in 1836, as the first elected president of the Republic
of Texas, the new nation faced many problems. Foremost among them was Mexicoís
refusal to recognize the independence of the new republic. Technically, the two
nations were still at war. In addition, the new president faced severe financial
problems based on the governmentís inability to pay debts incurred while conducting
the Revolution. Native Texans, who had remained neutral during the war, based
on promises made by Houston
and other Texas officials, also resented the growing number of settlers invading
their territory and threatened war. Finally, the question of annexation to the
United States loomed large.
believed his primary responsibility as president was to prevent another war with
Mexico. In accordance with this policy, he appointed Stephen F. Austin as his
Secretary of State. Austin spoke fluent Spanish, and it was hoped that the good
relations he had established with many Mexican officials as an empresario prior
to the Revolution would aid in the cause of peaceful relations. However, Houstonís
hopes were soon dashed when Austin died on December 27, 1836, at the age of 43,
after serving less than three months.
to the growing tensions with Mexico,
were hundreds of newly arrived United States citizens, eager for battle, though
they had come to Texas too late to fight in the Revolution.
Instead of calming the situation as his position called for, the commanding general
of the Texas army, Felix Huston, incited the new arrivals by speaking out in favor
of renewing the conflict with Mexico.
To prevent further bloodshed, President Houston sent General Albert Sidney
Johnston to relieve Huston. However, when Johnston attempted to take command,
Huston challenged him to a duel. Honor required that Johnston accept the challenge,
and he was severely wounded, leaving Felix Huston in command. Sam Houston wisely
defused the situation by sending all but 600 soldiers home on leave and never
calling them back to duty.
decision to disband the majority of the Texas army also saved the government a
good deal of money, but it did not resolve the Republicís financial problems.
Texas had incurred a debt of more than one million dollars fighting the Revolution,
and Houston was forced to
cut expenses to the bone, while trying to raise revenue for those items he considered
to be absolutely essential by levying customs duties and property taxes. In spite
of his efforts, the tax collections resulted in little revenue, and the debt continued
In 1837, at President Houstonís urging, the Texas legislature
authorized the issuance of $600,000 in promissory notes to pay government expenses.
The promissory notes represented a government promise to pay a specified sum to
the holder at a future date in exchange for the notesí cash value at the time
they were issued. Dubbed ďStar MoneyĒ because of the star displayed on the front
of the bill, the notes circulated at or near face value, or their actual cost,
for most of Houstonís presidency. However, when financial prospects failed to
improve, people began to reject the notes as legal tender.
to tensions with Mexico,
the new Republic faced growing conflicts with Native Texans, who resented settlers
moving onto lands they claimed as their own. Although President Houston was sympathetic
toward the Indian population, most Texans failed to share his views. Prior to
the Revolution, Houston negotiated
a treaty with the Cherokees, whereby they had been promised title to the land
they occupied in East Texas in exchange
for remaining neutral during the conflict. However, East
Texas was some of the richest farm land in the Republic, and many Texans were
in favor of removing the Cherokees in spite of the treaty. Although the Cherokees
remained relatively peaceful in the face of this threat, other Native Texan tribes,
including the fierce Comanches, fought back. Houston
enlisted the aid of the Texas Rangers to keep the peace on the frontier, however,
the attacks continued.
Of all the problems facing the new Republic, Houston
was most concerned with the process of annexation by the United States; a move
that he felt would alleviate most of the problems facing the new Republic. During
his election to the presidency, a majority of the electorate voted in favor of
annexation. After all, many Texans had immigrated from the United States, and
their language, customs, and ideas about laws and government were the same as
most Americans. The addition of Texas would also allow for the westward expansion
of the United States. For all of these reasons and more, most Texans, including
President Houston, thought the United States would be eager to accept Texas as
a new state.
the assistance of several Texans, including William H. Wharton and Anson
Jones, members of the U.S. Congress who favored annexation introduced a bill
to admit Texas into the Union, but former United States President John Quincy
Adams, now a member of the House of Representatives, blocked its passage. Adams,
an avowed abolitionist, was determined not to admit any state that supported slavery,
and many other politicians opposed to slavery agreed with this view. The issue
dragged on until Houston,
not wanting Texas to be embarrassed by any more foot-dragging, reluctantly ordered
Anson Jones to withdraw
the request for annexation.
Texas Constitution limited the first president of the Republic to a term of two
years, and no president could be elected for two consecutive terms. Therefore,
in 1838, Houston was forced
to hand over the reins of government. Later Texas presidents would serve for three
years. In the subsequent election, Mirabeau Lamar, Houstonís
popular vice-president, announced his bid for the presidency. Houston,
who thought little of Lamar or his policies, handpicked first Peter Grayson, and
then James Collingsworth to run against his much disliked vice-president. Unfortunately,
both men died before the election.
Lamar would have most likely won the election, without the untimely death of his
opponents, because he offered a new vision for the future of Texas, one in sharp
contrast to that of Sam Houston.
Houston had worked to maintain
peaceful relations with Mexico
and the Native Americans, spent as little money as possible, and promoted the
annexation of Texas. Lamar, on the other hand, stood ready to confront Mexico
and drive all the Native Americans out of Texas, and he was willing to borrow
large sums of money to support his efforts. He also wanted Texas to remain independent
from the United States and expand its territory all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
President Lamarís aggressive approach to policy making can best be summed up in
his inaugural address where he stated, ďIf peace can be obtained only by the sword,
let the sword do its work.Ē In 1840, he heightened tensions with Mexico
by sending Commodore Edwin Moore and the Texas navy to assist Yucatan rebels in
their revolt against the Mexican government. Lamar further angered Mexican officials
with his interpretation of the Treaties
of Velasco signed by Santa Anna in 1836. The secret portion of the treaty
set the boundary between Mexico and Texas at the Rio Grande River. Lamar insisted
that this provision included the full length of the Rio Grande, as far north as
its headwaters in Colorado, which meant that Santa Fe and half of New Mexico belonged
1841, President Lamar sought authority from the Texas legislature to send troops
to New Mexico to enforce his view, but Congress refused. Undaunted, Lamar exercised
his own authority, by sending General Hugh Mcleod and 270 men to Santa Fe under
the guise of a trading expedition, with orders to convince the New Mexicans that
they were Texans. However, after straggling across the dreaded Llano Estacado,
the men arrived in Santa Fe dying of thirst and nearly starved. With no other
choice, the Texans surrendered and were immediately put in chains and marched
to Mexico City, where they were imprisoned until 1842. The disastrous expedition
resulted in needless loss of life and the expenditure of money Texas did not have.
When the financial situation continued to worsen, Lamar turned to the
ill-fated solution of printing more paper money. The money, known as ďredbacksĒ
because of the color of the ink used on the reverse side of the bills, was backed
by nothing but empty promises and fell steadily in value, until a Texas dollar
was only worth about 12 U.S. cents. Nevertheless, Lamar continued to seek additional
credit for such things as the Santa
Fe expedition and battles with the Native Americans. As a result, the public
debt increased to almost $7 million dollars by the end of his term in office.
Houston, who had been sympathetic toward Native Americans, Lamarís policy
called for the Indians to be either removed from Texas or exterminated. He began
by ordering Chief Bowles to lead his Cherokee people out of East
Texas. When Bowles refused, Lamar sent General Kelsey Douglass and the Texas
militia to drive the Indians out. Bowles was killed during a militia attack near
the Neches River on July 16. 1839, and the Cherokees were forcibly moved to Oklahoma.
Lamar had similar plans for the Comanches, but "the Lords of the Plains" proved
to be a much superior foe.
After a few skirmishes with the Texas Rangers
in 1839, some Comanche leaders consented to hold peace talks at the Council House
in San Antonio on March 19, 1840, where they agreed to surrender their white captives.
However, the Texans became angry when the Comanches returned only one mutilated
white girl, fifteen year-old Matilda Lockhart, and fighting broke out. Many of
the Comanche leaders were killed in what became known as the Council
House Fight. When news of the fighting reached the villages in the Comancheria,
the Comanches were furious. They tortured and killed the remaining Texas prisoners
and launched the Great
Comanche Raid of 1840 deep into the heart of central Texas, attacking the
town of Victoria
and burning the Gulf Coast town
of Linnville to the ground.
The Texans met the Comanches returning from the coast at the victorious Battle
of Plum Creek on August 11, killing more than 100 warriors, but the bad feelings
and bloody warfare continued for decades.
President Mirabeau Lamar is best
known for his far-sighted education policy. A public education system had always
been at the forefront of Texas thought. In fact, the Texas Declaration of Independence
listed the failure of the Mexican government to establish public schools as one
of its major grievances. In 1838, Lamar spoke of the importance of public education,
ďIt is admitted by all that the cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,
and . . . is the noblest attribute of man.Ē The Texas legislature responded to
Lamarís words of wisdom by setting aside 18,000 acres in each county for public
schools and 220,000 acres for two universities. Lamar became known as the ďFather
the election of 1841, Sam Houston
was once again eligible to run for president. Although Texas did not have political
parties, a clear division in the electorate stood forth between those individuals
who supported the policies of Houston
and those who supported the policies of Lamar. Houston
easily carried the election, defeating Lamarís Vice-President and choice of candidate,
David G. Burnet, on a platform of preventing war with Mexico, cutting government
expenditures, and seeking annexation to the United States.
wasted no time in implementing his policies. First, he concentrated on government
spending by cutting salaries, including his own, reducing the size of the army,
and tackling the problem of the Texas Navy. He ordered Commodore Moore to return
to Texas from Yucatan, but Moore defied Houstonís orders and sailed to New Orleans
to repair his ships and supply his crews. In answer, President Houston declared
Moore a pirate and invited other countries to sink his ships. Moore quickly returned
home, and Houston disbanded the navy and sold the ships, adding the money to the
treasury. As a result of these actions, Houston spent less than $600,000 in his
three year term.
turned his attention to annexation. Though he had withdrawn an earlier request
during his first term, Houstonís
representatives in Washington thought that annexation was now a good possibility.
John Tyler of Virginia had assumed the presidency after the death of William Henry
Harrison, and in April 1844, John C. Calhoun, Tylerís Secretary of State, agreed
to a treaty that would have accepted Texas as a territory of the United States.
Texas voters reluctantly accepted, but the treaty failed by one vote in the U.S.
In the Texas election of 1844, Houstonís candidate of choice,
Anson Jones, defeated
Edward Burleson, and annexation became a key issue in the U.S. presidential election.
The Democratic Party, which called for the annexation of Texas, nominated James
K. Polk of Tennessee. Polk won the election, and the United States Congress approved
a joint resolution on February 26, 1845, accepting Texas as the twenty-eighth
state in the union. Houstonís
long dream of annexation had finally become a reality.
the visions of Sam Houston
and Mirabeau Lamar stand in sharp contrast, both men made vital contributions
to the fledgling Republic of Texas. Lamarís aggressive approach to Texas policies
helped steer the Republic through troubled times, and has come to represent the
bold image for which Texans are known throughout the world, while Houstonís
level-headed brand of leadership added credibility to the new nation, and his
persistence in gaining annexation secured the future for Texas
and all Texans.
© Jeffery Robenalt,
May 1, 2012 Column
"A Glimpse of Texas Past"
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for "Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar: A Contrast of Visions "
C. (1979), The Texas Revolution, Texas State Historical Association, ISBN
William C. (2006), Lone Star Rising, College Station Texas: Texas A&M University
Press, ISBN 9781585445325 originally published 2004 by New York Free Press. Fehrenbach,
T.R. (2000), Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, Cambridge: Da Capo
Press, ISBN 0-306-80942-7. Haley,
James L. (2004), Sam Houston, University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 9780806136448.Ramsay,
Jack C. (1984), Thunder Beyond the Brazos: Mirabeau B. Lamar, a Biography,
Eakin Press, ISBN 0890154625.
Siegel, Stanley E. (1977), The Poet President of Texas: The Life of Mirabeau
B. Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co.,
The Handbook of Texas Online,
Texas State Historical Association, Sam Houston,
(http://www.tshonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho73), accessed Nov 15, 2011.
Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, Mirabeau Lamar,
(http://www.tshonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fla15), accessed Nov 15, 2011.|
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