March, 1836, a convention met at Washington-on-the-Brazos
for the purpose of framing a constitution for the fledgling Republic
of Texas. The Republic really didn’t exist yet, since San
Jacinto was not yet fought. The constitution provided for a presidential
election to take place in the fall of 1836. In the meantime, a temporary
government with David G. Burnet as interim president directed the
affairs of the Republic.
Initially there were two candidates for the Republic’s first presidency,
Henry Smith and
Stephen F. Austin.
There was also a groundswell urging Sam
Houston to run for president. Houston,
however, insisted he wasn’t interested. It seems very likely the ‘groundswell’
was engineered by Houston
himself, through his most trusted associates. He continued to insist
that he wasn’t interested in the presidency until just thirteen days
before the election was held.
At the time Texas had fewer than 6,000
people eligible to vote. Houston
received 4,374 votes. Smith
got 743 votes, Austin
578. Houston immediately
as his Secretary of State and Smith
as his Secretary of the Treasury. The first Congress of the Republic
of Texas met at Columbia
on October 3, 1836. A date was selected—October 22—for the inauguration
of the Republic’s first President.
On the morning of October 22 interim President David G. Burnet resigned
the office. At 4 PM Houston
was inaugurated. According to legend, he had just four hours in order
to prepare an inaugural address, but considering what we know of Houston
now, you may be sure he had his inaugural address written and likely
memorized even before he announced he would be a candidate.
address touched heavily on the subject of annexation to the United
States. This was a matter of some debate, a lot of it acrimonious,
in the new Republic. While a lot of people—mostly former US citizens—wanted
annexation, there were quite a lot of immigrants from other nations
who weren’t all that excited about it. There were also the Tejanos,
who were not particularly enthusiastic about annexing Texas to the
In his speech, Houston
left no doubt that, as President of the Republic, he would work toward
annexing Texas to the US. In his own
words, “In our recent election the important subject of annexation
to the United States of America was submitted to the consideration
of the people. They expressed their feelings and their wishes on that
momentous subject. They have, with a unanimity unparalleled, declared
that they will be reunited to the great republican family of the north.
This appeal is made by a willing people. Will our friends disregard
The catch is, there wasn’t, in 1836, a groundswell of enthusiasm in
Texas for annexation—and there was even
less of a groundswell in the US. Texas
had been settled, largely, from the American South. While Mexico had
declared slavery illegal—in the province of Tejas alone, it was perfectly
legal in the rest of Mexico—it had accepted completely the fiction
of indentured servitude. Those Southerners who brought slaves to Texas
with them ‘freed’ the slaves with a stroke of a pen—and with a second
stroke ‘indentured’ them for a term of 99 years. Even in 1836 the
agitation of abolitionists to free all slaves was making itself felt
all over the South. The former Southerners who owned slaves in the
new Republic didn’t want to find themselves back in a country where
abolitionism was growing.
at the time, the largest standing army in the Western Hemisphere.
The US had one of the smallest. The US really couldn’t afford to antagonize
is, the dictator of Mexico, Santa Anna—any more than it already had.
In addition, if Texas came into the US,
it would come in as a slave state, which would upset the very delicate
balance of power between slave states and free states in the US Congress.
Most of the free states opposed the idea of annexing Texas
As a result, Texas remained an independent
Republic for almost ten years.
One of the usually-un-thought-of—and occasionally ignored—results
of that is the fact that the Texas state flag is the only state flag
that can be flown at the same height as the national colors. Because
it was once the flag of an independent republic, as part of the treaty
of annexation the Republic’s flag, which became the state’s flag,
the Texas flag can fly at the same height as the national flag. Every
other state flag has to be flown at a lesser height.
© C. F.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
9, 2011 column