Episode 34 – The New Republic and Sam Houston becomes President. The program is brought to you by Digital Media Publishers Ashby Navis & Tennyson. Download our audiobooks at Spotify, TuneIn, Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble, and stores around the world. Visit AshbyNavis.com for more information.
As I’ve talked about, the early Anglo settlers in Texas primarily came from the South. This means that they brought many of their southern traditions and biases with them. Now even though the term Manifest Destiny, wasn’t actually coined until 1845, the idea that formed it, which is that the United States was destined by God, to expand its control and to spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent was part of what built Texas. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was an example of the United States trying to expand, to fulfill what many thought was destiny. Texas was also seen as being part of that fulfillment, now one of the byproducts of that concept, was how it affected any person who was non-white. I have already spoken a little about the animosity between the Anglo newcomers and the Mexicans who had lived in Texas for decades and also about how the real native Texans, that is, the indigenous tribes had been changed and decimated. Well, this new republic would have an even more dramatic effect on both of those populations.
The Republic had been born and by July Interim President Burnet and his cabinet began shifting responsibilities. The ad interim president called an election for the first Monday in September to set up a government under the constitution. The voters were asked to (1) approve the constitution, (2) authorize Congress to amend the constitution, (3) elect a president, other officers, and members of Congress, and (4) express their views on annexation to the United States. So far so good, but as with everything about Texas, it was not all peaches and cream.
The choice of a president especially was a concern. Henry Smith, the governor of the provisional government, was most likely the first to announce his candidacy for the office. Stephen F. Austin (who many now consider to be the father of Texas) also entered the race, but he had accumulated enemies because of the land speculations of his business associate Samuel May Williams and, remember this was in the time when it was difficult to communicate with others, many newcomers to Texas didn’t really know Austin. Some of the newcomers thought he had been too slow to support independence. Finally, just eleven days before the election, Sam Houston became an active candidate. On election day, It was determined that Houston won by a landslide, with 5,119 votes, Smith 743, and Austin 587. Remember Mirabeau Lamar, the “keenest blade” at San Jacinto, he was elected vice president. Lamar becoming vice president will play a major role in the future, especially when it comes to relations with both the Mexican and Native tribes. I’ll talk about that in the next episode, anyway…
Houston benefited from strong support from the army and from those who believed that his election would ensure internal stability and because of his reputation, help Texas receive recognition from various world powers and, probably more important, help Texas get annexed by the United States. Remember, most of the Anglos in Texas at that time weren’t really interested in being their own country. Yes, they wanted independence from Mexico, but they also wanted to be part of the United States. Houston was expected to stand firm against Mexico and while waiting for the United States to act seek recognition of Texas independence from Mexico. The people voted overwhelmingly to accept the constitution and to seek annexation, but they denied Congress the power of amendment. And actually to this day, the legislature cannot amend the State’s constitution, it can only be done by a vote of the citizens.
On October 22, before a joint session of the Texas Congress, Houston took the oath of office as president. In his inaugural speech, he stressed the need for peace treaties with the Indians (this is important and would play a major role in what was to happen in the future) and for constant vigilance regarding “our national enemies-the Mexicans.” He also hoped to see Texas annexed to the United States.
Houston’s initial focus was on national defense and protection for those settlers who were on the frontier. There were good reasons for him to focus on those. The western counties lived under a fear of Indian raids and also of an invasion by Mexico. Of the two event, Indian raids were the most likely, because, unlike with the tribes in East Texas who, at least for a few years were assured by the 1835 declaration of the provisional government that the East Texas bands had legitimate claims to their land. They also agreed that American Indian land rights would be respected, “so as not to compromise the interest of Texas.” In February of 1836, Houston made a treaty with the Quapaw, Choctaw, Biloxi, Alabama, Coushatta, Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, and Kickapoo Indians that established a reservation where all would live. The land was bounded by the Angelina, Neches, and Sabine rivers and the Old San Antonio Road. According to this treaty, the land could not be sold or assigned to any entity other than the Republic of Texas. In a sign of things to come, neither of these treaties would ultimately be ratified by the Congress of the new Republic.
Congress did, however, pass several acts dealing with frontier defense. In December of 1836 it authorized a military force of 3,587 men and a battalion of 280 mounted riflemen, and appropriated funds to build forts and trading posts to encourage and supervise Indian trade. Additionally, to deal with any possible future Mexican invasion, Congress empowered Houston to accept 40,000 volunteers from the United States.
As President, Houston took a much more practical view of any potential threat from Mexican. He essentially downplayed it. He believed that when or if the enemy invaded, Texans would rush to defend their homes. He also believed that Ranger units on the frontier could handle the Indian situation. After all, the Rangers had been serving on and off, since Steven F. Austin founded them in 1823. He gave them the authority to patrol or range over the entire area, and that is where they got their name, the Texas Rangers. I’ll discuss their history in an upcoming episode, and it’s not all Walker Texas Ranger cool stuff. Anyway, Houston, unlike many others, wanted to negotiate treaties with the Indians that ensured them fair treatment.
When it came to the army, though, he was afraid that Felix Huston, the commander, who was known to be somewhat of an adventurer, would commit a rash act. He decided to replace him and sent Albert Sidney Johnston to do so; however, when on February 4, 1837, when Johnston reached Camp Independence, Huston challenged him to a duel. During the duel he severely wounded Johnston and kept his command. Upon calming down, Huston eventually gave up his command and relinquished it to Johnston. Because of the wounds he received in the dual, General Johnston left for New Orleans in May to seek medical attention. He temporarily turned over his command to a Colonel Rodgers. Rogers, the temporary commander, was apparently overtaken with power and urged the soldiers to march on the capital at Houston, (which had become the capital of the new Republic) and to “chastise the President” for being weak on defense. He also wanted the army to “kick Congress out of doors, and give laws to Texas.”
Simultaneously former commander Huston came to President Houston and began to argue for Texas to wage a campaign against Mexico. Houston, being an experienced politician, treated the visiting general cordially. Houston then ordered acting secretary of war William S. Fisher to furlough three of the four army regiments. Over time the remaining troops were gradually disbanded.
In the event of trouble it was Houston’s plan to depend on the militia, ranger companies, and troops called for special duty.
Houston, who had lived with the Cherokee, had hoped, that if he kept the military out of Indian country and by trying to make treaties with various tribes, Texas would be able to avoid difficulties and bloodshed. He sent friendly “talks” to the Shawnees, Cherokees, Alabama-Coushattas, Lipans, Tehuacanas, Tonkawas, Comanches, Kichais, and other groups.
The most pressing problem involved the Cherokees, who had settled on rich lands along the Sabine and elsewhere in East Texas. Neither Spain nor Mexico had given them title to their lands. Remember, how at the time of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836, the Consultation, hoped to keep the Cherokees and their associated bands away from becoming allies with Mexico and had sent Houston to make a treaty guaranteeing them title to their land. The Cherokee had indeed kept their end of the agreement and had remained quiet and peaceful during that period. When Houston became president, he submitted the Cherokee treaty to the Senate for ratification, unfortunately in December of 1837, the predominately Anglo body killed it. As had been agreed under the treaty of 1836, Houston, in 1838 authorized agents to run a line between the settlements and the properties of the Cherokees and the associate bands. Difficulties arose when settlers realized that the Mexican government had never deeded over land or given land grants to the tribes, and he had to halt the project. This would become more of an issue with Lamar succeeded Houston as President of the Republic in 1838.
And that’s going to do it for this episode.
Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to the podcast, I try to keep posting new episodes, sometimes though life gets in the way and there’s a gap between. But hey and remember if you want more information on Texas History, visit the Texas State Historical Association. I also have three audiobooks on the Hidden History of Texas one which deals with the 1500s to about 1820, one 1820s to 1830s, and the latest release the 1830 to 1836, the Texas revolution period. You can find the books pretty much wherever you download or listen to audiobooks. Just do a search for the Hidden History of Texas by Hank Wilson and they’ll pop right up. Links to all the stores are on my publishers website https://ashbynavis.com. Or on my website https://arctx.org
Thanks for listening y’all