Sam Houston: President of the Republic of Texas

My hometown of Houston, Texas, bears the name of Sam Houston, perhaps one of the most important figures in Texas history. Without his steady, stoic leadership, Texas would not be the great state that it is today. Indeed, it might have never even existed.

Let me tell you more. In the summer of 1836, Texas had successfully won its independence from Mexico. Under the leadership of General Sam Houston, the Texan forces overran Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto. Houston himself was wounded during the battle, having caught a musket ball in the leg. But he did not let the pain from his wound cloud his judgement.

When by chance the Texans discovered the disgraced Mexican dictator Santa Anna disguised as a private, he was brought to Houston. Many in the Texas Army wanted Santa Anna executed, but Houston, knowing that he could negotiate favorable terms of surrender directly with el Presidente, refused to give the order. Rather, he brokered the treaty with the leader which gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Texas remained a sovereign Republic for nine years.

With independence secured, the Texans turned to its government. David G. Burnet, who had been serving as the president of Texas since the March 2 declaration (what we celebrate today as Texas Independence Day), called for a general election.

The new nation already faced debt problems and issues with army pensions. But with each new concern that surfaced, the choice to lead Texas became more obvious: the hero of San Jacinto.

This was not Houston’s first rodeo in government. He served in U.S. Congress representing Tennessee and then as governor of Tennessee. Public service brought him to Texas in 1832, where he was sent by President Andrew Jackson to negotiate treaties with Native Americans. On top of his previous experience, his courageous actions at San Jacinto made him the clear choice in the minds of most Texans to lead the country.

On September 5, Houston won in a landslide election, earning 5,119 votes out of a possible 6,640. So strong was the din from the Texas Congress for Houston to take office as soon as possible that President Burnet moved his inauguration date forward two months. When they first convened after the election, the Texas legislature’s first vote was to swear Sam Houston into office that very same day. After taking the oath and delivering a brief, impromptu speech, Houston calmly unhooked his sword and handed it to the Speaker of the House, thus casting off an ‘‘emblem of his past office’’ and following George Washington’s example of the primacy of civilian rule. Not a man inside was unmoved by this small but significant act.

Sam Houston was a great Texan and a great American. He is an icon whose memory deserves our utmost respect and admiration. Today, we are all proud Houstonians.

And that is just the way it is.

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