This Week in Texas History:
A column by BARTEE HAILE
Caving into public pressure, David G. Burnet abruptly resigned as head of the temporary government on Oct. 22, 1836, making it possible for Sam Houston to be sworn in that same day as the first president of the Lone Star Republic.
Mirabeau Lamar, who despised the Hero of San Jacinto every bit as much as his friend Burnet, grumbled, “That little month Houston could not wait.” But popular impatience rather than the general’s agenda was responsible for the lame duck’s exit four weeks ahead of schedule. Texans were in a hurry for Houston to take the reins and go about the business of running the country.
In truth the clamor gave Burnet a convenient excuse to vacate the hot seat. After holding down the fort during the darkest days of the Revolution, he was more than ready to shift the burden to somebody else’s shoulders.
The problems facing President Houston were as immense as the majestic land he helped to liberate. Starting out a million dollars in the hole with no cash or credit, he had to create a viable regime capable of ruling the unruly nation.
A pressing priority was the formulation of an effective policy toward the Indians, a mixed bag of tribes whose attitudes ranged from incorrigible hostility to inscrutable suspicion. Besides keeping the Indians in check, Texans also had to guard against Mexico making good on its threat to cross the Rio Grande and repossess the rebel province.
Houston’s inaugural remarks were chock-full of contagious confidence in speedy annexation. He assured the receptive audience that the United States would soon “hail us welcome into the great family of freemen.” Therefore, as he saw it, the task was merely to stall for time until Washington threw open the door.
Two major miscalculations sank this simplistic strategy. First, Houston overestimated how far out on a political limb Andrew Jackson, his American counterpart and former mentor, was willing to go for the Lone Star cause. Second, he badly misjudged the clout of the New England lobby so zealously committed to locking Texas out of the Union.
Clearly convinced he would be the Republic’s first and last chief executive, Houston was in for a rude awakening. In the summer of 1838, when he finally accepted the fact that the motherland wanted nothing to do with Texas, there were but four months left in his term.
Critics predicted in October 1836 that Houston would surround himself with bootlicking yes-men, who would feed his insatiable ego. To their surprise he shrewdly put together a broad coalition with as many enemies as allies.
A galaxy of able individuals from all points on the political compass were appointed to important positions. By giving every quarrelsome clique a taste of power, Houston made certain all factions had a stake in the success of his administration.
Both candidates swamped in the September 1836 election were graciously invited into the cabinet. Cantankerous Henry Smith accepted the treasury post, and Stephen F. Austin, who finished a distant and disappointing third in the balloting, agreed to serve as secretary of state.
For vice-president, however, Houston was stuck with the voters’ choice. The second highest spot in the national pecking order belonged to none other than Burnet’s buddy, 38 year old Mirabeau Lamar.
Houston and the glib Georgian did not share the same ticket in the campaign, and once in office they did not share the same vision for the new nation. As committed to permanent sovereignty as his superior was to American adoption, Lamar rejoiced at every pothole the president encountered on the rocky road to annexation.
The one volatile issue that demanded Houston’s immediate attention was the prisoner, whose presence continued to be a powderkeg. As long as Santa Anna remained in custody, the dangerous prospect of mob revenge lurked in the shadows. Those Texans, who mourned the slaughter of friends and relatives in the Goliad and Alamo massacres, longed to spill the Mexican’s blood.
In addition, the humbled “Napoleon of the West” had lost any value as a diplomatic pawn. The Velasco treaties he signed after San Jacinto became worthless scraps of paper the moment his replacement repudiated the accords.
Since Andrew Jackson preached the pious necessity of sparing Santa Anna’s life, it seemed only fitting that the fate of the infamous captive wind up in his hands. Houston cleverly maneuvered his old Tennessee tutor into a corner and forced him to play host to the unwanted exile.
President Houston startled the Texas senate on Nov. 16, 1836 by announcing the sailing of Santa Anna for Washington. One problem down and countless more to go, but few would be solved so easily.
Bartee welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549 or firstname.lastname@example.org and invites you to visit his new web site at barteehaile.com.
San Marcos Mercury columnist BARTEE HAILE welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.Email | Print