Sam Houston, President of Texas

United States #776 (1936)

United States #776 (1936)

On October 22, 1836, Sam Houston was inaugurated as the first Constitutional President of the Republic of Texas, replacing David G. Burnet who had been the interim president of the new country since March 16, 1836. Houston’s victory at the Battle of San Jacinto secured the independence of Texas from Mexico in one of the shortest decisive battles in modern history. The only American to be elected governor of two states (as opposed to territories or indirect selection), Houston was also the only governor within a future Confederate state to oppose secession (which led to the outbreak of the American Civil War) and to refuse an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, a decision that led to his removal from office by the Texas secession convention.

Samuel Houston was born on March 2, 1793, at Timber Ridge Plantation in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the fifth of nine children and the fifth son to Major Samuel Houston Senior and Elizabeth Paxton. Sam’s grandfather, John Houston, had brought the family to the North American colonies from Ireland in 1735, eventually settling in the backcrountry of Virginia’s Shennandoah Valley. Sam’s father was John’s fifth son. During the American Revolutionary War, Samuel joined Morgan’s Rifle Brigade and was commissioned a major. At the time, militia officers were expected to pay their own expenses. Having married Elizabeth Paxton and inherited his father’s land, Samuel got into debt, in part because of his militia service. Their children were born on his family’s plantation near Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church.

Planning to move on and leave debts behind, the elder Samuel Houston patented land near relatives in Maryville, the county seat of Blount County, Tennessee. He died in 1807, before he could complete the move, which Elizabeth, his five sons, and his three daughters subsequently undertook without him. Elizabeth took them to the eastern part of the new state, which had been admitted to the Union in 1796. Having received only a basic education on the Virginia frontier, young Sam was 14 when his family moved to Maryville. In 1809, at age 16, Houston ran away from home because he was dissatisfied working as a shop clerk in his older brothers’ store.

He went southwest, where he lived for a few years with the Cherokee tribe led by Ahuludegi (also spelled Oolooteka) on Hiwassee Island in the Hiwassee River, above its confluence with the Tennessee River. Ahuludegi had become hereditary chief after his brother moved west; English-Americans in the area called him John Jolly. He became an adoptive father to Houston, giving him the Cherokee name of Colonneh, meaning “the Raven”. Houston became fluent in the Cherokee language while living with the tribe. He visited his family in Maryville every few months. He returned to Maryville in 1812, and at age 19 was hired for a term as schoolmaster of a one-room schoolhouse in Blount County between his town and Knoxville. Though preceded by others in the region, the school was the first built in Tennessee since entering the Union.

In 1813, Houston reported for training at Camp Blount near present-day Fayetteville, Tennessee, and enlisted to fight the British in the War of 1812. By December of that year, he had been transferred to the 39th Infantry Regiment and had risen from private to third lieutenant. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, he was wounded in the groin by a Creek arrow. His wound was bandaged and he rejoined the fight. When Andrew Jackson called on volunteers to dislodge a group of Red Sticks from their breastwork, Houston volunteered, but during the assault was struck by bullets in the shoulder and arm. He returned to Maryville as a disabled veteran, but later took the army’s offer of free surgery and convalesced in a New Orleans hospital.

Houston became close to Andrew Jackson, who was impressed with him and acted as a mentor. In 1817, Jackson appointed him sub-agent in managing the removal of the Cherokees from East Tennessee to a reservation in what is now Arkansas. Houston had differences with John C. Calhoun, then Secretary of War, who chided him for appearing dressed as a Cherokee at a meeting. More significantly, an inquiry was begun into charges related to Houston’s administration of supplies for the Native Americans. Offended, he resigned in 1818.

Following six months apprenticeship with Judge James Trimble, Houston passed the bar examination in Nashville, after which he opened a legal practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. In 1818, Houston was appointed as the local prosecutor in Nashville, and was also given a command in the state militia. In 1822, Houston was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Tennessee, where he was a staunch supporter of fellow Tennessean and Democrat Andrew Jackson. He was widely considered Jackson’s political protégé, although their ideas about appropriate treatment of Native Americans differed greatly. Houston was a Congressman from 1823 to 1827, re-elected in 1824. In 1827, he declined to run for re-election to Congress.

He ran for, and won, the office of Governor of Tennessee in 1827, defeating Congressman Newton Cannon and former governor Willie Blount. He planned to run for re-election in 1829, but was soon beset by rumors of alcoholism and infidelity. He resigned from office after his wife, Eliza Allen, left him shortly after their wedding and made public statements embarrassing to him.

In 1830 and 1833, Houston visited Washington, D.C., to expose the frauds which government agents committed against the Cherokee. While he was in Washington in April 1832, anti-Jacksonian Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio made accusations about Houston in a speech on the floor of Congress. Attacking Jackson through his protégé, Stanbery accused Houston of being in league with John Van Fossen and Congressman Robert S. Rose. The three men had bid on supplying rations to the various tribes of Native Americans who were being forcibly relocated west of the Mississippi as a result of Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. After Stanbery refused to answer Houston’s letters about the accusation, Houston confronted him on Pennsylvania Avenue and beat him with a hickory cane, causing serious bodily injury. In defense, Stanbery drew one of his pistols and pulled the trigger — the gun misfired.

On April 17, 1832, Congress ordered Houston’s arrest. During his trial at the District of Columbia City Hall, he pleaded self-defense and hired Francis Scott Key as his lawyer. Congressman Philip Doddridge provided an eloquent argument that intimidating members of Congress with physical force amounted to anarchy in refutation of federalism. Houston was found guilty. Thanks to highly placed friends (among them James K. Polk), he was only lightly reprimanded. Stanbery filed charges against Houston in civil court. Judge William Cranch found Houston liable and assessed him $500 in damages. Houston left the United States for Mexico without paying the judgement.

Houston’s political reputation suffered further due to the publicity related to the trial for his assault of Stanbery. He asked his second wife, Tiana Rogers, a Cherokee, to go with him to Mexican Texas. She chose to stay at their cabin and trading post in present-day Kansas. She later married John McGrady, and died of pneumonia in 1838. Houston married again after his divorce from Eliza Allen in 1837 and Tiana’s death.

Houston left for Texas in December 1832 and was immediately swept up in the politics of what was at the time still a part of the Mexican state of Coahuila. Attending the Convention of 1833 as representative for Nacogdoches, Houston emerged as a supporter of William Harris Wharton and his brother, who promoted independence from Mexico. This was the more radical position of the American settlers and Tejanos in Texas. He also attended the Consultation of 1835. The Texas Army commissioned him as Major General in November 1835. He negotiated a peace settlement with the Cherokee of East Texas in February 1836 to allay their fears about independence. At the convention to declare Texan independence in March 1836, Houston was selected as Commander-in-Chief.

On March 2, 1836, his 43rd birthday, Sam Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Mexican soldiers killed all those at the Alamo Mission at the end of a 13-day siege on March 6. On March 11, Houston joined what constituted his army at Gonzales: 374 poorly equipped, trained, and supplied recruits. Word of the defeat at the Alamo reached Houston and, while he waited for confirmation, he organized the recruits as the 1st Regiment Volunteer Army of Texas.

On March 13, short on rations, Houston retreated before the superior forces of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Heavy rain fell nearly every day, causing severe morale problems among the exposed troops struggling through the mud. After four days’ march, near present-day La Grange, Houston received additional troops and continued east two days later with 600 men. At Goliad, Santa Anna ordered the execution of more than 400 volunteer Texas militia led by James Fannin, who had surrendered his forces on March 20. Near present-day Columbus on March 26, Houston’s forces were joined by 130 more men, and the next day learned of the Fannin disaster.

Houston continued his retreat eastward toward the Gulf coast, drawing criticism for his perceived lack of willingness to fight. On March 29, camped along the Brazos River, two companies refused to retreat further. Houston decided to use the opportunity for rudimentary training and discipline of his force. On April 2, he organized the 2nd Regiment, received a battalion of regulars, and on April 11 ordered all troops along the Brazos to join the main army, approximately 1,500 men in all. He began crossing the Brazos on April 12.

Finally, Santa Anna caught up with Houston’s army, but had split his own army into three separate forces in an attempt to encircle the Texans. At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Houston surprised Santa Anna and the Mexican forces during their afternoon “siesta.” The Texans won a decisive victory in under 18 minutes, suffering few casualties. Houston’s ankle was shattered by a stray bullet. Badly beaten, Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco, granting Texas its independence. Although Houston stayed on briefly for negotiations, he returned to the United States for treatment of his ankle wound.

Houston was twice elected President of the Republic of Texas. In the 1836 election, he defeated Stephen F. Austin and Henry Smith with a landslide of over 79% of the vote. Houston served from October 22, 1836, to December 10, 1838.

The authority and responsibilities of the president was similar to that of the President of the United States: to serve the people of Texas, and to serve as the head of the military and the state. These were detailed in the Constitution of the Republic of Texas of 1836. The Constitution specified a term of two years for the first elected President (Sam Houston) and terms of three years thereafter; the President could not succeed himself, but did not prohibit any non-consecutive multiple terms. The President was elected separately from the Vice President, by popular vote, and there was no requirement to be native-born. A strict reading of the Constitution provided for women’s suffrage (that is, both men and women were citizens and could vote for Congress, President, and other offices), but women and preachers or priests were not allowed to serve as President or in Congress. Indians and Africans and those of African descent could not be citizens.

As the United States and other countries such as France recognized Texan independence, presidential power functioned without interference from the outside world, though the Republic generally allied itself informally with the United States.

In 1837, during Houston’s first term as President of the Republic of Texas, he joined the masonic Holland Lodge No. 36. It was founded in Brazoria and was relocated in 1837 to what is now Houston. The European-American settlement of Houston had been founded in August 1836 by brothers J.K. Allen and A.C. Allen who named it in Houston’s honor. On December 20, 1837, Houston presided over the convention of Freemasons that formed the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, now the Grand Lodge of Texas. The city of Houston served as the capital of the republic following previous provisional capitals at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco, and Columbia. President Mirabeau Lamar signed a measure that moved the capital to Austin on January 14, 1839.

When Sam Houston’s first term as president ended, he was elected to serve as a representative from San Augustine County in the Republic of Texas House of Representatives. After his term as representative ended, Houston again served as President of the Republic of Texas from December 12, 1841, to December 9, 1844.

While he initially sought annexation by the United States, Houston dropped that goal during his first term. In his second term, he strove for fiscal prudence and worked to make peace with the various tribes of Native Americans in the Republic. He also struggled to avoid war with Mexico, whose forces invaded twice during 1842. In response to the Regulator–Moderator War of 1844, he sent in Republic militia to put down the feud.

Houston still believed that the United States annexation of Texas was not a realistic goal and the U.S. Senate would never pass it because of the delicate situation between the recently independent Texas and Mexico. However, Houston was a politician and as such he sought to preserve his career by endorsing the support of annexation into the U.S. Without his endorsement, the Texas congress would have put the question to public election and upon its likely passing would have effectively destroyed Houston’s career as a Texas politician. To help save his political reputation, Houston sent James Pinckney Henderson to Washington to help Isaac Van Zandt advocate the annexation of Texas.

After the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845, Houston was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Texas state legislature, along with Thomas Jefferson Rusk. Houston served from February 21, 1846, until March 4, 1859, with a nine-month gap in 1847 when the state legislature failed to reelect him. He was a Senator during the Mexican–American War, when the U.S. defeated Mexico and acquired vast expanses of new territory in the Southwest as part of the concluding treaty.

Throughout his term in the Senate, Houston spoke out against the growing sectionalism of the country. He blamed the extremists of both the North and South, saying:

“Whatever is calculated to weaken or impair the strength of [the] Union,—whether originating at the North or the South,—whether arising from the incendiary violence of abolitionists, or from the coalition of nullifiers, will never meet with my unqualified approval.”

Houston supported the Oregon Bill of 1848, which was opposed by many Southerners. In his passionate speech in support of the Compromise of 1850, echoing Matthew 12:25, Houston said “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” Eight years later, Abraham Lincoln would express the same sentiment.

Houston opposed the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854, and correctly predicted that it would cause a sectional rift in the country that would eventually lead to war, saying: ” … what fields of blood, what scenes of horror, what mighty cities in smoke and ruins—it is brother murdering brother … I see my beloved South go down in the unequal contest, in a sea of blood and smoking ruin.” He was one of only two Southern senators (the other was John Bell of Tennessee) to vote against the act. At the time, he was considered a potential candidate for President of the United States. But, his strong Unionism and opposition to the extension of slavery alienated the Texas legislature and other southern states.

As a former President of Texas, he was the last foreign head of state to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Houston ran twice for governor of Texas as a Unionist, unsuccessfully in 1857, and successfully against Hardin R. Runnels in 1859. Upon election, he became the only person elected to serve as governor of two U.S. states, Texas and Tennessee, by popular vote. While Governor, Houston made a run for the presidency in 1860. He was a presidential candidate at the 1860 Constitutional Union Convention, but Houston finished second on the convention ballot to John Bell. Later that year he was nominated for President by the People’s Party. The People’s Party was a loose association of the supporters of Houston. On April 20, 1860, the party held, on the San Jacinto Battlefield, what it termed a national convention to nominate Houston for President. The party did not nominate a Vice Presidential candidate at that time since they expected later gatherings to carry out that function. Later mass meetings were held in northern cities, such as New York City on May 30, 1860, but they too failed to nominate a Vice Presidential candidate. Houston withdrew from the race on August 16, convinced that his candidacy would only make it easier for Abraham Lincoln to win. He instead urged the formation of a Unified “Union” ticket in opposition to it.

Although Houston was a slave owner and opposed abolition, he opposed the secession of Texas from the Union. An elected convention voted to secede from the United States on February 1, 1861, and Texas joined the Confederate States of America on March 2, 1861. Houston refused to recognize its legality, but the Texas legislature upheld the legitimacy of secession. The political forces that brought about Texas’s secession were powerful enough to replace the state’s Unionist governor. Houston chose not to resist, stating, “I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her. To avert this calamity, I shall make no endeavor to maintain my authority as Chief Executive of this State, except by the peaceful exercise of my functions … ” He was evicted from his office on March 16, 1861, for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, writing in an undelivered speech,

“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.”

The Texas secession convention replaced Houston with Lieutenant Governor Edward Clark. To avoid more bloodshed in Texas, Houston turned down United States Army Colonel Frederick W. Lander’s offer from President Lincoln of 50,000 troops to prevent Texas’s secession. He said, “Allow me to most respectfully decline any such assistance of the United States Government.”

After leaving the Governor’s mansion, Houston traveled to Galveston. Along the way, many people demanded an explanation for his refusal to support the Confederacy. On April 19, 1861, from a hotel window he told a crowd:

“Let me tell you what is coming. After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of states rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.”

In 1862, Houston returned to Huntsville, Texas, and rented the Steamboat House; the hills in Huntsville reminded him of his boyhood home in Tennessee. Houston was active in the Masonic Lodge, transferring his membership to Forrest Lodge #19. His health deteriorated in 1863 due to a persistent cough. In mid-July, Houston developed pneumonia. He died on July 26, 1863, at Steamboat House, with his wife Margaret by his side.

The inscription on his tomb reads:

A Brave Soldier. A Fearless Statesman.
A Great Orator—A Pure Patriot.
A Faithful Friend, A Loyal Citizen.
A Devoted Husband and Father.
A Consistent Christian—An Honest Man.

Scott #776 was released on the 100th anniversary of Texas independence; March 2, 1836, was the date that a convention assembled in the town of Washington-on-the-Brazos and adopted a Texas Declaration of Independence. The plans for the committee in charge of commemorating this event included a request for a postage stamp. The issue of Stamps Magazine dated August 3, 1935, speculated that a three-stamp series would be released with the possible subjects of Sam Houston, the Alamo, and Davey Crockett. Early the previous month, on July 10, 1935, the Post Office Department had instructed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to prepare a design to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the convention at San Felipe de Austin in 1835 which had organized a provisional government under Henry Smith. Two designs were prepared bearing the dates 1835-1935, each featuring a large portrait of Sam Houston in the center and picturing the Battle of San Jacinto and the Alamo. When the decision was made to postpone the issuance of this stamp to commemorate the March anniversary, work on the Texas stamp ceased for a time.

According to an article that appeared in The Washington Star on October 20, 1935, described a prepared design bearing the dates 1836-1936:

As drawn by Anne Prescott Toomey, Dallas newspaper artist, is shows the historic Alamo, battered by Mexican cannon, at the left; a scene at the battle of San Jacinto in the right background, while in the center, surmounted by the Texas flag, are portraits of Stephen F. Austin, ‘father of Texas,’ and Gen. Sam Houston. This design follows the general pattern of the Yorktown commemorative stamp of 1931 and was laid out at the suggestion of President Roosevelt.”

That a design had been approved was soon denied by Post Office Department officials. The two designs prepared by Anne Prescott Toomey as well as a sketch by A. R. Meissner pictured both Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. The latter sketch was the design eventually chosen; models were submitted to the Post Office Department on January 3, 1936, and the Meissner design was approved on January 16.

Postmaster General James A. Farley announced the design approval on January 17, 1936, with a press release distributed on January 23, stating that the USPOD “has authorized the issuance of a special postage stamp in the 3-cent denomination to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Texas independence.” The official notice went on to describe the design and issuance details:

The stamp is of the same size as the special-delivery stamp, 84/100 by 1-44/100 inches in dimensions, arranged horizontally. It is enclosed in a double line border, and is printed in purple. Within upright oval panels on either side of the stamp are portraits of Sam Houston at the left and Stephen F. Austin at the right, with their names in dark gothic letters in narrow curved panels on white ground at the base of the ovals. In the upper central part of the stamp, partially superimposed over a large white star, is the inscription, United States Postage, Texas Centennial, 1836-1936, in dark gothic, arranged in three horizontal lines. The lower part of the central design is a reproduction of the historic Alamo, with the title The Alamo in dark gothic, in a narrow horizontal panel with white ground at the center of the lower edge of the stamp. The denomination description 3¢ in dark lettering is shown in square panels with white ground in each lower corner of the stamp.

The new stamp will be first offered for sale at the post office in Gonzales, Tex., on March 2, 1936. It will be available for sale at other post offices beginning March 3, or as soon thereafter as production will permit…”

The portrait of Sam Houston used on Scott #776 was copied from a photograph of a painting by S. Salamo of a photograph made in 1856 by Frederick of New York when Houston was a member of the U.S. Senate. This was engraved by C. T. Arlt for use on the stamp. Stephen F. Austin’s portrait was made from a woodcut by T. A. Butler published in an article that appeared in Harper’s Magazine (Volume 87, 1893) and was engraved by L. C. Kauffmann. The image of the Alamo was taken from a book entitled Greatest San Antonio and was engraved by Frederick Pauling. The engraving of the frame and lettering was executed by W. B. Wells.

The die proof was approved on February 14 and the actual initial printing took place on February 20. The formal first printing of the Texas centennial stamp began at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on February 25, 1936, with Postmaster Gerneral James A. Farley, U.S. Vice President John Gardner and members of the Texas Congressional delegation present. Farley threw the switch which started the first press run. As the first sheet rolled off the big rotary press, he stated:

We are here to witness the first run of the presses in printing of the special issue of postage stamps authorized by the Post Office Department to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Independence of Texas. The State of Texas, surpassing in area all other of our commonwealths and so abundantly favored in natural resources, represents today one of the nation’s richest possessions. By means of the new stamp now being printed we pay homage to this outstanding state and to the hardy pioneers through whose efforts and life-blood an orderly government was guaranteed for future generations.”

These stamps were printed on rotary presses from 200-subject plates divided by horizontal and vertical gutters into panes of 50. After the sheets had been perforated, they were cut along the center of these gutters into panes and so issued to post offices. The Post Office Department ordered 125,000,000 copies of the stamps to be printed and four plates went to press: 21537, 21538, 21539, and 21540. Shades include lilac, bright lilac and red lilac.

On March 2, 1936, the stamps went on sale at Gonzales, Texas. On March 5, Farley announced that on the first day of issue, a total sale of 1,200,000 stamps and 319,150 first day covers were cancelled at the Gonzales post office.  On March 6, a special post office was opened in the Alamo and every letter posted from the office had a special cachet approved by the Post Office Department. This was the idea of San Antonio Postmaster David J. Quil who wrote to Washington and received permission to add a post office during the day of memorial services. In addition to the special cachet, the Post Office Department also gave permission for a commemorative cancellation which was used in the latter part of 1935 and during the Centennial celebrations in 1936.

An imperforate version of the Texas Centennial stamp, Scott #778d, was included in a souvenir sheet released on May 9, 1936, to mark the Third International Philatelic Exhibition (TIPEX), held in New York City. These were printed on the flate plate press from 120-subject plates consisting of thirty panes of four, divided into six rows of five panes each. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prepared a multiple die consisting of the four stamp designs as well as inscriptions. From this master die, a multiple die transfer roll was made of the entire pane and this was entered at one time.

Each of the four stamps included in the souvenir sheet were originally printed on the rotary press as well as being perforated, thus these represented new varieties and were originally given new major catalogue numbers by the Scott Publishing Company (778-781). However, the souvenir sheet of four was later given the major number of Scott #778 and the individual stamps given minor numbers of Scott #778a, 778b, 778c, and 778d.

The Post Office Department ordered three million panes of which 2,809,039 were issued. The sheets were first placed on sale at the branch Philatelic Agency located in Grand Central Palace, New York. The first day of sale was 651,000 panes with 295,000 first day covers cancelled at the exhibition. The TIPEX souvenir sheets were withdrawn from sale on August 11, 1936.

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One thought on “Sam Houston, President of Texas

  1. Pingback: Texas Independence Day | A Stamp A Day

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