At age 16, Sam Houston ran off to live with Cherokee Indians on the Tennessee River in 1809. His great great-grandfather, Sir John Houston, had an estate in Scotland. His great-grandfather, also named John Houston, emigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania in 1735, then to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where he and other Scots-Irish settlers founded the Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church. Sam Houston’s father fought in the American Revolution as a major in Morgan’s Rifle Brigade. He died moving his family to Tennessee in 1807.
Tennessee was recently admitted into the United States in 1796, during President George Washington’s administration. Tennessee’s 1796 Constitution stated: “Article VIII, Section II: No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.”
Running off to live with the Cherokee, 16-year-old Sam Houston was adopted by Chief Oolooteka and given the name “Raven.” Three years later, Sam Houston returned to Knox County, Tennessee, and opened a one-room schoolhouse – the first school built in the state. He joined the army and fought in the War of 1812.
“Red Stick” Creek Indians were supplied with arms from the British. They massacred over 500 men, women and children at Fort Mims, Alabama. General Andrew Jackson was sent south in response. Sam Houston fought under General Jackson against the Red Stick Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.
An arrow struck Sam Houston near his upper thigh. He had the arrow removed, was bandaged, then returned to the fight. He was struck again with bullets in his shoulder and arm. General Andrew Jackson took notice of Sam Houston and began mentoring him.
In 1818, Sam Houston, wearing Indian dress, led a delegation of Cherokee to Washington D.C., to meet with President James Monroe. Sam Houston studied law under Judge James Trimble, passed the bar, and opened up a legal practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. Houston was appointed the local prosecutor and was given a command in the state militia.
Sam Houston was elected to Congress in 1823, and became governor of Tennessee in 1827. After a short failed marriage in 1829, Sam Houston resigned and moved to the Arkansas Territory where he lived among the Cherokee Tribe. Understanding that Cherokee needed to be a “nation” in order for the U.S. government to honor a treaty, Sam Houston helped the Cherokee compose a constitution.
On Dec. 27, 1831, Houston was a passenger on a steamboat where he met French writer Alexis de Tocqueville who was traveling throughout the United States. While visiting Washington, D.C., a politician slandered Houston’s character, resulting in an altercation and trial. Francis Scott Key was Houston’s lawyer, and future President James K. Polk interceded for him, resulting in Houston getting off with a light reprimand and a fine of $500.
Rather than pay, Houston left town and traveled out west. He married a Cherokee wife, Tiana, in 1830, but she refused to follow him to the Mexican Territory of Tejas. In 1833, in Nacogdoches, Sam Houston was baptized into the Catholic faith, which was a requirement to own property in the Mexican Territory.
On his 43rd birthday, March 2, 1836, Sam Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, which stated: “When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people … and … becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression … it is a … sacred obligation to their posterity to abolish such government, and create another in its stead.”
The Texas Declaration ended: “Conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme Arbiter of the Destinies of Nations.”
Sam Houston was made Commander-in-Chief to fight Santa Anna, culminating in the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836. One report was that Sam Houston had three horses shot from under him.
James Monroe Hill wrote in a letter, Oct. 20, 1895 (“McArdle Notebooks – The Battle of San Jacinto,” Texas State Library and Archives): “As I passed down the flat lands I saw General Houston on a different horse. I afterward heard that it was the third one, two having been killed under him. I did not know then that he himself was wounded.”
A bullet had shattered Sam Houston’s ankle, yet he continued the fierce attack. In the 18-minute battle, 900 Texans had defeated 1500 Mexicans.
Later that year, Sept. 4, 1836, President Andrew Jackson wrote to General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna: “Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 4th day of July last, which had been forwarded to me by General Samuel Houston. … If … Mexico should signify her willingness to avail herself of our good offices in bringing about the desirable result you have described, nothing could give me more pleasure than to devote my best services to it. To be instrumental in terminating the evils of civil war and in substituting in their stead the blessings of peace is a divine privilege. … Your letter, and that of General Samuel Houston, commander in chief of the Texan army, will be made the basis of an early interview with the Mexican minister at Washington. … In the meantime I hope Mexico and Texas, feeling that war is the greatest of calamities, will pause before another campaign is undertaken and can add to the number of those scenes of bloodshed which have already marked the progress of their contest and have given so much pain to their Christian friends throughout the world.”
On Oct. 22, 1836, General Sam Houston was sworn in as the first president of the Republic of Texas.
In 1845, Texas joined the Union, being the 28th state, and the second largest in size. The Texas Constitution, Aug. 27, 1845, stated: “We, the people of the Republic of Texas acknowledging, with gratitude, the grace and beneficence of God. … All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. … Members of the Legislature … shall take the following oath … So Help Me God. … Every citizen shall have the right to keep and bears arms in the lawful defense of himself or the state.”
In 1846, Sam Houston became the first U.S. Senator from Texas, and in 1859 he was elected governor. Sam Houston was the only person to have been “elected” the governor of two different states.
In 1838, he received word that his Cherokee wife, Tiana, had died. In 1840, at the age of 47, Sam Houston married 21-year-old Margaret Moffette Lea of Alabama, and together they had eight children.
With the help of her Baptist pastor George Washington Baines Sr., the great-grandfather of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Sam Houston’s wife Margaret convinced him to be baptized as a Baptist in Little Rocky Creek on Nov. 19, 1854.
Governor Sam Houston wanted to keep Texas out of the Civil War, 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.”
When he refused to join the Confederacy, he was removed from office on March 16, 1861. President Lincoln, through Union Col. Frederick W. Lander, offered Sam Houston 50,000 Union troops to prevent Texas from joining the Confederacy. Houston refused, stating: “Allow me to most respectfully decline any such assistance of the United States government.”
When asked why he did not join the Confederacy, Houston told a crowd outside his Galveston hotel window, April 19, 1861: “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.”
The city of Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the United States, is named for Sam Houston. Also named for him are:
- a university
- a U.S. Army base
- five U.S. naval vessels
- a national forest
- a historical park
- a memorial museum
- an elementary school in Lebanon, Tennessee
- a prominent roadside statue outside of Huntsville
Addressing the Houston Ministerial Association, Democrat Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy stated Sept. 12, 1960: “I believe in an America … where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew – or a Quaker – or a Unitarian – or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers … that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. … I believe in an America … where all men and all churches are treated as equal. … I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty.”
Religious liberty has it roots in the Judeo-Christian belief that men are created equal in God’s image, as Franklin Roosevelt stated, Jan. 6, 1942: “We are inspired by a faith that goes back through all the years to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis: ‘God created man in His own image.'”
Religious liberty includes the concept of “freedom of conscience,” based on the concept that a God of love desires men and women to love Him back, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” but in order for love to be love it has to be voluntary and not forced submission, therefore the God of the Bible respects man’s freedom of conscience.
In Houston, Texas, Aug. 17, 1992, Ronald Reagan stated at the Republican National Convention: “Whether we come from poverty or wealth; whether we are Afro-American or Irish-American; Christian or Jewish, from big cities or small towns, we are all equal in the eyes of God. … May all of you as Americans never forget your heroic origins, never fail to seek divine guidance, and never lose your natural, God-given optimism. … My fellow Americans … God bless each and every one of you, and God bless this country we love.”
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