Sam Houston lived a life as big as Texas. Born on March
2, 1793, near Lexington, Virginia, he moved to the Tennessee frontier
with his family at age thirteen and soon struck out on his own. He
lived for a while with the Cherokee . . . taught in a one-room schoolhouse
. . . fought the Creek Indians under Andrew Jackson . . . studied law
and was elected to Congress . . . became governor of Tennessee . . .
organized a Texas army and defeated General Santa Anna at the Battle of
San Jacinto . . . became the first president of the Republic of Texas .
. . worked to have Texas admitted to the United States . . .
represented Texas in the U.S. Senate . . . and served as governor of
His finest moment came toward the end of his life, as the Civil War
approached, and a secession convention voted to take Texas out of the
Union. Houston opposed the move with every fiber of his soul. He took
to the hustings to warn scornful crowds that secession would bring only
disaster. In one town, when an armed man threatened him, the
68-year-old Houston stared him down, declaring, “Ladies and gentlemen,
keep your seats. It is nothing but a fice [a small dog] barking at the
lion in his den.”
His efforts weren’t enough. Texas legislators demanded that Governor
Houston swear loyalty to the Confederacy. “In the name of my own
conscience and manhood . . . I refuse to take this oath,” he wrote,
knowing it meant the end of his career.
Supporters offered to take up arms to fight for control of the
statehouse, but Houston turned them down. He did not want to cling to
office by spilling the blood of fellow Texans. Brokenhearted, he
retired to private life. It was for this final act of public service
that John F. Kennedy would later make Sam Houston a hero in his book Profiles in Courage.