Commentary: Modern day secessionists could learn from Sam Houston

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramNovember 28, 2012 


Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

ROSS HAILEY — MCT/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

On a recent trip to Houston, I twice drove by the giant statue of the man for whom the state's largest city is named.

Sam Houston looms large -- very large -- in a wooded area on Interstate 45 in the city of Huntsville. Although the man Sam Houston was tall at 6-foot-2, his steel-and-concrete image towers over the highway at 67 feet. The lighted view at night makes it appear even larger.

When I first saw the statue years ago, I thought it was hideous, and I wondered who was responsible for this monstrosity. But in later years, as I learned more about the man Houston was, I've come to accept it and even admire it.

I've thought about Houston the individual lately, particularly since thousands of so-called loyal Texans upset with the re-election of President Obama signed a petition calling for the state to secede from the union. Houston had a few things to say about secession.

As that statue rightly indicates, Houston was a larger-than-life individual who deserves further study, and I recommend that the would-be secessionists examine more carefully his life.

They will find a complex, shrewd, ambitious, compassionate and sometimes volatile man, one who was not afraid to fight in war or politics and yet who was prone to escape his troubles by imposing self-exile and seeking refuge with the Cherokee Indians.

The Handbook of Texas Online and other Internet sources have very good synopses of Houston's life, beginning with his birth, of course, in Virginia in 1793. His father, who had served in the Revolutionary War, died when Sam, the youngest of five boys, was 13.

Houston's mother moved the family to Tennessee, where the boys worked the farm.

Houston ran away at 16 and lived with the Cherokee, whose chief, Oolooteka, "adopted him and gave him the Indian name of Colonneh, or 'the Raven,'"says The Handbook of Texas Online.

During the War of 1812, Houston joined the Army and rose through the ranks. His heroics (wounded three times in one battle) caught the attention of Gen. Andrew Jackson. His military career gave rise to a political one, including serving in Congress from Tennessee and later as that state's governor.

After his young wife left him, he resigned from office, spent more time with his adopted Indian father and came to Texas, where he quickly became a leader of the movement for independence from Mexico. You no doubt know much of the Texas story, including his leading the battle at San Jacinto to defeat the Mexican army and capture Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

He became the Republic's first president after its interim government and one of its first senators after Texas joined the union.

Although a slave holder, Houston was a strong Union supporter and fought against legislation to expand slavery to other parts of the country, a position that would later cost him his Senate seat. He also strongly resisted the movement toward secession. After being re-elected governor, he called a special session of the Legislature to speak out against such action.

In that 1860 speech, Houston posed questions that also can be asked of today's secessionists:

"What do these men propose to give you in exchange for this Government? All are ready to admit their ability to pull down, but can they build up? I have read of the glory of a Southern Confederacy, and seen the schemes of rash enthusiasts; but no rational basis has been presented.... [W]here are their Washingtons, their Jeffersons, and Madisons? Where is the spirit of sacrifice and patriotism which brought the Union into existence, and maintained it amid privation and danger? Look at the men who are crying out disunion, and then ask yourselves whether they are the men you would chose to create a new government."

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