Sunday, July 28, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Sam Houston and the Prophetic Speech

Many know him only through the name of Houston, Texas, one of the largest cities in the United States.  Fewer know the history of this man Sam Houston, who was the elected governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas) and the only governor to ever be a foreign head of state (the President of the Republic of Texas, before it became the state of Texas.)

Governor Houston, a slave owner who opposed abolition, lost his office on the eve of the Civil War when Texas voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.  Houston refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy and was evicted from office on March 16, 1861.  The War Between the States began barely a month later.

Again - few things in this war that tore our country apart for four years are clear cut, and, perhaps, that is what fascinates me the most about it.

This January, when the 2013 calendars went on clearance, I picked up a Civil War calendar for my office desk.  Each day has a different event connected to the Civil War.  One day, they featured a portion of a speech Houston gave from a hotel window on April 19, 1861:
“Let me tell you what is coming. Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of bayonet. You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, win Southern independence... 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... they will overwhelm the South.”
Sadly, Houston was proved correct, some 620,000 casualties later.  In some ways, our country has never recovered.

Sam Houston died 150 years ago this week - July 26, 1863, in Huntsville, Texas, in the Confederate States of America, and is buried there.  A 77 foot statue of Sam Houston there is considered to be the second tallest free standing sculpture in the United States.  Only the Statue of Liberty is taller.

Texas is a fascinating place - I lived there briefly many years ago.  Texans liked to say that "everything is bigger in Texas."  With Sam Houston, they were right.


  1. Wow, that was very interesting, and I'm not even a U.S citizen... :)
    Thanks for sharing! I especially love those little anecdotes :)

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do hope to make history interesting because, so many times in my youth, history was never presented in an interesting way.

  2. Thanks for this part of American history. I hadn't read about that before (but then I'm not American).

    1. No, I hadn't even heard of this speech, not until it was the "fact of the day" on a Civil War daily calendar I purchased this year. I've learned some amazing things from that desk calendar.

  3. Texas is a state I'd realllly like to visit. Their passion about their state is similar to South Carolina's. Probably even more so. Did not know about the large statue or that SH was head of a foreign state. Very interesting. And, yes indeed, very prophetic words.

  4. Three quick points:

    First, it is interesting that Sam's political strength wasn't in the South. We think of him in Texas terms but he was a national figure. The one time he allowed his name to be placed in nomination for the U.S. Presidency half of his votes came from New York. He used to travel up through the Ohio Valley and New England every winter giving speeches which were wildly popular. He was seen by those in the North as a Southerner who wasn't a hot-head. That didn't win him any friends in the South but it made him a viable national candidate.

    Second, in 1854, a full seven years before the quote you cited, he told Rufus Burleson (one of the founders of Baylor University) that "In two years the free-soilers and the abolitionists will get together and form a new political party, and in 1860 they will elect the president. When that happens the South will secede and there will be war." He said that both sides would predict a quick victory, but "…what fields of blood, what scenes of horror will be brother murdering brother… I see my beloved South going down in the unequal contest, in a sea of blood and smoking ruin." He went on to add this jaw dropping prediction about the North: that it "will reap a bitter harvest of assassination."

    Finally, the statue in Huntsville is 67 feet tall, not 77. (Although Houston himself would have never corrected the error!)

    ** I hope you don't consider this to be an advertisement, but James L. Haley's biography on Sam Houston is absolutely top shelf. He also wrote the script for the new 3-hour documentary on Houston's life that is playing on PBS.


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