It's Sam Houston (1793-1863), a man who lived an extraordinary, wide-ranging life. He was, among other accomplishments, governor of both Tennessee and Texas.
Houston rose from humble origins in Virginia. During his youth, he lived for several years among the Cherokee and was adopted into that tribe. This experience gave him a lifelong sympathy for Native Americans.
Houston won battlefield fame under General Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. Cultivated by Jackson, Houston rose in Tennessee politics, serving in the House of Representatives before he was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1827.
Two years later, Houston's marriage collapsed. The public scandal forced him to resign. By 1833, Houston had moved Texas in the hope of a fresh start.
(Painting of the Battle of San Jacinto by Henry Arthur McArdle)
He participated in the Texas Revolution, serving as a major general of the Texian Army. He led the Texans to victory at the decisive Battle of San Jacinto in 1835.
Texas gave the fallen Sam Houston exactly what he wanted: a new start to his life. In 1836, the newly independent Republic of Texas elected him President. He served two non-consecutive terms in that office. When the United States annexed Texas, Houston represented the state in the United States Senate.
In 1859, he was elected Governor of Texas. It was a time in which many Southern leaders were preparing for what they saw as an inevitable civil war in order to preserve slavery.
Houston defended slavery, but adamantly opposed the secession. He warned his fellow Southerners that the North would win and destroy the South in the process:
Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession. But let me tell you what is coming. Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet. You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence, if God be not against you, but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve the 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 of a mighty avalanche. My fear is, they will overwhelm the South.
(Map via the US National Park Service)
Nonetheless, after a special convention followed by a popular referendum, Texas seceded from the union on March 2, 1861. Houston refused to recognize the act and take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy:
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, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, which has been trampled upon, 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 in the name of the people of Texas against all the acts and doings of this Convention, and I declare them null and void!
But Sam Houston lacked the force to back up his declaration. On March 16, the Convention forced him out of office.
President Lincoln offered Houston the use of federal troops to put down the rebellion. But Houston preferred to avoid such a direct hand in bloodshed in his beloved Texas—the second state over which he was governor—and instead retired to a country home known as the Steamboat House. He died at the age of 70 in 1863, in the midst of the horrific Civil War that he predicted.
(Photo of the Steamboat House by Arturo Lee)