David G. Burnet
"King Wetumpka" vs. "Big Drunk"
Burnet had been so abused by his neighbors for his decisions as president that he vowed not to return home. However, he had nowhere else to go. His legal business had evaporated due to his unpopularity, so he was forced to work as a subsistence farmer.
His personal animosity with Sam Houston became a central theme of his life. At one point, he publicly called Houston "Big Drunk" and accused him of being part-Indian. Houston retaliated by calling Burnet a hog thief. Beside himself with outrage, Burnet challenged Houston to a duel, which the president declined. Doubtless Houston was correct when he observed, "I am constrained to believe that the people are thoroughly disgusted with both of us."
Vice-president: In 1838, Burnet was elected vice-president on Mirabeau B. Lamar's ticket. Lamar was ill for part of his presidency, and Burnet ran the government during his recuperation. However, his views and personality continued to be out of step with the majority of Texans. When the Santa Fe Expedition turned disastrous (see Texas Treasures for details), both Lamar and Burnet were threatened with impeachment.
Presidential candidate: Burnet ran for president against Sam Houston in 1841. The campaign was marked by vicious name-calling. Burnet alleged that Houston, in addition to being an alcoholic, was an opium addict who had the "blind malignity of a rattlesnake in dog days." For his part, Houston derisively called Burnet "Little Davy" and "King Wetumpka" (hog thief). Burnet was soundly defeated by the popular Houston; as one San Jacinto veteran noted, "Burnet could not be elected fiddler general to the old chief." When he took office for his second term, as a final act of revenge against his foe, Houston blocked payment of Burnet's salary for his tenure as vice-president.
Secretary of State: Burnet would hold only one more office in his life, a term as secretary of state under the first governor of Texas, James P. Henderson. He helped run Texas, now a state, while Henderson was away fighting in the Mexican War.
"The world is to me a mere blank": Burnet and his wife Hannah struggled financially and personally. They put their hopes for the future in their surviving son, William. To pay for William's education at a military school in Kentucky, the Burnets hired out their slaves and rented out their farm. William became an officer in the United States Army and was stationed on the western frontier to fight Indians.
Burnet spent many years working with Lamar on a history of the republic, which they planned as an exposé of Sam Houston's misdeeds. Burnet wrote most of the book, but he and Lamar were never able to find a publisher. Later, towards the end of his life, Burnet burned the manuscript in the spirit of forgiveness towards his old adversary.
In 1858, Hannah Burnet died after a long illness. William Burnet arranged for his father, infirm at age 70, to move to Galveston to live with an old friend, General Sidney Sherman. After Sherman's death a few years later, Burnet moved in with another friend, Preston Perry.
When the Civil War began, William Burnet resigned his commission and joined the Confederate cause. His father was opposed to secession but embraced the cause to support his son's choice. It was a crushing blow to David Burnet when William was killed near Mobile, Alabama, in 1865. He once wrote a friend, "The world to me is a mere blank, a soiled sheet without an intelligent or interesting trace upon it. May such never be your destiny."
Burnet's final turn on the political stage came the following year, when Texas sent him and Oran G. Roberts to Washington, D.C. as United States senators. Texas had not yet met the requirements to be readmitted to the Union after the war, and Burnet and Roberts were never seated.
Burnet died broke in Galveston at the age of 82. His friends paid for his funeral.