Triumph and Tragedy: Presidents of the Republic of Texas

The Texas Presidency

On March 2, 1836, when a group of 59 men meeting at Washington-on-the-Brazos declared Texas's independence from Mexico, they did so in an atmosphere of crisis. As they turned their attention to hastily draft a constitution for the new nation they called the Republic of Texas, the crisis intensified. The Alamo fell; the defenders of Goliad were captured and put to death; hundreds of civilians became refugees; Sam Houston's army reeled back towards the Louisiana border. Defeat and its unthinkable consequences were a stark possibility.

Nonetheless, the delegates turned their eyes to the future, creating a framework for a government resembling that of the United States, the homeland of almost every man present. The Republic of Texas, they optimistically wrote, would be governed by three united but independent branches of government: a legislature, a judiciary, and an executive branch headed by a president.

Only one significant difference set the Texas presidency apart from the American model. Though the new Texas constitution was generous with presidential authority, it also imposed a rule to prevent any one man from becoming too powerful, setting a three-year limit on presidential terms and making the president ineligible to succeed himself in office.

At the time the Constitution was written, most Texans believed that, if they prevailed in their rebellion against Mexico, Texas would be quickly annexed by the United States. But it was not to be. Instead, for the next ten years, four very different men would lead the Republic of Texas down a difficult and unknown path as an independent nation.

Although these men were different -- sawmill operator, soldier, poet, doctor -- they were also much alike. To a man they had known crushing failure. Demons plagued them: alcoholism, bankruptcy, depression, crippling grief. Their personal struggles would continue beyond the presidency to produce lives of tremendous drama, triumph, and tragedy.

They were alike in another way, too: each man had the heart and nerve to take the helm of a penniless, lawless land and dream of the mighty Texas it might one day become. Each of them, for good and for ill, shaped that destiny.

One Republic. Ten years. Four men. This is their story.

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Page last modified: July 26, 2011