High Stakes Poker
As Houston took office again, the Texas economy was on the rocks. The treasury was empty, and inflation was out of control. The Texas redback paper currency was worth as little as 2 cents to a U.S. dollar. Houston stressed financial austerity and drastically reduced government offices and salaries. He still believed that only annexation to the United States could ensure the long-term survival of Texas.
An old enemy resurfaces: Santa Anna had returned to power in Mexico, and in March 1842, he sent an invasion force north, capturing Goliad, Refugio, Victoria, and Bexar. The 400 Mexican troops stayed only a few days, just long enough to harass and frighten south Texas. The overall goal was to provoke Texas into an invasion of Mexico, in which case Santa Anna would crush the Texans.
The Mexican harassment was a test of nerve for Houston, as many Texans clamored for an invasion, exactly the response Santa Anna was hoping for. Houston delayed, knowing Texas could not survive another war. Instead, he made peace overtures to Mexico. His efforts were repaid by a second invasion in September, which again seized control of San Antonio. Houston authorized General Alexander Somerville to take 700 volunteers to the southwestern border as a show of force.
The Mier Expedition: Somerville captured Laredo and Guerrero before he and most of his men headed for home. But about 300 hot-headed men decided to continue into Mexico. They crossed the Rio Grande at Mier on Christmas Day 1842. After a fierce battle, the Texans were forced to surrender. Many of the "Mier Expedition" prisoners escaped, but 176 were recaptured and held at Salado, Mexico. The atrocity that followed became one of the most notorious of Santa Anna's career. Santa Anna at first ordered a Goliad-style massacre of all the prisoners. His more humane subordinates pleaded for the prisoners' lives. Santa Anna modified his order so that only every tenth man was to die. Black and white beans were placed in a jar and each man forced to draw. The seventeen men who drew black beans, along with their leader Captain Ewen Cameron, were immediately shot.
The Archive War: During the trouble with Mexico, Houston took the opportunity to abandon Austin, which he despised as Lamar's capital. Only 90 miles north of San Antonio, and on the edge of the Comanche frontier, Austin was vulnerable to capture by Santa Anna's forces.
The president decided to move his government back to his namesake city of Houston. To his surprise, his unilateral decision turned into one of the biggest messes of the second term. In an incident that became known as the "Archive War," Houston ordered the removal of all government papers from Austin. The people of Austin, determined to keep the capital, rallied to arms and chased down Houston's men, bringing the papers back to Austin at gunpoint and then hiding them. It was a highly embarrassing incident for the president. Houston was never successful in getting the capital officially moved. However, for the remainder of his term, he conducted most of the government's affairs from Washington-on-the-Brazos. See Texas Treasures for more on the Archive War.
Annexation Again: The final year of Houston's second presidency saw the annexation fight come back to the forefront. Houston was at his most political and scheming during the high-stakes, behind-the-scenes maneuvering with the United States, England, France, and Mexico. For example, Houston told the British envoy that Texas desired an alliance with England. As Houston planned it, the United States would then fear that Texas might become a British protectorate, forever blocking westward expansion by the U.S. At other times, Houston seemed to deliberately court another war with Mexico, playing up U.S. fears that Texas might be lost forever without a quick annexation.
Houston believed his dream was about to be realized in April 1844, when the John Tyler administration negotiated a treaty of annexation with Texas representatives and sent it to the U.S. Senate for ratification. But all of Houston's machinations came to nothing. In June, the treaty was overwhelmingly defeated, a victim of party politics, anti-slavery sentiment, and fears of war with Mexico.
Texas annexation became the major issue in the 1844 U.S. presidential campaign. But Sam Houston realized that his term of office would expire before any decision was made. Determined to leave Texas with a successor competent to shepherd Texas through the rest of the process, he hand-picked Anson Jones, his secretary of state, to follow him as Texas president.
The Moderator-Regulator War: In the summer of 1844, Houston had to intervene in a serious civil insurrection. A long-brewing feud in East Texas between two vigilante groups, the Regulators and the Moderators, exploded into widespread violence. Houston was forced to send in troops to restore order. He personally went to San Augustine to investigate the situation and mediate a peace treaty between the two factions.
Final Days: Sam Houston left the presidency in December 1844. His last act as president was to write to General Santa Anna in Mexico and petition for the freedom of Jose Antonio Navarro. The great Tejano patriot was the last Texan prisoner being held by Santa Anna, sentenced to life in prison for his participation in Lamar's Santa Fe expedition.