Giants of Texas History
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Thomas Jefferson Rusk
Image: Thomas Jefferson Rusk.
In 1834 Thomas Jefferson Rusk came to Texas to confront his business partners, who had embezzled the company funds. Rusk followed them to Nacogdoches, but failed in his efforts to regain his investment. Nevertheless, he remained in Texas, becoming a Mexican citizen on February 11, 1835. His oath of admission has the distinction of bearing the signatures of the first two United States Senators from Texas.
Rusk soon became involved in the independence movement, organizing volunteers from Nacogdoches and joining the army at Gonzales. He left the army before the siege of Bexar. He became inspector general of the army in the Nacogdoches District on December 14, 1835, serving in that post until February 26, 1836. A delegate from Nacogdoches to the Convention of 1836, he chaired the committee to revise the constitution.
The ad interim government, installed on March 17, 1836, appointed Rusk secretary of war. Rusk helped ad interim president David G. Burnet to move the government to Harrisburg after news reached the government of the fall of the Alamo. Following news of the Fannin massacre, Burnet sent Rusk with orders for Gen. Sam Houston to make a stand against the enemy. Once he joined the army on their retreat to the east, Rusk became an ally and supporter of General Houston. The army marched to Buffalo Bayou to intercept Santa Anna's army, fresh from its attack on Harrisburg. He participated bravely in the Battle of San Jacinto, then from May 4 to October 31, 1836, he served as commander in chief of the Army of the Republic of Texas, with the rank of brigadier general. In that capacity, he conducted a military funeral for the men killed at Goliad.
After the Revolution, Rusk continued active in Texas politics and military affairs. President Houston appointed him Secretary of War, but after a few weeks family problems forced him to resign. Rusk served as a representative from Nacogdoches in the Second Congress. In the summer of 1838 he commanded the Nacogdoches militia, as it acted to suppress the Córdova Rebellion. In 1839, he commanded part of the troops in the battle of the Neches, which resulted in the final expulsion of the Cherokee from Texas.
The Texas Congress elected Rusk chief justice of the Supreme Court on December 12, 1838. He remained on the bench until June 30, 1840. Eventually he became head of the bar of the Republic of Texas. In a joint ballot on January 16, 1843, Congress elected Rusk major general of the militia of the Republic of Texas. But he resigned in June, balked in his efforts to actively pursue war against Mexico. He helped to found Nacogdoches University and served first as its Vice President (1845) then President (1846).
Thomas J. Rusk presided over Annexation Convention of 1845, his legal knowledge contributing significantly to the drafting of a state constitution. Rusk and Houston were elected United States Senators by the first state legislature. Rusk received the larger number of votes and the longer term of office. He served in the Senate until 1857. Affected by a tumor at the base of his neck, despondent over his wife's death, he committed suicide on July 29, 1857.