Houston, Sam (Samuel) (1793–1863), a United States soldier and statesman and the first elected President of the Republic of Texas. He played a leading role in the movement for Texas independence from Mexico and was the man most responsible for bringing Texas into the Union.
Sam Houston was born near Lexington, Virginia, the son of an army officer. After his father's death in 1807, young Sam moved to Tennessee with his mother and the eight other Houston children, A year later, he ran away from home and lived with the Cherokee Indians. After three years, he returned to his family.
During the War of 1812, Houston enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and soon rose to the rank of lieutenant. He became a friend and admirer of General Andrew Jackson, under whom he served. At the battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814), Houston was severely wounded. He remained in the army after the war and was appointed subagent to assist in negotiations with the Cherokees for their removal from Tennessee.
Houston resigned his commission in 1818 and began to study law. After admission to the Tennessee bar, he entered politics as a Jacksonian Democrat. Houston soon became a power in Tennessee politics. He served briefly as district attorney for the Nashville district, was then named adjutant general of the state militia, and in 1823 was elected without opposition to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1825; in 1827, at the age of 34, he was elected governor of Tennessee. In 1829, after his wife of three months left him for reasons never disclosed, Houston resigned the governorship and left for Indian country.
Houston established a trading post near Fort Gibson (in what is now Oklahoma) and became an adviser to the Cherokees. He was formally adopted by the tribe and took an Indian wife (whom he later divorced). Houston made frequent trips to Washington on behalf of the Indians and became an advocate of Indian rights.
In 1832 Houston was sent by President Jackson to Texas to negotiate with western Indian tribes. He decided to remain in Texas. In 1833 he was elected a delegate to the San Filipo Convention, which petitioned Mexico, unsuccessfully, for separate statehood. (Texas was then part of the state of Texas-Coahuila.)
Soon after Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1835, Houston was named commander of the Texas army. In the early weeks of the war, he withdrew his outnumbered troops in the face of superior Mexican forces. This strategy subjected him to much criticism. However, on April 21, 1836, Houston's small army engaged a Mexican force twice its size at San Jacinto. The Texans won a resounding victory, captured General Santa Anna, and assured the independence of Texas.
A few months later, the “Hero of San Jacinto,” as Houston was called, was elected president of the Republic of Texas, replacing David G. Burnet, who had been appointed interim president. During his two-year term, Houston established a workable government, maintained peace with the Indians, and succeeded in gaining recognition of the Texas Republic from the United States. From 1838 to 1840, Houston served in the Texas legislature. He was again elected president in 1841 and initiated the negotiations that led to the annexation of the republic by the United States.
After the admission of Texas to the Union in 1845, Houston was elected one of its first United States senators. He spent 14 years in the Senate and was an ardent champion of Indian rights and a strong supporter of the Union. His pro-Union sentiments lost him support in Texas but he nonetheless was elected governor in 1859. Houston opposed secession; he refused to support the Confederacy after Texans voted to secede in 1861 and was then removed from office. He then retired to his Huntsville farm, where he died two years later.