Sam Houston's Times
Sam Houston's life spanned the times of a number of great episodes and individuals in American history. Background material for some of these is provided here, along with classroom discussion questions.
Slavery and Politics
- Background--During the 1840s, manifest destiny was the popular sentiment that the United States was destined to rule North America. At the very least it was believed the nation should spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This was considered a destiny because many felt the United States had a superior economic and political system. Sam Houston helped by bringing Texas into the United States.
- Discussion questions--What was the concept of manifest destiny? What was Sam Houston's role in manifest destiny? Was manifest destiny a good or bad idea?
The War of 1812
- Background--The politics of slavery played a key role in determining the fate of Sam Houston and the United States in the early 1800s. As President of the Republic of Texas, one of Sam Houston's chief objectives was to have Texas admitted to the United States, but the North did not want another state in which slavery was legal. There were inherent economic differences between the North and South, but slavery was the catalyst that pushed the nation toward Civil War during these years. As the United States moved westward, a series of political compromises maintained a balance between the number of slave and non-slave states, preventing civil war, preventing civil war for the short term. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed for the admittance of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and prohibited slavery in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1845 Texas was admitted as a slave state, and the subsequent Mexican War added additional new territory with the potential for slave territory. In the Compromise of 1850, the Congress agreed to admit California as a free state, and organize the New Mexico and Utah territories without mention of slavery, among other matters. In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed U.S. territories to decide for themselves such domestic matters whether to allow slavery.
- Discussion Questions--What were the root causes of the Civil War? Why was it so difficult to end slavery in America? Why was Texas not immediately admitted to the United States? What was the Missouri Compromise? What was the Kansas-Nebraska Act?
- Background--Sam Houston fought in the War of 1812. He was a young recruit from Tennessee in the troops led by General Andrew Jackson. This war was the result of years of conflict between the United States and Britain. Immediate causes of the war were trade problems, as well as the impressment of American seamen by British ships. The British would board American ships at sea to search for sailors they thought were deserters from the British navy. The trade problems were a part of the continuing conflict between Britain and Napolean's France, in which U.S. trade to these nations was an unwilling victim. The United States declared war on Britain on June 1, 1812. Battles were fought on the Great Lakes, in Canada, in the capitol at Washington, and in Baltimore. Perhaps the most famous battle of the war was at New Orleans where Andrew Jackson defeated a British army of 8000. During this time Sam Houston fought with Andrew Jackson against the Creek Indians who were supplied by the British. The war of 1812 was ended by the treaty of Ghent, in Belgium. Neither Britain nor the U.S. gained much since the treaty restored borders and conditions that existed before the war. However, the U.S. began a period of great industrial expansion as a result of having to be self-sufficient during the war years. Also, there was a new sense of U.S. national pride, American authority in the territories west of the Appalachians was established, the U.S. gained Florida, and several American heroes gained fame, including Andrew Jackson, the friend and mentor of Sam Houston.
- Discussion questions--What were the causes of the war? What were the results of the war? Where were the major battles fought? What was Andrew Jackson's role in the war? What was Sam Houston's role in the war?
The Cherokees and the Trail of Tears
- Background--Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States, a war hero, and a close friend of Sam Houston. Jackson was born in the Carolinas and orphaned during the Revolutionary War. He wandered west to what is now Tennessee and became a lawyer. From his home in Nashville he eventually served as a U.S. congressman and senator, and first ran for President in 1824. To many in the new states west of the Appalachian Mountains, he was a symbol of a new democratic, egalitarian society. In 1824, he won the most votes for U.S. president, but the election was decided in the House of Representatives, and John Quincy Adams was elected instead. In 1828, and again in 1832, he ran for president and won easily. This increased the power of his party, which became known as the Democratic Party. Jackson's military career began in the Revolutionary War, when he was captured by the British at the age of 13. In the War of 1812, Jackson fought the Creek Indians in Alabama, along with Sam Houston. After that he fought the Seminoles in Florida, and his actions led to the annexation of Florida by the United States. Jackson also led the Americans to victory at the famous Battle of New Orleans. Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson shared a lifetime friendship. The two discussed many issues and plans, including the role of Texas in the future of America.
- Discussion questions--What positions did Andrew Jackson hold in government? How did he lose his first bid for the Presidency? In what wars and battles did Jackson fight? Describe the relationship between Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston.
The Texas Revolution
- Background--The Cherokee Indians occupied the lands in the southern Appalachians before white settlers entered this area. At first they fought the advance of the whites, siding with the British during the American Revolution, but after the war they began to adopt the economic and political structures of the whites. However, there was pressure by the white settlers to claim Cherokee lands and have the Cherokees removed to the western frontier in Oklahoma. During the early 1800s some of the Cherokee bands did move west, including the tribal group under Oo-loo-te-ka, the Cherokee "father" of Sam Houston's boyhood. However, most remained in the Appalachians. In 1835 a few Cherokee groups agreed to move west based on a treaty they signed with the U.S. government, but most resisted under the leadership of Chief John Ross. During the winter of 1838-1839, and based on the treaties, federal troops forcefully moved some 13,000 to 17,000 Cherokees to Oklahoma. The path of their march became known as the "Trail of Tears," because thousands died along the way. Today the city of Talequah, Oklahoma is the center for the Cherokees of that area.
- Discussion questions--Where did the Cherokees originally live? Where were they forced to go and why? What is the name of the trail along which they marched? Why was it given this name? Was the government fair to the Indians? What was Sam Houston's relationship to the Cherokees?
The Mexican War
- Background--The Texas Revolution was a war of independence fought in the years 1835-1836 by American settlers in Texas, and other Americans and Mexicans, against the government of Mexico. At that time Texas was a part of Mexico, which was ruled by the dictator Santa Anna. Mexico had allowed many Americans to settle in Texas in the 1820s, as long as they swore allegiance to Mexico. However, soon the Americans became dissatisfied with actions taken by the Mexican government. The complaints culminated with armed attacks against Mexican soldiers in the fall of 1835. The soldiers were driven out of Texas. On March 2, 1836, Sam Houston's birthday, Texas political leaders signed a Declaration of Independence. However, in late February of that year, Santa Anna had arrived in Texas with an army to fight the rebellion, and proceeded to win a series of battles against Texas soldiers. At the famous battle for the Alamo in San Antonio (then known as Bexar--pronounced "Bay'-er") all the Texans were killed, but the Mexicans also lost many soldiers. At the city of Goliad, the Texas defenders surrendered honorably, but Santa Anna ordered summary executions. Santa Anna then made the mistake of believing that all Texas resistance was gone, and he split his army into three parts to sweep northward over broad area. His objective was to clear Texas of all "Anglos." Settlers clogged the primitive highways trying to escape eastward, and the remainder of the Texas army under Sam Houston retreated with them, looking for a favorable place to fight. This retreat became known as the "Runaway Scrape." It was with a diminished force of some 1600 soldiers that Santa Anna arrived at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, where it empties into Galveston Bay southeast of modern-day Houston. He found the Texans under Sam Houston blocking his advance. The next day, April 21, 1836, during the afternoon siesta, the Texans mounted a surprise attack with some 800 soldiers and captured Santa Anna. Sam Houston then forced the dictator to grant Texas independence. The Texas settlers formed the Republic of Texas, which was a sovereign nation until Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845.
- Discussion questions--What was the history of Texas before 1835? Why did the Texas settlers fight the government of Mexico in 1835? What happened at the Battle of the Alamo? At Goliad? During the Runaway Scrape? At San Jacinto? What was Sam Houston's role in this war? What happened after the Revolution?
The Creek and Seminole Indian Wars
- Background--The Mexican war of 1846-1848 was fought between the United States and Mexico as a part of the fallout from the American annexation of Texas in 1845. The direct cause of the war was a boundary dispute--the Americans claimed the Rio Grande was the international border while the Mexicans claimed the Neuces River to the north as the border. However, there were other disagreements that had been festering for at least two decades between the two nations. As the war proceeded, the Americans first invaded northern Mexico under General Zachary Taylor, who was later to be elected President, and won important battles at Monterrey and Buena Vista. The Americans then landed at the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz under General Winfield Scott. They captured Veracruz and then marched inland and captured Mexico City. There were other battles in California, which was then part of Mexico. As a result of the war, the United States gained the territory of its present southwestern States, including California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming.
- Discussion questions--What was the history of Texas and Mexico in the two decades prior to the year 1845? What caused Mexico and the United States to have a war? What happened at Veracruz? At Mexico City? What was Sam Houston's role in this war? What happened after the Mexican War?
- Background--During the War of 1812, the Creek Indians fought American settlers throughout Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The Creeks were supplied by the British. In 1813, Creek Indians attacked Ft. Mims in southern Alabama, where they massacred and scalped 400 settlers. The following year, Andrew Jackson fought the major force of the Creek Indians in east-central Alabama at the battle of Horseshoe Bend. Young Sam Houston was among the officers in Jackson's army, and was carried back to Tennessee with the wounds he received. The Creeks signed a treaty with the U.S. government after that battle, giving up a huge tract of land. However, the Seminole Indians in Florida, who were a southern branch of the Creeks, were angered by the treaty and fought the whites in the First Seminole War in the years 1816-1818. Andrew Jackson marched into Florida, which then belonged to Spain, and fought the Seminoles. He also claimed Florida for the United States, and in later agreements Spain ceded this territory. In the Second Seminole War in 1835, the Indians retreated into the Everglades and continued to fight for some seven years. Many of the Seminoles were killed, and many of the survivors moved west into Indian territory in Oklahoma, but an undefeated remnant remained in the Everglades.
- Discussion questions--Where did the Creek Indians live? Who supported the Indians and why? What roles did Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston have in the war? Who were the Seminole Indians? What were the results of the war? Where are the Seminole Indians today?