b. 1793 – Virginia
After running away from his Tennessee home as a teenager, Houston lived among the Cherokees for three years, an experience that established his empathy toward Native Americans. He joined the U.S Army, read law in Nashville, opened a law practice, and after serving in the U.S. House, was elected governor of Tennessee. After an unsuccessful marriage, he went to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to live among Cherokees again.
After his involvement in the rebellion in Mexican Texas, Houston attended the Convention in San Felipe in 1833 and the Consultation of 1835, where he was appointed major general of the Texas army. As a delegate to Washington-on-the-Brazos he was instructed to organize the Republic’s military forces and join forces in Gonzales. Houston and his men defeated the Mexican General Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in just 18 minutes.
Houston was the first president of the Republic but was prohibited from seeking a second term. He returned to the presidency after Mirabeau Lamar served a term and was elected U.S. Senator when Texas became a state. An ardent Unionist, Houston was a slaveowner who defended slavery and characterized himself as a Southerner who supported the Union. The Texas Legislature condemned his opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and did not re-elect him.
Defeated by Runnels in his first run for governor in 1857, he ran a second time against Runnels in 1859 and won. He pursued plans for Texas to become a protectorate of Mexico, using the Texas Rangers. When Lincoln was elected president in 1861, Houston called a special session of the legislature and warned Texans that the North would win a civil war. The Secession Convention convened a week later and voted by a large margin to withdraw from the Union. Houston refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. He was removed from office and replaced with the pro-Confederacy lieutenant governor. After leaving the Mansion, he verbally supported the Southern cause since his son joined the Confederate army. Houston moved his family to Huntsville.