Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Of Governors and Generals, Secession and Soap

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 9, 2011

Much has been written about Texas’ secession and the removal of Governor Sam Houston, who adamantly opposed leaving the Union. Houston, a dyed-in-the-wool Jacksonian Democrat, was a flawed man in many ways, but he was dead right on secession, and foresaw better than most the ultimate outcome of the conflict that the fire-eaters so blithely dismissed. But this account of Houston’s final visit to the governor’s office, clearly intended to ridicule the old war-horse, just leaves me sad. From the San Antonio Daily Ledger and Texan, April 15, 1861:

Deposition of Sam Houston.

The circumstances attended the deposition of Sam Houston, as Governor of Texas, were quite dramatic, and in some respects ludicrous and comical. The Convention of Texas, called by the loud voice of the people against the denunciations and opposition of Governor Houston, having passed the act of secession, and accepted and ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States, prescribed a form of oath to be taken by all the State officers. This oath included a renunciation of all allegiance to foreign powers, and especially to the Government of the United States, and a declaration of fidelity to the Constitution of the Confederate States. When the oath was proposed to Governor Houston, he peremptorily refused to take it; whereupon the Convention declared the office of Governor vacant; and Lieutenant Governor Clark, under the Constitution, having taken the prescribed oath, succeeded to the office. Governor Clark was not slow in entering upon the Gubernatorial functions, and proceeding to the Governor’s office, assumed the chair and entered upon the duties of the office. By and by, the deposed Governor came hobbling to his old office — Old Sam’s San Jacinto wound having broken out afresh, as it always does on occasions of political trial. Perceiving Governor Clark occupying the chair, Old Sam addressed him:

“Well, Governor Clark,” giving great emphasis to the title, “you are an early riser.”

“Yes, General,” replied the Governor, with great stress upon the military title of his predecessor, “I am illustrating the old maxim, ‘the early bird gathers the worm.’ ”

“Well, Governor Clark, I hope you will find it an easier seat than I have found it.”

“I’ll endeavor to make it so, General, by conforming to the clearly expressed will of the people of Texas.”

The General, having brought a large lunch basket with him, proceeded to put up various little articles of personal property, and to stow them away very carefully. Catching his foot n a hole in the carpet and stumbling, the General suggested to Governor Clark that the new Government ought to afford a new carpet for the Governor’s office, whereupon the Governor remarked that the Executive of Texas could get along very well without a carpet.

Approaching the washstand, the General called the attention of Gov. Clark to two pieces of soap — one, the Castile soap, was his own, private property; and the other, a perfumed article, was the property of the State, and added, “Governor, your hands will require the very frequent use of this cleansing article;” whereupon Gov. Clark, pointing to the washbowl, which was very full of black and dirty water, remarked, “General, I suppose that is the bowl in which you washed your hands before leaving the office.”

Having gathered up all his duds, Old Sam made a little farewell speech, very much in the style of Cardinal Woolsey [sic.], declaring his conviction that, as in the past, the time would soon come when Texas would call him from retirement, and he hoped Gov. Clark would be able to give as good an account of his stewardship as he could now render. Halting at the door, the General made a profound bow, and with a air of elaborate dignity said, “Good day, Governor C-l-a-r-k.” “Good day, General Houston,” was the Governor’s response. And thus the “Hero of San Jacinto” concluded his political career.

Old Sam deserved better. So did Texas.


Image: Senator Sam Houston of Texas, 1859. Library of Congress.


4 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on April 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    It is my understanding that in the 1850’s there was a strong, dedicated coalition that wanted a new “Confederacy” nation of slavery, spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with more of Mexico, and Cuba included.

    My ancestor, Sgt. Joshua James, Sr. (War of 1812) was a “naval officer” in Wilmington, N.C. In his case the term was used because Joshua inspected the quality and quantities of “naval” stores (tar, pitch) shipped from the port of Wilmington. He ran for New Hanover sheriff, but lost the election. My guess is he and extended family removed to 1830’s Holmes Co., MS, because the N. C. old Lone Leaf Pine supply for naval stores was in decline, and possibly more were to be had in Mississippi? Earlier, Sgt. James and Gen. MaCrae went to Mississippi and Texas, looking for fresh plantation lands for Wilmington area plantation owners children. A local plantations owners society financed their trip and printed report.

    Soon (LtCol. Holmes Co. militia) Robert Wm. James removed to New Orleans, where in the Mexican War, he wast he civilian master of he U.S. Army transport “Gen. Hamer”. He’d walked across Panama, and I remember a letter of his; that the geographer Humboldt, who had apparently claimed to have done the same, was humbug. A Wilmington kinsman, “Lt.” Thomas Cowan James, was involved in an unofficial “filibustering” invasion of Cuba to re-establish slavery there, but was captured and hung with others at the Havana Castle. In his last letter home, “Lt.” James did not bewail his fate.

    The Cuban “filibustering expedition set-out from New Orleans and I suspect Thomas was in contact there, then; with kinsmen Robert Wm. James, New Orleans City Attorney John (W.?) Nixon, Esq., and Asst. City Attorney, Peregrine Snowden “Perry” Warfield, Esq., who was also close kin to base-born Bessie Warfield who wed King Edward, VIII, of England.

    I suspect the future Confederate states were not spur-of-the-moment conceived on the eve of the Civil War, but was a decade or more in planning?

    • Andy Hall said, on April 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      You’re thinking of the Knights of the Golden Circle. The group was supposedly secret, but perhaps not so secret that members would hesitate to have their portraits made showing off their badges and secret hand signal.

      Members of the Knights of the Golden Circle were among the strongest voices for secession, and many were well-placed to exert political influence. There’s no doubt in my mind that, had the Confederacy succeeded in establishing its independence, they would have made be a strong push for the CSA to extend its influence, either by direct seizure/annexation or by setting up client states, into Mexico and the Caribbean. No idea how that would’ve played out, but I can tell you that, the Civil War notwithstanding, there were many Anglo merchants along the Texas/Mexico border who spent decades agitating for an excuse to go and “finish” what they saw and the natural expansion of the United States into Mexico, that (in their view) had been left undone in 1846-48.

      The Handbook of Texas notes that Sam Houston was said to have been initiated as a member of the group, but could note abide the Knight’s support of secession. The latter, at least, is entirely in keeping with his public positions. The Handbook — which is generally a reliable, quick source on Texas history — says this about the Knights and their legacy, which seems a useful caution:

      Secretive organizations such as the K.G.C. create an atmosphere of conspiracy, of claims and charges that cannot be proven true but cannot be proven untrue either. It should come as no surprise then that the K.G.C. has drawn the interest of numerous investigators who claim that it was a vast conspiracy that drew inspiration from groups such as the European Knights Templar, Scottish Rite Masons, and the Sons of Liberty. These investigators also allege that many famed characters from the Civil War era, including John Wilkes Booth and Jesse James, belonged to and acted under the influence of the Knights. Some argue that the Knights buried millions of dollars in stolen U.S. Army payrolls in locations across the Southwest, where the money (now worth billions) remained under guard into the mid-twentieth century and perhaps even now. These conspiracy stories associated with the Knights of the Golden Circle are now part of the historical record associated with the organization, but none of them can be reliably documented.

  2. corkingiron said, on April 11, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I admire your determination to bring this period to life – but please -please! – promise you won’t tell Dan Brown about the buried money!

    • Andy Hall said, on April 11, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Coming out of a background of nautical archaeology, I can assure you — every old timber sticking up out a mud flat is assured to be the wreck of a ship lost carrying the army paychest or something similar. Every damn one. (It’s a running joke among archaeologists.) This guy even called me at home once on a Sunday afternoon and harangued me about how he was going to sue me for $3B because I’d ruined his chances for the big payoff by blogging about it. (Using all open source material, BTW.) That was fun.

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