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.

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