Sam Houston was a Tennessee congressman, then Tennessee governor, then president of Texas (twice), then a Texas senator, then Texas governor. His retirement was due to the Civil War, because he expressed a serious foreboding about the United States splitting apart.
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Houston, a bafflingly complex man, owned slaves but fought against reviving the slave trade (the importation of slaves had been outlawed in 1807) and opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened the way for slavery to expand north and west. He also supported the Compromise of 1850, admitting California as a free state. Houston backed the measure “because it was good for the Union,” says Robert Wooster, professor of history at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Plus, the compromise contained provisions allowing Texas to “pay off its public debts,” even though the 1850 agreement — and Houston’s opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act — proved unpopular among most Southerners.
On Nov. 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States. Houston’s prickly relationship with slavery, love for Texas and loyalty to the Union crashed into one another. “Houston saw Lincoln not as a radical, but as a moderate,” Wooster says, and he took seriously Lincoln’s campaign promise not to interfere with slavery where already in practice, believing Lincoln’s election was not a legitimate cause for secession. Furthermore, Houston foresaw the grisly horrors an internecine conflict would visit upon Texas. “He basically argued that Fire-Eaters [pro-slavery Southern secessionists] were leading the South down a path of destruction,” Howell adds.
After all the battles Houston won as a war hero, and all the offices he won, Houston’s political end came about when he tried to keep Texas in the Union. Read the story of Houston’s approach to the Civil War at Ozy.