In a letter dated June 23, 1829, Andrew Jackson warned Sam Houston to watch his step in Texas and to avoid doing anything that would embarrass his homeland or tarnish his reputation.
Houston’s bizarre behavior had the rumor mill working overtime. In April 1829, he suddenly sent his teenaged bride home to mother, resigned as governor of Tennessee and disappeared into the wilderness with his boyhood friends, the Cherokees.
Two months later, President Jackson’s adopted son and private secretary received a disturbing document which claimed personal problems were not behind the self-imposed exile. That was a clever cover story concocted by Houston to conceal his true intentions – taking Texas away from the Mexicans.
Although Jackson stressed he did not believe his old friend and former protégé could be involved in “such a chimerical, visionary scheme,” he concluded the June 1829 letter with a request for his word of honor. Houston complied by return mail and promised not to attempt the giant land grab.
Nevertheless, the president immediately put the territorial governor of Arkansas on alert. He was told to “put down” any “illegal prospect” that coveted neighboring Texas.
But Old Hickory was being more than a little disingenuous. At the very moment he was scolding Houston, he already had his eye on Mexico’s northernmost province.
Just two weeks earlier, Jackson had admitted, “I have long been aware of the importance of Texas to the United States, and of the real necessity of extending our boundary west of the Sabine.” In fact, two months later he authorized his secretary of state to open negotiations with the Mexican government for the outright purchase of the prize.
Houston’s habit of pulling people’s legs, especially after a few drinks, continued to give Jackson cause for concern. A chance encounter with a Washington physician in February 1830 renewed rumors of an armed adventure in the Southwest.
Startled by the sight of Houston in full Indian costume, the mystified doctor asked why he wore the strange clothes. Two sheets to the wind at the time, the Tennessean whispered that he was working undercover in preparation for the invasion of Texas.
Jumping ahead to the showdown spring of 1836, Stephen F. Austin appealed directly to congress for emergency aid to the freedom fighters in his embattled colony. The stirring solicitation infuriated the president.
“The writer does not reflect that we have a treaty with Mexico,” Jackson jotted in the margin of his copy of the Austin petition. “The Texans before they took the step to declare themselves independent, ought to have pondered well. It was a rash and premature act.”
The historical evidence is clear and convincing that every step of the way Andrew Jackson opposed Lone Star liberation by extra-legal means. Yet for the better part of two centuries active imaginations have claimed that the Texas Revolution was the result of a Houston-Old Hickory conspiracy.
To make an 1865 case for the preposterous plot, Horace Greeley quoted from an article that appeared in a Little Rock newspaper on the eve of the uprising. “Houston and other restless spirits are pushing into Texas expressly to seize upon the first opportunity to foment a revolution, expel the Mexican authorities and prepare the region for speedy annexation.”
A biography of General Sam published in 1891 offered this sensational but unsubstantiated allegation: “Houston went forth to Texas with a conditional authorization from Jackson, ‘Good luck to you in any case. Recognition if you succeed.’”
Houston’s own preacher could not resist cashing in on the conspiracy craze. The minister claimed in his memoirs that a secret arrangement with Jackson called for the Texans to retreat east of the Sabine “where they would be joined by 4,000 deserters from the United States army.”
From a Memphis paper came a story with a decidedly different if not hopelessly illogical twist. Houston’s co-conspirator was not Jackson but Santa Anna, who deliberately lost the Battle of San Jacinto. The author had a hard time explaining how the “Napoleon of the West” benefitted from the outcome.
Then in 1986 a made-for-the-Sesquicentennial movie showed Jackson giving Houston the choice of two targets: Oregon or Texas. The viewer was left with the impression that Sam simply flipped a coin.
The whodunit angle of conspiracy theories, no matter how far-fetched, has always fascinated Americans. But two puppeteers pulling the strings behind the scenes orchestrated the Texas Revolution?
That would have been a mighty tall order even for Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston!
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