Seat of Empire
The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas
In 1838 Texas vice president Mirabeau B. Lamar, flush from the excitement of a successful buffalo hunt, gazed from a hilltop toward the paradise at his feet and saw the future. His poetic eye admired the stunning vista before him, with its wavering prairie grasses gradually yielding to clusters of trees, then whole forests bordering the glistening Colorado River in the distance. Lamar’s equally awestruck companions, no strangers to beautiful landscapes, shuffled speechlessly nearby. But where these men saw only nature’s handiwork, Lamar visualized a glorious manmade transformation--trees into buildings, prairie into streets, and the river itself into a bustling waterway. And he knew that with the presidency of the Republic of Texas in his grasp, he would soon be in position to achieve this vision.
The founding of Austin sparked one of the Republic’s first great political battles, pitting against each other two Texas titans: Lamar, who in less than a year had risen to vice president from army private, and Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto and a man both loved and hated throughout the Republic.
Published by: Texas Tech University Press
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Brujerías: Stories of Witchcraft and the Supernatural in the American South-Cacti of Texas: A Field Guide, by A. Michael Powell, James F. Weedin, and Cacti of the Trans-Pecos and Adjacent Areas, by A. Michael Powell and Cowboy Park: Steer-Roping Contests on the Border, by John O. BaxterDance All Night: Those Other Southwestern Swing Bands, Past and Present, ...
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Want of political unity is the one consistent theme threading its way through the fabric of early Anglo-Texan history. Seemingly no action occurred without bitter squabbling be-forehand and angry fi nger-pointing after the fact. That an independent Texas emerged from those hectic days, given the divided goals and loyal-ties affl icting the leaders of the Texas Revolution, is nothing short of re-A split command at the Alamo certainly added little to the effective-...
1. Mirabeau Lamar's Buffalo
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In the fall of 1838, the tiny hamlet of Waterloo, Texas welcomed the most important visitor in its brief history. At the time, the town had not yet even been incorporated, Congress not taking that step until the following January. Lying farther up the Colorado River than any other Anglo settlement, Waterloo presented a humble appear-ance to the dignitary and his entourage.1 Only a few log cabins scattered around the mouth of Shoal Creek greeted Willis Avery, James C. Rice, ...
2. The Nomadic Government
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Just three years before his breakfast in Jacob Harrell’s Colorado River cabin, Mirabeau Lamar entered the Mexican territory of Texas an unknown. True, he had once occupied a seat in the Georgia state Senate, but his wife’s death and two subsequent lost elec-tions had soured the forty-year-old Lamar on life in the Peach State. Thus, the man who followed fellow Georgian James Fannin’s footsteps west-ward across the Sabine River in July 1835 carried dual burdens of ...
3. False Start
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From recent indications, there can be no doubt that there is a settled purpose among you to act upon this matter at the present session of congress. . . . If a proper regard be had in the selection of a beautiful and eligible site in the upper country, as the permanent seat of government, it can doubtless be made the source From a letter to the editor written by “A Citizen” appearing in the October 11, ...
4. The Raven and the Poet
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General Lamar will not pardon a friendly regard in any person for Gen Houston.October 3, 1838, entry in Ashbel Smith’s diary, Ashbel Smith Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American Studies, the University of Texas at AustinSam Houston, describing Mirabeau Lamar in a December 13, 1841, letter to his wife Margaret, Roberts, Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston, vol. 1, 135...
5. Selecting a Site
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Be it enacted . . . that there shall be and are hereby created fi ve Commissioners . . . whose duty it shall be to select a site for the location of the Seat of Government.From “An act for the permanent location of the Seat of Government,” signed into law by President Mirabeau Lamar January 14, 1839, Gammel, The Laws of Judas betrayed his master, and fi ve commissioners can betray their country....
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I congratulate you, gentlemen, and the country in general, that a question which has so deeply excited our National Legislature, has thus been put at rest.President Mirabeau Lamar in a message to Congress November 12, 1839, This is an important measure, and should be laid before the people—for whose Certainly nothing could have been more ridiculous and absurd than fi xing the seat ...
7. Road to Austin
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William Barton was worried. Peering eastward from atop a hill overlooking the Colorado River, he scanned the verdant prairie in vain for any movement that might be his son re-turning from a trip to Bastrop. As would any prudent Texas frontiersman, “Uncle Billy” carried a hunting rifl e, not in the hope of encountering game, but as a precaution against becoming prey himself. Barton had hiked up the incline from his nearby home on the beautiful creek which ...
8. Building a City
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The city of Austin bids fair to become one of the most refi ned and Early Austin resident Thomas Bell, letter to his brother, November 19, 1839Thomas Bell had never before seen such beautiful scenery. After crossing the Sabine River to enter Texas he and his compan-ions rode through the Redlands admiring the “rich red soil [that] produces as fi ne corn and cotton as I ever saw anywhere.” Immedi-ately west of the Trinity River the soil seemed poor, but the Brazos River ...
9. There will be a Public Sale of Lots
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The Lots are layd [sic], streets & alleys wide, and the several public squares, and lots for the Government Buildings, selected with good taste, by the Agent Judge Waller, who is now engaged in putting up the necessary buildings for Congress.The public buildings shall be in readiness in time for the next Congress. I have two 16 feet square rooms up now and the rest in progress, therefore entertain no fears ...
10. Lamar's Triumph
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Even without a full load the heavy iron chest would have been too much for one man to handle. But crammed full of navy de-partment papers, offi ce supplies, various kitchen utensils, cof-fee, salt, and other miscellany, the trunk stubbornly resisted the exertions of several strong men. Four black laborers dripped sweat in the Septem-ber heat as they dragged the chest outside to the dusty Houston street, then with a triumphant grunt heaved it onto the wagon bed indicated by ...
11. The Fourth Congress
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Like many of his fellow citizens, merchant and devout Presbyte-rian James Burke strove to introduce his own version of civiliza-tion to early Austin. Born in South Carolina, the “Sunday School Man” grew up in Tennessee, ran a fl ourishing business in Natchez, Mis-sissippi, moved to Texas in 1837, and followed Edwin Waller from Hous-ton to Austin in the summer of 1839. He bought six city lots at the fi rst auction in August and a single lot at the second offering November 1, ...
12. Frontier Capital
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The people are very intelligent and polite—I have not lived in better Brewster H. Jayne, writing from Austin to Juliet Jayne, June 7, 1840As we lay in bed yesterday morning thinking of the joyful era, there crept into our mind a remembrance of our last Christmas in Austin in 1841, then socially the Anson Jones, Brazoria County senator in the Fourth Congress, part of diary ...
13. Moccasin Tracks
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There’s but two tribes any how in this country. One is the moccasin and the other the boots. In those days the moccasins had the county and I was on the trail; now the boots have it, and the moccasins have disappeared, but blamed if Early Austin resident Ben Gooch, Brown, Annals of Travis Country, ch. 11Sometime during the 1810s a Georgia schoolboy named Mira-beau Lamar took up his pen while pondering the question, “Were the Europeans Justifi ed in Conquering and Taking Possession of ...
14. The Pig War
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These people, M. le Comte, are unbelievably inexperienced and ignorant in all that concerns external politics. They have no idea of the respective situation of different nations, of the rules and the usages that govern the relations amongst these nations; besides, begin Americans, they have boundless vanity and presumption.Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, letter to M. le Comte, April 20, 1839...
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After months of wallowing in a Mexican prison, Hugh McLeod craved something stronger than water to quench his thirst. He stepped off the Rosa Alvina’s gangplank onto a Galveston pier and scanned the waterfront for possibilities. A group of similarly parched Texans, all veterans of the failed Santa Fe Expedition led by McLeod, accompanied the happy man. Following their former commander into the closest bar, the party smiled gratefully as McLeod, on the strength of ...
16. Return of the Raven
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I consider Sam Houston’s Elevation would be a National Calamity.Is Burnet a western man when he is opposed to western measures? . . . Mirabeau Lamar had reason to feel satisfi ed with his presiden-cy as it wound to a close in the fall of 1841. His eviction of the Cherokee from Texas represented a major step toward his goal of cleansing the nation of its indigenous people. Only two years from its founding an already thriving Austin seemed about to become a ...
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There was no such thing as settling permanently in those days. In the judgment of the people everything was on the wing or ready to be, at the shortest notice. It was Austin residents in the early 1840s did not relish the prospect of braving city streets at night. Methodist preacher Josiah Whip-ple, while claiming divine protection, nevertheless wrote, “And although man may be immortal until his work is done, I have concluded not to travel after night in the Indian range after this.” Swiss-born John ...
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It was in the spring of 1845. . . . The capital of the republic was desolate, vacant houses on all sides. People moved into whatever tenement they thought most conducive to safety or convenience. . . . We had walked to President hill . . . once oc-cupied by the President’s mansion, to gather some of those chalky daisies that grew there. Climbing the hillside among the tussocks of lemon balm, leaving the radiant ...
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The fi rst session of the Legislature, after the adoption of this Constitution by the Congress of the United States, shall be held at the city of Austin, the present seat of Government, and thereafter, until the year one thousand eight hundred and fi fty; after which period the Seat of Government shall be permanently located by the If westerners could have read Anson Jones’s private diary in 1844, they might not have feared the prospects of a Jones presidency quite so much. As President Sam Houston’s secretary of state, ...
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Austin survived two state-wide elections to fi nally gain offi cial recognition as the permanent seat of government of Texas. The constitutionally mandated election of 1850, in which vot-ers were to pick a capital for the next twenty years, resulted in an easy victory for the city. The pace of work involved in reorganizing the state after the Civil War delayed the 1870 vote by two years, but in 1872 Austin again won handily against its closest competitors, Houston and Waco. ...
Page Count: 352
Series Title: Grover E. Murray Studies in the American