At age sixteen, Sam Houston left home to live with the Cherokee. After living with the Cherokee for three years, he enlisted in the army in March 1813. Houston fought in the War of 1812 and was promoted to First Lieutenant and made subagent to the Cherokee Indians. A dispute with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1818 caused Houston to resign from his positions and he moved to Nashville. Houston was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1818. In addition to practicing law, Houston served as a local prosecutor and had a command in the Tennessee militia.
In 1823, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served two terms in the House before successfully running for Governor of Tennessee in 1827. He resigned from the position in April 1829 and moved to Indian Territory where he lived with the Cherokee. In October 1829, he became a member of the Cherokee Nation.
In 1832, Houston left for Texas where he settled in Nacogdoches and practiced law. Houston supported the call for separate statehood and served on the committee that drafted a constitution for the Mexican state of Texas. On November 12, 1835, Houston was named Commander in Chief of the Texas army and renamed to the position on March 2, 1836 when the convention adopted a declaration of independence.
After seeking medical treatment in New Orleans for an injury at the Battle of San Jacinto, where Houston led the Texans to victory, Houston returned to Texas in the summer of 1836 and was elected the first President of the Republic of Texas on September 5. Under Houston’s presidency, which ended on December 10, 1838, the Republic gained diplomatic recognition from the United States. Houston was elected to serve in the Fourth Texas Congress in 1839.
Houston ran for President of the Republic in 1841. Though the campaign between Houston and David G. Burnet was bitter, Houston won by an overwhelming margin. Houston renewed efforts for annexation to the United States in 1843, though it would not be successful until 1845, one year after Houston left office.
Houston was elected to the U.S. Senate in February 1846 and was elected to a full-term in December 1847. Houston was determined to preserve the Union. He voted for organizing the Oregon Territory with a prohibition on slavery and voted for all parts of the Compromise of 1850. Houston was elected to a third term in January 1853, but his vote against the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which permitted settlers to vote on whether to allow slavery, injured Houston’s political career. Viewing Houston’s vote against the Act as anti-Southern, the Texas legislature officially condemned his decision.
Houston announced his plan to run for Governor as an independent in 1857, though he retained his seat in the Senate. Houston suffered the only defeat of his political career to Hardin R. Runnels, a staunch supporter of Southern views.
When Houston’s Senate term ended in 1859, he ran for Governor against Runnels for a second time. With Unionism in the forefront, Houston won the election and took office in December 1859. Houston strongly fought against secession and war, but despite his efforts, the Texas legislature voted to secede from the Union. Houston’s refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy led to his removal as governor in March 1861. The Houston family moved to their summer home east of Beach City, Texas. By fall 1862, it became clear that the North would invade Galveston, so Houston took his family back to Huntsville, where they remained until his death in 1863.
The portrait was done in 1875. Thurston (Thuse) Donnellan (1845-1908) was popular artist in Houston in the latter part of the 19th century. As a teenager, Donnellan enlisted in the 2nd Texas Infantry during the Civil War and served as the regiment’s drummer. Because of his age, Donnellan was not permitted to cross the Mississippi River with the regiment and was reassigned for duty in Texas. Donnellan studied art in New Orleans and Chicago. He painted portraits of several Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, but Donnellan is best known for his portraits of Sam Houston.