Sam Houston: History, Significance & Facts

Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Sam Houston was a leading figure in the history of Texas. He was a Texan general and president, and after the state joined the Union, he was the governor Texas and one of its first senators.


Of the leading figures in mid-19th century American history, none perhaps has cast a bigger shadow or had a bigger impact on a particular region of the United States than Sam Houston. Houston was a major figure in the Texan war for independence from Mexico and an important leader in early Texan history. Let's learn more about this fascinating individual.

Early Life

Houston was born in Virginia in 1793 and came from a Scots-Irish background. After his father passed away, Sam Houston and his family moved to Tennessee, where Houston and his brothers became involved with the Cherokee Tribe, fostering close ties with the Native American community. By 1812, Houston founded a schoolhouse in Tennessee near where his family lived.

From Soldier to Politician

The outbreak of war with the British in 1812 provided Houston an opportunity for adventure and success far from home. He enlisted in an infantry regiment and gained the rank of lieutenant. During the War of 1812 he fought with and under Andrew Jackson. The two men developed bonds which helped Houston after the war.

By 1818, Houston was a war veteran who had been wounded several times in combat. This gave him a boost to begin a political career. After taking a position as a prosecutor in Nashville, in 1822 Houston was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming a U.S. Congressman. In 1827, he won an election for Governor of Tennessee, a position which he held until 1829. Following his governorship, Houston moved to the Arkansas Territory and lived with the Cherokee, eventually becoming a part of their nation.

In the 1830s, Houston returned to Washington D.C. to advocate for the Cherokee and expose some of the unfair practices to which they had been subjected. In the course of this, Houston became embroiled in arguments, one of which led him to cane an individual in the streets. Houston was tried by Congress for his actions, and after being found guilty (though hardly punished), he fled to Texas, which was back then a part of Mexico.


Upon arriving to Texas, Houston quickly became involved in the growing Texan independence movement. In 1835 he was made a major general in the Texas Army, and in 1836 was made commander-in-chief of that force. That same year, Houston signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.

In 1836, Mexican army forces were trying to prevent Texas from leaving the country. In March, Mexican troops had taken and overwhelmed Texans holding out in The Alamo, a mission turned into a fort near San Antonio. Following this defeat, Houston attempted to gather his army forces together to continue the fight. At the Battle of San Jacinto, Houston led Texas troops to a surprise victory over Mexican General Santa Anna and his army. The battle was a route, which forced Santa Anna to sign a treaty with the Texans granting them their independence.

Sam Houston in 1851

President, Senator, Governor

After his glorious successes in Texas, and after the region had become its own nation in 1836, Houston was elected the first president of the new independent republic. The city of Houston was named in his honor and he was greatly beloved by his people. Houston served two non-consecutive terms as the president of Texas, and when the state was annexed into the United States in 1845, he became a U.S. Senator from Texas. As a Senator, Houston fought against the growing sectional divide in the country, favoring compromises on slavery, the major issue that was causing the great rifts between North and South. In 1859, Houston was elected Governor of Texas.

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