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Ron Rozelle is a Texas treasure. What he writes is worth reading. Exiled: The Last Days of Sam Houston, by Rozelle, continues his string of books worth reading.
It is a biography of the father of Texas. Most biographers concentrate on Houston’s early career, especially the period where he led the Texian Army or served as the first president of the Republic of Texas. Rozelle uses a different tactic. This book focuses on the end of Houston’s public life, as Texas’ first US senator and as governor of the state of Texas.
For a century, from Houston’s death until the 1960s, in Texas these were the least popular part of Houston’s career. Houston opposed Texas joining the Confederacy. Yet Rozelle realized that is what made those years worth examining. They were neglected and they were fascinating.
Rozelle shows Houston as a Unionist, first and foremost. Sam Houston believed in the United States as firmly as his wife, Margaret, believed in her Bible. Union was almost as much his religion as the Baptist faith he accepted later in life. Houston had helped built the United States, and felt it a necessary bulwark to protect Texas from the chaos in Mexico.
As a result, Houston took a course deeply unpopular in Texas. As senator, he supported compromises which kept the Union patched together through the 1850s, opposing the fire-eating John C. Calhoun. As governor in 1860 and 1861, he blocked attempts of Texas to leave the Union for as long as he could. Then he resigned his position rather than swear allegiance to the Confederacy.
Houston’s predictions of what would happen during the Civil War were accurate. Had Houston’s advice for Texas to remain independent been followed, it is likely a neutral Republic of Texas would be independent today or have re-entered the Union on its own terms.
Rozelle reveals Houston’s weaknesses and strengths. Rozelle presents Houston as a complex, three-dimensional, yet very human character, a giant despite great flaws. “Exiled” tells the story of a great man standing athwart history, even when the tides of public opinion ran against him.
“Exiled: The Last Days of Sam Houston,” by Ron Rozelle, Texas A&M University Press, 2017, 232 pages, $29.95
I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review on Ricochet on the following Sunday.