Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar was the second president of the Republic of Texas. He was born in Georgia in 1798 to John Samuel III and Rebecca Lamar. One of the youngest of eight children, Lamar was self educated, having been accepted to Princeton University, though he declined.
Early on, he tried to establish himself in several businesses including becoming a merchant, but he was unsuccessful. His father helped him to secure a job as secretary to the governor of Georgia, George M. Troup. He traveled the state speaking on behalf of Gov. Troup. During this period he met his first wife, Tabatha Burwell Jordan. Lamar and Tabitha were married in 1826 and two years later, when Troup failed to be reelected, he and Tabitha moved to Columbus, Georgia. There he established a newspaper called the Columbus Enquirer. While living in Columbus, Lamar made a successful run for the Georgia Senate and served one term. His wife Tabitha passed away in 1830, leaving him with one daughter, Rebecca Ann. Lamar then studied law and was admitted to the Georgia bar three years later. In 1934, he suffered another personal loss as his brother Lucius committed suicide, after which Lamar came to Texas.
He was personal friends with James W. Fannin and upon learning of the death of Fannin at the hands of the Mexican Army, he decided to stay in Texas and join the Texas Army. He served under Sam Houston in the events leading up to the Battle of San Jacinto. He distinguished himself as a soldier and was given command of a cavalry regiment which he led in the Battle of San Jacinto.
He succeeded Thomas Rusk as Secretary of War of the Republic when he was appointed by interim President David G. Burnet. A few months later, Lamar was appointed Vice President of the Republic by interim President Burnet. While serving as Vice President under Burnet, Lamar began to promote the establishment of schools in each district. His interest in education led him to follow through and as a result, a number of schools were established.
Houston won the election as the first President of the Republic of Texas in 1836 and served his two year term. Presidents were limited to one term in succession, and in the next election Lamar was nominated for the post. He won the election, succeeding Houston and was inaugurated in December 1838. In his attitude toward war with Mexico, fiscal spending and treatment of the native tribes, Lamar was the polar opposite of Houston. Lamar favored driving the Comanche and Cherokee tribes from the settled areas, whereas Houston had been more conciliatory towards them. There was some sentiment within the Republic in favor of annexation of Texas into the United States. This position was opposed by Lamar who felt that, if anything, Texas should instead expand and take action to become recognized by European countries as well as its long time foe, Mexico. He also felt that the Republic needed to establish a national bank.
Lamar took steps to gain recognition from Mexico and sent delegations to try and forge an agreement that would stop the continual skirmishes the Mexican Army. He authorized military action against the Cherokee, culminating in the Battle of the Neches in 1839, which was the last major battle with the tribe. Houston’s Cherokee friend Chief Bowles was killed, which greatly angered Houston. Houston and Lamar never reconciled.
Lamar attempted to reestablish the capital from Houston to a place on the Colorado River called Waterloo, now part of Austin. He promoted the establishment of two universities, but no construction took place during his administration. His various plans were ambitious, but Texas lacked the financial stability to accomplish everything, spending more money that it could raise with taxes.
In 1841, Lamar authorized the Santa Fe Expedition that ended in defeat. His term as president ended and he was succeeded by Houston, who became the only president of the Republic to serve two terms.
Lamar then returned to service in the Texas Army, which he did for a number of years. During this time, he participated in the Mexican-American War. He lived to see Texas be admitted to the United States in 1845 during Anson Jones’ term as president of the Republic.
In his later years, he married Henrietta Moffitt in 1851. He successfully ran for the Texas Legislature when he was in his 50s. He was appointed Minister to Nicaragua in 1857 and served for about two years. Lamar suffered a heart attack in December, 1859 and passed away the next day at his home in Richmond at the age of 61.
Lamar’s legacy will include his ambitious plans for the Republic in the areas of territorial expansion, education and the creation of a climate for the settlers that was safe from attacks from the native tribes. He was not able to achieve everything he set out to do, but is recognized for his efforts.
He was survived by his second wife, Henrietta and one daughter, Loretta Evelina. Lamar is interred in Morton Cemetery in Richmond, near his home. He was well-read and during his lifetime, he published a number of poems, some of which have previously been printed here in the early days of this blog. It reveals a literary side of him that is not often discussed.
To a Mexican Girl
My Isabel-dear Isabell
Oh, take the flowers I send thee;
And with the gift, the donor’s prayers,
All blessings to attend thee.
With health , and wealth, and lengthened life,
And many friends around thee,
Oh, be this world a world of flowers,
Without a thorn to wound thee.
Sweet girl, these flowers are like thyself,
Thy native vales adorning,
In all the lovely lights arrayed
Iris and the morning;
But brighter far than any rose,
That blooms by Bravo’s water,
Is that which decks thy father’s hall
Don Lopez’ smiling daughter.
Too oft, alas! unfeeling man
Is viper in the roses-
And many a tear the maid may shed,
Who on his faith reposes;
But wo betide the ruthless one,
By earth and Heaven rejected,
Who woos and wins so sweet a flower,
To leave its bloom neglected!
Full soon the bright bouquet will fade,
For beauty hath a fleetness;
But when the flowers have lost their hues,
They still retain their sweetness:
So will it be dear maid, with thee,
And all the gentle-hearted-
The power to please will linger still,
When beauty hath departed.
Oh, by-and-by, when I am old,
And thou in all thy glory,
Some gayer bard will sing to thee
His love-inspiring story;
And should he be, as I have been,
Still true to love and duty,
Then be the minstrel’s high reward
The hand and heart of beauty.
–by Mirabeau B. Lamar
© 2017, all rights reserved.
3 thoughts on “Mirabeau B. Lamar”
A fascinating man who is not easily placed on the “good guy – bad guy” spectrum that the historical laymen like to use. He has probably the most meteoric rise of any politician in Texas history, going from a volunteer private to a colonel to secretary of war to Vice President in only a few months. His mistakes were many as a president (his presidential mansion in Austin was made of green, unseasoned oak wood, and was uninhabitable within two years due to all the leaks), and he allowed the Mexican government to dangle the carrot of an armistice before him for too long. His justifications for the Santa Fe expedition are actually far better than the history books say – primarily as a trade excursion, with the added task of investigating the general mood of the populace to see if annexation to Texas would be supported. Lamar’s greatest contribution was to restart the Texas Navy and control the Gulf – Santa Anna would almost certainly have invaded by sea in 1843 were it not for Lamar’s Navy holding them back.
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He was a complicated individual, all right. Thanks for your comments.
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