After walking up and down the governor's mansion all night, Texas governor Sam Houston made a decision.
"Margaret, I will not do it," he told his wife. He would not recognize the legality of the 1861 secession efforts, even knowing it would cost him the governorship.
"He lived the rest of his days, in Confederate eyes, in disgrace," said biographer James L. Haley. "But that, to me, was his great, defining moment."
The three-hour documentary Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier, And Pioneer, to air Thursday on KLRN Channel 9 and available on DVD, is a favorable take on the only man that was elected as governor of two states (Tennessee and Texas), but it is far from a biography. Written by Haley, Sam Houston is a gorgeously shot and edited movie as complex as the man himself, who was adopted (and renamed) by the Cherokee nation and who marched at the beat of his own drum throughout his life.
"Let me tell you what is coming," he had warned the South. "After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, you may win Southern independence, but I doubt it. The North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche."
His refusal to secede was respectful, but unflinching.
"Fellow-Citizens," he wrote, "in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas ... I protest ... against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void."
"Get the picture of a man who was willing to go with his own conviction and his own conscience, rather than the pleadings of the popular majority," said former governor Ann Richards in the film (she had been interviewed for the film a few months before her cancer diagnosis, one which ultimately took her life in September 2006).
In spite of the political cost he had to suffer, he became one of few figures in American history to earn the admiration and respect of people from both sides (and outside of) the aisle.
"Certainly, without a doubt, [Houston was] the most influential and intriguing governor that Texas ever produced and, I would suggest to you, ever will," said Governor Rick Perry in the documentary.
"He was a lynchpin to our history," said Richards in a written endorsement of the project. "And having a documentary about him with the points of view of a number of people, a sort of unwashed, unvarnished, no dressed-up version of ‘Here’s who Sam Houston was and therefore we can better understand why we are the way we are’ is a truly important project.”
Soon after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Houston orally freed his slaves (which was illegal in the Confederacy) and, after falling from grace, used whatever influence he still had to help Native Americans avoid the Confederate draft.
"He came to our reservation all the time, talking to the elders," said Clayton Sylastine, chief of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, in the documentary. "He was a good friend of ours."
Sam Houston: American Statesman, Soldier, And Pioneer airs 7pm Thursday, April 18, on KLRN (Channel 9)
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