campaigns can get rough and rowdy, riddled with name calling and
sophomoric temper fits.
For example, the Republic of Texas election in 1841. That was the
year of the big face-off between longtime foes Sam
Houston and David G. Burnet.
Those two absolutely loathed one another, their animosity going
back to pre-San
Burnet called Houston
a “big drunk” while Houston’s
label for Burnet was “wetumpka,” translated “hog thief” in Indian.
And speaking of Indian, Burnet accused Houston
of being part Native American, a claim that – although not accurate
– Houston accepted
as a compliment.
During the volatile campaign, Houston
and Burnet penned newspaper articles, using pseudonyms, and spread
wild and crazy stories about one another in letters and speeches.
One might say they set the standards for today’s blogging and twittering.
Just think what they could have done with (and to) the Internet.
writer/campaign manager was his best friend, Dr. Ashbel Smith, who
had urged him to run in the first place. From his plantation on
Evergreen Road, Smith traveled the short distance to Houston’s
home at Cedar Point to plan campaign strategy and help him compose
the diatribes against Burnet.
fortunate to have such a capable cohort; the pioneer medical doctor/statesman
was an extraordinary wordsmith.
In the heat of the verbal battle, Burnet challenged Houston
to a duel.
“I never fight downhill,” responded Houston,
an imposing figure who stood over 6 feet. In contrast, Burnet didn’t
measure up. He was quite short and – based on his photos in history
books – seemed rather out of shape.
In addition to hog thief and other names, including some not printable,
Burnet “Little Davey.”
became weary of it all, stating, “I am constrained to believe that
the people of Texas are thoroughly
disgusted with both of us.”
The two presidential contenders had served previously. Burnet had
been the interim president of the Republic of Texas, elected at
the convention in March 1836 when independence from Mexico was declared,
and he served until the following October when Houston
won the general election.
Mirabeau Lamar succeeded Houston,
serving from late 1838 to 1841, with Burnet as his vice president.
In the role of vice president, Burnet gained additional experience
as president, running the government several months when Lamar became
ill. Based on his work in the Lamar administration and his earlier
stint as provisional president, Burnet considered himself well qualified
to be elected in 1841, but Texas voters thought not. Houston
won in a landslide.
In the two years between his first and second term as president,
in the Texas Congress, criticizing every move that Lamar and Burnet
There was one issue, however, that placed Houston
on the same page with Lamar and Burnet. Lamar, who is remembered
today as the Father of Education in Texas, initiated a system of
free public education, and Houston
was all for it.
Well, at least they could agree about something.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
April 7, 2014 column