say can you see, that by the dawn's early light, what so proudly he flailed ..."
Imagine, if you will, such an opening statement by Francis Scott Key,
defense attorney for Sam Houston
in an assault case in 1832 in Washington, D.C.
The man who wrote The Star
Spangled Banner had a way with the words, and that's probably why Sam,
after beating the tar out of a congressman with his hickory cane, picked him as
his defense attorney.
Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio had enraged
Houston with ugly remarks
about him in a speech before the House of Representatives. He accused Houston,
a former congressman from Tennessee, of fraud and corruption in connection with
a rations program for Indians.
The remarks particularly hit a sore spot
with Houston, an honorary
Cherokee who had the Indians' best interest at heart and, in fact, paraded around
in full Indian regalia.
The day after the infamous speech, Houston
had to be restrained by Congressman James Polk from charging into the House to
then wrote a note to Stanbery demanding that the congressman explain his accusations
or prepare to defend his honor. --
When Stanbery did not respond, Houston
grew madder by the minute.
The newspaper, the Telegraph, added more fuel
to the fire, printing Stanbery's speech and agreeing with the speech-maker.
on a Friday the 13th in April, 1832, Houston
was strolling down a street with friends when he spotted Stanbery. He yelled at
him, demanding an explanation for the slanderous comments, and when Stanbery looked
the other way, trying to ignore him, Houston
came after him.
Wielding his hickory cane, Houston
proceeded to hit him over and over.
He nearly killed the poor guy and
nearly got killed himself. Knowing he was on Houston's
hit list, Stanbery carried a pistol and during the attack he fumbled for the weapon,
finally found it, and it misfired.
The gun made Houston
even more furious. "Damn rascal!" he kept yelling, hitting his victim. He continued
to flail away until his friends managed to pull him off the poor guy.
then requested that Houston
be charged with assault and tried by the House of Representatives. He said he
had been waylaid by the giant Tennessean who severely bruised and wounded him.
the first time ever, the House had a private citizen arrested for attacking one
of its members for words spoken before Congress.
trial dragged on, day after day, wtih attorney Key declaring he was proud to stand
by sucha man in such a cause and saying that Houston
was not a man of violence but was a patriot who had given his right arm for his
country at Horsehoe Bend. Stanbery, armed and ready, was violent the one, claimed
defense attorney also argued that the House members should not be conducting the
trial in the first place, that they were violating the separation of powers guaranteed
by the Constitution.
always the ham, insisted on starring in the final scene, making his own closing
statements. "I'll take over, now. Thank you, Francis."
Francis Scott Key
himself could not have made a more star-spangled, flag-waving, super patriot speech
than that of his client. Samís
mesmerized audience responded with a standing ovation.
didn't get off Francis Scott Key-free, however. The House found him guilty but
his punishment was a mere reprimand.
It's not over yet. Stanbery pursued
the case in the city court which also found him guilty and slapped him with a
still not over.
In the twilight's last gleaming, President Andrew Jackson
pardoned Sam Houston and he
never paid a cent.
Orton Baytown Sun Columnist, October 14, 2013 column
about Sam Houston
Towns | Texas |