Houston’s Dissent, Part Two

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Houston began his objection to the KansasNebraska Act by speaking at length about the injustices that Stephen Douglas and the act’s supporters would inflict upon the Indians to whom the United States had pledged that land in perpetuity. They could have it forever…unless white American decided it wanted the Indian country after all. That same story played out constantly, virtually from Jamestown onward. The colonists revolted against the British at least in part because London placed limits on how far inland they could settle, on behalf of the Indians. Houston had personal ties to the Cherokee nation and a political record that made his concern convincing, if still tightly bound to nineteenth century convictions that doing right by the Indians meant converting them to Christianity and convincing them to live as white men did.

The majority of Houston’s remarks concern the importance of the United States keeping its promises to the Indian tribes. At times, his words come across as very modern. Then a paragraph or so later Houston reminds the reader that his principles don’t mesh very well with those of modern multiculturalism. He called the bill needless, as the land in question belonged to the Indians and had no white settlers. He objected to pushing organization of Kansas, Nebraska, and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise into a single bill.

They are not to be separated, I presume, sir; and as my position in relation to the repeal of the Missouri compromise, if unexplained, might not exactly be comprehended, I must speak of it. This subject is not a new one to me. I have met it of old, not in its present phase, but in one equally as formidable and imposing as on the present occasion. Although I stood alone in the South, with the exception of a southwestern senator, [Mr. Benton, of Missouri] I expressed my opinion, and voted my principles upon it.

Houston reminded the Senate that he walked the walk on the Missouri Compromise: None of Oregon extended below its line so he voted to have the territory free. He took the political knocks for that and stuck to his guns. He opposed Douglas’ last Nebraska bill, even though it didn’t touch on the Missouri compromise, out of his sympathy with the Indians. If anything, the new bill reached farther. For that, Houston already had the Southern press attacking him. He quoted the Richmond Inquirer on the matter:

What objects Mr. Houston has in view, and what excuses he may have to attempt to gratify them, I know not. Nothing can justify this treachery; nor can anything save the traitor from the deep damnation which such treason may merit. It will, however, effect no injury; and its impotency will but add to its infamy. The man who deserts at this crisis-one affecting the future destiny of half the continent, and the perpetuity of the Union-will be consigned to a proper fate. The South, with a blush of shame, and the North with secret delight, will alike look without sympathy to the execration of a man who is destitute either of the power to benefit or to injure. ‘Hissing, but stingless,’ let the viper crawl.

The Senate gave him a round of laughter for that one. But Sam Houston didn’t take that personally. He wouldn’t lower himself to hate like that editor, who talked so much about slime. If he left any of that slime on his track, Sam Houston would just step over it. The Senate laughed at that news too. But whatever slings and arrows of editorial comment, even from a paper he knew from his Virginia childhood, Sam Houston would stick with the Missouri compromise.

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