The Houston-Fisher Controversy
DURING THE CRITICAL YEARS OF 1836-1837, THE NEWLY FORMED
Republic of Texas was endangered by a possible reinvasion by
Mexican troops. The reconquest of Texas was a Mexican ambition
and the minister of war, Jose M. Tornel, exerted all his influence
and energy toward the accomplishment of this end by declaring a block-
ade of Texas ports. Conflicts within the Mexican government made this
reconquest an impossibility, but Texans along the Gulf Coast were
fearful, nevertheless, of what they considered imminent danger and
demanded protection of their commerce by the Texas government.
Sam Houston, President of the Republic, entrusted the work of
coastal protection to his secretary of the navy, Samuel Rhoads Fisher.
When the secretary's plan for coastal defense did not meet with the
President's approval, however, Fisher followed his own judgment. The
political and international complications which resulted were a source
of grave concern and embarrassment to President Houston. Acting in
his capacity as commander-in-chief, he promptly dismissed the insub-
ordinate cabinet member.
The Houston-Fisher controversy hinged initially on the interpre-
tation of the proper use of the navy in defending the extensive Texas
coastline and in keeping the unprotected coastal cities open for com-
merce. The President's unilateral action in the matter of dismissal
resulted in an executive-legislative dispute over the constitutionality
of the removal of a cabinet officer without Senate consent.
Houston had earlier attempted to avoid any internal governmental
conflict. Following his election, he selected the personnel of his first
cabinet with a view to uniting opposing factions. For this reason
he appointed Stephen F. Austin, his opponent in the recent presi-
dental race, as secretary of state. He subsequently appointed Henry
Smith secretary of the treasury and Samuel Rhoads Fisher, Austin's
*Miss Hutton is professor of history at Jackson State College.
1Eugene C. Barker, History of Texas (Dallas, 1929), 36o; Samuel Murray Robinson,
"Texas Sea War, a Brief History of the Texas Navies," Texas Heritage, I (March, 1960),
216; S. Rhodes Fisher to A. S. Thurston, April 15, 1837, Navy Papers 1835-1838 (Archives
Division, Texas State Library). Navy Papers are hereafter cited as NP.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 76, July 1972 - April, 1973. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101202/. Accessed May 3, 2015.