The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993

Sam Houston and the Know-Nothings:
A Reappraisal
GREGG CANTRELL*
O N MARCH 2, 1993, TEXANS WILL CELEBRATE THE TWO-HUNDREDTH
birthday of their state's greatest hero, Sam Houston. As the Hero
of San Jacinto is eulogized throughout the Lone Star State, his familiar
achievements and exploits will no doubt be recalled: the rise to promi-
nence in Tennessee politics as Andrew Jackson's prot6g6; the mysteri-
ous breakup of his marriage to Eliza Allen and resulting years of self-
imposed exile among the Cherokees; the Texas Revolution and the
smashing victory over Santa Anna; the two terms as president of the
Republic of Texas; the long senatorial career; the defeat, and then elec-
tion to the governor's office; the valiant stand against secession and
subsequent removal from office.
Almost certain to be missing from the birthday celebrations, and
perhaps rightfully so, will be those chapters of Houston's life that do
not reflect so favorably upon him. In any life as full as Houston's,
there are bound to be such episodes; one might mention his problems
with alcohol, or his blatantly imperialistic designs upon Mexico in the
years after annexation. And high on almost any list of the less-than-
memorable episodes in Houston's life would be his affiliation in the
mid-1850os with the nativist American, or Know-Nothing, party.
Established in the east with an eye toward curbing the alleged cor-
rupting influences of immigrants and Catholics, the American party
for a time seemed on the verge of replacing the Whigs as the nation's
major opposition to the Democratic party. Originating as a secret nativ-
ist fraternal order (its members were instructed to reply "I know noth-
ing" if asked about the organization), the party in 1854 and 1855 re-
corded some astonishing victories in states such as Massachusetts, New
*Gregg Cantrell is assistant professor of history at Samn Houston State Unive sty He is the
author of Kenneth and John B Rayner and the Lmuts of Southern Dmsent (University of Illinois
Press, 1993), and is currently working on a biography of Stephen F Austin Leigh Range as-
sisted the author in researching this article, and Randolph B. Campbell, Ralph A Woostel, anl
Joan Verrilh provided helpful criticism.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/. Accessed April 17, 2014.