The Father of Texas Education
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2002
- Category: Life
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History is a valuable advisor. But, history can only teach those aware of it. Often, the details of a historical figure’s life or events in it are lost to the general public. Commonly, only vague and general facts are recollected about prominent leaders. But, in my opinion, the details are the most interesting part. It is the details of a life or experience that humanizes the story. The details are the trials and tribulations of life, which may be joyful, painful, or terribly sad. These emotional events help us understand what drives a human toward a decision or cause. Contrastingly, these struggles might illustrate what pulls a person away from another person, race, or event. In fact, personal hardships often influence major historical actions. The goal of this writing is to educate the reader about the hardships and life experiences that shaped Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar. This is not a sugar-coated version of history that only illuminates the good in Lamar. Rather, this is a factual version offering insight of how his struggles, proximity to suicides, broken friendships, and discord with other races led a man to do both unsavory and honorable things.
Mirabeau B. Lamar, was born in Georgia on August 16, 1798 to a prosperous family. His parents, John and Rebecca Lamar, raised nine children on a cotton plantation. Lamar was the second born child. Although Lamar was not formally educated and did not attend a university, he was an avid reader. His self-taught education proved enough. Lamar was a dreamer, as well as creative. He was interested in history, poetry, fencing, horseback, and oil painting.
At the time of his childhood, slavery was an inherent part of owning a southern plantation. Lamar grew up as the child of slave owners and was influenced that this was the norm from a young age. According to the biographical Kemp sketches, Lamar’s mother still had three slaves at the time of her death in 1839. Historians have documented that Lamar had an “exclusionary position toward certain races of people”.
Lamar’s became the private secretary for Governor George M. Troup of Georgia when he was 25 years old. His responsibilities included traveling the country to offer support via speeches and composing releases to the press. During this period, Georgia Governor Troup and Lamar worked to remove Cherokee and Creek Indians from the state to allow for peaceful white settlement. Ryan Christopher summarized that Lamar viewed Indians as inferior beings and often described them in an unfavorable light. Lamar felt the hostile Indians were a threat to the new republic, and did not believe that they could co-exist peacefully. During these years, Lamar learned that he had the ability to influence and persuade his listeners. Lamar continued to utilize this skill to achieve goals in various positions during his life.
On January 1,1826, M.B. Lamar married Tabitha Burwell Jordan, who he met while touring for the Governor. His wife, diagnosed with tuberculosis, struggled with her health. They had a daughter, Rebecca Ann Lamar, in 1827. In 1829, Lamar was elected as State Senator. After only four years of marriage, his wife passed away. Naturally, this is a difficult time for Lamar, as he is the single parent of a two year old. In his sadness, Lamar withdraws from his second Senate race and travels in grief. When Lamar returns home and runs for reelection, he is unsuccessful in both 1832 and 1834.
Sadness did not stay away long for Mirabeau, as his oldest brother shot himself in 1834. He left behind a nine year of son. Lucius was an attorney and superior judge in Georgia. Rumors spread that Lucius was depressed upon learning he convicted and sentenced to death an innocent man. Lamar’s sister and father also died in this period. Once again, Mirabeau turned to introspection and travel. In the “Journal of My Travels”, Lamar describes himself as “miserably dyspeptic and melancholy”.
Despite these hardships, Lamar refocused and moved to a Mexican providence in Texas. Lamar was a dynamic fellow, with big ideas and ambition. Lamar joined the Revolutionary Army and later becomes an officer in the Mexican-American War, where led the calvary at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Lamar encouraged his men to follow these orders, “Keep the Mexicans from breaking across the prairie”. Indeed, Lamar’s men were successful in quickly defeating the Mexican army, which served at the turning point in the war. Mexican leader, Santa Anna, was soon captured. Lamar became an authentic hero of San Jacinto and earned great praise from President Sam Houston. Despite this, Lamar would be rejected by his own men and relinquish his military role to become the Vice President under Sam Houston.
Lamar and Houston soon discovered that they were not in agreement politically as they initially presumed. Sam Houston wanted to live in peace with the Indians, as he actually had done as a child. Contrastingly, as Vice President, Lamar openly showed his anti-Indian sentiment and vowed to try to exterminate them. Lamar developed this dislike for Indians as a young man. This enmity was embraced by George Troup of Georgia during the Creek Wars.
Further, Lamar undermined Houston’s effort negotiate a peace treaty with the Indians in 1836. Lamar influenced the senate to reject it “on the false grounds that the Cherokees has aided Mexico and therefore not kept their part of the bargain”. Lamar demanded that Cherokees by removed from Texas. The Cherokee removal eventually opened addition land for settlement by Anglo Americans.
“The campaign was a very bitter one, marked by personalities and abuse”. Mirabeau Lamar’s policies were opposite of Houston, and Lamar led “an increasingly powerful anti-American party in Texas”. Lamar dreamed that Texas might become a western empire opposing the United States. Houston disliked this talk and did not want Lamar to succeed him as President. Instead, he backed Peter Grayson in the 1838 election. Oddly, both of Lamar’s rival candidates committed suicide before the election.
Without opposition, Mirabeau Lamar was elected as the second president of the Republic of Texas on December 10, 1838. He served from 1838 to 1841.
His daughter, Rebecca, resided in Macon relatives during his presidency. She and her father wrote one another regularly. When she was 13 years old, she tells Lamar about a fight on election day that resulted in the shooting of her uncle Jefferson, who was Lamar’s younger brother. Rebecca also mentions her dream of traveling to Paris and then living with Lamar “always.”
Lamar felt strongly about education, as reflected in this popular quote, “It is admitted by all that the cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled by virtue, is the noblest attribute of man”. Just weeks after taking office, Lamar convinced congress to set aside property for future schools. In 1839, Congress passed an act that allowed for lands in each county and two universities. Although the land was accounted for, the republic did not have funds to build any schools at the time. After the Civil War, the Constitutional Convention finally made purchases and allowances for new schools. Although Lamar’s goal of a formal Texas education was postponed due to a shortage of funds, decades later it was realized as his legacy.
But in 1855, the US Congress gave Texas a huge settlement to for old debts. This allowed Lamar to fund his education act. Texas spent two million of a land for good, “Father of Texas Education” education, many schools named for him, including Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
As President, Lamar hoped to rapidly develop Texas. But, Texas did not have much funding or international recognition, except from the United States. Native Americans had no peace treaty with Anglos, so settlers faced regular threats. As more Anglo settled and slaughtered buffalo for their hides, the Indians angered and retaliated. Along with Congress, Lamar spent profuse energy and funding to remove the Indians from northern Texas. Lamar’s efforts to cost many lives on both sides.
Lamar moved the capital to centrally-located Austin, where many Comanche resided. This meant “moving the government out of the namesake city of Lamar’s leading critic, Sam Houston”. Lamar worked with a man named Jack Hays to combat the Comanche. Hays “mauled Indians” and learned “to locate Indian camps by the circling flock of buzzards that always hung over them, no matter how well they might be concealed in canyons”.
Lamar was also hostile toward Mexico. At this time, President Lamar did not support US annexation. Instead, he dreamed of “extending Texas to the Pacific and standing as a power in its own right”. His attempt to expand Texas borders failed. In 1841, Lamar started an faulty military expedition against the trade center of Santa Fe without congressional approval.
As time passed, Lamar continued to support slavery. Lamar penned a letter about in 1840 to John Russell regarding shipping slaves to Texas. His words describe that he felt misunderstood regarding slavery. He states that he supports the law and that the law was not intended to put free blacks into slavery. He also clarified that the law does ensure blacks already enslaved in servitude will remain so in Texas.
During his presidency, Lamar was not successful in creating a national bank or currency. As Lamar’s term concluded, he was not popular and the republic faced financial ruin. It is estimated that Lamar’s policies increased the public debt to $7,000,000. Ironically, Lamar’s old running mate, Sam Houston, was reelected in 1841 and returned to office.
Lamar traveled back to Georgia periodically to spend time with his teen daughter Rebecca Ann. Like her mother, she suffered health problems. But while in Texas in the summer of 1832, he received word from his brother that she Rebecca had die at age sixteen. Lamar’s heart was broken and depression grew as he faced yet another tragic loss.
No human’s life is perfect. This includes the “Father of Texas Education” Mirabeau Lamar. He did some good by encouraging actions that became a permanent part of the Texas educational system. Indeed, he was a great patriot of Texas. Lamar later advocated annexation to the United States, which occurred in 1845. When war redeveloped with Mexico in 1846, Lamar joined the U.S. Army and fought in battle.
After the war’s end in 1848, travel consumed the restless Lamar. Friends introduced him to Henrietta Maffitt, who was 30 years his junior. They shared marriage vows in February 1851 and moved to Macon, Georgia. Soon after, they had a daughter, Loretto Evaline. During these later years, Lamar enjoyed poetry and history.
Lamar became U.S. minister to Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 1857. After holding the challenging post for almost two years, he returned to his family at their plantation. Despite not feeling well, he brought back both a parrot and monkey. This made young Loretto very happy. After only two months home, Lamar died at his plantation in Richmond, Texas on December 19, 1859. He was 61 years old.
Lamar’s history illustrates that both good and bad exist even in respected persons. Prominent people are ordinary people humans facing life trials. Lamar suffered through the death of his wife, brother, and child. The suicides of two political opponents altered outcomes and ensured his office. Some of Lamar political failures may have been rooted in racism toward both Indians and Mexicans. His upbringing, professional and personal influences, and life experiences shaped him. When appraising Lamar’s life, we should appreciate the good, be sensitive to the bad, and avoid repeating the ugly. Indeed, history is a valuable advisor to those aware of it. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
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- Steen, Ralph W. History of Texas. Austin: The Steck Company, 1939.
- Gambrell, Herbert. ‘Lamar, Mirabeau Buonaparte,’ Handbook of Texas Online