Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, second elected president of the Republic of Texas, was born near Louisville, Georgia, on August 16, 1798, to a successful plantation-owning family. As a young man, Lamar was multi-talented; he rode horses, fenced, wrote poetry, painted in oils, and read widely on a range of topics. He maintained an interest in poetry, literature, and history throughout his life. At an early age, he became Georgia Governor George M. Troup’s personal secretary and founded the newspaper Columbus Enquirer, which served as the organ for the Nullification and State Rights movements. He married Tabitha Jordan on January 1, 1826, and they had one child, Rebecca Ann. He served as state senator in 1829 but ended his 1830 campaign for reelection following the death of his wife. Lamar went on to run for U.S. Congress unsuccessfully in 1832 and 1834. Soon after leaving Georgia in 1835 to settle in the insurgent Mexican province of Texas, Lamar joined the Texas revolutionary army. Over a period of months, he held a succession of military offices, including private, colonel of cavalry, secretary of war, and commander in chief of the army. In 1836, following the cessation of hostilities, Lamar was elected vice president of the newly established Republic of Texas. On December 10, 1838, he succeeded Sam Houston to the presidency.
Texas under Lamar’s presidency faced significant challenges; the republic had no money, no commercial treaties, no international recognition except from the United States, and no prospect of U.S. annexation. Native American depredations plagued the settlements, and Mexico refused to recognize Texas independence and threatened reconquest. Within a month of taking office, Lamar proposed the system of education based on land that would, decades later, finally blossom into a school and university system for Texas. This earned him the moniker “Father of Texas Education.” By October 1839, he had not only begun the building of the new capital in Austin, but moved the government to the settlement. He went on the offensive militarily, driving the Cherokees out of the state and waging war against the Comanches, at a great loss of life on both sides and significant financial cost. His attempt to expand Texas borders proved unsuccessful; in 1841, without congressional approval, Lamar launched an ill-fated military expedition against the trade center of Santa Fe. Efforts to gain Mexican recognition also failed. Under his administration, Congress authorized the issue of “redbacks,” a form of paper money that eventually collapsed. By the end of Lamar’s term, his popularity was low and the republic was in financial crisis. Sam Houston, a vocal critic of Lamar’s presidency, won the 1841 election and returned for another presidential term.
In his later years, Lamar traveled, wrote poetry, collected historical documents, and spoke out in support of slavery in the South. When Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845 and war broke out again with Mexico in 1846, Lamar joined the U.S. Army. He fought in the battle of Monterrey, helped organize a municipal government in Laredo, and represented the internationally-disputed Nueces and San Patricio counties in the 2nd Texas Legislature. He remarried in 1851; the following year, he and his wife Henrietta had a daughter, Loretto. In 1857, he became U.S. minister to Nicaragua and Costa Rica. On December 19, 1859, shortly after returning from Central America, Lamar died at his plantation in Richmond, Texas.
(Sources include: Gambrell, Herbert. “Lamar, Mirabeau Buonaparte,” Handbook of Texas Online; “Mirabeau B. Lamar,” Texas Treasures: Giants of Texas History online exhibit by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission; and “Mirabeau B. Lamar: Texas Patriot and President (1798-1859),” Texas Moves Toward Statehood online exhibit by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, all accessed December 14, 2016; and Green, Michael R., editor. Calendar of the Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, Texas State Library, 1982.)