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Thomas Jefferson Rusk

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Thomas Jefferson Rusk

Thomas Jefferson Rusk December 5,1803 - July 29,1857; was a U.S. political figure and a Senator from Texas from 1846 until his suicide. He served as the President pro tempore of the Senate in 1857.

Contents

Early Life

Rusk was born in Pendleton District, South Carolina. After admission to the bar in 1825, Rusk began his law practice in Clarksville, Georgia. In 1827 he married Mary F. (Polly) Cleveland, the daughter of Gen. John Cleveland. Rusk became a business partner of his father-in-law after he and Polly married. He lived in the gold region of Georgia and made sizable mining investments. In 1834, however, the managers of the company in which he had invested embezzled all the funds and fled to Texas. Rusk pursued them to Nacogdoches but never recovered the money.

Texas Revolution

Rusk decided to stay in Texas. He became a citizen of Mexico in1835, applied for a headright in David G. Burnet's colony, and sent for his family. After hearing Nacogdoches citizens denounce the despotism of Mexico, Rusk became involved in the independence movement. He organized volunteers from Nacogdoches and hastened to Gonzales, where his men joined Stephen F. Austin's army in preventing the Mexicans from seizing their cannon. They proceeded to San Antonio, but Rusk left the army before the siege of Bexar.The provisional government named him inspector general of the army in the Nacogdoches District. As a delegate from Nacogdoches to the Convention of 1836, Rusk not only signed the Texas Declaration of Independence but also chaired the committee to revise the constitution. The ad interim government,installed on March 17, 1836, appointed Rusk secretary of war. When informed that the Alamo had fallen and the Mexicans were moving eastward, Rusk helped President Burnet to move the government to Harrisburg. After the Mexicans massacred James W. Fannin's army, Burnet sent Rusk with orders for Gen. Sam Houston to make a stand against the enemy. Rusk participated with bravery in the defeat of Santa Anna on April 21, 1836, in the Battle of San Jacinto. From May to October 1836, he served as commander in chief of the Army of the Republic of Texas, with the rank of brigadier general. He followed the Mexican troops westward as they retired from Texas to be certain of their retreat beyond the Rio Grande. Then he conducted a military funeral for the troops massacred at Goliad.

Political Life

In the first regularly elected administration, President Houston appointed Rusk secretary of war, but after a few weeks Rusk resigned to take care of pressing domestic problems. At the insistence of friends, however, he represented Nacogdoches in the Second Congress of the republic (1837-1838). Like many prominent Texans, Rusk became a Mason. He joined Milam Lodge No. 40 in Nacogdoches in 1837 and was a founding member of the Grand Lodge of Texas, organized in Houston on December 20, 1837. As chairman of the House Military Committee in 1837, he sponsored a militia bill that passed over Houston's veto, and Congress elected Rusk major general of the militia. In the summer of 1838 he commanded the Nacogdoches militia, which suppressed the Córdova Rebellion. In October, when Mexican agents were discovered among the Kickapoo Indians, Rusk defeated those Indians and their Indian allies. He captured marauding Caddo Indians in November 1838, and he risked an international incident when he invaded United States territory to return them to the Indian agent in Shreveport,LA. On 12 December1838, Congress elected Rusk chief justice of the Supreme Court. He served until 30 June 1840, when he resigned to resume his law practice. Later he headed the bar of the Republic of Texas. He and J. Pinckney Henderson, later the first governor of the state of Texas, formed a law partnership in 1841. Early in 1843 Rusk was called upon once again to serve as a military commander. Concern over the lack of protection on the frontier caused Congress, in a joint ballot on 16 January 1843, to elect Rusk major general of the militia of the Republic of Texas. But he resigned in June when Houston obstructed his plans for aggressive warfare against Mexico. Rusk then turned his energies to establishing Nacogdoches University. He served as vice president of the university when the charter was granted in 1845 and president in 1846.

Texas and the US

The annexation of Texas by the United States was greatly supported by Rusk. He was president of the Convention of 1845, which accepted the annexation terms. The first state legislature elected him and Houston to the United States Senate in February 1846 . Rusk received the larger number of votes and the longer term of office. The two men forgot past differences as they worked to settle the southwest boundary question in favor of the Texas claim to the Rio Grande. Rusk supported the position of US President James K. Polk on the necessity of the Mexican War and the acquisition of California. In the debate over the Compromise of 1850, Rusk refused to endorse secession, proposed by some in the caucus of southern congressmen. He vigorously defended Texas claims to New Mexico and argued forcefully for just financial compensation for both the loss of revenue from import duties as well as the loss of territory. As an early advocate of a transcontinental railroad through Texas, he made speeches in the Senate and throughout Texas in support of a southern route and toured Texas in 1853 to investigate a possible route. The Gadsden Treaty received his support. Rusk was in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. US President James Buchanan offered him the position of postmaster general in 1857. During the special session of March 1857 the United States Senate elected him president pro tem. While Rusk attended the spring session of Congress, Mrs. Rusk died of tuberculosis on 23 April 1856. Five of their seven children were still living at the time. Despondent over the death of his wife and ill from a tumor at the base of his neck, Rusk committed suicide on 29 July 1857. He was 54 years old. The State of Texas placed a monument at the graves of Rusk and his wife in Oak Grove Cemetery, Nacogdoches. Rusk County and the town of Rusk were named in his honor. Back to Timeline of the Texas Revolution

Sources

See also

Template:US-politician-stub


Preceded by:
none
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Texas
1846—1857
Succeeded by:
James Pinckney Henderson

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