THE BLOG

Name Someone Who Didn't Complete TWO Governorships

11/12/2013 11:47 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Whenever I hear about Sarah Palin's failure to complete her term as Governor of Alaska, I think of . . . .well, before I tell you that, let me ask you a quiz question. Only one person has been elected governor of two different states. Who was that man? Although he is quite well known, most people have no idea that he's the answer to this question.

Sam Houston was born in 1793 in Virginia. But that doesn't begin to describe the places and circumstances under which he lived. Although he was born in the Shenandoah Valley, Houston ran away from home at 16 to live with the Cherokee, where he was adopted by a chief of the tribe.

Houston joined the Army to fight in the War of 1812, where he distinguished himself and became a protegee of Andrew Jackson. But Jackson was suspicious of Houston as well. You see, Houston was indubitably pro-Native American. At several points he represented Native Americans in their relations with the United States government, once showing up in DC in full Indian regalia.

Meanwhile, Houston was elected to the Congress from Tennessee (Sam Houston held more governmental positions than any other American in history -- see if you can add them up). Then he ran for, and was elected, Governor of Tennessee. Okay, you're alerted now, right? Age 35, Houston married a wealthy planter's 19-year-old daughter. For reasons still shrouded in mystery, this wife left the Governor's home very shortly after the marriage (by some accounts only days after, and in the middle of the night).

Mortified, Houston resigned the Governorship and returned to live with the Cherokee, now exiled to Arkansas. He took an Indian wife. And he drank a lot. (As I like to say when lecturing on Houston's alcoholism career, when your Indian name is "Big Drunk," you know you have a problem.)

While representing his tribe in Washington, Houston became embroiled in a political dispute with an anti-Jackson Congressman, whom he beat senseless with a cane in a street. (Houston's fights and drinking while he was in Washington were the stuff of legend.) Although he was arrested at the behest of Congress, and convicted for the crime (his lawyer was Francis Scott Key), Houston was not sentenced to jail time. This was partly due to character testimony offered by James Polk.

After the disrepute this event brought upon Houston, he migrated to Texas, leaving his third wife (counting his Indian wife as number two) behind. Texas was a part of Mexico. Houston's involvement in Texas history is, well, the stuff of more legends. He became the Commander-in-Chief (are you counting?) in the Texan war of independence. Provided with poorly trained soldiers, Houston spent much of the war retreating, but then turned on General Santa Anna's army when they had divided to surround the Texas forces and decisively defeated the Mexicans. He was then elected President of Texas in 1836 in a landslide victory over two opponents.

Oh, a note about Houston's drinking, which continued more or less apace. Except, in 1840, Houston married for the third (or fourth) time, this time to a strong-willed Temperance advocate, and he quit drinking (yes, AA buffs, people quit drinking before 1935), in between serving two Texas Presidential terms. As President of Texas, Houston was known for seeking peace with the Indians, and also with the Mexicans.

He was also known as a strong advocate for Texas's entry into the United States, which occurred in 1845, the year after he left his second term. Houston immediately became a U.S. Senator, an office he held from 1846 to 1859. Note to Joe Scarborough: throughout his Senate service, Houston spoke against the growing sectionalism in the United States, which led to the Civil War. Houston ran for the Governorship of Texas as a Unionist, and was defeated in 1957, then won in 1859.

Are you getting ready for his second time serving as a governor? In 1861, a special convention voted that Texas would secede from the Union. Houston refused to recognize the convention and, well, they kicked him out of office.

It's tough to finish a gubernatorial term!