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Thomas Jefferson Rusk

Thomas Jefferson Rusk

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Thomas Jefferson Rusk was an early political and military leader of the Republic of Texas
Republic of Texas
The Republic of Texas was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico, that existed from 1836 to 1846.Formed as a break-away republic from Mexico by the Texas Revolution, the state claimed borders that encompassed an area that included all of the present U.S...

, serving as its first Secretary of War as well as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto
Battle of San Jacinto
The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen...

. He was later a U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 politician
Politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

 and served as a Senator from Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 from 1846 until his suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

. He served as the President pro tempore
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
The President pro tempore is the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate. The United States Constitution states that the Vice President of the United States is the President of the Senate and the highest-ranking official of the Senate despite not being a member of the body...

 of the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 in 1857.

Early life


Rusk was born in Pendleton, South Carolina
Pendleton, South Carolina
Pendleton is a town in Anderson County, South Carolina, United States. The population was 2,966 at the 2000 census. It is a sister city of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland....

 to John Rusk, a stonemason, and Mary Sterritt Rusk. After being admitted
Admission to the bar in the United States
In the United States, admission to the bar is the granting of permission by a particular court system to a lawyer to practice law in that system. Each U.S. state and similar jurisdiction has its own court system and sets its own rules for bar admission , which can lead to different admission...

 to the bar
Bar (law)
Bar in a legal context has three possible meanings: the division of a courtroom between its working and public areas; the process of qualifying to practice law; and the legal profession.-Courtroom division:...

 in 1825, Rusk began his law practice in Clarkesville, Georgia
Clarkesville, Georgia
Clarkesville is a city located in the center of Habersham County, Georgia. It is also the county seat.-Geography:Clarkesville is located at ....

. In 1827, he married Mary F. (Polly) Cleveland, the daughter of general John Cleveland. Rusk became a business partner of his father-in-law after the marriage. He lived in the gold region of Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 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 Mexican Texas
Mexican Texas
Mexican Texas is the name given by Texas history scholars to the period between 1821 and 1836, when Texas was an integral part of Mexico. The period began with Mexico's victory over Spain in its war of independence in 1821. For the first several years of its existence, Mexican Texas operated very...

. Rusk pursued them to Nacogdoches
Nacogdoches, Texas
Nacogdoches is a city in Nacogdoches County, Texas, in the United States. The 2010 census recorded the city's population to be 32,996. It is the county seat of Nacogdoches County and is situated in East Texas. Nacogdoches is a sister city of Natchitoches, Louisiana.Nacogdoches is the home of...

, but never recovered the money.


Texas Revolution


Rusk decided to stay in Texas. He became a citizen of Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 in 1835, applied for a headright in David G. Burnet
David G. Burnet
David Gouverneur Burnet was an early politician within the Republic of Texas, serving as interim President of Texas , second Vice President of the Republic of Texas , and Secretary of State for the new state of Texas after it was annexed to the United States of America.Burnet was born in Newark,...

'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
Stephen F. Austin
Stephen Fuller Austin was born in Virginia and raised in southeastern Missouri. He was known as the Father of Texas, led the second, but first legal and ultimately successful colonization of the region by bringing 300 families from the United States. The capital of Texas, Austin in Travis County,...

's army in preventing the Mexicans from seizing their cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

. They proceeded to San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States of America and the second-largest city within the state of Texas, with a population of 1.33 million. Located in the American Southwest and the south–central part of Texas, the city serves as the seat of Bexar County. In 2011,...

, but Rusk left the army before the Siege of Bexar
Siege of Bexar
The Siege of Béxar was an early campaign of the Texas Revolution in which a volunteer Texan army successfully defeated Mexican forces at San Antonio de Béxar . Texians had become disillusioned with the Mexican government as President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's tenure became increasingly...

.

The provisional government named him inspector general
Inspector General
An Inspector General is an investigative official in a civil or military organization. The plural of the term is Inspectors General.-Bangladesh:...

 of the army in the Nacogdoches District. As a delegate from Nacogdoches to the Convention of 1836
Convention of 1836
The Convention of 1836 was the meeting of elected delegates in Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas in March 1836. The Texas Revolution had begun five months previously, and the interim government, known as the Consultation, had wavered over whether to declare independence from Mexico or pledge to...

, Rusk not only signed the Texas Declaration of Independence
Texas Declaration of Independence
The Texas Declaration of Independence was the formal declaration of independence of the Republic of Texas from Mexico in the Texas Revolution. It was adopted at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836, and formally signed the following day after errors were noted in the...

 but also chaired the committee to revise the constitution of the Republic of Texas
Republic of Texas
The Republic of Texas was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico, that existed from 1836 to 1846.Formed as a break-away republic from Mexico by the Texas Revolution, the state claimed borders that encompassed an area that included all of the present U.S...

. The ad interim government, installed on March 17, 1836, appointed Rusk as Secretary of War. When informed that the Alamo
Alamo Mission in San Antonio
The Alamo, originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, is a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and now a museum, in San Antonio, Texas....

 had fallen and the Mexican army was moving eastward, Rusk helped President David Burnet to move the government to Harrisburg
Harrisburg, Houston, Texas
Harrisburg is located within the city of Houston, Texas, United States....

.

After the Mexicans massacred James W. Fannin's
James Fannin
James Walker Fannin, Jr. was a 19th-century U.S. military figure on the Texas Army and leader during the Texas Revolution of 1835–36...

 Texan army at Goliad
Goliad, Texas
Goliad is a city in Goliad County, Texas, United States. It had a population of 1975 at the 2000 census. Founded on the San Antonio River, it is the county seat of Goliad County. It is part of the Victoria, Texas Metropolitan Statistical Area. Goliad is located on U.S. Highway 59, named also for...

, Burnet sent Rusk with orders for General Sam Houston
Sam Houston
Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

 to make a stand against the enemy. Rusk participated with bravery in the defeat of Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

 on April 21, 1836, in the Battle of San Jacinto
Battle of San Jacinto
The Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836, in present-day Harris County, Texas, was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texian Army engaged and defeated General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican forces in a fight that lasted just eighteen...

. From May to October 1836, he served as commander-in-chief of the Army of the Republic of Texas
Republic of Texas
The Republic of Texas was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico, that existed from 1836 to 1846.Formed as a break-away republic from Mexico by the Texas Revolution, the state claimed borders that encompassed an area that included all of the present U.S...

, with the rank of brigadier general
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

. He followed the Mexican troops westward as they retired from Texas to be certain of their retreat beyond the Rio Grande
Rio Grande
The Rio Grande is a river that flows from southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way it forms part of the Mexico – United States border. Its length varies as its course changes...

. Then he conducted a military funeral for the troops massacred at Goliad.

The men of Texas deserved much credit, but more was due the women. Armed men facing a foe could not but be brave; but the women, with their little children around them, without means of defense or power to resist, faced danger and death with unflinching courage.
— Thomas Jefferson Rusk

Republic of Texas



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). Rusk was a Mason
Freemasonry
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...

. He joined Milam Lodge No. 40 (Later Milam Lodge #2) in Nacogdoches in 1837 and was a founding member of the Grand Lodge of Texas, organized in Houston
Houston, Texas
Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and the largest city in the state of Texas. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a population of 2.1 million people within an area of . Houston is the seat of Harris County and the economic center of , which is the ...

 on December 20, 1837.

As chairman of the House Military Committee in 1837, he sponsored a militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 bill that passed over Houston's veto, and Congress elected Rusk major general
Major General
Major general or major-general is a military rank used in many countries. It is derived from the older rank of sergeant major general. A major general is a high-ranking officer, normally subordinate to the rank of lieutenant general and senior to the ranks of brigadier and brigadier general...

 of the militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

. 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
Caddo
The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. Today the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a cohesive tribe with its capital at Binger, Oklahoma...

 in November 1838 and risked an international incident when he invaded United States territory to return them to the Indian agent in Shreveport, Louisiana
Shreveport, Louisiana
Shreveport is the third largest city in Louisiana. It is the principal city of the fourth largest metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana and is the 109th-largest city in the United States....

.

On December 12, 1838, the Texas Congress elected Rusk Chief Justice
Chief Justice
The Chief Justice in many countries is the name for the presiding member of a Supreme Court in Commonwealth or other countries with an Anglo-Saxon justice system based on English common law, such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the Court of Final Appeal of...

 of the Republic's Supreme Court. He served until June 30, 1840, when he resigned to resume his law practice. Later he headed the bar
Bar (law)
Bar in a legal context has three possible meanings: the division of a courtroom between its working and public areas; the process of qualifying to practice law; and the legal profession.-Courtroom division:...

 of the Republic of Texas. He and J. Pinckney Henderson
James Pinckney Henderson
James Pinckney Henderson was a United States and Republic of Texas lawyer, politician, soldier, and the first Governor of the State of Texas....

, 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 January 16, 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
Vice president
A vice president is an officer in government or business who is below a president in rank. The name comes from the Latin vice meaning 'in place of'. In some countries, the vice president is called the deputy president...

 of the university when the charter was granted in 1845 and president
President
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

 in 1846.

State of Texas


Rusk supported Sam Houston and the growing movement to annex Texas to the United States. 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
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 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 U.S. President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 James K. Polk
James K. Polk
James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States . Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 12th Governor of Tennessee...

 on the necessity of the Mexican War and the acquisition of California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. In the debate over the Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

, Rusk refused to endorse secession
Secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

, proposed by some in the caucus of Southern congressmen. He vigorously defended Texas claims to the New Mexico Territory
New Mexico Territory
thumb|right|240px|Proposed boundaries for State of New Mexico, 1850The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 6, 1912, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of...

 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. He toured the state in 1853 to investigate a possible route. The Gadsden Purchase
Gadsden Purchase
The Gadsden Purchase is a region of present-day southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that was purchased by the United States in a treaty signed by James Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico at the time, on December 30, 1853. It was then ratified, with changes, by the U.S...

 received his support. Rusk was in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act
Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, opening new lands for settlement, and had the effect of repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by allowing settlers in those territories to determine through Popular Sovereignty if they would allow slavery within...

. President James Buchanan
James Buchanan
James Buchanan, Jr. was the 15th President of the United States . He is the only president from Pennsylvania, the only president who remained a lifelong bachelor and the last to be born in the 18th century....

 offered him the position of United States Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

 in 1857, but had turned it down. (Buchanan instead gave the post to Aaron V. Brown
Aaron V. Brown
Aaron Venable Brown was a Governor of Tennessee and Postmaster General in the Buchanan administration. He was also the law partner of James K. Polk.-Biography:...

)

During the special session of March 1857, the Senate elected him President pro tempore. While Rusk attended the spring session of Congress, his wife died of tuberculosis on April 23, 1856. Five of their seven children were still living at the time. Despondent over the death of his wife and ill from a tumor
Tumor
A tumor or tumour is commonly used as a synonym for a neoplasm that appears enlarged in size. Tumor is not synonymous with cancer...

 at the base of his neck, Rusk committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 29, 1857. He was 53 years old.

Legacy

  • The State of Texas placed a monument at the graves of Rusk and his wife, Mary, in Oak Grove Cemetery, Nacogdoches.
  • Rusk County
    Rusk County, Texas
    As of the census of 2000, there were 47,372 people, 17,364 households, and 12,727 families residing in the county. The population density was 51 people per square mile . There were 19,867 housing units at an average density of 22 per square mile...

     and the town of Rusk
    Rusk, Texas
    Rusk is a city in Cherokee County, Texas, United States. The population was 5,085 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Cherokee County.-Geography:Rusk is located at ....

     were named in his honor.
  • Part of his homestead became the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University
    Stephen F. Austin State University
    Stephen F. Austin State University is a public university located in Nacogdoches, Texas, United States. Founded as a teachers' college in 1923, the university was named after one of Texas' founding fathers, Stephen F. Austin. Its campus resides on part of the homestead of another Texas founding...

    .

External links