Chapter 8: 1840-1845.
- Prepares to retire from public life. -- reasons for doing so. -- pecuniary embarrassments. -- causes. -- his education, temper, Liberality, public sacrifices. -- his impaired health. -- dislike of politics. -- unfriendly correspondence with General Houston. -- its adjustment. -- Arcadian dreams, a letter. -- resigns Secretaryship of War. -- visits United States. -- friends try to make him a candidate for the presidency. -- Houston elected President. -- renewal of Mexican invasions. -- Vasquez captures San Antonio. -- volunteers assemble to retaliate. -- disbanded by the President. -- agents sent to the United States by Houston. -- his proclamation stigmatizing General Johnston. -- General Johnston's counter-address. -- the President's Evasive reply. -- Houston's “do-nothing” policy. -- another Mexican invasion. -- Woll enters San Antonio and captures the court and bar. -- bill passed by Congress for the public defense, killed by the President's “pocket Veto.” massacre of Dawson's force. -- General Johnston urged to become a candidate for the presidency. -- his prophetic reply. -- history of annexation schemes. -- Texas enters the American Union. -- marriage to Miss Eliza Griffin. -- description of China Grove plantation. -- purchase. -- consequent embarrassments. -- General Johnston's friends. Chess. His intellectual habits.
The four years that General Johnston had given to the public service of Texas had been years of sacrifice, but of sacrifice that brought its own reward. His activity, which had chafed against enforced idleness, there found employment as good as the times afforded. He had gone there heavy-hearted; but, having become warmly enlisted in the cause of Texas, his nature, which could not rest satisfied with merely selfish aims, had fixed itself upon an idea that thereafter was its pole-star — the welfare and honor of his adopted State. His ambition, always well regulated, had been gratified by the general recognition of his merits and services. It was conceded that he had never failed to accomplish whatever was possible with the means at his command, and, if the results were not splendid, they were at least substantial. Such was the public confidence that all Texas looked to him as its fittest leader in case of active war with Mexico. On the other hand, General Johnston's health had suffered, from his wound, from the privations of a frontier life in a devastated country, and from exposure to malaria and to the extreme alternations of the  climate. But his rigid temperance in both food and drink preserved him from evils that proved fatal to so many of his contemporaries, and, as he was not apt to complain of minor ills, he seems to have been rather inclined to exult in the blessings he retained than to grieve over what he had lost in this respect. When he first went to Texas he owned a handsome estate, in part devised by his wife, and in part purchased at St. Louis. But his property, though rising in value, was unproductive and had become embarrassed from neglect, from sales for reinvestments in Texas, and from the drain of a large personal expenditure. The neglect was inevitable; the reinvestments, often made rather upon feeling than judgment, had proved unprofitable; and the expenditure was a natural consequence of his position. His fortune at that time nevertheless promised, if carefully husbanded, to make him rich; and when he found it impaired and his independence in danger, he was forced to consider the propriety of retiring to private life. Some of his friends thought him heedless about money. Heedless he was not, and, no man was ever more sensitive about debt, or more scrupulous in payment; among all the many burdens that he bore during his life none was so hard as that of a debt under which for a time he labored. As I shall soon be obliged to recur to this subject, it may be just as well now to state the reasons why he was not successful in money-matters. Men usually succeed best in the things that absorb most completely their interest and enlist most strongly their desires. The education and life of a United States officer at that time, professional but not mercenary, while it taught method, economy, and other useful rules of life, discountenanced commercial transactions of all kinds. While in that army he had been accustomed to regular pay, by which he had accurately measured his expenses; and, with no taste for luxury or display, and no avidity for fortune, he had never acquired habits of either making or saving money. The salary was meagre, but a man who possessed the means of paying all his debts was within the limits of safety and honor. Such was his education. When he was in Texas, his children had already been provided for, and he was not responsible to a family for the accumulation or even the preservation of wealth. On his own part, a certain sense of superiority to common wants, and a confidence in his ability as a soldier to supply his simple needs, took away the stimulus to lay up riches. But it was not all education or habit. He was by nature a cheerful giver, of a generous spirit, and openhanded to the distressed. He thought every man's necessity greater than his own, and was ever graceful in giving, because he loved to give better than to receive. When it is stated that his expenditure in Texas was large, it is not intended to imply any prodigality. His salary, paid in a depreciated  currency, was little more than nominal, so that he was compelled to draw upon his private resources for subsistence, and to maintain the wide though primitive hospitality entailed by his position. Though not otherwise profuse in his personal expenses, he prized and ordinarily owned handsome horses and serviceable arms; but he valued these for use, not show, and if a friend needed them he bestowed them willingly. He felt that what he had was not his exclusively, to hoard against the proverbial “rainy day,” but a trust for those who lacked; so that he was literally a man “who would share his last crust with a friend,” or even with a stranger in want. In a poor and struggling country he could not refuse a demand upon his purse any more than upon his time, his toil, or his blood, if it was directly or indirectly for the public good. So, too, if a friend or a useful soldier required a blanket, a pistol, a gun, or a horse, he did not hesitate to present him his own, without anxiety as to future necessities. General Johnston was not a rare example of these traits. There were many like him; so that in after-days it came to pass that, when he was making ready to go out to battle, friends contended which should have the right to arm and equip him. In view of what has been said, it is easy to see why he should have been growing poorer, and should desire to look to his private affairs. But, a stronger motive for leaving public life than impaired health and wealth, was a great distaste for the routine of civil office. General Johnston felt a strong impulse and entire fitness for military command. He had taken his place in the War Department with the hope of organizing an army, at the head of which he knew Lamar would place him if Mexico were invaded. But Texas, which during the republic alternated between the white heat of warlike rage and a frigid apathy, was now sinking into the latter condition. The President's continued ill-health and enforced absences from duty had so strengthened the opposition that it was now able effectually to thwart the progressive policy of the Administration, and General Johnston saw no hope of such a concentration of resources and power as would enable him to punish the insolence of Mexico. His motive for remaining in office therefore failed. The details of party management and the ordinary conduct of American politics were something more than repugnant to him; they were odious. In spite of much earnest solicitation, he was never a candidate for election to a civil office, and but once in his life for a military position. His correspondence is full of the efforts of those who loved or admired him to draw him into active contention for the highest places. The presidency and vice-presidency are constantly mentioned as the proper objects of his ambition, but the inducement does not seem to have dazzled him. In January, 1840, Colonel Love (a very partial friend, it is true) wrote, “The reason I have for saying you ought not to retire just now is, that your position is better than any man's in the  country, and not to be abandoned hastily.” And again in May, addressing him at Louisville, he says, “If you desire the presidency, your chance is good.” But he felt no inclination for the pursuit of politics. He shrank from the concessions of personal independence so often demanded; and the fence of words and dexterity in conduct that delight the legal and political mind displeased him. He was not at all an advocate, and sought only to see facts in the cold, clear light of truth. The personalities of controversy were regarded seriously by him; and, although forgiving of injuries, he was resentful of insult. Indeed, he did not leave office without a disagreeable occurrence, which, though adjusted for the time, probably rankled in the breast of the other party, as afterward appeared. It was reported to him by gentlemen of unimpeached veracity that General Houston had spoken of him in violent and disrespectful terms. The following correspondence ensued, upon which comment is needless:
Memorandum by General Johnston:
General Houston, on this note being presented by my friend the Hon. S. M. Williams, disclaimed having at any time spoken in disrespectful terms of me, and gave a list of the names of the persons present at the time specified who could be referred to. He said to Mr. Williams he would write to me to that effect. On being told so by Mr. Williams, I said he (General Houston) would not consider my note before him in writing to me, and it might be returned with the general's answer, which, if in accordance with his verbal statement, I will consider satisfactory.Active men are apt to indulge in dreams of rural peace and quiet; and, in General Johnston's case, this fancy was based, as has been heretofore related, upon genuine impulses and tastes. He had for some time sought to gratify this wish for the tranquillity of domestic life; but the call of public duty had still held him to his post. The following letter, written under these emotions, will serve to explain this phase of feeling:
Under all these circumstances General Johnston felt that the time had come for him to retire from the cares of office. The foreign policy pursued protected the country from immediate invasion, the organization  of the militia made it a safeguard of the Indian frontier, and the honor and independence of the country seemed for the present secure; all this, however, without any prospect of active service. Accordingly, he resigned in February, 1840. In order to give definite shape to his purpose of establishing himself as a farmer in Texas, it was necessary for General Johnston to raise the means by selling his real estate elsewhere. After his resignation he went to Louisville for this purpose, but came back to Galveston during the summer on business. In November, 1840, he returned to Kentucky, and was absent from Texas a year. Part of the summer of 1841 he spent at Newport, Rhode Island, and other agreeable places on the Atlantic coast, in charge of some young relations. During General Johnston's absence in December, 1841, President Lamar's health became so bad that he vacated his office, leaving the Administration in the hands of Vice-President Burnet. In the following spring the names of a good many gentlemen were canvassed in view of the presidency, but finally the struggle was narrowed down to a contest between Houston and Burnet. Judge Burnet, in spite of his exalted character, was not popular; and it soon became evident that he would be signally defeated. General Johnston had been strongly urged by his friends to remain in Texas and enter the canvass for the presidency. He was now as strongly solicited to return and make the contest “as the only man around whom all the opposition (to Houston) would be willing to rally.” He was assured by his friends that he could beat Houston. General Johnston, however, in addition to other objections, would not permit his name to be used in opposition to Judge Burnet. He thought this much was due to the loyalty of friendship. In May, Love, Mayfield, and other mutual friends of Burnet and himself, tried to induce the former to withdraw in favor of General Johnston, as his cause was hopeless. General Johnston was not apprised of this negotiation until it had failed. He was not a party to it, and did not approve of the proposition; nor, indeed, did he return to Texas until after the election. This resulted in the success of General Houston by a large majority; and the only consequence of the connection of General Johnston's name with the canvass was to imbitter the animosity of the new President toward him. On the 5th of March, 1842, General Vasquez, with a column of 700 men, appeared before San Antonio. As the force there consisted of only 100 men, under Colonel John C. Hays, it withdrew, and the town fell into the hands of the Mexicans. The enemy only remained two days, but carried off all the valuables and a number of Mexican citizens who voluntarily accompanied them. Eight days later 3,500 Texan volunteers had assembled at San Antonio under Burleson, and they impatiently demanded to be led in pursuit of the retreating foe. Their  commander was equally ready to retaliate upon the Mexicans, but they were restrained by one Executive order after another, until on April 2d they were disbanded. On the 6th of April General Burleson published an address, in which he says:
I feel no hesitation in believing that if my orders had permitted me to cross the Rio Grande and retaliate upon our enemy his oft-repeated outrages, by this time 5,000 brave men would have been west of said river, inflicting a chastisement upon him that would result in an honorable peace. But President Houston's order of the 22d of March--in which he says that “one hundred and twenty days will be necessary before we can make a move against the enemy” --was a finishing stroke to all our present prospects of redress.1General Johnston was one of those who started for the rendezvous, and it was understood that Burleson concurred in the intention of the volunteers to choose him as their commander. It was probably this fact that led to their discharge by the Executive. The President, in the first excitement of the invasion, professed an intention to pursue and punish the enemy, and hastily dispatched agents to the United States to enlist volunteers and solicit contributions of money, clothing, and provisions “for the munitions of an invading army” and “for a military chest.” Some recruits, unarmed, unequipped, and unprovisioned, were pushed forward, and left without care until they were starved into mutiny, when they were discharged. The agencies resulted in nothing; and the whole conduct — of the Government in these transactions was such a burlesque on administration, and had awakened such general resentment against the President, that it was considered necessary to mislead the public mind by directing its attention to false issues. The more excitable Texans were threatening a raid across the Rio Grande, and would gladly have availed themselves of General Johnston's leadership if he would have consented; indeed, all Texas looked to him as its general in case of war, and this was General Johnston's real offense with the President. While General Johnston would gladly have led an army properly authorized and organized by his Government, all his habits of thought precluded the idea of his heading an expedition not covered by a national flag Without his denial even, such a charge would have been incredible. Yoakum's account is as follows, being, in fact, General Houston's version of the matter:
In fact, it was reported that an army would be raised and march into Mexico on its own account, and that for this purpose agents, other than those appointed by the Government, were collecting troops and means in the United States. To counteract these lawless proceedings, President Houston issued his  proclamation on the 25th of April, declaring such agents as acting without the authority of the republic; that the war with Mexico was national, and would be conducted by the nation; and that such conduct on the part of such pretended agents was calculated to embarrass the republic.2But the proclamation went on to allege that “said agents have offered commissions to gentlemen about to emigrate, as they say, by the authority of General A. Sidney Johnston, whom they represent as in command of the army of Texas, etc.” Whether General Houston's own agents had transcended their authority and used General Johnston's name where he was favorably known in order to commend their cause to popular confidence, or whether impostors had availed themselves of the looseness with which the commissions had been issued to pursue a like course, or indeed whether the rumor ever had existence except in the proclamation itself, is matter of surmise merely. But this is certain: General Johnston was in no sense a party to the transactions, had given no such authority, and had countenanced no such course. General Johnston being at the time in Galveston, the President could have ascertained the truth, but he preferred to use his high official position to deal a vindictive blow at the reputation of an honorable opponent. Though it was made clear to him that the charge was baseless and unjustifiable, he evaded all real redress. The following documents are laid before the reader in full, as the best explanation of the entire affair:
President Houston had adopted the policy of undoing whatever had been attempted by his predecessor. Yucatan, which, aided by the Texan navy, had employed so much of the energies of Mexico, was abandoned to the conquering sword of Santa Anna. Treaties were substituted for militia as a defense against the Indians, who had, however, been too severely punished to be troublesome for some time, and were glad of a breathing-spell. The transportation of the mails had entirely ceased; and the revenue derived from direct taxation scarcely paid the expense of collection. The volunteers, who were scouting along the Rio Grande, were disbanded; so that the frontier was now left not only without the means of protection but of warning. The consequences of this “masterly inactivity” were soon realized, and the dream of security rudely broken by another Mexican invasion, repeating that led by Vasquez in March. On September 11th General Adrian Woll entered San Antonio with a force of 1,200 men. Congress, warned, by Vasquez's invasion, of the inefficiency of the President in providing for the public defense, had passed a bill for that purpose just before its adjournment in July, in which the President was required to hold an election for major-general on the 1st of September. There is no doubt that General Johnston would have been chosen almost by acclamation; but the President, not signing the bill, defeated it by what is called “a pocket-veto.” The want of an organized force and a competent commander was felt when Woll burst suddenly upon San Antonio with his rancheros. He captured the judge and bar of the district court, and other prisoners, fifty-three in all. The Texan minute-men made a gallant fight at the crossing of the Salado with part of Woll's force, but suffered a heavy blow in the loss of Captain Dawson and fifty-three men, who were surrounded and massacred by the Mexicans. After a week's occupation of San Antonio, Woll retreated with his prisoners and plunder unmolested, having attained the object of the expedition-“to contradict the argument, advanced by the annexationists in the United States, that the war was in fact at an end” (Yoakum). On November 18th General Somerville, under instructions from the Government, set out with 750 men against Mexico, on an expedition of retaliation which culminated in the disaster at Mier. General Johnston's friends continued to urge him to re-enter public life. During his absence from Texas, in 1843, he was continually assured by his correspondents that, if he would come forward for the  presidency, Rusk, Burleson, and Lipscomb, then the three most prominent candidates, would unite their influence for him. Dr. Starr, in 1844, spoke of him “as the only man suited for the presidency.” Clay Davis wrote that nine-tenths of the voters of the west wanted him for President. The narrowness of his private fortune forced him to refuse to enter the lists. Love, urging him strongly to return to Texas, in 1844, he replied: “My fortunes are such that I am determined to remain in Kentucky for the present, or until my affairs wear a brighter complexion, unless the men of Texas are needed for her defense. In that event I will not, if alive, fail to be with you.” Seventeen years later he crossed the continent to keep this promise, and sealed it with his blood. Although General Johnston took no further part in the public affairs of Texas, yet the annexation of that country to the United States was so important an event to all its citizens that a recapitulation of the chief facts that led to it seems necessary and proper. Though not politically connected with these events, General Johnston was a deeply-interested spectator, and rendered all the aid he could in producing the result. The liberties which Texas had achieved by the sword had received the sanction of time, and were now rendered secure by the large immigration of a warlike and wealthy population. Her increased power and productive capacity gave her importance in the eyes of the great powers which, having at first stood selfishly aloof, now jealously contended for the control of the councils of the rising republic. Finally, the United States, actuated less by sympathy with Texas than by jealousy of Great Britain, offered such terms as Texas could accept; and the free republic exchanged her independence for sisterhood in the family of States from which her people had sprung. In the United States, annexation, which seemed impending in 1836, was not accomplished until after a series of severe political struggles. The President, Mr. Tyler, and the people of the South and West, favored it strongly; but Mr. Clay, Mr. Van Buren, and the more prominent leaders of both parties, were anxious to ignore it, as a question fraught with peril to its advocates and opponents alike. Under some sort of understanding, they all declared against it. In 1844 President Tyler forwarded the plan of annexation by treaty; but the Whigs, under the discipline of Mr. Clay, voting against it, it was defeated. “The question,” however, was stronger than the politicians, and at the Democratic Convention in 1844 a new man, Mr. Polk, was nominated for President, and annexation made the main issue in the canvass. His election practically settled the question, and Congress passed a joint resolution March 1, 1845, admitting Texas into the Union. Whether justly or unjustly, it was feared in Texas that the Texan Administration was averse to annexation, and would throw obstacles in its way. The popular enthusiasm,  however, overrode all opposition; and, on the 23d of June, 1845, the Texan Congress consented to the terms of annexation, and Texas became a, State of the American Union. It is now necessary to recur to General Johnston's private life. During his visits to Kentucky he had formed an attachment for a young lady of great beauty, talents, and accomplishments, Miss Eliza Griffin. Miss Griffin was the sister of Captain George H. Griffin, U. S. A., an aide of General Taylor, who died in the Florida War; of Lieutenant William P. Griffin, who died in the navy; and of Dr. John S. Griffin, long an army-surgeon, but now for many years a resident of Los Angeles, California. They were all men of mark, physically, mentally, and morally. Miss Griffin was cousin to General Johnston's first wife, and the niece and ward of Mr. George Hancock, in whose family he had long enjoyed entire intimacy. There was some disparity of years, but his uncommon youthfulness of temperament and appearance diminished the inequality. After some delay, principally on account of the unsettled state of his business, they were married October 3, 1843, at Lynch's Station, near Shelbyville, Kentucky, the home of Mr. Hancock. It may be remembered that, when General Johnston retired from the War Office, it was his intention to engage in agricultural pursuits. In partnership with a friend, he purchased the China Grove plantation, in Brazoria County, Texas. General Johnston describes it thus: “It consists of 1,500 acres of cotton-land, between 300 and 400 acres cleared, with gin, fences, etc.; and 4,428 acres of rich prairie, affording fine grass for stock, and every way more suitable for the production of sugar-cane than richer bottom-lands. The location is very convenient to the market, being about thirty-five miles from Galveston by land, and twelve miles from the navigable waters of the bay.” The estate was undoubtedly valuable, but the price, nearly $16,000, was too great; and the purchase proved to be injudicious and disastrous. The purchase was originally a joint one with a personal friend, who was largely engaged both in planting and in mercantile pursuits. It was supposed that his command of credit would enable them to buy the slaves and supply the machinery requisite for a sugar-plantation. General Johnston performed his part of the contract, realizing the necessary funds by the sale of real estate at a considerable sacrifice. In the mean time his partner had become so involved as to be in danger of bankruptcy, and appealed to General Johnston to relieve him from his share of the transaction, resting his request upon the ground that he had in the first instance suggested the arrangement more with a view to General Johnston's advantage than his own, which probably was to some extent true. General Johnston, with a sense of obligation perhaps too scrupulous, at once assumed the whole responsibility, thus incurring a load of debt from which he was not freed for ten years. His friend was saved, but  he sacrificed himself; the same act by which he encumbered himself depriving him of the means and credit for stocking the plantation. The years between 1842 and 1846 were spent in the vain effort to pay for the plantation, either by its sale or by that of other property. General Johnston saw the proceeds of the sales of his farm near St. Louis and of his handsome property in Louisville gradually swallowed up by the expenses of living and the interest on his debt, without diminishing its principal. He spent a good deal of time in Kentucky, occupied with futile attempts to sell or stock his place. But these unavailing efforts hastened rather than retarded his financial ruin by putting him to additional expense. He preserved throughout, however, his independence, meeting his obligations at whatever sacrifice. After the annexation of Texas, in 1845, his friends sought to have him appointed colonel of one of the new regiments. Love, writing in reference to the Constitutional Convention, of which he was a member, says: “There were many inquiries made for you in the most friendly manner, and almost every one expressed for you sincere friendship. There is scarcely anything Texas would not do for you if you would place yourself in a position to permit it. The general wish prevails that you may be colonel of the new regiment which it is supposed will be raised. All the prominent men have told me if you wished the office they would urge your appointment. The aspirants in Texas yield their claims to yours.” General Johnston himself took no part in this application; but his friends presented his name, knowing how acceptable the appointment would be to him. When the selections were finally made by Mr. Polk, the adverse influence of General Houston, who had become Senator, was believed to have decided the President against him. At last General Johnston, seeing no other resource, resolved to retreat to his plantation, and there, by economy and industry, to repair his broken fortunes, or at least to prevent ruinous outlay until opportunity offered to carry out his plans. But this design was deferred on the very eve of its consummation in consequence of the outbreak of the Mexican War. Before entering on this topic a word must be said of the men whose steadfast friendship continued constant and active through these years. Among these were his kinsmen, Hancock and Preston, and Albert T. Burnley, James S. Mayfield, Judge B. C. Franklin, and others. General James Hamilton was his frequent and confidential correspondent and zealous friend. The following sentence is selected from a mass of his correspondence as supplying the key-note to the whole: “Be assured I ~cherish your unabated kindness and friendship to me with the most sincere and cordial gratitude.” The man whom General Johnston wore nearest to his heart was Colonel James Love, of Galveston. Love was six or eight years his senior, and had been a Whig member of Congress  from the mountains of Kentucky, whence he removed to Galveston soon after the Revolution of 1836. He was a man of quick perceptions, strong intellect, and powerful will. Impetuous in temper, free in the expression of his opinions, open, brave, and affectionate, he attached himself to General Johnston with all the ardor of his nature. General Johnston, writing of him in 1846 to one who did not like him, says, “I have experienced at his hands many acts of disinterested kindness, perhaps more than from any living man.” This sense of obligation was increased by subsequent events, and to the day of his death General Johnston cherished the strongest attachment to this friend.