The Archives War

What Is The Archives War?

The Texas Archive War was an 1842 dispute over an attempted move of the Republic of Texas national archives from Austin to Houston and, more broadly, over then-presidentSam Houston's efforts to make Houston the capital of Texas.



In 1839, Mirabeau B. Lamar became President of Texas. Under his influence, the Texas Congress authorized the establishment of a planned city to serve as the seat of government. The new city, Austin, was at the edge of the frontier, near several hostile native tribes, with no easy way to get supplies. Proponents of the move predicted that when the rest of the nation was settled, Austin would be the population center. The opposition, led by former president Sam Houston, wanted the government to remain near the current population center, along the Gulf Coast.

The nation's archives were moved to Austin between August 26 and October 14, 1839. Fifty wagons were used. Lamar and his cabinet arrived on October 17. Over the next several years, Comanches staged several raids near Austin. Citizens in the Houston area and the Houston Morning Star editorial board used these as evidence to support their argument that the capital and the archives should be returned to Houston.[3]

Sam Houston was elected president again in September 1841. His margin of victory was so large he assumed a mandate to implement his priorities, including moving the capital. Congress continued to reject proposals to move the archives.

Congress adjourned in February 1842. The following month, Mexican troops under General Rafael Vásquezinvaded Texas. By March 5, over 1,000 Mexican soldiers were camped in San Antonio.[ Several days later, a committee of vigilance in Austin recommended martial law and ordered residents to evacuate. A small number of people remained. President Houston returned to the city that bore his name.

Vásquez retreated after a few days. Sam Houston may not have known of this; on March 10, he ordered George Washington Hockley, Secretary of War, to move the archives to Houston. As justification, he cited part of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas which stated "The president and heads of departments shall keep their offices at the seat of government, unless removed by the permission of Congress, or unless, in case of emergency in time of war, the public interest may require their removal."The Texas House of Representatives formed a committee to investigate the attempted transferal of the archives. The committee admonished President Houston for his actions in trying to move the capital from Austin without the approval of Congress. A Senate committee reported that they did not agree that Austin should be the capital, but without an immediate threat to the city, Houston had no legal reason to move the records. In 1843, the Senate voted that the archives should be moved if there was not peace with Mexico. The vote was again tied, but this time Burleson cast his deciding vote in favor of the bill. The Texas House rejected it.