Saturday, October 14, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 15

San Augustine Church Hosts Political Debate, October, 1848

The first U. S. Presidential election in which Texans voted is not usually remembered as one of the important elections in U. S. history.  The Democrats nominated Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan to succeed the outgoing Democrat James K. Polk, and the Whigs hoped to capitalize on the same strategy that had produced their only presidential victory.  In 1840 they nominated the popular general, William Henry Harrison, and had won. Unfortunately Harrison served only a month before dying.  In 1848 the Whigs returned to a military hero with little or no political experience, Zachary Taylor. 
As the election of 1848 approached, a debate was held in San Augustine, at the time one of the centers of political power in Texas.  The venue was the Methodist church, one of the oldest churches in Texas.
The Whig case was argued by a very young man, David Holland Epperson, of Clarksville.  Epperson was only 22 years old and had been in Texas only since 1847 when he moved from Mississippi to Texas after attending Princeton.  His youthful charisma had already enabled him to win a seat in the Texas Legislature and be named as Elector in the upcoming election.  His opponent was the sitting congressman from eastern Texas, David Kaufman.  Kaufman was also fairly young (b. 1813) and had also been a Princetonian and lived in Mississippi.  He was a veteran Texas politician, having served in office most of his adult life. 
Much of the debate centered on Texas expansionism.  Candidate Taylor was on record opposing the claims of Texas to what are today the lands of eastern New Mexico, including Santa Fe.  He even said that he would personally lead an army to prevent an attempt by Texas to occupy those lands.  Kaufman was best known for his advocacy of annexing all of eastern New Mexico all the way to Santa Fe. 
Cass was quite popular in Texas because, even though a northerner often sided with Texas in the Senate.  He was so popular that a county in Texas was named for him.  When the Civil War broke out, he did not support the Confederacy so Texans briefly changed the name of Cass County to honor Jefferson Davis but later the county name was changed back to “Cass.”   

Taylor won the election without Texas votes, but like Harrison, also died early.  David Kaufman also lived a short life, dying in Washington in 1851 while still in his 30s.  Kaufman County is named for him.  

As the Civil War drew nearer, Epperson worked to keep Texas in the Union.  After the war he worked to secure railroad expansion in Texas, and moved to Jefferson.  He spent the last years of his life in Jefferson in his famous House of the Seasons which still exists and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  He died in 1878.


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