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Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of…

Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas (Grover E. Murray…

by Jeffrey Stuart Kerr

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Modern observers know that the business of politics is a nasty one. Jeffrey Stuart Kerr’s Seat of Empire reminds us, however, that as politics goes, it is simply business as usual, that little has changed since the founding of this country – or since the earliest days of Texas history. Here, Kerr tells the story behind the “birth of Austin, Texas,” a city forever linked to the personal feud between the first two presidents of the Republic of Texas: Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Lamar was determined to create a permanent capitol for the new republic on the site of a hill whose natural beauty he fell in love with while on a remote buffalo hunt. Houston was determined that the permanent capitol of Texas be located just about anywhere else, and preferably far to the east of Lamar’s chosen site. (One would suspect that Lamar felt equally strongly that the permanent capitol would be anywhere but its present location, Houston, the city named after his despised political rival.)

Lamar’s vision was on shaky grounds from the beginning. Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto - the battle that effectively gave birth to the Republic of Texas - was not the only politician against setting the country’s capitol in an area so remote that it could not be securely protected from Comanche raids and Mexican army invasions from the south. Other prominent Texas politicians lobbied to have the new capitol placed in cities more convenient to, and more likely to be an economic godsend for, their own constituencies.

Kerr details how Lamar and his backers were finally able to pull off the coup that would create the built-from-scratch city that became the last capitol the Republic of Texas would know – and the only capitol that the State of Texas has ever had. As Kerr puts it, “The city of Austin was born in 1839, almost died in the early 1840s, and sprang back to life thereafter…the explanation begins with a buffalo hunt.”

State of Empire is an eye-opener for those (including, I suspect, most Texans) who do not know the colorful history of Austin’s founding. Those who know the modern city’s streets well will find it difficult to envision Comanche raids on the same ground so bold and horrific that they came close to forcing abandonment of the new settlement. Somehow, largely due to a handful of brave and determined citizens, Austin survived long enough for the rest of the Republic to catch up with it.

Bottom Line: State of Empire will be of particular interest to Texas readers but will also benefit Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar scholars and historians more generally interested in this period of Texas history. The book is aimed at general readers but includes a generous number of annotations, and enough bibliographic material, to lead scholars to other sources of detail concerning the birth of Austin, Texas. ( )
  SamSattler | Aug 28, 2013 |
“Seat of Empire is the most thorough history of the dynamic personalities, political intrigue and powerful self-interests of empire, nation building and manifest destiny that led to the birth of the Texas capital.”

added by steffercat | editTrue West Magazine
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0896727823, Hardcover)

In 1838 Texas vice president Mirabeau B. Lamar, flush from the excitement of a successful buffalo hunt, gazed from a hilltop toward the paradise at his feet and saw the future. His poetic eye admired the stunning vista before him, with its wavering prairie grasses gradually yielding to clusters of trees, then whole forests bordering the glistening Colorado River in the distance. Lamar’s equally awestruck companions, no strangers to beautiful landscapes, shuffled speechlessly nearby. But where these men saw only nature’s handiwork, Lamar visualized a glorious manmade transformation--trees into buildings, prairie into streets, and the river itself into a bustling waterway. And he knew that with the presidency of the Republic of Texas in his grasp, he would soon be in position to achieve this vision.
     The founding of Austin sparked one of the Republic’s first great political battles, pitting against each other two Texas titans: Lamar, who in less than a year had risen to vice president from army private, and Sam Houston, the hero of San Jacinto and a man both loved and hated throughout the Republic.

     The shy, soft-spoken, self-righteous Lamar dreamed of a great imperial capital in the wilderness, but to achieve it faced the hardships of the frontier, the mighty Comanche nation, the Mexican army, and the formidable Houston’s political might.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -0400)

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