Texas and the frontier attracted many settlers who sought a chance to start over from frustrating failures in the East. Dr. Anson Jones, a physician, merchant and teacher, saw his own life tumble to the brink of ruin. Jones worked his way up from his most desperate days, eventually becoming a respected diplomat and the fourth elected president of the Texas Republic.
Jones was born in January 1798 in Massachusetts. As a young man, Texas and politics were the furthest things from his mind. He initially trained to be a printer, but friends saw his insight and intelligence and encouraged him to pursue a career in medicine instead.
He traveled to New York, and even though he had very little formal education, he was granted a license by a local medical society and began practicing medicine in 1820. Medical science was still primitive at the time, and there were few medical schools. Simply by proving his competency and skill, he was able to begin his medical career. However, Jones struggled financially for many years. He opened a pharmacy in addition to his practice in New York, but both ultimately failed.
He settled in Pennsylvania by 1824 where he set up a new practice also opened up a one-room school. Jones continued to face legal problems because of his mounting debts. He worked off his bills and continued to study medicine, eventually earning a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College by 1827. He drifted down to New Orleans in 1832 and spent a year as a merchant. By this point, Jones was greatly frustrated with his life. His career as a doctor was in ruins, and his run as a merchant left him nearly bankrupt. Friends encouraged him to move to Texas. With little left to lose, Jones moved once again to improve his fortunes.
Jones settled in Brazoria County, outside modern-day Houston in 1833 as relations between Texas settlers and the Mexican government disintegrated. Finally, his luck started to change. Few doctors were available in the area at the time, and his practice took off. He became a respected member of the community. In 1835, he was a delegate to the Consultation, a meeting of Texans to discuss their concerns about the actions of the Mexican government. When war erupted between Texas and Mexico that fall, Jones openly spoke out in favor of independence and joined the Texas Army as a surgeon.
He was soon elected to the Texas Congress, representing Brazoria County. In June 1838, Texas President Sam Houston appointed Jones to become the Texas Ambassador to the United States. Houston had pushed for annexation to the U. S., but fears of provoking war with Mexico and increasing concerns about adding more slave territory to the United States by adding Texas left annexation hopes in ruins. Houston reluctantly asked Jones to withdraw the Texas petition for annexation.
Jones returned to Texas in 1839 and found that he had been elected to the Senate. He became an active critic of Houston’s successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar. Houston asked Jones to run for vice-president in the 1841 election, but he declined. Houston, however, believed in his skills and asked him to serve as secretary of state for his three-year term. With Houston’s second term in office, he was determined to make annexation a reality. He worked with Jones to develop a strategy to increase American interest in Texas once again. The two worked to cultivate closer trade relations with England and France, provoking American fears of their two trade rivals getting a foothold in Texas. American President John Tyler began working to secure annexation by 1843, aggressively pursuing negotiations while more nations became interested in trade with Texas.
Annexation became major issues in the 1844 presidential elections in both Texas and the United States. Jones ran for the presidency against Vice-President Edward Burleson. Burleson accused Jones of opposing annexation because of the expansion of trade with Europe, accusing him of wanting Texas to be a puppet state to France and England. Jones knew that annexation was not assured as many politicians and abolitionists rallied to block Texas entry into the Union. Houston endorsed Jones in the tight contest. In the end, Jones won the election with 7,037 votes over the 5,668 cast for Burleson. Though the 55.4 percent for Jones was a decisive victory, it was the closest presidential election in the history of the Texas Republic.
Jones served as the last president of Texas. He presided over the transition from independent nation to statehood. In 1844, he was at the peak of his career, risen from the ashes of a difficult past.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org