Why Is Austin the Capital of Texas and Not Houston?

Why Is Austin the Capital of Texas and Not Houston?

The Capital of Texas

Founded in 1839, Austin has emerged today as a center for technology and business, known for its diverse mix of government employees, college students, musicians, high-tech workers, and blue-collar laborers. It is a city well-known for its food, art, and music scenes, and is even dubbed “The Live Music Capital of the World.” However, despite being only the fourth largest city in Texas, Austin is also the capital. Why is Austin the capital of Texas and not Houston, or another larger city?

As with many state capitals, we have to look back at the city’s history. Austin’s claim as capital of Texas has not always been secure, and others in the past have tried to move it elsewhere.

History of Austin

Texas was part of Mexico until 1835, when Anglo-American settlers in the region rose up against the government and fought for their independence. After a five month struggle, the Republic of Texas was declared as a sovereign country in 1836.  

That year, no fewer than five sites in Texas served as temporary capitals of the republic: Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston, Velasco and Columbia. In 1837, President Sam Houston moved the capital to Houston, which today is the fourth largest city in the United States.

The following year, Mirabeau B. Lamar was elected as the 2nd President of Texas. He asked the Texas Congress to appoint a site-selection commission to find the perfect spot for a new, permanent capital.

President Lamar was a proponent of westward expansion. He had visited a sparsely settled area in Central Texas and was immediately drawn to the beauty and abundant natural resources in the area. Furthermore, he felt would it would be a prime location that intersected the roads to San Antonio and Santa Fe. Under the instruction of President Lamar, the site-selection commission bought 7,735 acres along the Colorado River. This included the small village of Waterloo.

In 1839, Waterloo was chosen to replace Houston as the capital of Texas. Shortly after, the name of the city was changed to Austin, in honor of Stephen F. Austin, known as the “Father of Texas” and the first Secretary of State for the republic.

Eventually, infrastructure projects began in Austin, and the government of Texas gradually began to make the move from Houston. Austin would flourish until 1842, when political turmoil would almost end Austin’s designation as capital of Texas.

Turmoil in Austin

Even prior to Austin’s selection as capital of Texas, there had been many in the republic who felt the site was too remote. Many Texans felt Austin was too susceptible to attacks by Mexican troops and Native Americans. Sam Houston was one of the most vocal opponents.

Sam Houston would ultimately be elected as President of Texas again. In 1842, after seeing Mexican troops capture San Antonio, he decided that all national archives in Austin should be transferred to Houston. The citizens of Austin were not happy about this, and refused to give them up, feeling that this would signal an end to Austin as capital.

President Houston moved the government anyway, first back to Houston and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Later that year, he sent troops to seize the General Land Office records in Austin. Citizens of Austin fought back, preventing the records from being taken, in an incident known as the Texas Archive War. Still, being deprived of its political function, Austin began to deteriorate.

Why Is Austin the Capital of Texas and Not Houston?

Anson Jones would succeed Sam Houston as the fourth President of the Republic of Texas. In 1845, he called for a constitutional convention meeting in Austin. It was there that President Jones would approve the annexation of Texas to the United States. He also made Austin the temporary state capital. This was supposed to last until 1850, when Texas voters were to decide on a capital in a general election.

On February 19, 1846, authority of Texas was formally transferred from the republic to the state, and Austin was made the official capital. However, Austin’s status as capital would remain in doubt until 1872. That year, a statewide election was held, and Austin won out over Houston and Waco to secure itself as the capital of Texas.

So why is Austin the capital of Texas and not Houston? Ultimately, it was the voters in the Lone Star State that cemented Austin as the capital of Texas.

Want to learn about the history of other state capitals? Click on the following links to find more info – Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Salem, Oregon.