The Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio

Bexar County Chief Justice William Henry Daingerfield, 1808-1878

by Alexander Stevens

Unlike many other politicians in the Republic of Texas, William Henry Daingerfield did not fight the Texas Revolution, arriving in Bexar County two years after its conclusion. Despite this potential political disadvantage, his consistent constituent service and political moderation allowed Daingerfield to command considerable influence in his town of San Antonio, and his country, the Republic of Texas.

Born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1808, Daingerfield attended the University of Virginia in 1828-29. He then farmed and practiced law in Maryland until he moved to San Antonio in 1837, where his legal experience undoubtedly contributed to his victory in the next year’s mayoral elections. The Fourth Congress of Texas elected him Chief Justice of Bexar County in 1839, but various records dispute whether he actually took office. If he did, his term only lasted for a few months until President Lamar appointed him Notary Public of Bexar and Commissary of Purchases for the Texas Army, the latter post becoming his primary occupation until he was elected to the Texas Senate in 1840.

As a Bexar County senator in the Fifth and Sixth Congresses of the Republic, Daingerfield maintained good relations with two sides of a contentious debate regarding the Republic’s future. Mirabeau Lamar’s nationalist faction supported Texan independence and continued expansion, while Sam Houston and his supporters called for annexation to the United States. Although Daingerfield usually sided with Lamar, he nevertheless enjoyed a warm relationship with Sam Houston, probably because Daingerfield voiced a less bellicose opinion regarding troubled relations with Mexico and the series of skirmishes along Bexar County’s borders with Mexico in the early 1840s. While some called for immediate retaliation, Daingerfield, like Houston, supported a more restrained response due to the Republic’s limited military resources. As a member of the select joint committee deliberating offensive action into Mexico in January 1841, he refused to support military aggression, suggesting that a defensive posture would better meet the country’s needs. He maintained this position in December of the same year, presenting Congress with a petition from Bexar County to establish a stronger military presence to protect against the perpetual aggressions of Indians and Mexicans on the Texas frontier.

When Kenneth Anderson, Sam Houston’s first choice for Secretary of the Treasury in 1842, was unable to leave his duties in the House of Representatives, Houston selected Daingerfield to serve as his favored candidate. Writing his wife Margaret in January, 1842, Houston extolled Daingerfield as “a gentleman of perfect honor, fine sense – an able gentleman!” who would aid him in acting “most harmoniously, and …beneficially for the country, if it is not too far gone to save it!”

These sentiments seem to have been more than just rhetorical flourish. After Daingerfield became Secretary of the Treasury, Houston entrusted him with the authority to act “according to circumstances and as [his] own discretion and prudence may direct” as a Special Commissioner of the Texas government until the Secretary of War and Navy could give him further instructions regarding his duties as Secretary of the Treasury. Houston’s trust extended into personal matters as well, and he confided in Daingerfield regarding Margaret Houston’s health and his difficulties convincing her to convalesce in Alabama.

In 1844, the close political and personal relationship led Houston to select Daingerfield as the Republic’s chargé d’affaires to the Netherlands. Upon his arrival in Europe, Daingerfield established diplomatic relations with the Netherlands, and then proceeded to negotiate with the Hanseatic Towns and Belgium for diplomatic recognition. Daingerfield convinced Bremen to open relations with Texas, but other towns refused similar relationships through fear of affronting Mexico. Daingerfield’s consultations ended when the United States annexed Texas in 1845. Daingerfield remained in Europe awaiting instructions, but received none, and then returned to Texas to turn in his final legation report, the only diplomatic official to do so after annexation. Perhaps disappointed by the disorganization he perceived in the new state government, he decreased his political activism, ultimately returning to the Washington D. C. area in 1860. The fact that he left Texas before the Civil War, combined with his close relationship with Sam Houston, an ardent unionist, suggests that the state’s secessionist movement may have precipitated his move east. Daingerfield died in Washington in 1878 at the age of seventy, never having married.

Bibliography:

Nance, Joseph Milton. After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836-1841. Austin: UT Press, 1963.

Roberts, Madge Thornall. Star of Destiny: The Private Life of Sam and Margaret Houston. Denton: UNT Press, 1993.

---, ed. The Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston. 4 vols. Austin: UT Press, 1996.

Schmits, Joseph William. Texan Statecraft: 1836-1845. San Antonio: Naylor, 1941.

The Handbook of Texas Online. 24 Feb. 2006. Texas State Historical Archives. May 16, 2005. <http:// http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online>


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