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“Was the late secretary of war removed in consequence of his attempt fraudulently to give to Gov. Houston the contract for the Indian rations?” an Ohio congressman asked on the floor of the U.S. House of on Mar. 1832.

Three years had come and gone since Sam Houston resigned as governor of Tennessee following the scandalous breakup of his marriage to a teenaged debutante. During his self-imposed exile among the Cherokees, he lobbied for a contract to feed several tribes on their western relocation under the Indian Removal Act. But the potentially profitable plan hit a snag, when war secretary John Eaton froze the bids.

Houston happened to be in the nation’s capital on Apr. 3, 1832, the day that a Washington newspaper published the text of Rep. William Stanbery’s speech. The former twoterm congressman headed straight for the House to confront his accuser, but friend and future president James K. Polk persuaded him not to go off half-cocked.

Instead, Houston sent a formal note to Stanbery inquiring whether he had been quoted accurately in the press. The Ohioan added insult to injury by refusing to reply and, interpreting the message as the prelude to a duel, armed himself with two pistols and a dagger.





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