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Although Jefferson Medical College has granted medical degrees to over 28,000 physicians since 1826, produced dozens of presidents of medical schools and a score of physicians to U.S. presidents, it can lay claim to only one president of a sovereign nation: His Excellency, Dr. Anson Jones, MD, President of the Republic of Texas.
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|Portrait of Dr. Anson Jones (JMC 1827)|
Born in Massachusetts in 1798, Anson Jones and his family moved several times before he joined his sisters in Connecticut. He initiated his study of medicine under a Litchfield physician in 1817 and made "no progress" so he moved to Goshen and served as a schoolteacher. He shifted to Utica, New York and assisted in running his brother’s dry goods store, still reading medicine. By 1820, the Oneida County Medical Society licensed him to "practice physic and surgery." After unsuccessful practices in two New York State towns, Jones moved, in 1824, to Philadelphia, where he was forced to fall back on teaching in order to stave off his creditors.
After six months in Philadelphia, the rudderless doctor took passage to Venezuela on a mercantile venture, which temporarily secured his solvency. He returned to Philadelphia and was "resolved to take a course of lectures, and finish my professional studies and graduate." In March of 1827, Jones and 34 other individuals (who comprised the school’s second graduating class) received their diplomas from the faculty of Jefferson Medical College. Although America’s second largest city at that time (pop. 113,000), Philadelphia had but 69 physicians. Dr. Jones had a lackluster practice and, in 1832, he again left another flagging business, this time for the exciting possibilities of New Orleans. But after a year of more financial failure, he impulsively booked passage aboard a ship bound for Brazoria, Texas.
Possibly the first (non-Hispanic) trained physician in Texas, Jones befriended William Travis, who would be the ill-fated commander of the Alamo. Prior to the fall of the Alamo (March 6, 1836) the politically active Dr. Jones drafted a resolution urging Texans to convene and declare their independence from Mexico. Jones joined the army as a private and was assigned, as a surgeon in the Second Regiment, to a field hospital. Just prior to the Battle of San Jacinto, Jones turned his duties over to other staffers and joined the infantry in that decisive victory for Texas. He tended to the battlefield wounds of 23 compatriots including General Sam Houston.
The peripatetic Dr. Anson Jones dedicated himself to his new nation and would wander no more. For the brief life of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846), Jones served as Assistant Surgeon-General, Congressman, Minister to the United States of America, and Secretary of State. Some of his congressional accomplishments in medicine included, regulating medical practitioners and promoting the establishment of what would become the Medical Association of Texas.
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|Official Seal of the Republic of Texas|
At the urging of General Houston, Dr. Jones ran for the office of President of Texas and was elected in 1844. Shortly after his inauguration, the popular and political will of both Texans and Americans was for annexation of this western territory into the Union. It appears that Jones may not have shared his people's enthusiasm for this idea. He became embroiled in an agreement with England and France to delay annexation until Mexico released all claims. Jones was labeled as an obstructionist. President Jones finally called for an Annexation Convention which voted to join the U.S. on July 4, 1845.
At a public ceremony in Austin the following February, Dr. Jones, the last President of Texas said:
...The lone star of Texas, which ten years since arose amid clouds over fields of carnage...has passed on and become fixed forever in that glorious constellation which all freemen and lovers of freedom in the world must reverence and adore - the American Union... The final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.
And with those words, he lowered the "Lone Star" flag and raised "Old Glory."
That final curtain was very much associated with Jones’ public life. In what was viewed as a resounding "slap in the face," his rival, J. Pinckney Henderson, was elected the new state’s first Governor. Jones withdrew and became a cotton planter and practicing physician at his ranch, "Barrington," at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He turned inward and prepared his memoirs using a personal library that contained over one thousand volumes. After authoring a history of Texas, in which he fashioned himself "Architect of Annexation," his bitterness waned along with his involvement in government. In 1849 he suffered a shoulder injury that rendered his arm immobile and plagued him until his death. He grew increasingly dependent upon morphine to manage his chronic pain.
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|"Barrington," Jones’ restored ranch at Washington-on-the-Brazos|
In a final bid for a return to politics, Jones campaigned for a U.S. Senate seat in 1857. Although he was an old acquaintance of many figures in the capitol in Austin and was universally known, not a single legislator cast a vote for Jones at election time. He reacted to this devastating realization by making wild, new plans for himself and his family and on a house-hunting trip, he checked into the Capitol Hotel in Houston. This building had served as the capitol of the Republic from 1837-1847 and undoubtedly held powerful memories of past victories for this depressed and ailing man. His body was found in his room on the morning of January 9, 1858 - a victim of suicide.
His ranch, "Barrington," has been restored and is a significant site for the history of the Republic of Texas. As his biographer wrote, Dr. Anson Jones was a "complex, enigmatic character who shaped the course of history better than he did his own life."
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