Monday, November 29, 2010

Edmund J. Davis of Texas

When you study the history of Texas politics, not much is mentioned about Gov. Edmund J. Davis, and the part which is mentioned leaves Davis much maligned. Davis is infamous for refusing to allowing the meeting of the 13th Legislature and the inauguration of Richard Coke - Davis's Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial election; the 13th Legislature eventually climbed to the 2nd floor of the Capitol and inaugurated Coke. Whereas most of Texas history has been sparse and unkind in it's dealings with Davis, Carl Moneyhon's biography - the 1st ever written about Davis - provides some much needed insight into this controversial governor.

Davis arrived in Texas from Florida in 1846 along with his family. During the years prior to the Civil War, Davis served as a customs inspector in Laredo and began a successful law practice in South Texas. He served as alderman for Laredo, and he was later named as justice to the 12th District Court by Gov. Elisha M. Pease - a position that Davis held until the Civil War. Through his legal practice and campaigns for elected office, Davis became involved in the politics and issues of South Texas and formed relationships that would play a role later in his life, including working to elect Elisha M. Pease. Among the issues which Davis would focus on during this time were education and protecting the frontier; these were issues that would be important for Davis during and after Reconstruction.

In the immediate years before the Civil War, Davis and others became concerned with the direction of the Democratic Party with regards to secession. Davis would ultimately side with Sam Houston and others who opposed secession. When the legislature called for a convention to consider secession, Davis ran as a delegate opposed to secession from Nueces County, but lost the race. The ordinance of secession passed on February 23rd 1861, and on March 14th, an ordinance passed requiring an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy; Davis refused to take the oath and eventually left the state in 1862 when his position as an Unionist in the state became untenable. Davis would volunteer for the United States Army and fight several engagements in Texas.

After the war ended, Davis returned to Texas determined to make the state a better place and to resume its rightful place in the Union. During this time, Davis would battle former Unionists, Democrats and others as he sought to improve schools, ensure civil rights (specifically black suffrage), end violence and protect the frontier. In 1869, Davis ran for Governor as a Republican and won in controversial fashion. Taking the reins of state government, Davis had several goals he wanted to achieve: establishing law and order through the creation of a "National Guard" and state police force, along with the ability to declare martial law, arming frontier companies to fight Indians, encouraging the building of railroads, and the creation of schools for all races. The 12th Legislature, through adept use of parliamentary maneuver, was successful in passing Gov. Davis's program. This success would not last long, however, and Davis was soon vilified for requesting the power to declare martial law and the taxes which were enacted during his term in office.

Davis's monument in the TX State Cemetery
In 1873, the Democrats regained power and set about undoing the work of the previous legislature. Davis would continue to control the Texas Republican Party and worked to elect candidates who supported parts of the Republican platform. Whether they were independents, Democrats or Greenbackers, the Republican Party continued to pursue a course which would improve Texas. Despite his work, Davis continued to see his plans and goal frustrated. In 1882, Davis made one final run for public office - running for Congress as an independent in the 10th District, which included Austin (later the district of LBJ). Davis lost this election, and at this time was essentially done with politics. Davis would die in 1883 and would be lauded as a patriotic Texan (such respect would not last).

Carl Moneyhon's biography of Edmund J. Davis gives every student of Texas history a much needed text on this period in Texas history and one of it's driving figures.

You can read the records of the 12th Legislature here. You can read the records of the 13th Legislature here, here, and here.

1 comment:

  1. There is an original tintype photo of General Davis for sale on eBay, thought someone might be interested.