As Texas grew, many of its new immigrants came from other Southern states. Southerners were attracted to the state because it had seceded from the Union, the land had not suffered damage during the Civil War, and its economy and racial views were similar to those of other Southern states. The new immigrants were usually Democrats, and as Texas slowly became a one-party state, political battles took place within that party for control of the local and state governments.
In the 19th century, factions, or groups, rather than parties, dominated Texas politics. During the years of the republic and early statehood, sentiment was divided between factions who supported or opposed Sam Houston. The Whig Party had some strength in cities and among the German population, but most Texans disliked the fact that national Whig leaders had opposed annexation of Texas in 1845. Members of the American Party (or Know-Nothings) wanted to prevent foreign-born citizens from holding political office and to reduce what they believed to be foreign influences and ideas, and they gained support in the state in the 1850s. Many Know-Nothings were former Whigs who could neither support the Democrats nor join the developing Republican Party, which most Southerners considered antislavery. Others were followers of Houston, who did not like the drift of the Southern Democrats towards secession.
Hardin R. Runnels, a man who supported the anti-Union, or Calhoun Democrats (named after former Vice President John Calhoun of South Carolina), was elected governor in 1856. Houston challenged Runnels for governor in 1860 and Houston won, but he resigned in 1861 rather than agree to secession. The governors during the Civil War were all anti-Houston men, and after the war ended, they moved into the Democratic Party. In 1874 Richard Coke was elected governor. Coke and his followers were known as Conservative, or Redeemer Democrats.
Their policies emphasized economic expansion through government aid to business, noninterference in private enterprise, and few government services. With no other major party for disgruntled voters, opponents of such policies fought the establishment by trying to control the local or state Democratic Party organization. Often, however, they created third parties. Farmers made up the bulk of voters in these third-party movements.
Farm prices fell in the 1880s, as production of staple crops increased around the world, creating a surplus. In Texas, as in the South generally, one result of falling cotton prices was an increase in tenant farming and sharecropping. Sharecroppers raised part of the landlord’s crop and were paid a share of the profits after deductions for living expenses and the cost of tools and supplies. A tenant farmer sold the crop himself and paid the landlord a share of the profits as rent. The landlord chose what crop to raise, and the choice was almost always cotton. Even if the profit was low, the landlord got his share first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, took out a loan to keep going until the next harvest. Unfortunately, cotton prices stayed depressed until the end of the century. Thus the tenants and sharecroppers found themselves in a cycle of debt from which they could not escape. More than 50 percent of both black and white Texas farmers were tenants by the 20th century.
Dissatisfied farmers across the nation responded to these developments by organizing third parties to challenge the Democrats and the Republicans. Both the Greenback Party in the 1870s and the Populist Party in the 1890s advocated an inflated currency to make debts easier to repay, government ownership of the railroads that controlled the prices for transporting crops, and other reforms, such as the direct election of senators. In Texas the Greenback and Populist parties courted Republican voters, mostly blacks. These parties did not advocate outright racial equality, but many Populists argued that economic progress would benefit all who were poor, black and white. Some leaders of the Democratic Party in Texas responded to the challenges of third parties by advocating similar reforms within their own party.
They were called Agrarian Democrats and their most important leader in Texas was James Stephen Hogg. As Texas attorney general (1887-1891), he had successfully prosecuted several railroad companies for anticompetitive activities and helped write the Texas antitrust law in 1891, the second such law in the nation. In his 1890 campaign for governor, he promised stricter regulation of monopolies, including railroads. After his victory Hogg appointed former U.S. representative and senator John H. Reagan as chairman of the newly created Texas Railroad Commission. Reagan had achieved national recognition for sponsoring legislation to establish the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission, which oversaw the operations of railroads across the nation. The Texas Railroad Commission regulated railroads in the state so successfully that it was later given the job of controlling state petroleum production.
In 1892 Hogg defeated challenges from both the Populists and the Conservative Democrats, but when he retired in 1894, the Populist Party threatened to defeat the state Democratic Party in 1894 and 1896 by taking advantage of farmer discontent created by a depression in 1893. In 1894 the Populists elected 22 representatives and two senators to the state legislature. Although Democrat Charles Culberson won the election for governor, the Populist candidate, Thomas L. Nugent, ran a very close second.The 1896 race for governor was a particularly vicious one. The Populists formed a biracial coalition with black Republicans to unite all tenant farmers in support of wide-ranging economic reforms. In response, the Democrats charged the Populists with racial betrayal and argued that Populist economic reforms were too radical. In an election marked by ballot fraud and racial violence, the Democrats won the election.
The Populists tried to reorganize, but returning prosperity in 1897 and endorsement by the Democratic Party of moderate reforms left populism with no political base. At the end of the 19th century, black Texans suffered from increasing discrimination. In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that laws creating what were called separate-but-equal facilities for blacks and whites did not violate the 14th Amendment. Consequently Texas passed laws that segregated all public facilities and transportation, authorized segregated residential neighborhoods, and restricted black Texans in all aspects of life (see Segregation in the United States). The Democratic Party in Texas, as in the South, promised to white voters that these segregation laws—or Jim Crow laws as they were called—would be enforced.
The political contests of the 1890s had already begun to prevent blacks from voting prior to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. In the bitter and often dishonest local elections of the 1890s, white men’s associations used violence to keep blacks from voting. Democrats argued that the violence and corruption of local elections could be prevented if voters registered by paying poll taxes and nominated candidates by using party primaries. The party wanted primaries to be for whites only to remove the issue of race. The Democratic Party authorized all-white primaries, Texas voters approved a poll tax, and the Terrell Election Laws (1903-1907) mandated party primaries for statewide offices. Black Texans could then vote in general elections that were meaningless, since the state only elected Democratic candidates; but they could not vote in Democratic primaries, which chose state office-holders and the party’s nomination for the U.S. Congress. By the 20th century, Texas had defined blacks as second-class citizens without voting power and had created elaborate legal codes that segregated blacks in all public and private facilities. Mexican Texans also faced discrimination. Before the Texas Revolution, they had been farmers, small ranchers, and skilled laborers. As Anglo-American ranchers and farmers settled in Texas, the Mexican Texans faced increased competition—as well as taxes, fraud, legal fees, and battles over water rights. Over time most Mexican Texans joined an unskilled labor pool. Disfranchising Mexican Texans after the Civil War proved relatively easy, because most Mexicans in Texas retained their Mexican citizenship. Those who were citizens fell victim to the whites-only primary and the poll tax. "Texas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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