- Annual Meeting
- Get Involved
PROGRESSIVE ERA. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Texans shared the optimism and confidence that permeated American society in the Progressive Era. The state was, wrote one observer, "like some boy giant of sixteen, all bulging and bursting out of his outgrown clothes, awkward and ungainly." Its agricultural economy was suspicious of business but stood on the verge of an oil boom that would make Texas an international symbol of corporate power. It was solidly Democratic in politics, a fact which meant that it also rigidly segregated whites from African Americans and barely tolerated Mexican Americans. Texans embodied the tensions and contradictions of the New South while possessing what one writer termed "a coolly arrogant self-sufficiency." During these twenty years the state pursued political reform in campaigns for prohibition, woman suffrage, and the regulation of corporations, and gained important national influence in Congress and the White House during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The prediction of a Chicago journalist in 1911 seemed as if it might be accurate: "When Texas becomes as fully developed as Ohio and Illinois, her people will control the government of the United States."
There were 3,048,710 Texans recorded in the 1900 census; the population stood at 3,896,542 in 1910, and rose to 4,663,228 by 1920. The majority of the white population had been born within the state, and most of the rest had come from neighboring states. "Texas is predominantly Southern in thought and feeling," concluded two analysts in 1916. The state was also still essentially rural. Two-thirds of the populace lived in the country, and fewer than one of five Texans resided in towns of more than 10,000 as the century opened. Agriculture dominated the state's economy. More than 800,000 men were farmers; the number of women and children who helped them is unknown. Products of farms and ranches totaled more than $660 million in 1912, five times the output of Texas factories. By 1919 the state led the nation in total value of crops, in cotton production, in cattle raising, and in several other categories.
Cotton was the principal cash crop. In 1909 farmers raised 2½ million bales, and the Texas Almanac concluded the following year that "cotton sits on the throne as the money crop of Texas." These years were prosperous for cotton farmers, with prices fluctuating at around fourteen cents a pound in 1909 and 1910, well above the disastrous lows of the 1890s. During World War I prices for cotton soared to thirty-five cents a pound before falling back sharply in 1920–21. Despite this improvement in their condition between 1900 and 1920, farmers still complained of low profits, inequities in the marketing process, and difficulty in securing needed credit through the banking system. An animus against eastern bankers and Wall Street permeated agrarian Texas in the Progressive years.
Equally serious to many students of Texas agriculture was the problem of farm tenancy. By 1900, 49 percent of the farmers were tenants; the figure stood at 52 percent ten years later. Landless farmers lacking capital rented their labor and gave the owner one-fourth or one-third of the cotton crop. Sharecroppers were the most impoverished of the 200,000 tenants in Texas, but poverty was widespread in the farm areas. Wives and children lived in squalor, and existing economic conditions made escape from tenant status highly improbable. "There is something rotten in Texas when over 50 per cent of our farm families are homeless renters," said the Houston Chronicle in 1912.
Industry remained an underdeveloped sector in Texas economic life before 1920. The principal businesses were lumber, oil, and railroads. The state's lumber industry, concentrated in East Texas, supplied about 5 percent of the national market in 1907. Increasing consolidation among lumber firms gave them dominant power over their workers, and labor relations were often embittered. The Brotherhood of Timber Workers challenged unsuccessfully the Southern Lumber Operators' Association and its leader, John Henry Kirby, in 1910–11. Some state supervision occurred in the actual conservation of Texas timber, but much less took place in the area of child labor or workmen's compensation.
The oil industry had only begun to establish itself in Texas before 1920. Discovery of the Spindletop oilfield near Beaumont in January 1901 marked the opening of the prosperous phase of the business in Texas, but after 1905 the focus of exploration moved to Oklahoma. Yearly production of oil in the state had declined markedly by 1909, when Texas ranked sixth among states in petroleum production. The opening of the Electra oilfield in 1911 revived industry fortunes. During World War I sizable wells came in at Ranger and Burkburnett, and within a year sizable drilling operations were begun throughout the area near Wichita Falls. In 1919 the legislature gave the Railroad Commission the power to supervise petroleum production for the state. By the end of the period, Texas wells were producing 85,000,000 barrels per year with even more dramatic increases ahead in the 1920s.
Railroads were the other major industrial force in Texas. The Railroad Commission, established in the 1890s, closely regulated the seventy-one companies that used the state's 11,000 miles of track in 1904. Freight rates within the state had dramatically declined before World War I, and the rail companies found it difficult to issue new securities under Texas laws. Expansion of mileage slowed accordingly. Whatever their power had been a generation earlier, Texas railroads were politically weaker in the Progressive years. A growing interest in good highways also signaled an emerging rival for the rail lines. There were 3,591 miles of paved roads in the state in 1910, and highway proponents accelerated their campaign after the passage of the Federal Highway Act in 1916.
Attitudes toward non-Texan corporate enterprises underwent important shifts in these two decades. Although few Texans disliked the idea of successful businesses that originated within the state's borders, there was a historic suspicion of "foreign" concerns and investors that lay behind regulation of "outside" railroads, insurance companies, and oil firms. Before 1910 one Progressive boasted that reformers were "simply keeping in advance of some of their sister States in taking a good half hitch on corporations." This mood waned before World War I, and the impulse to oversee business and to pursue social reform was eroding by 1920. "Let us throw down the bars and let business come into Texas," said one enthusiastic state legislator in 1919. From its place as a perceived national leader in the effort to achieve reform, Texas had begun its twentieth-century development into a setting for corporate power.
While the state retained its predominantly agricultural character throughout the twenty-year period, urbanization also commenced an inexorable process of growth. There were 132 "cities" in Texas in 1910, but only San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth numbered more than 50,000 inhabitants. Austin, El Paso, Galveston, and Waco had between 25,000 and 50,000 residents. More than ninety of the so-called urban areas had fewer than 5,000 people within their city limits. They were "small islands almost submerged in a great agricultural sea." Despite their modest size, Texas cities were governmental innovators in the era of progressivism. After the Galveston hurricane of 1900, Galveston adopted the commission form of city government. The idea, which emphasized efficiency and economy through the election of commissioners on a citywide basis, spread to Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and numerous smaller municipalities before 1910. By lowering taxes on the middle class, simplifying administration, and weakening the influence of local aldermen, commission government appealed to business and professional men who deemed the older ward style of governance as corrupt. After 1910 cities increased in population ten times faster than the countryside. Nearly one-third of the population lived in urban centers by 1919, and 15 percent resided in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. Rapid urban expansion fueled cultural tensions particularly over the issue of prohibition and laid the basis for the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. "What is the matter?" an angry farmer asked in 1920. "Our people are all going to the cities."
White Texans gave little thought to the situation of the black and Hispanic minorities in the state in the years before 1920. Segregation kept the 690,000 blacks from offering any challenge to the existing order of white supremacy. The black population comprised nearly 18 percent of all Texans in 1910 and was sprinkled throughout the eastern third of the state. Blacks were a majority in no more than ten counties. Law, custom, and the threat of violence ensured that blacks would remain politically and socially subservient. There were separate schools, separate social services, and exclusion of most blacks from the political affairs of the Democratic party, though they could vote in general elections and in contests over constitutional amendments. The size of the black vote was small. Of the 160,000 black men over twenty-one, somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 survived the restrictions on suffrage. So pervasive was racism in Texas that the subject rarely came up in partisan campaigns. Only Joseph Weldon Baileyqv sounded virulent antiblack sentiments, in his gubernatorial race in 1920, and the more vicious of the segregationist newspapers captured small audiences. Should the mores of the segregated system be questioned, however, retribution came swiftly. In the Longview race riot of 1919 a white mob in Longview burned buildings in the town's black district before the state militia restored order. In the following month an organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was beaten badly by Travis County officials during a visit to Austin. "Your organization can contribute more to the advancement of both races by keeping your representatives and their propaganda out of this state than in any other way," Governor William P. Hobby wired the NAACP. Tolerance for black aspirations in Texas did not manifest itself for more than four decades.
The Mexican-American population, numbering about 250,000, did not confront the highly visible repression that blacks endured, but their lot in the border counties of South Texas was one of poverty and political subordination. Their votes became the virtual property of local political machines, usually led by Anglo-Americans such as James B. Wellsqv of Cameron County and Archer (Archie) Parrqv of Duval County. These machines provided some rudimentary social services to the local population. Wells, said a friend, was a "Father Confessor" for a people "whose troubles he has made his own for more than thirty years." But the social cost of such patronage was high. The economic position of most Mexican Americans was desperate; some earned only fifty cents a day in 1901. South Texas politics was squalid, corrupt, and often violent. Huge majorities for successful candidates became commonplace, and state politicians cultivated leaders who delivered docile legions on election day. Even the influx of Anglo settlers into the border region after 1910 did not disrupt the established pattern of affairs in most of South Texas. To most white residents of the state, the Mexican-American community remained an unknown and despised entity before World War I. Assertion of cultural identity and ethnic pride from the state's Hispanic community would not touch the majority of Texans for several more decades.
In the assertively masculine world of early twentieth-century Texas, women also occupied a restricted place. They were expected to marry and be homemakers. State law gave males legal authority over community property, and custom allocated dominant power to the man in the marriage. For poor and lower middle class women, this state of affairs did not improve before 1920. In the middle class and higher, activist women pursued the goals of mild reform through the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs, under Mrs. Anna Pennybackerqv. The most intense political campaign sought woman suffrage. Its leaders, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Jane Y. McCallum, and Jessie Daniel Amesqv, argued that "no state can be a true democracy in which one half of the people are denied the right to vote." But the Texas Woman Suffrage Association also stressed that votes for women would offset "disloyal and disintegrating forces" such as black, Hispanic, or German-American voters. After some inconclusive efforts at the turn of the century, proponents of woman suffrage reorganized between 1912 and 1915 as the Texas Woman Suffrage Association and gained additional strength from the progress of the national movement and the onset of World War I. Participation in the struggle to impeach Governor James E. Ferguson in 1917 helped the suffragists secure legislative approval of female voting in the 1918 Democratic primary. In 1919 voters rejected an amendment to the Texas constitution that would have given women the vote in general elections. However, a special session of the legislature ratified the national woman's suffrage amendment in June 1919. Out of the suffrage agitation came the League of Women Voters and a "petticoat lobby" in the early 1920s. Yet the overall role of women, outside the voting booth, remained largely domestic. "We have the vote," said Jane Y. McCallum, "and I must give my time to my household." She did not do as she said, but many other women did.
An issue that engaged the energies of many Texans in the Progressive decades was control of alcohol. Prohibition became the dominant political topic of the period. It was, said the Dallas Morning News in 1916, "as perennial as it is paramount as an issue in our politics. The methods devised to keep it outside party councils have failed utterly." Statewide concern with the liquor issue was a relatively new phenomenon in Texas politics. Except for an unsuccessful fight for a prohibition amendment to the Texas constitution in 1887, voters had accepted local-option provisions that gave individual counties, municipalities, and precincts the power to ban alcohol. By 1903 most of North Texas, outside Dallas and Fort Worth, was dry, and East and Central Texas seemed likely to follow. South Texas, with its sizable Mexican and German populations, remained a wet bastion. The progress of local option after 1893 alarmed the liquor interests. They organized the Texas Brewers Association in February 1901, opposed the adoption of the poll-tax amendment in 1902, and supported a bill in 1903 that provided for a mandatory two-year period between local-option elections. The legislature narrowly defeated the latter proposal, but appearance of an active liquor lobby convinced the prohibitionists of the need for more concerted action. The Texas Local Option Association appeared in 1903 and over the next five years supplied speakers and direction for local-option contests in wet areas. However, the most the association could accomplish was a stalemate with the liquor side. Entrance of the Anti-Saloon Leagueqv into Texas in 1907 accelerated the movement for statewide action against alcohol. Working through the evangelical Protestant churches and relying on ministers for leadership, the league stressed cohesive organization and intense lobbying of the Democratic party to stand against liquor. It served as a clearinghouse for political strategy and popular agitation. Its fervor and commitment soon gained the league a preeminent place among the state's prohibitionist groups.
Dry strength centered in North Texas among the rural, old-stock residents, whom prohibition leaders called the "Anglo-Saxon Democracy." In South Texas the black, Hispanic, and German population opposed liquor regulation. Most prominent in the ranks of the prohibitionists were the Protestant churches that had "locked shields for the purpose of destroying the liquor business." Baptists and Methodists were in the forefront of the campaign. Their newspapers, such as the Baptist Standard and the Texas Christian Advocate (later the United Methodist Reporter), carried articles and editorials that assailed alcohol as a social evil. The only proper attitude for "any Christian man and thoughtful citizen," said Texas Baptists in 1911, was "one of ceaseless and truceless hostility against the entire liquor oligarchy, local, county, state, and national, root and branch."
The drys attacked minorities, the city, and the liquor lobby itself as reasons why alcohol had to be controlled. The brewers were "the only dangerous special interest left with any potency in the state." For many Progressives in Texas, prohibition led the agenda of reform. It was the key to "civic righteousness, clean politics, pure elections and the sanctity of the ballot box." Not all reformers shared dry convictions, but most did. As Martin M. Crane noted, "the great majority of the progressive forces in Texas are prohibitionist." Their wet opponents labeled the liquor reformers as religious cranks and zealots. They played on fears that a government strong enough to ban alcohol could abridge personal freedom or attack segregation. "Civil liberty will give way to military despotism to appease fanaticism on this subject," said Governor Oscar B. Colquitt, a wet, in 1911. The antiprohibitionists were more united and effective than the drys before the First World War, and they won most of the political struggles in those years. Gradually the excesses of the brewers, the support of the German Americans, and the connection with Governor James E. Ferguson doomed the wet cause.
The liquor question and other political topics were fought out within the ranks of the Texas Democratic party between 1900 and 1920. The Republican and the Socialist partiesqv offered only ineffectual electoral resistance to the dominant political organization in these two decades. Texas Republicans before 1920 were essentially parts of a shadow political structure for the disposition of patronage from the federal government when their party held national power. Accordingly they mirrored the larger battles of the GOP. During Theodore Roosevelt's presidency (1901–09), Cecil A. Lyon had control of the party machinery and used it on behalf of Roosevelt and against the interests of black Republicans. From 1909 to 1913 William Howard Taft shifted patronage away from Lyon to promote his renomination in 1912. The state's delegation was bitterly contested at the Republican national convention in 1912, with the Taft forces emerging victorious. Lyon followed Roosevelt into the Progressive party, and the Republicans remained split until 1916. After the collapse of Roosevelt's third party, "amalgamation" occurred. Yet in 1920 the Republican presidential vote in Texas totaled only 115,000, fewer than half the Democratic vote. Texas remained a bastion of the solidly Democratic South as the 1920s opened.
The Socialists gained sufficient strength in Texas before World War I to challenge the Republicans briefly for second place behind the Democrats. Keyed to the upsurge in farm tenancy, Socialist electoral power centered in the cotton belt of East Texas and in newer areas of cotton culture to the north of Abilene. In a weekly newspaper, The Rebel, the Socialists spread their message. Labor unrest among the timber workers added to the party's appeal. Socialism reached the peak of its voting power in the 1912 election, when Eugene V. Debs, the presidential hopeful, received nearly 26,000 votes in Texas. Democrat James E. Ferguson's gubernatorial campaign in 1914 against high rents for tenants drained off Socialist voters into the majority party. When war came in 1917, government suppression of The Rebel and the Socialist leadership broke the party. Socialism represented an alternative to the Democrats between 1900 and 1920 that added complexity and organized dissent to the state's political scene.
The Democrats easily maintained their electoral ascendancy without serious challenge throughout the two decades. Most white, male Texans gave their allegiance to "the party of the fathers," the party that stood for states' rights, white supremacy, and limited government. Election laws supported Democratic power. The Terrell election statutes of 1903 and 1905 mandated a statewide primary for all parties whose general election totals exceeded 100,000. Participation in the primary required payment of a poll tax and the signing of a party loyalty pledge. The "white primaryqv" was also gaining more adherents in Texas counties, though it did not become state law and party policy until the 1920s. Most blacks, some Mexican Americans, and many poorer Texans were effectively ruled out of the governing process. "A nomination in the Democratic primaries is tantamount to election," wrote an unhappy Republican in 1912. Personalities defined the highly factionalized Democrats before 1910. James S. Hogg died early in 1906, but the former governor spoke for a large array of party members who identified with his opposition to out-of-state railroads and corporations. His advocacy of a state government that could regulate railroads and encourage economic progress laid the basis for later progressivism. Before 1906, however, the more conservative Senator Joseph Weldon Bailey and the backstage manipulator Edward M. House overshadowed Hogg in power and policy influence.
House's precise impact on state politics between 1892 and 1906 remains clouded. An adroit promoter of his historical reputation, he left evidence that he made and unmade governors, managed senators, and was, at the same time, something of a reformer. That his wealth and campaign contributions gave him access to politicians is undeniable. That he managed campaigns for Charles A. Culberson, S. W. T. Lanham, and Joseph D. Sayers is also clear. How much he actually influenced legislation or the making of policy is less certain. House and the truth often went in different directions, and a definitive account of his role in Texas has not been written. In many ways he was conservative and considerate of the business interests whose views he shared. By 1906 House's impact on Texas was waning, and he did not regain his importance until he became a confidant of Woodrow Wilson in 1911. With that power he assisted his political associates, Albert S. Burleson, Thomas Watt Gregory, and David F. Houston into the president's cabinet in 1913–14.
Joseph Weldon Bailey was as flamboyant as House was discreet. After a decade in the House of Representatives, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1900. He was the best orator in the state, with his blend of states' rights, racism, and attacks on eastern Republicans. But he also liked the good life, and scandal stuck to his financial dealings with an oil company in 1900 (see WATERS-PIERCE CASE). The issue came up again in 1906, and he secured a second term in 1907 only after an embittered wrangle in the legislature. The Bailey question was the main issue in the battles that preceded the presidential election of 1908 in Texas; Bailey's slate of convention delegates triumphed over his opponent's, but the controversy bubbled on until 1920. Bailey came to represent older values to Democrats unhappy with change and to stand for political immorality to others who wished to make the state a Progressive bastion. Tumult followed him, but his career produced little substantive achievement. "When something practical was on the hooks," said a reporter, "Bailey was like a tree in perpetual and perennial efflorescence, all flower and no fruit."
The conservative tone of state politics weakened after 1905 when support for reform gathered strength in several areas. Farmers again clamored for railroad regulation and higher cotton prices. Elements of the business community sought laws to give them an advantage over out-of-state competitors. Urban residents wanted city governments that were more honest, more efficient, and less costly. The central part of the Progressive coalition was the evangelical churches, the religious press, and the women's groups who advocated prohibition.
Governor Thomas M. Campbell gained from the new reform spirit. He had long opposed the House wing of the party, and he won the Democratic nomination in 1906 as the candidate of East Texas against three North Texas rivals. In his two terms he encouraged legislation to supervise non-Texas insurance companies through the Robertson Insurance Law of 1907, as well as measures to tax inheritances and corporations, to give the state stricter control over corporations, and to establish a guaranty deposit system for Texas banks. Campbell did not fulfill the promise of his reform rhetoric. He was more indecisive and cautious than his admirers then and later contended, but he was as much of a Progressive governor as Texas had before 1920.
Toward the end of Campbell's first term, the liquor issue became paramount among Texas Democrats. An attempt to secure a prohibition amendment in 1908–09 failed in the legislature, and the drys turned their attention to the 1910 gubernatorial race. The voters urged that an antiliquor amendment be submitted to the electorate, but they also chose Oscar B. Colquitt, a wet, as the next governor. The prohibitionists divided their votes between two other dry candidates, and Colquitt received solid wet support. Prohibition encountered another setback when a constitutional amendment was narrowly beaten in a statewide election in July 1911. Following this defeat, the drys challenged Colquitt in 1912. Flouting the informal tradition of a nearly automatic second term for a governor, they selected a state judge to oppose the incumbent. The jurist was an inept campaigner, and Colquitt won the primary easily. Prohibition Democrats prepared to make another effort in 1914, when Colquitt would step down.
The prohibitionists lost the governor's race in part because the major focus of Progressive work in 1912 was the presidential candidacy of Woodrow Wilson. As a reformer and southerner, Wilson won the early endorsement of men such as Thomas B. Love and Thomas Watt Gregory. Only after the Wilson movement was well launched did Colonel House enter the picture. Love and his allies organized the state, defeated the conservatives in the primaries, and sent forty dedicated delegates to the Democratic convention in Baltimore. Though Wilson equivocated on prohibition, his Texas reformist friends felt confident that he would assist them in making the state party both dry and progressive.
The Wilson administration disappointed these hopes during its first year in office. Under the guidance of Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson, the president rebuffed attempts to make progressivism a criterion for federal office. Wilson gave the congressional delegation a larger patronage voice than his reform supporters in an attempt to ensure votes for his legislative program. Burleson and House, who were wet, conservative, longtime residents of Austin, also allocated some of the best positions to friends and associates in the Texas capital. Only in the bitter dispute over the collector of customs at Brownsville did the Progressives win a patronage triumph.
The Progressives and their dry allies looked to the 1914 gubernatorial primary with more optimism. Between July 1913 and February 1914 they rallied behind a single candidate, a Houston attorney named Thomas H. Ballqv, and prepared to defeat the apparently disorganized wets. Ball, who was a lawyer for railroads and corporations, had much surface strength, but he was more of a prohibitionist than a Progressive. He had an erratic personal background, and lacked the ardor of some of his more intense supporters. Although he was the best candidate his faction could offer, he was also a vulnerable target for an opponent with stamina and a taste for demagogy. The wets found such a man in James E. Ferguson, a Central Texas banker who had moved on the fringes of state politics for five years. Ferguson announced his candidacy in November 1913, on a platform that emphasized the evils of farm tenancy and promised to veto all prohibition legislation: "I will strike it where the chicken got the axe." The tenancy issue and his antiprohibition sentiments provided Ferguson with the elements of victory. He drove the other wet candidates from the field by April 1914, and brought his unique campaign style to bear on the hapless Ball. Worried drys reported that the farmers were "taking to Ferguson's land proposal like a hungry cat to a piece of fresh beef liver." Ferguson gave Ball no rest. On the stump, "Farmer Jim" used agrarian props like a gourd and wooden dipper to underscore his rural allegiance. He assailed Ball for belonging to a Houston club that sold liquor, and promised that his opponent would "go down in history as the biggest political straddler that ever lived." By mid-June a prohibitionist worker concluded: "unless some very aggressive and active efforts are made, we stand to lose." Ball's advisors turned to the Wilson administration to stave off defeat. They sought an endorsement of the dry cause and told the president that Ferguson was an agent of reaction. Wilson, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, and Burleson issued public statements for Ball in mid-July, a tactic that moved Ferguson to denounce federal interference in state affairs. Despite the presidential action, Ferguson combined the wet vote with the ballots of North Texas farmers concerned about tenancy and achieved a 45,000-vote majority.
Ferguson's nomination inflicted a serious setback on the progressive Democrats. The new governor was a master campaigner, a deft manipulator of wet and rural sentiment, and a clever opportunist with an eye on the state treasury and other sources of personal profit. His ability to muddy differences over prohibition and the land question perpetuated the confused condition of state politics. Drys and Progressives faced the gloomy prospect of four years of antiprohibitionist leadership in Austin.
A rapport between Ferguson and Wilson emerged during the aftermath of the primary and lasted until the spring of 1917. In contrast to Governor Colquitt, who openly bickered with Washington over Mexican policy, Ferguson deferred to the Wilson administration in his public statements and confined dissent to private correspondence. A similarly cooperative attitude marked the governor's actions on neutrality after World War I began. In 1916, after Ferguson had supported the Wilson campaign for preparedness, the administration acquiesced in the governor's domination of the state convention at San Antonio and tacitly endorsed his leadership of the Democratic delegation to the national convention. The Progressives, said Love, wanted to keep "men who wear the political collar of the liquor traffic" off the slate, but they were no match for a coalition of Ferguson backers, friends of former senator Bailey, and moderates who thought the governor was doing Wilson's bidding.
Progressives took some comfort in the defeat of Colquitt, long a wet stalwart, in the 1916 senatorial contest. Colquitt had moved away from the mild progressivism of his first term and broken with Wilson in 1914 over patronage, cotton legislation, and Mexico. In a New York Times interview Colquitt described the administration as "the greatest failure in the history of the Presidency." After leaving office, he supported Germany in the quarrels over neutrality, in part to preserve his base of support among the Germans in south central Texas, and continued to scold the president. He ran first in the six-man senatorial primary in June and went into a runoff with the incumbent, Charles A. Culberson. This development caused dismay in the White House-a fear that Colquitt would "disgrace the State and the Senate of the United States," Thomas Watt Gregory, now Wilson's attorney general, told Love.
To defeat Colquitt, the Democrats had to opt for a politician whose loyalty to dry progressivism was doubtful. As state attorney general, governor, and senator, Culberson turned silence into a settled habit and rarely revealed his convictions. The illnesses that flowed from the excessive use of alcohol made Culberson a semi-invalid who lacked the endurance to campaign personally. Though he never set foot in the state during the campaign, Culberson rode to a runoff victory behind the votes of conservative and progressive Democrats, joined together temporarily to defeat the open enemy of a Democratic president. This kind of negative victory did not mean that the prohibitionist-progressive wing had rebounded from the effects of 1914. With Ferguson a potential candidate in 1918 against the archdry Senator Morris Sheppardqv and no strong gubernatorial hopefuls on the horizon, prohibition Democrats still displayed their "inherent inability...to `hang together'" as 1917 began.
American entry in World War I removed some of the obstacles to prohibition. Prohibition became a patriotic cause to conserve food, protect the soldiers in training camps, and injure the German-dominated brewing industry. The Wilson administration abandoned its previous coolness on the subject and endorsed wartime curbs on alcohol. Within Texas, reformers marched on such wet bastions as Dallas, Waco, and Austin, in the fall of 1917. A dry leader, Cullen F. Thomas, noting the progress, remarked: "Reform seems awfully slow, but wrong will not always be on the throne." Even more effective in promoting the antiliquor movement was the impeachment of Ferguson over his personal finances and protracted controversy with the University of Texas. The political repercussions of this dispute, which went on from mid-1915 until the state Senate ousted Gentleman Jim in September 1917, devastated the wet cause. By attacking the university, the governor united its alumni, the drys, the woman suffragists, and the press against him. As a result, the forces of prohibition acquired a cohesion that contrasted sharply with their earlier disunity. The revelation in Ferguson's trial of his misuse of state funds and shady financial relations with the brewers left the antiprohibitionists "practically wrecked." Over the next year the drys remained on the offensive. The acting governor, William P. Hobby, renounced his wet past and called the legislature into special session to deal with the sale of liquor near military training camps. The lawmakers went far beyond this topic, and passed a statewide prohibition law, ratified the national prohibition amendment, and gave women the vote in the Democratic primary. Thomas H. Ball told the state Senate that the "destruction of the liquor business" and the other achievements of the winter of 1918 "record a new high water mark in patriotism and progressive democracy."
"Progressive democracy" also prevailed in the gubernatorial primary as Hobby turned back Ferguson's bid for vindication. The same coalition of Progressives, drys, and organized women gave the Hobby campaign its thrust. Labeling Ferguson an agent of the Kaiser because of his brewery connections, the Hobby campaign made patriotism the keynote. "From a political campaign," stated the Houston Post, "this has become an impetuous, patriotic impulse to `slay the beast' at home." Hobby won a smashing 244,000-vote majority, and the drys took over the party.
A final challenge to dry supremacy appeared in 1919. Joseph Weldon Bailey decided to reshape the Democratic party in accord with his conservative, states'-rights views. He was suspect among Progressives because of his financial dealings between 1900 and 1906. He also opposed Wilson's candidacy in 1912, criticized the president after 1913, and was an open foe of prohibition and woman suffrage. In August 1919 he urged party members to repudiate Wilsonian "Socialism" and sponsored a statewide convention of conservative Democrats. To assist in the selection of an anti-Wilson delegation to the national convention, he became a candidate for governor early in 1920 and began a campaign that accused the Wilson administration of extravagance, softness on the race question, and usurpation of states' rights. The Progressives, under the leadership of Hobby, Love, and Gregory, responded vigorously to the assault. Pro-administration Democrats built a campaign organization, called Bailey a traitor to the party, and soundly trounced him over the selection of delegates in May 1920. Bailey stayed in the gubernatorial contest and led the field in the first primary. In a singularly dirty runoff campaign, he lost decisively to a prohibitionist, Pat M. Neff. When Bailey's defeat was final, his enemies termed the outcome an accolade for "the achievements of the Wilson administration, prohibition and equal suffrage, the rule of right in this land of ours and for honest and progressive government conducted by honest and progressive men." The irrepressible Jim Ferguson made a race for president in the fall election as a way of keeping his name before followers. Otherwise, the dry Democrats seemed everywhere dominant.
In many ways the twenty years after 1900 left Texas relatively unchanged. The state was still rural, agricultural, Democratic, segregated, and poor. Industrialization, the rapid growth of cities, and the great wealth that became legend were years away. Nonetheless the Progressive Era in Texas had initiated trends that would lead to the emergence of the modern state. The government of Texas dealt with a wider range of responsibilities in economic policy, conservation, and social services than in 1900. The Democratic party, under the influence of Woodrow Wilson, had left much of the inaction of its negative past for a more positive philosophy of government participation, especially as it related to the regulation of alcohol. White women had the vote, liquor was prohibited, and the national government was a larger presence in state affairs. Texans in the age of reform had accomplished much and left unsolved issues for those who followed them. In the 1920s and 1930s the successive interaction of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Ferguson and his wife, Miriam, and the New Deal would extend a tradition of flamboyance and controversy in the state's politics that had marked the era of Progressives and prohibitionists. See also LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY TEXAS, TEXAS IN THE 1920S.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982). Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Paul D. Casdorph, Republicans, Negroes, and Progressives in the South, 1912–1916 (University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1981). Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992). James R. Green, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895–1943 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). Robert S. Maxwell and Robert D. Baker, Sawdust Empire: The Texas Lumber Industry, 1830–1940 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1983). Bradley Robert Rice, Progressive Cities: The Commission Government Movement in America, 1901–1920 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977).
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Lewis L. Gould, "PROGRESSIVE ERA," accessed January 18, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npp01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.