published: December 16th 2016
by: Mike Cox
His final term nearly complete, the governor spoke in Rockdale, reflecting on his accomplishments and on his state of mind.
The first native-born Texas governor, James Stephen Hogg had moved from typesetting to newspaper editing to practicing law. First elected to office as a justice of the peace in Quitman, by 1886 he was state attorney general and in 1890 became governor.
Hogg's second gubernatorial campaign had been rough. His opponent, Judge George Clark of Waco, was also a lawyer, but unlike Hogg, who weighed 350 pounds, Clark was dimenutive. Still, he was a political king maker whose friends called him the Little Giant.
Back then Texas, for all practical purposes, was a one-party state. The two Democratic factions, however, acted like separate parties. While Hogg ran as the protector of the common man, Clark was seen as the lackey of the corporate big boys.
Long before anyone conceived television attack ads, politics was as likely to be physical as rhetorical. The Clark-Hogg campaign touched off numerous fist fights across the state.
“Brother was often arrayed against brother and father against son,” Judge C.V. Terrell recalled. “The closest ties of friendship were too often severed.”
A couple of campaign debates ended so raucously that both sides, fearing serious violence, wisely agreed to schedule no more.
Around the same time, Wick Blanton and Tom Morris ran against each other for the honor of being county attorney of Wilson County.
Blanton was a populist and Morris a prohibitionist. They may have belonged to different camps, but that did not interfere with their friendship.
In fact, they even campaigned together, traveling in a buggy between the various towns in Wilson County. At each voting precinct, they gave a stump speech and debated their positions.
“Their dispositions were sunny and bibulous,” a mutual acquaintance later wrote. “Both tongues were loose at both ends – and full of fire and wit in the middle.”
Despite their political differences on the availability of alcohol, they always had as their traveling companion a jug of whiskey. They partook of it before an oration and afterward to slack their thirst as they bumped along the county's two-rut roads.
Even before potential voters, their friendship held. Always fair and polite, the only exception came when "they derided each other for having no more brains than to support the political parties they respectively espous-ed.”
Beyond speechifying, they hit up individuals to seek their vote. During one such conversation, a poll tax payer who had been on the fence finally agreed to cast his vote for Morris.
“I’m mighty glad to see you coming across to the Democratic side again,” Morris told the man. “It’s the party of our fathers, and the greatest one on earth.”
Then the man burst Morris’ political bubble. His decision had not been based on his campaign, he said. What had made the difference was a story making the rounds that Blanton had been arrested in San Antonio for being drunk.
“Look here,” Morris said. “I’d like to have you vote for me….But I don’t want your voted on a damned lie.”
Morris knew for a fact that his opponent had not been drunk in San Antonio because he and Blanton had been drunk in Wilson County. He couldn’t have his friend lose a vote over something he was just as guilty of as Blanton.
Building his case meticulously, Morris succeeded in convincing the man of the truth: Blanton had been in Wilson County on the night in question, making a campaign appearance with Morris. A Wilson County lawyer had indeed been arrested in San Antonio, but it had been a third party, not Blanton.
“I’m glad you told me that,” the voter said. “Wick’s all right, then. And he gets my vote.”
Morris shook hands with the man and left, well aware that by being truthful, he had cost himself one vote. The first person he told the story to was Blanton – over a drink. Blanton ended up winning the election.
Meanwhile, at the state level, the Democratic convention in Houston threatened to spin out of control. When Hogg supporters blocked Clark delegates from reaching the elevated platform at the head of the convention hall, pro-Clark forces vacated the premises and staged their own meeting elsewhere.
No one got hurt or killed, but when the two meetings ended, the state had two full Democratic slates to pick from on election day. Despite the support of most of the bigger city newspapers, Clark and his fellow candidates did not prevail in the balloting. The man called Texas’ only two-footed hog won reelection by nearly 200,000 votes.
In his Rockdale swan song, Hogg listed what he considered his successes. Yet he seemed happy that his political career was over.
“For once in my life,” Hogg said, “I am at peace with the world and mankind, politically, personally and socially.”
The governor had a similar hope for his native state. What he wished was that “never again shall political storms...rise to disturb the equilibrium, repose, tranquility and good order of our people.”
Hogg has been permanently at peace since March 3, 1906, but political storms have continued to rise.