Tag Archives: Old Man Texas

A Precedent is Set for Texas Politics

A cartoon figure representing honest, average citizens of the Lone Star State, “Former Governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson is confronted by Old Man Texas” confronts former governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson who is, while playing a political shell game of “Political” shells on the lawn of the State Capitol Lawn.
A cartoon figure representing honest, average citizens of the Lone Star State, “Former Governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson is confronted by Old Man Texas” confronts former governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson who is, while playing a political shell game of “Political” shells on the lawn of the State Capitol Lawn.

 

 

History is known to repeat itself, and in Texas politics, a pattern of scandals and corruption has been set within its highest office. But when did these unethical, corrupt political practices begin? They can be followed back to one couple that set a precedent for dirty politics in Texas. For two decades, from 1914 to 1932, Jim “Pa” Ferguson and his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson, took control of the Texas Capitol and used the governorship for personal gain, at any cost. As the Fergusons’ role as governor developed, so did the opposition to scandal and “Fergusonism,” becoming major issues in Texas politics for years thereafter.

For Jim “Pa” Ferguson, the mastermind behind countless political schemes and scandals, serving as Texas Governor was his most direct way to gain the political power and recognition he so clearly desired (Stayton). After a successful first term, Ferguson immediately began his second term with an egocentric mindset that led him into troubled waters with Texas officials. After disagreeing with The University of Texas Board of Regents’ choice of president, the former governor abused his powers by vetoing the university’s entire appropriations budget. This bold act of rebellion shocked and angered UT students, professors and government officials. On July 21st, 1917, charges were made that led to the first impeachment of a governor in Texas history (Steen).

For instance, he resigned the day before his impeachment, fully intending to enter the race again and reclaiming his “rightful” spot in the Texas capitol (Steen)  After being defeated for the Democratic nomination, Ferguson was unable to get back on the ballot for governor. Except his pride would not allow for failure to define his career. He made the decision to extend his political power to and through his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson (Huddleston), and had her run on his behalf in the 1924 Gubernatorial race.

Ferguson’s need for control and blatant opposition to his adversaries became even clearer during his wife’s campaign for office. “Ma” Ferguson ran with campaign slogans like “Me for Ma and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa” and “Two governors for the price of one” (Patrick). These blatant messages showed voters that “Pa” would still be in charge if elected. With outspoken messages against the KKK and Prohibition, “Ma” won the election and started “her” career as the first women governor of Texas, and once again the Fergusons were back in office. Even after receiving a second chance at the governorship, however, the couple continued their pattern of public controversy and corruption within the state capitol.

Despite running on a platform of honesty and reconciliation, Ma’s first two years in office were more contentious than voters had hoped. The couple was prosecuted of cronyism, after granting friends and political supports contracts from the state highway commission (Huddleston). By the late 1920s to early 1930s, public sentiment towards the Fergusons took a turn for the worse (Dallas Morning News). At that point, Texas citizens were tired of the couple’s unethical behavior and their lack of respect for the office. The people’s hope diminished as their weariness grew, because of the notorious greed and fraud that marked the Fergusonian period. In fact, the media, which opposed the couple’s political antics, coined a new term—

“Fergusonism”—in the 1920s to refer to and to underscore “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson’s corrupt actions (Brown).

For the last time, Mariam decided to run against incumbent Governor Ross Sterling in the 1932 gubernatorial election. In an article entitled, “Sterling Support”, the Dallas Morning News published the article to officially announce its support for the Sterling candidacy and to revoke support for the Fergusons, candidates who had once enjoyed the newspaper’s endorsement. At the time, The Dallas Morning News stated that it was “primarily against the spoils system which Fergusonism represents,” most likely referring to the 1924 state highway commission contract scandal, as well as the many other political transgressions during the two decades the Fergusons held office. The Dallas Morning News’editorial both explained how its opposition to the couple resulted from the “bitter disappointment of the faith put in the Fergusons in 1924” and also asserted, “in complete unison,” the newspaper’s support for Ross Sterling.

The political cartoon, “He Remembers the Old Shell Game” by John Knott, appeared in the same issue of the Dallas Morning News on August 15, 1932. After decades of the Ferguson’s strong grip on political office, Knott depicts “Old Man Texas,” a representative of the everyday, average Texan (Perez), standing up to “Jim” Ferguson and the political games he played while in power at the Texas State House. The politician is playing a “shell game” which is a game “where a person hides a small object underneath one of three nutshells, thimbles, or cups, then shuffles them about on a flat surface while spectators try to guess the final location of the object (YourDictionary)”. The phrase shell game also refers to “any scheme for tricking and cheating people (YourDictionary)”. Within the cartoon, the shells, Labeled, “Ma”, Jim and Gov. Office, represent the control and responsibility that Ferguson had over the Texas people during the “Fergusonian” period. By depicting Ferguson’s political motivations as a shady gambling game, humor is used to show the realization of the Texas people and how they no longer wanted to be under the control of a politician who covertly shifted his responsibility and power for years right before his constituents. Through this cartoon, the artist conveys the fact that public opinion had shifted from trust in, to skepticism about, Ferguson’s leadership.

Ultimately, Knott’s political cartoon depicts the frustration that grew towards former Governor Jim Ferguson and all his tricks to maintain control over Texas politics. After controlling the gubernatorial office for over two decades, the Fergusons set an unfortunate precedent for unethical leadership. As their time in office continued, power was never enough. Always hungry for more, the couple did whatever it took to keep their name relevant and political control in their hands, even if it harmed the voters who gave them their position in the first place. Unfortunately, “Fergusonism” has become a norm in politics today. It is now common for corruption and indictments to make headlines. The Fergusons paved the way for new, boisterous politicians to pander to the public and continue the tradition of dirty Texas politics for years to come.

 

 

Works Cited

 

“”Fergusonism and the Klan”.” “Fergusonism and the Klan”. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://www2.austin.cc.tx.us/lpatrick/his1693/klan.html.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Joan Jenkins Perez, “Knott, John Francis,” accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, “Ferguson, James Edward,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe05.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 24, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, “Sterling, Ross Shaw,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fst42.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 7, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Ben H. Procter, “Great Depression,” accessed March 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npg01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Norman D. Brown, “Texas In the 1920s,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npt01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Richard T. Fleming, “Moody, Daniel James, Jr.,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmo19.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 26, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Knott, John. “He Remembers the Old Shell Game.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

 

Staff. “Sterling Support.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

 

Stayton, Jennifer. “Meet James ‘Pa’ Ferguson, the First Texas Governor to Face an Indictment.” KUT, kut.org/post/meet-james-pa-ferguson-first-texas-governor-face-indictment.

“Shell Game.” One-Dimensional Dictionary Definition | One-Dimensional Defined, www.yourdictionary.com/shell-game.

Can He Sell the Old Man?

Standing outside a barbed wire fence, US Speaker of the House John Garner shows Old Man Texas his plan to divide Texas into five separate states.
Standing outside a barbed wire fence, US Speaker of the House John Garner shows Old Man Texas his plan to divide Texas into five separate states.

Through the history of politics, borders have always been a question up for debate. Man-made political boundaries have been a cause of strife for millennia, and the battles for who gets to draw those lines on maps may likely never end. More recently, borders, representative democracies, and their intrinsic ties to the political process have turned these permeable lines into constitutional weapons. In the 1930s, a debate arose over manipulation of borders—not to change trade or migration or money—but to shift the balance of power in the United States by splitting up the Lone Star State. Then US Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner, attempted to use a nearly 100-year-old law to legally divide Texas into five different states.

House-Speaker John Garner was a Texas-born lawyer who lived from 1868–1967. A Democrat, he served fifteen terms in the United States House of Representatives until 1933, when he was elected Vice-President to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Patenaude). Due to his warm relations with Congress, acquired in his tenure as a legislator, Garner was vital in passing Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms (Patenaude). Before his ascension to the Vice-Presidency, however, Garner proposed some controversial ideas. “Can He Sell the Old Man,” the comic by John Knott, and “Texas One and Indivisible,” the accompanying editorial, both published in The Dallas Morning News in 1932, reference a proposed option by national House Democrats to divide Texas into five separate states. Garner is depicted in the comic holding a map of the Lone Star State and “selling” the plan to “Old Man Texas,” Knott’s “most famous character” embodying the rural Texan’s ideals of honesty in government. (Perez).

Over the years, there have been many attempts to split Texas into multiple states. Of course, none of these plans ever came to fruition. To create a legal justification, all proposed divisions have used the original Texas annexation as signed by the United States in 1845. A compromise between slave-states and free-states, “The Joint-Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States,” declares plainly that Texas may be divided into five individual states (United States Congress) to balance the number of slave and free states as needed. Even when slavery was banned in the United States and the number of free and slave states no longer had implication for the makeup of the Senate, the law remained on the books as a legal justification for dividing Texas.

John Garner’s first attempt to quintisect the state in 1921 was boisterous but unsuccessful as he had no clout. As Speaker of the House, however, Garner’s 1931 attempt to divide Texas had far more momentum. Contemporary sources identify a passionate and frustrated attitude taken on Garner’s part. His stated reason for his proposal was to “transfer the balance of political power from New England to the south” and “restore the prestige” of the southern states (Jacobs). Garner approached the rebalancing of Senate representation as a response to perceived attacks by powerful, regional political hegemons—particularly the North-Eastern United States and their unified interests.

This vengeance for Texas and the South tainted how the public viewed Garner’s ideas. John Knott’s comic exemplifies how Garner’s plan was received. From the outside of a barbed-wire fence, the artist pits the stocky Garner as a solicitor trying to convince “Old-Man Texas” of the Speaker’s grand plan. Garner comes across as smarmy—as if this is a back-alley deal to be cast with Texas joining the Democrats in a big score of federal voting power. “More senators on fewer acres,” he says, pointing to his map of Texas. “Old-Man Texas” appears to be humoring the Speaker, with a nonchalance that reflects an attitude of dismissal. That attitude is further elaborated in the accompanying editorial.

Garner’s goal was to increase Democratic representation in the US Senate (Jacobs). A divided Texas would have five times the amount of control in the Senate, with the majority of the new seats likely going to Garner’s party. Thus, his plan would have created a new regional bloc to compete with the North-Eastern states.  

The editorial, “Texas One and Indivisible,” warned of competing regional interests in the United States—singling out the contemporary example of the East Coast’s homogeneity and how it was used as a voting bloc in the Senate. While Garner would have certainly agreed with a Southern bloc, The Dallas Morning News was not at all supportive of the idea of separating of Texas at all. Adding more regional blocks, it was argued, would only create more “petty states” with “overrepresentation in the Senate” (Dallas Morning News). In addition, the newspaper condemned the expensive construction of four additional legislative buildings and the costly redundancies of tax dollars going to prop-up four more governorships (Dallas Morning News).

The power of borders is unmistakable. Texan history has always had difficulties with the manipulation of how governments draw lines on the map. Legal gerrymandering lives on today in the Texas legislatures and has been a tactic for amassing power for political parties, much like John Garner’s schemes in the twenties and thirties. For example, the recent 2003 State redistricting was rife with protest and court cases. To date, dividing Texas into five states has never been realized, but other measures to remap the political landscape and consolidate political power in the Lone Star State have been successful.

Works Cited

Elliot, Claude. “Division of Texas.” Texas State Historical Association. 12 June 2010. Web.
https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mqd01

Jacobs, Frank. “What’s the Plural of Texas?” Big Think Inc. Web.
http://bigthink.com/strange-maps/537-whats-the-plural-of-texas

“John Knott’s Cartoons Were Front Page Fixture of News” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News. 17 Feb 1963. Print.

Knott, John. “Can He Sell the Old Man?” The Dallas Morning News. 3 Jan 1932, sec. 3: 10. Print.

Patenaude, Lionel V. “Garner, John Nance.” Texas State Historical Association. 15 June, 2010. Web.
https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fga24

Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Knott, John Francis.” Texas State Historical Association. 15 June 2010. Web. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05

“The Joint-Resolution for Annexing Texas to the United States” United States Congress. 12 Dec 1844. Print.
https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/annexation/march1845.html

Trickey, Erick. “For More Than 150 Years, Texas has had the Power to Secede…From Itself.” Smithsonian Institute. March 7, 2017. Print.

“Texas, One and Indivisible.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News. 3 Jan 1932, sec. 3: 10. Print.

To Tax, or Not To Tax?

KnottCartoon
A small legislator is attempting to hang a “Sales Tax Token” on “Old Man Texas,” representing Texas’s 1937 debate regarding taxation of natural resource industries.

 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Texas’s natural resource industries were booming. Texas oil industries had been slowly on the rise since the late nineteenth century, and were super-charged on January 10, 1901, when the Spindletop oil field was discovered (Wooster, “Spindletop Oil Field”). The discovery of Spindletop completely revolutionized Texas industry, producing around 100,000 barrels of oil a day (Wooster)! This caused Texas industry to explode and begin to focus on petroleum and mining in 1937, however, backdropped by the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal programs, sales taxes on natural resources were being created and increased – sometimes even doubling – to tax industry and create government revenues to fund new ventures for the Texas government.

John Knott’s political cartoon “Legislator With the Sales Tax Complex,” published on March 24, 1937, depicts a small legislator holding a weight labeled “Sales Tax Token” which he is attempting to hang on a much larger man labeled “Texas.” The old man was a popular political cartoon character of Knott’s, known as “Old Man Texas:” a hardy old man created in 1906 that “[symbolized] rural Texas, [its] honesty in government, [its] low taxes, and [its] property ownership” (“Knott, John Francis”). In the cartoon, “Old Man Texas” is walking out of the frame, and the legislator is closely following him – tiptoeing in an attempt not to be noticed – trying to hang the weight on “Old Man Texas,” who shouts, “Don’t you hang that thing on me!” when he realizes what the legislator is attempting to do (Knott). In the editorial accompanying Knott’s cartoon, “Taxing Natural Resources,” a new sales tax on sulfur is described, which would provide the Texas government with increased revenues for new ventures. This new sales tax, however, would drastically increase production costs in the sulfur industry and significantly damage its ability to produce profits (“Taxing Natural Resources”). The cartoon and its accompanying editorial express that increasing sales taxes on industries’ natural resources will benefit the state in the short-term, but harm its long-term development.

Much like petroleum drilling, sulfur mining had slowly been on the rise in the late 1800s, thanks to new mining methods like the Frasch process, where superheated water was pumped into previously drilled wells, melting the sulfur and forcing molten sulfur to the surface. Unfortunately, the Frasch process proved to be impractical and very expensive, which led to its eventual discontinuation (Kleiner, “Sulfur Industry”). Sulfur was (and still is) a valuable natural resource in the production of matches, gunpowder, insecticides, skin treatments, and glass (“Sulfur Mining & Processing”), and during the mid to late 1930s its demand was rising (Wasson, “Solons Rap Business…”). Fortunately, the discovery of Spindletop not only ignited a new oil and gas industry in Texas, but breathed new life into the sulfur industry as well. The expensive, inefficient Frasch Process was replaced with a much more cost-effective method: using the newly affordable, abundant oil supply in the state as fuel for extracting sulfur from the ground. Additionally, sulfur deposits were being found more frequently, due to the growing oil and gas industry, because sulfur deposits were typically located in the same salt domes that miners explored for oil (Kleiner). These changes led to Texas producing around eighty percent of the United States’ sulfur supply (Kleiner).

Around 1937, Texas’s industries were booming; however, many industries related to natural resources were becoming the subjects of increasingly expensive sales taxes on natural resources. These taxes were being levied to help generate government revenue for Texas to fund health care reforms for those with disabilities such as deafness and blindness, expand schooling and educational systems within the state, and other governmental obligations (“Legislature Told By Allred…”). Since the early 1920s, the sulfur industry had been the target of increasing taxes, and until the mid-1930s, the taxes had been causing increased revenue for the state government. In 1923, taxes on the sulfur industry produced $73,900 of government revenue; in 1924, they produced $244,796; in 1929, they produced $901,125; and in 1931, they produced $1,237,701. Moving into the mid-1930s, however, the government tripled the sales tax on sulfur, which led to a decrease of almost half a million dollars in government revenue, providing only $764,532 in 1932 (Wasson, “Solons Rap Business…”). This sudden decrease in revenue was due to the increasing sulfur tax hindering sulfur industries to the point that they could no longer generate as high a profit as they used to, on account of higher operating costs. This led to a net decrease in tax revenue.

The editorial accompanying the cartoon uses the sulfur industry as a lens through which to shed light on the effect of these increasing taxes on natural resource production, arguing that setting the sales tax on sulfur at $1.28 per ton – an increase of almost seventy-five cents from past rates (Wasson) – the government is “[gouging] for revenue” rather than “[encouraging] development” of industry (“Taxing Natural Resources”). In doing so, the editorial argues that while it may seem a conservative adjustment in the sulfur tax, the increased government revenue isn’t really needed, and the state is too focused on its own short-term benefit to consider long-term growth of Texas industry – which will provide much more for the state in the long run. The editorial also argues that conservative policy in regards to taxing industry would be wise, as it would allow industries to grow and continue to support Texas more in the long run – moving towards an “era of industrial development,” rather than “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs” (“Taxing Natural Resources”).

The aforementioned ideas are all embedded in Knott’s “Legislator with the Sales Tax Complex” cartoon: Texas and its industries being represented by “Old Man Texas,” the increasing sales taxes on those industries being represented by the “Sales Tax Token,” and the Texas government being represented in the small and impish legislator (Knott). In the cartoon, “Old Man Texas” is pictured walking out of frame. He is twice as tall as the legislator, towering over him with his massive fist clenched, yelling “Don’t you hang that thing on me!” “Old Man Texas” represents Texas and its industries, not only because of how massive, powerful and willing to fight for their development they were, but also because he is walking out of frame, towards an “era of industrial development” which Texas industries were progressing towards (“Taxing Natural Resources”). The “Sales Tax Token” in the cartoon is a heavy weight plate, which, if hung on “Old Man Texas,” would impede his progress towards his “era of industrial development.” The legislator is described as having a “sales tax complex,” because he is obsessed with hanging the “Sales Tax Token” on “Old Man Texas,” a metaphor for Texas government being fixated on taxing natural resource industries in the late 1930s. This is why he is portrayed as small and impish, because he is selfish, on account of only being focused on the short-term benefits of hanging the weight on “Old Man Texas,” or taxing industries; rather than the long-term gains of allowing “Old Man Texas” to move toward his goal, and allowing Texas industries to grow.

In 1935, the Connally Hot Oil Act was created in to combat independent oil distributors from driving industries’ profits down. The act was scheduled to expire on June 15, 1937; however, on January 14, 1937, the act was extended and written into permanent law (Goodwin, “Connally Bill Gets Approval for Extension”). The Connally Act and other legislation continued to support industrial growth in in the late 1930s, showing that in the end, industrial development was prioritized by the government, as advocated in the cartoon and accompanying editorial. Even in today’s society, the debate of prioritizing governmental revenue versus prioritizing industrial development still rages on, shown by the Australian Mining Tax controversy. This tax was introduced in 2012 and would take thirty percent of Australian mining profits, for government revenue. Much like the Texas government of the late 1930s, the Australian government also supported industrial development, later repealing the mining tax in 2014 (“Australia’s Mining Tax Repealed”). As they say: history truly does repeat itself.

Works Cited:

“Australia’s Mining Tax Repealed.” BBC News, BBC, 2 Sept. 2014, www.bbc.com/news/business-29009479. Goodwin, Mark L.

“Connally Bill Gets Approval For Extension.” Dallas Morning News, 15 Jan. 1937, p. 9., phw02.newsbank.com/cache/ean/fullsize/pl_010162017_2314_26789_194.pdf. Web. 15 Oct. 2017.

Kleiner, Diana J. “Sulfur Industry” Texas State Historical Association, 14 June 2010, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dks04. Web. 9 Oct. 2017.

Knott, John F. “Legislator With the Sales Tax Complex.” Dallas Morning News, 24 Mar. 1937, p. 2. Web. 26 Sept. 2017.

“Knott, John Francis.” Texas State Historical Association, 15 June 2010, shaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05.

“Legislature Told By Allred to Halt Its Tax Remission” Dallas Morning News, 25 Mar. 1937, p. 2., http://phw01.newsbank.com/cache/ean/fullsize/pl_010162017_2121_48289_672.pdf. Web. 13 Oct. 2017.

“Sulfur Mining & Processing: What to Know.” General Kinematics, 17 Sept. 2014, www.generalkinematics.com/blog/sulfur-mining-processing-know/. Web. 10 Oct. 2017.

“Taxing Natural Resources.” Editorial. Dallas Morning News, 24 Mar. 1937, p. 2. Web. 26 Sept. 2017.

Wasson, Dean. “Solons Rap Business With One Hand, Then Invite It With Other” Dallas Morning News, 25 Mar. 1937, p. 3., http://phw01.newsbank.com/cache/ean/fullsize/pl_010102017_0211_29652_4.pdf. Web. 9 Oct. 2017.

Wooster, Robert, and Christine Moor Sanders. “Spindletop Oil Field.” Texas State Historical Association, 15 June 2010, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dos03. Web. 15 Oct. 2017.