Today in Texas History – January 17

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From the Annals of the Governors –   In 1874, Richard Coke was inaugurated as the 15th Governor of Texas. Coke was a Democrat and his election as Governor is considered to be the end of Reconstruction in Texas.  Coke’s election was the subject of legal controversy.  The Texas Supreme Court invalidated the election, but Coke ignored the ordered and with supporters and militia seized control of the physical Governor’s office at the State Capitol.  The incumbent governor requested that President Grant send in federal troops, but Grant declined to intervene and Coke took office.

Coke was a veteran of the Southern Rebellion.  After the war he was appointed a Texas District Court judge, and in 1866 he was elected as an associate justice to the Texas Supreme Court.  His political career took off when the military governor General Philip Sheridan removed Coke and four other judges as ‘an impediment to reconstruction.’ The removal made Coke famous and he took advantage of his new found celebrity to run for Governor in 1873.  Resentment to Union occupation insured his victory and reestablished the Democratic Party as the power base in Texas for the next 100 years.  Unfortunately, the Democrats power was based on disenfranchisement of Blacks, Mexican-Americans and poor whites through the use of poll taxes, overt discrimination and “White Primaries” in which only white property owners could vote.  Winning the  Democratic Primary was tantamount to victory.  Coke’s legacy as Governor is largely one of discrimination and abuse of power.  However, he did usher in the Constitution of 1876 which remains the basis for Texas government today – however heavily amended.  Coke resigned as Governor after being elected to the U.S. Senate where he served from 1876 to 1895.

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