[Letter and related newspaper clippings on lawlessness in Texas]. William Alexander.
[Letter and related newspaper clippings on lawlessness in Texas].
[Letter and related newspaper clippings on lawlessness in Texas].
[Letter and related newspaper clippings on lawlessness in Texas].

[Letter and related newspaper clippings on lawlessness in Texas].

Austin, January 30, 1875. 16 mo. 3 pp. manuscript on 4 pp. Two 12.5” x 8” leaves with six newspaper clippings affixed onto two leaves of cap paper.

A vivid and fascinating letter capturing the lapse of law and order in Reconstruction Era Texas, where a deluge of immigration stymied political progress, accompanied by newspaper clippings with considerable manuscript commentary illuminating the lawlessness and pervasive crime in the Lone Star State.

Kentucky-native William Alexander (1819–1882), former three-time Texas Attorney General, writes this letter having just returned from a “long and rough trip on our frontier,” which he relates has rewarded his health. Before “setting out again for one of our remote courts,” he has composed this missive and enclosed newspaper clippings with accompanying commentary that he “felt impelled to make.” Alexander is frank in his assessment that “the Congressional plan of reconstruction has proven to be a failure”; he also claims that “the friends of the National Government” in the Texas legislature have been unsuccessful in their attempts at political progress. He attributes this lack of success to the vote of some 50,000 immigrants—“all malcontents”—from the other southern states; a veritable “tide of immigration,” he writes, that “has submerged us.” Indeed, at this time Texas was a haven for those looking to escape debt or skirt criminal prosecution in other states, as had been the case since the Panic of 1819, an era which spawned the phrase “Gone to Texas.”

Further impeding Reconstruction, Alexander relates, is the lack of an “efficient US Court in Texas,” owing to a Judge Duval having vacated his judgeship during the Civil War by “accepting two rebel offices”—a matter he relates “in strict confidence.” Accepting these positions allowed Duval to keep “out of the rebel military service” but, Alexander explains, “he has not since been appointed.” On the whole, Texas lacks good judges, and he cites a certain Judge Merrill who “has no moral force at all.” “The other US offices in Texas have been, in general, no better pillars.” Alexander then turns to the problem of Texas State officials: “The tendency seems still to be with the officers of our State Government to substitute the sale of bonds for the imposition and collection of Taxes. Indeed they appear to be more hungry than their republican predecessors of the 12th legislature who by their folly as well as rapacity did as much harm.” In the postscript to the letter, he advises: “If Congress really wants to know the condition of Texas they need only to summon John J Allan esq. of this place as a witness and then interrogate him fully.”

Five of the six clippings cut from Texas newspapers of January 27, 28, and 29 1875, bear the following headings: "Rowdies on Horseback," "Four Shots," "Murder Near Liberty Hill," "Shot in Calvert," and “Jim Taylor Arrested.” Also included is an untitled clipping on a break-in at Georgetown jail. “Jim Taylor Arrested” relates to the capture of “a man supposed to be Jim Taylor” (apparently not the case) of the John Wesley Hardin gang, who had apparently been plotting to assassinate Mr. Stephens of the Texas House of Representatives in Austin. It is rumored in this piece that Hardin himself may have also been trying to assassinate the same legislator. This slip receives the most commentary from Alexander, including five points and a final query: “Has a (geographical) State in which such things occur as a matter of course, any government? Can that be held a republican form of government within the meaning of the National Constitution which as such as does not protect life—which is not a government in fact so far as the protection of life by law is concerned.” By the time of Jim Taylor’s death at the hands of the Sutton faction in December of 1875, the notorious Sutton–Taylor feud in Texas (c. 1868–1876), which later included John Wesley Hardin, was dwindling.

Alexander tells his recipient to “make use of the slips and notes as you deem best” but only asks that “it may not be known that they come from myself.” In his comments, he makes frequent reference to the fact that these newspapers do not censure the offenders, which reflects the distressing state of law and order in Austin and greater Texas.

William Alexander began his law practice when he moved to Galveston, Texas, in 1846, moving to Austin a year later. A Union sympathizer, he opposed secession and left Texas during the Civil War to study Spanish and Mexican law in Mexico. Upon his return after the war, he was appointed attorney general of Texas three times over the course of nearly a decade ending in 1874. He first served as attorney general under the governor Andrew J. Hamilton, 1865–66 but apparently “secretly opposed Hamilton's appointment.” Alexander’s views differed from those of Hamilton on freed blacks and the role they should play in Reconstruction. Influenced by his friend Lorenzo Sherwood (1810–1889), a Texas and New York legislator and abolitionist, Alexander believed Reconstruction “demanded a 'radical' redefinition of the status of blacks in society,” arguing “that the granting of equal civil and political rights to the freedmen would make the process of reconstruction easier.” After 1874, Alexander continued to practice law in Austin.

An engaging letter vividly documenting the lawless scene in Reconstruction Era Texas, complete with newspaper clippings and commentary that attest to this state of affairs.

REFERENCES: Barr, Alwyn. Alexander, William [1819–1882] at tshaonline.org; Ramsdell, Charles W. Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910), p. 59; Moneyhon, Carl H. Republicanism Reconstruction in Texas (University of Texas Press, 1980), pp. 26–27.


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