Provisional Texas governor caught in the middle

Andrew Jackson Hamilton returned to Texas on July 21, 1865 to take the job no one else wanted – presidentially appointed provisional governor.

A scalawag stooge in the eyes of most Texans, Jack Hamilton was caught in the political middle. Hated on principle by former Confederates, fellow Republicans bent on punishing the secessionists were just as hostile to his moderate plans. Even his own flesh and blood stood against him.

Six years the elder, Morgan Hamilton was the first of the Alabama-born brothers to emigrate to Texas. Starting out as a clerk in the Republic’s war department, he eventually rose to the important post of secretary.

The arrival of his little brother in 1846 coincided with an extended slump in Morgan’s career. Much to his embarrassment, “Colossal Jack” – so named for his abundance of talent – quickly became the better known Hamilton.

In less than three years, Jack advanced to attorney-general before winning election to the state legislature from Travis County. Then in 1859, running as an independent opposed to a southern withdrawal from the Union, he moved onto the U.S. House of Representatives.

When his Dixie colleagues walked out, Jack defiantly stayed put. After he finally went home, the pro-Union voters of Travis, Hays and Bastrop counties sent him to the state senate. But his refusal to swear allegiance to the Stars and Bars cost him the seat.

As the Civil War heated up, so did the political climate for critics of the Confederacy. In 1862 Jack went north for his health, and loyal Rebs celebrated the departure of the Yankee sympathizer by burning down his house.

Assuming the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson sought to expedite the homecoming of the former southern states. Recognition of the abolition of slavery, rejection of secession and repudiation of Confederate debts were his only conditions for readmittance to the Union.

The stumbling block at the 1866 constitutional convention in Austin was the issue of black voting rights. As provisional governor, Jack Hamilton warned of certain wrath from Washington if the emancipated slaves were not given the franchise at least on paper.

The delegates countered that not even the most pious northern finger-pointer was that hypocritical. After all, a mere five states had grudgingly granted black suffrage, and legislatures across the country were looking for ways to restrict the ballot to whites.

“Colossal Jack” sat out the gubernatorial race in August 1866 won by another conservative Republican, James Throckmorton. But the Radical wing of the GOP continued to clamor for a crackdown on Confederate traitors.

In the spring of 1867, Radicals gained the upper hand in congress and rammed through a get-tough Reconstruction program. The South was put under military rule, former Rebs were stripped of basic democratic rights and most public officials, including Texas governor Throckmorton, were summarily removed as “impediments.”

President Johnson resisted the vindictive groundswell but was impeached by the House of Representatives in February 1868. Although conviction was avoided by a single vote in the senate trial, he was reduced to a powerless figurehead for the rest of his term.

Gen. J.J. Reynolds, military commander of occupied Texas, approached Jack Hamilton with a tempting proposition in 1869. He could count on being the next governor, if the general had his support for the U.S. Senate. Telling Reynolds to his face that he was unqualified for high office, Jack turned down the corrupt bargain.

Reynolds got even by rigging the November 1869 elections. The army surrounded the polls, and soldiers tabulated the vote. Armed intimidation was widespread, and in Hamilton strongholds many precincts were simply shut down.

Reynolds stalled for two months before revealing the result and to no one’s surprise declared Edmund J. Davis the winner. According to the general’s unverified total, the Radical candidate beat Jack Hamilton by 807 highly questionable votes.

For brother Morgan, it was an entirely different story. His nose-to-the-grindstone diligence as state comptroller was rewarded by the Radicals with a seat in the U.S. Senate.

But in the end Morgan could not stomach Davis’ tyrannical abuse of power and ultimately broke ranks with the governor. Mutual opposition to the Radical regime had at last reunited the Hamilton boys.

Jack lived to see Davis driven from office but not much else. He died in 1875, a year after the Radical Republicans went down to defeat before a rejuvenated Democratic Party.

Finishing his senate term in 1877, Morgan moved to Brooklyn rather than endure the Radical stigma in post-Reconstruction Texas. A bachelor of independent means, he traveled the world until his death at 84 only seven years short of the new century.

Read all about the early years of the oil frenzy in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil” Order your copy for $24.00 by mailing a check to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.

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