The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The report card on the Edmund J Davis regime

I have now finished with Ramsdell's account of Texas Reconstruction. This ends with the EJ Davis regime and its overthrow. So... how did Davis do? And how did he compare with his successors?

I use the term "regime" with full understanding of its connotations. Davis ruled as a despot and his faction was never, and could never be, majoritarian. Ugh, now I've done it; I'll have to go on to explain the term "despot", too. Davis could not be a populist, so "tyrant" can't work. He wasn't appointed for a fixed term in an emergency, so "dictator" is out too. (Texas had Federally-imposed dictators before Davis, in Governor Pease and the various generals.) "Despot" is the only term which fits.

The oral tradition of white Texans recalls Davis's rule ... unfondly. From that perspective, I found yet another book, "Why The Solid South" (Baltimore: RH Woodward & Co, 1890); one Charles Stewart wrote its Texan chapter (349-382). This was done two decades before Ramsdell. Stewart based some of his account on memory.

As for Stewart's account, I have to give out some warning. We've been using Ramsdell as our base text up to now. Ramsdell had by the point of the Davis section devoted hundreds of pages to the evils of Reconstruction. By the time Ramsdell got to Davis's administration, he could afford to be magnanimous. Stewart has ... biases too. [UPDATE 10/10/2011 - William Archibald Dunning, Reconstruction, political and economic, 1865-1877, 352-3, complained about this book as a whole.] For his part Stewart was an archetype of those Southern-Partisan hypocrites who complain about despotism against whites whilst excusing it against blacks. Stewart's biases dwarf Ramsdell's. In fact Stewart is well-nigh unreadable up to Davis; at least Ramsdell had footnotes, usually adequate. Stewart brings in references only for his summary of 1876-90.

Davis wasn't all that bad. Ramsdell points to Davis's veto of the railroad-subsidy as a merit. Overall, he cannot fault Davis for corruption; which is more than may be said, by anyone, for Davis's Radical parliament. As for Davis's police, the historian Eric Foner tells that it was largely involved in rooting out Klan incursions - Foner's a commie, but here he's right. Even there Davis appears to have enforced discipline upon his own police. If black troops raided your house in the 1870s, it was because Davis ordered them to. In 1865 and 1866 they would raid your house when they felt like it.

I am not a Southern partisan. Also, as a Moldbugger I don't mind a dose of despotism here and there. We just care if the cat catches mice - hell, the whole point of this exercise has been to explore how well Benjamin Hill's argument applies to Texas. In Latin America there have been several dictatorships. Some of them were awful. But they also have Trujillo, and Diaz, (controversially) Fujimori, and (the model) Pinochet. Davis must be judged on his merits. So we should let Stewart talk about promise and results (378f):

On December 1st, 1873, the Comptroller in the Davis administration, Mr. A. Bledsoe, in his report to the Governor, gives the state debt at that date at $1,797,884.16. And when his administration closed he left, as a legacy to the people of Texas, a debt that amounted to $4,414,095.45.

The Davis administration made large promises in regard to the education of the youth of the state, and fulfilled them by the creation of a cumbersome system of public schools, in which a vast retinue of officers absorbed the money appropriated for school purposes so rapidly as to prevent the schools from being taught a sufficient length of time to do any good. The children of the state, and especially the colored children, were growing up in ignorance, values were not appreciating, population was but slowly increasing, the state was rapidly becoming bankrupt, and the ruthless exercise of arbitrary power had rendered life, liberty and property insecure.

And then, "After fifteen years of Democratic government, we can speak with certainty of its results."

The bonded debt of the state is now $4,237,730... Taxation has been largely reduced.... Good government has not been without its influence in attracting immigration. The census reports show that the population of Texas in 1870 was 818,579; that it had increased in 1880 to 1,591,749... Not only immigration, but with it capital, was attracted to our state and sought investment; and enterprise and industry have met with their just reward.

During the administration of EJ Davis, the taxes levied for the support of free schools for one year were many times greater than the annual tax levied by the state under Democratic rule, and more school-houses are now built each year, than were built during the entire period of the Davis administration, while the schools are incomparably better.

Can we believe all this? These accounts look much like they have come from the Texas budget and census. What do DuBois, Foner, Loewen, Lemann, and Lane have to say about it all? I mean, other than that math is racist?

I find this "$4,237,730" debt in Ainsworth Rand Spofford, American almanac and treasury of facts (1888), 105; from a report of 31 August, 1887. The almanac's footnote: Of the debt of Texas $2,991,900 is held by special State funds, leaving the net debt $1,245,830. That much, is a quibble: Stewart claimed $1,220,630.

As for immigration, I find in the "Texas" slave narratives that many of these (black) men and women had arrived in Texas after Governor Davis. Some might say that this just boosts (un)Reconstructed Texas over Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana at the time. But these negroes could've gone to, say, Detroit. They didn't.

Back to Davis, it seems almost as if the Governor was more interested in being seen to make a difference, and in rewarding his supporters; than in actually educating his citizens to the best of their ability, and in growing the economy at large.

But hey. The Redeemers are the bad guys.

posted by Zimri on 17:29 | link | 0 comments

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