Police Terror in Texas
Charles Stewart

Governor Davis in his first message to the Legislature recommended "that a police system be adopted embracing the whole state under one head," and said that no system of laws for the suppression of crime, however severe will be complete "without such powers are conferred on the executive as will enable him in any emergency to act with the authority of law." What a spectacle was here presented? A man who claimed to have been elected the Governor of one of the States of this Union demanding of the Legislature of that state that he be clothed with the authority of law for the exercise of despotic power. In this boasted land of liberty, it is hard to realize that such a demand could have been made, but it is more difficult to believe that the Legislature complied with it. The Governor also suggestd to the Legislature "the question of making some provision for the temporary establishment of martial law." Evidently it was his design to subvert the liberties of the people and to have authority to maintain a government of force, and to this end he determined upon the organization of a military force, that should be composed of such material as he desired.

The Legislature promptly responded to the demands of the Governor, and passed several acts that enabled him to carry out his wicked purpose. The first one we shall notice is an act entitled "An Act to Provide for the Enrollment of the Militia, the Organization and Discipline of the State Guard and for the Public Defense." By this act all able-bodied male citizens residing in the state, between the ages of 18 and 45 were made subject to military duty, except certain classes therein mentioned, and the Governor was made Commander-in-Chief of all the military forces of the state. The militia were, by the act, divided into two classes - one was called "The State Guard of Texas" and the other the "Reserve Militia." It was declared that the State Guard of Texas "shall consist of male persons between the ages of 18 and 45 who shall voluntarily enroll and uniform themselves for service therein, provided the Commander-in-Chief (the Governor) shall designate the number of men in each county in this state allowed to enroll in the State Guard, and have the power to reject any person offering himself for enrollment in the same." The reserve militia was composed of all persons subject to military duty who had not enrolled in the State Guard. Thus was the Governor enabled to organize troops without limit as to number, to be composed of a class of men that he wanted to execute his designs. A learned lawyer and distinguished citizen of Texas, not very long after the passage of this law, in commenting upon it said: "We desire to call attention to the very important fact, that this act permits able-bodied male citizens, residents in the state, to enroll in the reserve militia, but all persons without qualifications between the ages of 18 and 45 can enroll in the State Guards provided they suit the purposes of the Governor." Why this distinction? The common sense of every man will suggest to his mind the answer. This State Guard is peculiarly the Governor's army, selected and organized out of such material as will serve his purposes. The Reserve Militia can only be composed of resident citizens of Texas, and perhaps would refuse to murder, rob and pilfer their fellow-citizens, should they be called upon to do so by the Commander-in-Chief. They remain unorganized, unarmed and unequipped, but we find the State Guard fully organized and equipped, scattered through every or nearly every county in the state, eating up the substance of the people, and in very many instances murdering innocent and unoffending citizens; depriving them of their property by force or fraud; disturbing the peace and quiet of whole communities and inflaming the animosity of the races; and in a word fully carrying out the purposes and interests of their organization. To use the Governor's own language, the Legislature in the passage of this act has conferred "upon the Executive such powers as will enable him in any emergency to act with authority of law."

In response to the suggestion made by the Governor in regard to martial law, the 26th section of the act we are considering, provided "it shall be the duty of the Governor, and he is hereby authorized whenever in his opinion the enforcement of the law of this state is obstructed, within any county or counties by combination of lawless men too strong for the control of the civil authorities, to declare such county or counties under martial law, and to suspend the laws therein until the Legislature shall convene and take such action as it may deem necessary."

Not content with the military force already provided, and the extraordinary powers conferred on the Governor, the Legislature on the 1st day of July, 1870, passed an act entitled "An Act to Establish a State Police and Provide for the Regulation and Government of the Same."

By the terms of this act, the force was composed of one Chief of Police, four Captains, eight Lieutenants, twenty Sergeants and two hundred and twenty-five Privates. In addition to the above force, the act provided that "All sheriffs and their deputies, constables, marshals of cities and towns shall be considered as a part of the State Police, and be subject to the supervisory control of the Governor and Chief of State Police, and under directions of the Governor, or Chief of State Police, may at any time be called upon to act in concert with the State Police in preserving or suppressing crime, or in bringing to justice, offenders. The Chief of State Police, subject to the Governor, may make all needful regulations and rules for the government and direction of these officers in matters looking to the maintenance of public peace, preventing or supressing crime and bringing to justice offenders, and any of these officers failing or refusing prompt obedience to such rules and regulations, or to the orders of the governor, or Chief of State Police shall be removed from office, and suffer such other punishment as may be prescribed by law."

This was an extraordinary power to confer upon the Governor. It gave him control of all the civil executive offices of the state, and subjected them to removal from office, if they failed or refused prompt obedience to the rules and regulations of the State Police, or to the orders of the Governor or Chief of State Police. The Governor had asked the Legislature "to confer on him such powers as would enable him in any emergency to act with authority of law." In this act his request was literally complied with, and his pleasure or will, made the paramount law of the state. The law creating the State Police was amended so as to enable the Governor to appoint an additional force of twenty men in each county, the expense of which was to be borne by the people of the respective counties.

This additional force, like the others, was made subject to the order of the Governor and could be used by him at his pleasure. Was ever king, prince or potentate clothed with greater power!

The Davis administration was the result of the methods adopted by the authorities of the United States, who were in control of the state during reconstruction. It was the legitimate child of arbitrary power, and the continuation of despotic government in its very worst form. This was soon made manifest to the people of Texas. Terrible as had been the oppression of the people by the military authorities of the Federal Government, it was now even worse. Men, if possible, more infamous and of less responsibility, were in a position to injure and harass the people. Not unfrequently they availed themselves of their official position to wreak vengeance upon those who had incurred their personal animosity.

The state police was a terror to every community, and in the name and by the authority of the state, they perpetrated crimes of every description. They searched any place, or seized any person or thing, and without probable cause supported by oath or affirmation. The Governor held that the uniform which was worn by the State Guard and state police, together with their silver badge of office, supplied the place of affidavits and warrants, and authorized persons wearing the same to search any place, or to seize any person or thing.


Why the Solid South? or, Reconstruction and Its Results compiled by Hilary A. Herbert
R. H. Woodward & Company, Baltimore, 1890, pages 370-374