Evans, Lemuel Dale (1810–1877)

By: Brian Hart

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 29, 2020

Lemuel Dale Evans, attorney, congressman, Unionist leader, and presiding judge of the Texas Supreme Court, was born in Tennessee on January 8, 1810. He was apparently educated in his native state, where he was admitted to the bar in 1840. In 1843, however, he moved to Fannin County, Texas, by way of Arkansas. He was an ardent supporter of annexation and represented Fannin County at the Convention of 1845, where he advocated the adoption of a system of citizens' tribunals rather than traditional courts to settle disputes between citizens. His suggestion apparently received very little support.

Sometime after 1845 Evans moved to Harrison County, where he practiced law and served as a district judge for a number of years. During the War with Mexico he served as Captain of the 3rd Texas Mounted Volunteers. In 1852 he resigned from the bench to become a Democratic presidential elector. He sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination the following year and campaigned strictly as an East Texas candidate. He emphasized intrastate sectional issues throughout the campaign, suggesting that East Texas provided the lion's share of the tax money collected by the state while West Texas unfairly managed to accrue the majority of the state's elective officials. He even went so far as to suggest that if a West Texas candidate won the election as governor, East Texas might renew agitation for division of the state. He finished in fourth place.

In 1855 Evans won election to the United States House of Representatives from the Eastern District of Texas as a member of the American (Know-Nothing) party. In 1857 he lost to John H. Reagan, a states'-rights Democrat. Evans became the leading Unionist in East Texas and a staunch supporter of Governor Sam Houston's antisecessionist views; he served as one of the four Texas delegates to the national convention of the Constitutional Union party, which met at Baltimore in 1860. His efforts to secure the party's presidential nomination for Houston failed, but he returned to Texas and campaigned for its nominee, John Bell. During October 1860 he delivered fifteen speeches in fifteen days in the Dallas area.

Unwilling to support the Confederate cause in the Civil War, Evans left the state. He apparently made his way to the national capital, where he wrote Secretary of State William Seward, suggesting means of isolating Texas so that it could not effectively contribute to the Confederate war effort. While these suggestions were largely ignored, Seward did award Evans a commission as a special agent and assigned him to monitor the movement of munitions and supplies into Texas from Mexico, an assignment necessitating Evans's relocation to the Mexican border. Evans's notoriety, combined with heavy Confederate activity along the routes into Texas, however, made it impossible for him to return safely to the state and engage in his undercover activities. His suggestion that he sail for Tampico, Tamaulipas, on a federal ship and return to Texas by way of Mexico was vetoed by Union commander George B. McClellan. Return to Texas thereby made an impossibility, Evans resigned his commission on March 3, 1862. He remained in Washington D.C. for the remainder of the war.

There was speculation that he would be considered for Military Governor of Texas in 1865. Evans returned to his home in Marshall County by early February 1866 and addressed citizens in Jefferson on political issues on April 20. Evans was chosen as a delegate for the state at large at the Navasota Convention on July 27, 1866. He was confirmed as Collector of Internal Revenue for the Fourth District of Texas on April 3, 1868, but the appointment was rejected by the U.S. Senate. Evans attended the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, where he generally voted as a moderate. In 1870 Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, Reconstruction commander of the district that included Texas and Louisiana, appointed Evans presiding judge (previously chief justice) of the state Supreme Court. He held this position on the much-ridiculed Semicolon Court, the derisive name given to the state's highest court during the years of Reconstruction, until 1871. Evans attempted unsuccessfully to win the gubernatorial election as a Republican in 1872, then received appointment to the post of United States marshal, stationed at Galveston, in 1875. He held this position until his death in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 1877. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress. Dallas Daily Herald, July 8, 1865, April 4, 1868. Dallas Weekly Herald, June 15, 1865, June 24, 1865, May 12, 1866, January 18, 1868. Harbert Davenport, History of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas (Austin: Southern Law Book Publishers, 1917). Evansville Journal (Evansville, Indiana), June 26, 1866. Flake’s Bulletin, July 28, 1866. James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885). Memphis Daily Avalanche,(Memphis, Tennessee), February 7, 1866. New York Herald, July 18, 1862, August 13, 1866. James R. Norvell, "The Reconstruction Courts of Texas, 1867–1873," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (1958). Thomas Schoonover, ed., "Documents Concerning Lemuel Dale Evans' Plan to Keep Texas in the Union in 1861," East Texas Historical Journal 12 (Spring 1974). Frank H. Smyrl, "Unionism in Texas, 1856–1861," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 68 (October 1964). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Brian Hart, “Evans, Lemuel Dale,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/evans-lemuel-dale.

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May 29, 2020