Floyd, Thomas Jackson (1842–1905)


By: Whitney Wheeler

Type: Biography

Published: October 18, 2020

Updated: October 18, 2020


Thomas Jackson Floyd, farmer, Farmers’ Alliance leader, and Texas legislator, son of John David Floyd and Elizabeth “Betty” (Blackwell) Floyd, was born on January 17, 1842, in Hamilton, Tennessee. John Floyd brought his family to Texas in the 1860 and settled in Bastrop County. It is unclear whether Floyd fought in the Civil War; he would have been eighteen in 1860—prime military age—but the records are inconclusive. In the years after the Civil War, Floyd led the life of a typical small farmer in Central Texas. In 1880 he owned 135 acres near McDade in Bastrop County, valued at $1,500 for the land, fences, and buildings, with machinery worth $50 and livestock worth $70. Floyd seemed a very self-sufficient man, likely with the help of his multiple sons. In busy seasons he occasionally employed a hired hand or two.

In the 1880s Floyd became an active member of the Farmers’ Alliance and rose to positions of leadership on both the local and state levels. He helped plan the state organization’s boycott of the infamous jute bagging trust in 1889; that work, along with his strong writing and speaking abilities, led to his election in 1890 as president of the Bastrop County Farmers’ Alliance. He went on to serve as state secretary of the Alliance Lecture’s Council and lecturer for the Alliance’s Ninth District.

When the Democratic party refused to endorse the full range of Alliance political “demands,” Floyd cast his lot with the new Populist or People’s party. In 1892 the voters of Bastrop County elected him to the Texas House of Representatives. In the Twenty-third Texas Legislature, Floyd served on the Privileges and Elections, Mining and Minerals, and Agricultural Affairs committees. He particularly concerned himself with issues relating to education and race. He filled multiple petitions from his citizens requesting the formation of branches of universities for the African American youth of Texas. Additionally, he introduced House Bill No. 418, which sought to guarantee a public school education for all children, regardless of color, ages eight to twenty. The Education Committee ultimately folded Floyd’s bill into an omnibus education act (House Bill No. 30), but the element of his original bill specifying that children of all races had a right to public education survived and became law.

In 1894 Floyd was re-elected to his House seat. When the Twenty-fourth Texas Legislature convened, in a largely symbolic act—Democrats enjoyed a heavy majority—fellow Populist Lee Lightfoot Rhodes placed Floyd’s name in nomination for the speakership. Rhodes urged lawmakers to “place aside their prejudices and elect the man…whose virtues he heralded as fidelity to the party he represented.” Floyd garnered the votes of all twenty-two House Populists but lost the speaker’s race to T.S. Smith on a straight party vote, after which he moved that Smith’s election be made unanimous. Smith then appointed Floyd to the Constitutional Amendments, Finance, and Military Affairs committees and later to an ad hoc committee to redistrict the state’s judicial districts. During his second term, Floyd again championed legislation that reflected the Populists’ reform agenda, most notably introducing a bill prohibiting state officials from working for corporations and providing for their removal from office under certain circumstances.

By 1896 Floyd’s political star had risen to the point where he was considered a viable candidate for statewide office. On February 29,1896, he announced his candidacy for state comptroller. Despite strong support from his home county, he withdrew from the race in July because Bastrop and adjacent counties were already overrepresented on the state and district tickets, and he declared that wider geographical representation would provide “strength to the ticket.” Meanwhile, the nomination for his old House seat had gone to another Bastrop Populist, W. G. Miller. The People’s party met with a crushing defeat in the 1896 elections, although Bastrop County Populists again turned to Floyd as their legislative nominee in 1898. Populism’s day, however, had passed, and Floyd lost the race.

Floyd was married to Mary Jane Linder on October 8, 1868, in Bastrop County. The pair had eight children together.

At nine o’clock in the morning on July 16, 1905, the sixty-three-year-old Floyd died from a spider bite at his home. He was buried with his parents at Oak Hill Cemetery in McDade, Texas. Reporting on his death, the Galveston Daily News noted that he was known as “the last prominent Populist” of Bastrop County.

Gregg Cantrell, People's Revolt: Texas Populists and the Roots of American Liberalism (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020). Galveston Daily News, July 18, 1905. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: T. J. Floyd (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=3531&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=floyd~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed October 8, 2020.

Categories:
  • Agriculture
  • Farmers
  • Politics and Government
  • Government Officials
  • House
  • State Legislators
  • Twenty-fourth Legislature (1895)
  • Twenty-third Legislature (1893)
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Places:
  • Central Texas

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

Whitney Wheeler, “Floyd, Thomas Jackson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/floyd-thomas-jackson.

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October 18, 2020
October 18, 2020