Robert Emmett Prince, attorney, politician, and speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, the son of Joseph P. Prince and Sally Clara (Davis) Prince, both of Charleston, South Carolina, was born in Coahoma County, Mississippi, on October 1, 1859. After being raised in Memphis, attending a military school, studying at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, working as a grocer, graduating from Cumberland University School of Law, and passing the bar exam in Tennessee, Prince moved to Corsicana, Texas, in 1882, just as the town was beginning to grow rapidly due to the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in 1871.
After settling in Corsicana, which would be his home until he died in 1925, Prince partnered with John J. McClellan to establish a successful civil law practice. On December 23, 1885, he married Fannie M. Salmon in Henry County, Missouri, but his wife died, presumably in Corsicana, on September 11, 1886. In 1893 Prince married Maggie Talley, the daughter of Corsicana merchant James Talley, whose business was located on the downtown square. Prince and his wife Maggie had two children, a daughter and a son. He became active in the Democratic party and solidified his credentials as a party leader by serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1892.
In 1898 Prince was elected by the people of District 58 (Navarro County) to serve as their state representative in Austin. During the Twenty-sixth Texas Legislature, he served as a member on nine different legislative committees: Claims and Accounts, Commerce and Manufactures, Constitutional Amendments, Internal Improvements, Judiciary No. 1, Revenue and Taxation, State Asylums, Towns and City Corporations, and Examination of Comptroller’s and Treasurer’s Accounts, on which he served as the chair. Also during that session, Prince reportedly authored the first state law in the history of Texas that regulated the oil and gas industry.
Elected to a second term as a legislator in 1900, Prince was unanimously elected speaker of the Texas House of Representatives with 125 votes and presided over the House as he and his colleagues passed several important pieces of legislation. First, the Twenty-seventh Legislature passed a law enabling the city of Galveston to retain a larger portion of its local tax base in order to pay for the city to be rebuilt in the aftermath of the devastating Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Second, the legislature under Prince’s speakership created Texas’s first poll tax, which stood as law until it was finally struck down in 1966. Although Prince’s tenure as speaker bolstered his credentials as a capable politician, his career as a legislator came to end in 1903 after he tried but failed to win election to the United States Congress in 1902 as representative for the Sixth Congressional District of Texas.
After failing to obtain a seat in Congress, Prince refocused his efforts on building his law practice in Corsicana and was also able to serve the state of Texas in other ways. As an attorney, he established a new law practice with Cornelius W. Taylor, a former assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, and represented at least two major railroads, the Trinity and Brazos Valley and the Texas Electric Railway. Further, he parlayed his success as an attorney into a stint as president of Corsicana’s City National Bank. As a civic leader, he served one term on the Texas State Board of Education and as a trustee of the State Orphans’ Home in Corsicana. Finally, Prince played a prominent role in the life of Corsicana’s Third Avenue Presbyterian Church and served as an elder while his son-in-law, Rev. Ilion T. Jones, served as pastor.
When Prince died due to heart failure on March 23, 1925, his hometown newspaper mourned his passing by noting his devotion to the city and to the state of Texas. He was “prominently identified with the growth of the city,” the Corsicana Daily Sun proclaimed, and was “well known throughout Texas” for his legal abilities and his political career. He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.