Republican Party

By: Carl H. Moneyhon

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: January 19, 2021

The Republican party of Texas originated in the spring of 1867, as Texans responded to the Congressional Reconstruction Act, passed on March 7. That act required the former Confederate states to fashion new governments and extend the elective franchise to all adult males without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The law radically altered the struggle for political power in Texas and the rest of the South by integrating African Americans into the political process. The state's Republicans embraced these Congressional demands and pursued the development of a biracial party. Their efforts led to the party's formal organization and the first state convention at Houston on July 4. Republican leadership came primarily from among antebellum and wartime Texas Unionists, many of whom were supporters of Sam Houston (these were called scalawags by their opponents), recent immigrants from the North (called carpetbaggers), and newly enfranchised Blacks. The Unionists dominated the proceedings. Former governor Elisha M. Pease chaired the convention, and Col. John L. Haynes, the popular commander of the First Texas Cavalry, USA, became the party's first executive-committee chairman. In its first platform, the party advanced an appeal based upon loyalty to the Union and the interests of race and class. The platform endorsed the national Republican party and Congressional Reconstruction, demanding the removal of all civil officials who had participated in the Rebellion or who opposed the policies of Congress. Pursuing Black and poor White voters, the convention called for a homestead law that would appropriate parts of the public domain to settlers without regard to race, and for a public school system for all the children of the state.

In the summer of 1867 the party secured many county and state offices when federal military officers removed incumbents as "impediments to Reconstruction" and replaced them with Republicans. At this time Pease assumed James W. Throckmorton's place as governor. These appointments gave Republicans control over voter registration and placed party loyalists in positions to aid local party development, including forming chapters of the Union League. Elections held on February 10, 1868, when party leaders secured a vote favoring a constitutional convention and Republicans gained a majority of seats for the convention, demonstrated the success of the local activity.

In the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, however, party unity gave way to bitter internal fighting. One faction, called Conservative Republicans, coalesced around Andrew J. Hamilton, prewar congressman and associate of Governor Pease. The Conservatives supported measures favoring private corporations, usually railroad or manufacturing interests, that promised economic development. Possibly to provide economic stability for investment and growth, they advocated the recognition of state and local government actions taken between 1861 and 1868 not in support of the war (the ab initio question). Their opponents, known as Radical Republicans, were led in the convention by Edmund J. Davis and Morgan C. Hamilton, A. J. Hamilton's brother. The Radicals supported declaring all acts of the state government after secession null and void from the beginning (ab initio), an act that would have restored the public school fund; they also backed dividing the state. In the party convention of 1868, failure to secure inclusion of their issues in the platform led the Radicals to walk out. In the midst of the split, George T. Ruby, a Black teacher from Galveston, gained control of the state Union League and delivered its support to the Radicals. Two rival party organizations developed, and the split remained unrepaired in the 1869 state election, when voters considered a ballot listing Conservative and Radical candidates for state office as well as the ratification of the proposed constitution. A. J. Hamilton led the Conservatives and Davis the Radicals. Hamilton obtained endorsements from leading Democratic party politicians, but this support backfired. Some Conservative Republican supporters moved into the Radical camp, and Democrats did not vote in large numbers. As a result, Radical candidates won most of the offices. Davis became governor, and his faction controlled the state Senate and House. Radical legislative majorities sent James Winwright Flanagan and Morgan C. Hamilton to the United States Senate. William T. Clark, Edward Degener, and George W. Whitmore took three of the state's four congressional seats.

The 1869 election returns showed the sources of the new party's electoral strength. The strongest backing came from counties with large Black populations. White support came mainly from the German counties of Central Texas, frontier counties south and west of San Antonio, and some counties in Northeast Texas. The sources of White Republican votes were primarily areas that had shown Unionist strength before the war.

Between 1869 and 1874 the Radicals pushed ambitious economic and social programs. They sponsored and secured railroad development financed by state support of railroad bonds, established a system of free schools, instituted a bureau of immigration, and formed the State Police to combat lawlessness. Despite the party's achievements, higher taxes and Republican racial policies produced strong opposition to the administration from Democrats (supported by Conservative Republicans who had reorganized as Liberal Republicans). The Democrats also charged the Republicans with dictatorial practices and corruption. Ultimately, these issues found a response in the electorate. Democrats captured the legislature in 1872, and in the 1873 gubernatorial election Democrat Richard Coke easily defeated Davis. Subsequently, Davis continued to hold control over the party. Under his leadership the party maintained its historic support of Black rights and public education. Increasingly, however, the party assumed a position supporting reforms considered to be agrarian, including government restriction on railroads and soft-money policies. After Davis died in 1883, his position of leadership was taken by Norris Wright Cuney, a Black politician from Galveston, who kept the party on the course set by Davis.

During the Davis-Cuney years, Republican election success was restricted primarily to the counties with large Black populations, where voters supported Republican state candidates and elected Republican local officials. Statewide, however, the Republican electorate could muster no more than 20 to 30 percent of the vote. To gain state offices, Davis and Cuney promoted coalitions with various groups, particularly agrarian protest movements. In 1878 the Regulars endorsed William H. Hamman, the Greenback party candidate for governor, and in 1882 and 1884 they backed George W. "Wash" Jones , an independent. In 1896, despite opposition from national Populist (People's party) leaders, Texas Republicans and Populists united to support Jerome C. Kearby for governor. Fusion seldom succeeded, however, although Jones polled 40 percent in 1882 and Kearby secured 44 percent in 1896. The only major victory came in 1882, when cooperation with Independents sent Thomas P. Ochiltree to Congress.

Within the party, internal strife persisted through the Davis-Cuney years. Federal officeholders were a nagging problem to state leaders. The party's inability to elect state officials or any but an occasional member of Congress meant that national leaders seldom listened to local party officials in filling patronage jobs. Usually, successful candidates received their appointments because of their loyalty to one national leader or another, and they thus owed little to state Republican leaders. As a result, these federal jobholders not only failed to support but often opposed policies such as fusion, which was designed to expand local support, and provided a source of frustration to the efforts of Davis and Cuney. Individuals who believed that the party should abandon its biracial and agrarian base and build a party based upon Whites who supported the national party's economic and foreign policy positions-particularly a protective tariff, sound currency, and expansionism-also challenged Davis and Cuney's leadership. Governor Pease was one of the early backers of the idea that local support could be based on national policy. The idea of abandoning Black voters did not fully mature until 1889, however. That year Andrew J. Houston, son of Sam Houston and president of the state League of Republican Clubs, promoted the organization of segregated local clubs known as Lily-Whites (see LILY-WHITE MOVEMENT). The group's strength increased from this period, both in the party's traditional stronghold in the northern counties and also in urban areas. The election of 1896 was a turning point in the struggle between the Regulars and Lily-Whites. Cuney failed to back William McKinley's successful bid for the presidency, thus opening the way for Dr. John Grant, a Lily-White, to take the position of national committeeman from Texas. In 1898, after Cuney died, Grant and the Lily-Whites took over the state convention. The entire state party apparatus came under their control two years later, when Cecil A. Lyon was named head of the state executive committee. Although the struggle over the party's racial policies continued, with the Cuney faction persisting under the leadership of Edward H. R. Green and William M. "Gooseneck Bill" McDonald , the Lily-Whites maintained control over the state organization.

From 1901 to 1950, under such notable party chairmen as Lyon (chairman from 1901 to 1916) and Rentfro B. Creager (1920–50), the party sought to enlarge its membership by appealing for support from Texans who were sympathetic with the national party's programs. The domestic agenda changed at times, but generally platforms were pro-business. This position was sustained by policies limiting government regulations and expenditures and reducing taxes, while providing aid to businessmen and farmers through extensions of credits and imposition of tariffs. Regarding foreign affairs, especially after , World War Inational Republicans stood for a unilateral policy, often tinged with considerable antiforeign sentiment. These years also saw major changes in party organization, especially under Creager's leadership. He was responsible for the establishment of the first state headquarters, with a professional staff assigned to handle fund-raising, press relations, and liaison between state and county leaders. More systematic efforts also were made to develop grass-roots support, including the 1930 organization of the Texas Young Republicans. During the Lyon-Creager years the party survived, but it gathered few additional voters. At times, concern among the state's traditional Democrats with the course of the national party produced Republican converts in presidential elections. In 1928, when the Democrats ran Al Smith, a Catholic, on a platform endorsing an end to Prohibition, enough switched to Herbert Hoover to place the state in the Republican column for the first time ever. The New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, with its emphasis upon federal efforts to regulate and order the national economy, also turned some Texans in the oil industry against the Democratic party and towards the Republicans, who promised reduced federal regulation.

At the state level, however, almost no change took place. The state Democratic party remained in the hands of conservatives, whose views of the role of government and fiscal policy were almost indistinguishable from those of Republicans. Although tempted at times to abandon national Democratic candidates, party members showed few signs of revolt against local Democratic leaders. Between 1896 and 1950 Republicans elected no one to the United States Senate and only three congressmen. The latter included George H. Noonan from San Antonio (1895–97), Robert B. Hawley of Galveston (1897–1901), and Harry M. Wurzbach of Seguin (1920–31). In the state legislature Republicans never occupied more than one place in the Senate or more than two in the house in any legislative session. Although support for party candidates did not grow between 1900 and 1950, the sources of Republican votes changed. The party's historic core in the state's black belt virtually disappeared. Geographically, Republican votes now came from the Panhandle and from counties to the south and west of a line from northeast Midland County to northeast Harris County, counties tied both to oil and gas interests and traditional Republican voting. Urban counties, where economic conditions and general prosperity produced a heterogeneous community with middle-class, professional, and business groups to offer support for the party, however, provided the greatest number of Republican votes.

The party entered a transitional era after 1950 that lasted until 1978. These years were marked by increasing strength at the polls, but little growth in the number of Texans who actively identified with the party at the state level. Presidential elections first showed the increasing strength. In 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower carried the state with 53.2 percent of the vote, more than doubling Thomas Dewey's 24.3 percent in 1948. Thereafter, except in 1964 and 1968, Republican candidates consistently secured more than 48 percent of the state's popular vote in presidential elections. Although never as strong as the presidential candidates, Republican gubernatorial candidates improved over their pre-1950s predecessors. From a low of only 10 percent of the vote in 1954, support for Republican candidates rose to a high with John Cox's 45.8 percent in his 1962 race against John B. Connally, Jr., and then generally reached at least 40 percent thereafter. The party's greatest success in this period was the election of John G. Tower to the United States Senate in a special election to fill the place of Lyndon B. Johnson (1961). Tower's election and subsequent career gave the party strong leadership in this transitional period. During this period, the party's urban and geographic bases remained strong. Dallas sent Bruce Alger to Congress repeatedly from 1954 until 1964. In 1966 the party elected two congressmen for the first time since Reconstruction-George H. W. Bush of Houston and Robert D. Price of Pampa. These were joined by a third, James M. Collins of Grand Prairie, in 1968. In addition, urban centers sent more Republicans to the state legislature after a federal court ruling in 1972 abolished multimember legislative districts in the state's cities, thus ending the ability of conservative Democrats to control county politics.

The party's growing strength was partly a natural result of the shifting demography of Texas. As late as 1940 the majority of Texans lived in rural areas, but by 1950 the urban population had expanded to 59.8 percent of the state's population, and by 1980 urban dwellers accounted for 79.6 percent of the total (see URBANIZATION). In the latter year residents of the Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, and San Antonio metropolitan areas represented by themselves nearly half of all Texans. As these regular Republican strongholds expanded, the party's power in state elections rose as well. Election results also showed that the party's conservative political philosophy also produced new adherents. Its advocacy of state rather than federal regulation of the oil and gas industry naturally attracted Texas oil interests. In 1952 that issue helped spark a revolt within the state Democratic party in which such prominent Democrats as Governor R. Allan Shivers backed the Republican candidate for president, Dwight Eisenhower. Events in the Eisenhower administration-the federal government's support of desegregation, for instance-led state Republicans to shift their opposition to stronger federal power to an even more general principle. The 1960 state convention set the party's position when it declared opposition to all encroachment on the rights of states and to the growing role of Washington. The convention singled out aid to education, health-insurance programs, welfare, and economic regulations as specific threats. The 1960 platform also reaffirmed the party's historic support of a unilateral foreign policy, aimed primarily at limiting the growth of Communism, and endorsed a strong military to back up foreign-policy goals. But despite the gains between 1950 and 1978, these years were unsettled ones in state politics. Though voters demonstrated increasing independence from their traditional ties to the Democratic party, they did not firmly identify with the Republicans. As late as 1978 only 150,000 Texans voted in the Republican primary, compared with 1.8 million who voted in the Democratic primary. Statewide election success was not paralleled at the local level, either in district and county offices or in the state legislature.

The election of 1978 marked a new era in the party's history, in which its growing strength took on a more permanent character. After years of Democratic domination, state elections were even fights. In that year William P. Clements, promising to reduce taxes and cut the size of the state government, became the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. He was defeated in 1982 but regained the governor's seat in 1986. In statewide elections Republicans were consistently successful. Phil Gramm held on to John Tower's Senate seat after the latter's retirement in 1984. Republican presidential candidates won regularly, while Kay Bailey Hutchison secured the second United States Senate seat in 1993 and George W. Bush won the governorship in 1994. In congressional elections, Republican seats in the House of Representatives climbed from three to nine out of thirty. These votes showed not only increasing strength for the party, but also appear to have marked a fundamental shift in voter loyalties. In the 1982 Republican primary, the number of participants increased over the 1978 total from 158,403 to 265,851. This spurt began a steady growth leading to the 1992 primary, in which nearly a million voters participated. At the same time, Democratic primary participation decreased from 1.8 million to 1.5 million. This grass-roots support of the Republican party showed up particularly in the growing number of Republicans elected to the state legislature. By 1992, 59 of 150 House members and 13 of 31 senators were Republicans. At the beginning of the 1990s, some analysts concluded that Texas had not only developed a vigorous two-party system but that the state also had become primarily Republican. After a hundred years as a minority party, the Republicans had become the majority. See also GOVERNMENT, GOVERNOR, POLITICAL PARTIES, RAILROADS, RECONSTRUCTION, SENATORS, TEXAS LEGISLATURE.

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Paul D. Casdorph, A History of the Republican Party in Texas, 1865–1965 (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1965). John R. Knaggs, Two-Party Texas: The John Tower Era, 1961–1984 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1986). Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). Roger M. Olien, From Token to Triumph: The Texas Republicans since 1920 (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1982). James R. Soukup, Clifton McCleskey, and Harry Holloway, Party and Factional Division in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964).

Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas Post World War II

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

Carl H. Moneyhon, “Republican Party,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 19, 2021