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Tax-Payers' Convention

Carl H. Moneyhon General Entry

As a result of a call issued at Austin on August 5 by a combination of Democratic and Republican opponents to Republican governor Edmund J. Davis, the Tax-Payers' Convention met at Austin on September 22, 1871. Davis's opponents proposed a convention to discuss political conditions in the state and recent increases in taxation. The men who called the convention included such prominent Democratic party leaders as Ashbel Smith and William M. Walton, who was state party chairman. Important Republican leaders also participated, including former governors Andrew J. Hamilton and Elisha M. Pease and United States Senator Morgan C. Hamilton. In response to the call, meetings were held throughout the state in August to elect delegates and pass resolutions to be sent to the September consultation. The convention was held at the Capitol. Delegates represented ninety-four counties; many individuals represented several different counties. The men who appeared included some of the state's most powerful political and economic leaders and represented important interests. In order to present the impression that the convention was not political, its organizers emphasized its bipartisan membership. Strengthening this claim, the delegates elected former governor Pease as chairman. The supporters of Governor Davis, however, charged that the Democrats dominated the meeting and that it was largely political in its nature, designed to prepare for the congressional elections to be held the following November.

On the first day of the convention the delegates selected a committee headed by railroad promoter and politician James W. Throckmorton to meet with Davis, and the Committee of Twenty-One, led by former governor A. J. Hamilton, to prepare reports and resolutions for consideration. On September 23 the work of Throckmorton's committee was frustrated when Davis refused to meet with the members and criticized the work of the convention. On the twenty-fifth the Committee of Twenty-One issued reports and proposed resolutions drafted by its three subcommittees. A subcommittee chaired by William Walton reported violations of the state and federal constitutions and of the law by the Davis administration. This group concluded that Davis had imposed a despotic government upon the state and catalogued twenty-one incidents it believed illustrated the governor's illegal behavior. Among the incidents cited by the subcommittee were the governor's school law and school tax, a law prohibiting the carrying of arms, the use of the state police in elections, and a redistricting of the state's legislative districts. A second report from the subcommittees on taxes and statistics, chaired by Christopher C. Upson, investigated charges that Davis and the legislature had wasted taxpayers' money and imposed excessive taxes on the state. The committee reported that taxes had risen between 1866 and 1871 from $956,850 to $2,120,605 and that possible railroad subsidies might increase the latter figure by $14 million. Permissible rates in the same period had risen at the state and local levels from $.22 on each $100 worth of property to $2.175. The report concluded that expenditures and taxes were in excess of legitimate and necessary wants of the people and requested that the legislature reduce both. Upon the basis of the subcommittee reports, the Committee of Twenty-One introduced resolutions to rectify the situation. The convention adopted these resolutions, named a committee to memorialize the legislature for seeking redress, advised the people of the state not to pay the 1 percent school tax, and appointed a committee to prepare an address to the people on how to resist taxes. The latter committee encouraged appeals to the state courts and ultimately even to Congress and the president.

The Tax-Payers' Convention had immediate effects. Throughout the state, taxpayers followed the convention's advice and secured injunctions against the collection of state taxes in local courts. The state Supreme Court repeatedly ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the tax laws, but litigation continued on Republican taxes until after the end of the Davis government. The failure to collect taxes crippled the government's major programs, especially the schools, and hindered efforts at obtaining loans in the North. In addition to causing a taxpayers' revolt, the convention undermined faith in the Davis administration among northern Republicans. Publication of the convention's reports tarred Davis and his supporters with a reputation of corruption and graft. The charge was enough to convince many Republicans in the North that Davis deserved none of their sympathy. This limited the governor's ability to obtain political help in Washington. The convention also contributed to a complete defeat for Texas Republicans in the congressional elections of 1871. Democrats gained control of three out of the four seats held by the Republicans. The loss of the congressional seats helped the Democrats move rapidly towards completely recapturing control of the legislature in 1872 and the entire state government by 1873. See also RECONSTRUCTION.

Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). William C. Nunn, Texas Under the Carpetbaggers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962). Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970).

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

Carl H. Moneyhon, “Tax-Payers' Convention,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 31, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.