Throckmorton, James Webb (1825–1894)

By: David Minor

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 3, 2022

James Webb Throckmorton, governor of Texas and Congressman, the son of Susan Jane (Rotan) and William Edward Throckmorton, was born on February 1, 1825, at Sparta, Tennessee. One of eight children, Throckmorton spent the first eleven years of his life in Sparta, where his father practiced medicine. In 1836 Dr. Throckmorton moved his practice to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Shortly thereafter his wife died. In 1840 he married Melina Wilson. The next year he visited Texas and purchased land near the East Fork of the Trinity River in Collin County, two miles northwest of the site of present Melissa. Later that year he moved his family to their new home. Less than a year later he became ill and died. Following the death of his father, Throckmorton spent a year helping his family settle in their new home. After assuring his family's safety, he left Texas to study medicine with his uncle, James E. Throckmorton, in Princeton, Kentucky. He remained in Kentucky until the outbreak of the Mexican War. He returned to Texas and volunteered for military service. He joined Capt. Robert H. Taylor's company as a private in February 1847. He served less than three months in the field, however, as he became ill, apparently the first sign of a kidney disease that would haunt him throughout his life. Because of his medical training he was reassigned as a surgeon's assistant in Maj. Michael H. Chevallie's Texas Rangers. During the war, either as a soldier or surgeon, Throckmorton served at Monterrey, Saltillo, and Buena Vista. Because his health did not improve he received a medical discharge on June 8, 1847, and returned to his family. Following his recovery, he left Texas in early 1848 to marry Annie Rattan in February in her native state, Illinois. The couple returned to Texas that year and built a home just outside McKinney, where Throckmorton began his medical practice and fathered the first of ten children. Throckmorton quickly established himself as one of the prominent members of the community. He invested in real estate, read law, promoted education, and participated in church affairs. His interest in education led him to financially support the establishment of the Mantua Seminary, seven miles north of McKinney. Although a successful doctor, Throckmorton found the practice of medicine personally distasteful. He dissolved his medical practice and became a partner in the law firm of R. DeArmond and Thomas Jefferson Brown. A lifelong interest in politics persuaded Throckmorton to consider running for political office. He inherited his party loyalty from his father, a Whig of the Tennessee school. In 1851 he was elected to the first of three terms as representative of the Twenty-fifth District, which included both Collin and Denton counties. As a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1851 to 1857, Throckmorton helped to negotiate a settlement of disputed land titles of early Texas settlers, especially those involving the Peters colony. As chairman of the Internal Improvement Committee he advocated land grants to establish public free schools and the construction of a statewide railroad network. In 1857 he was elected to the Texas Senate. He entered the chamber as a Democrat, the party he chose following the dissolution of the Whigs in the mid 1850s.

Throckmorton's party loyalty was soon put to the test. In the 1857 gubernatorial election he supported Sam Houston and unionist sentiment against states'-rights Democrat Hardin R. Runnels. Houston lost but successfully challenged Runnels in 1859. That same year Throckmorton won reelection. The state senator from McKinney became a political advisor to the governor and Houston's ally in attempting to restrain the forces within Texas who favored secession. Throckmorton's attempt to organize a state Union party attracted few supporters, and he watched helplessly as the events between 1859 and 1860 precipitated the crisis of 1861. He refused to concede, however, and was one of only eight delegates to the 1861 Secession Convention who voted against Texas withdrawal from the union (see UNIONISM). Shortly after the secessionist vote, Governor Houston received a note from the Lincoln administration suggesting that if Houston wished to organize a resistance group within the state, the president would provide military support. Houston called those closest to him and asked their advice. Throckmorton argued against taking action, concluding that the young state might not survive a civil war within its borders. Houston agreed and shortly thereafter retired from office. Although he fought for two years against secession, Throckmorton was one of the first men in Collin County to join in the defense of his adopted state. He helped organize over 100 men into the Company of Mounted Riflemen from Collin County in May 1861. The company secured forts Wichita and Arbuckle on the frontier. Following the dissolution of the company in August, he joined the Sixth Texas Cavalry, participating in the battles at Chustennallah and Elkhorn. He also saw action in Mississippi but was forced to resign and was discharged from service on September 12, 1863, because of his recurring kidney problem. He served in the state senate in 1864, representing Collin and Grayson counties. In December 1864 he was commissioned brigadier-general of the state's First Frontier District (see FRONTIER ORGANIZATION). The following year Gen. E. Kirby Smith appointed Throckmorton Confederate commissioner to American Indians. He successfully negotiated a number of treaties with tribes on the frontier, who nicknamed him "Old Leathercoat."

Following the Civil War Collin County voters elected Throckmorton as their delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866. The convention was divided into three factions, secessionists, conservative union men, and radical unionists. Throckmorton, receiving the support of the first two groups, defeated the radical A. H. Latimer and became chairman of the convention. He presided over the writing of a new state constitution that provided limited civil rights to African Americans (they still could not vote) and refused to take action on the Thirteenth Amendment, arguing that the abolishment of slavery was already law. President Andrew Johnson accepted the Texas constitution, and state wide elections were held in June 1866. Politically ambitious and promised the support of both secessionists and conservative union men, Throckmorton entered the governor's race. He easily defeated the radical candidate, E. M. Pease, by a margin of 49,277 to 12,168. Governor Throckmorton was inaugurated on August 9, 1866, and faced the difficult task of returning political, social, and economic stability to Texas while maintaining a semblance of order between former Confederates and former slaves. Political opposition from radicals, suspicion from federal military officers, violence against freedmen and Freedmen's Bureau agents, combined with his public repudiation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the emergence of Radical Republican power in Congress destroyed what little chance of success Throckmorton's administration might have had. Following the passage of the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed Texas under military command, the governor consistently clashed with Gen. Charles Griffin, commander of the Texas sub-district. Griffin demanded that the governor provide more protection for African-American citizens of Texas and publicly support Radical Republican policies (see POLITICAL PARTIES and REPUBLICAN PARTY). Throckmorton refused, stating that he had done all he could, given the powers of his office and that his state did not support the Fourteenth Amendment so that he, its governor, could not. Griffin appealed to Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, for Throckmorton's removal from office, which was ordered on July 30, 1867 (see RECONTRUCTION and FIFTH MILITARY DISTRICT).

Prohibited from holding public office, Throckmorton returned to McKinney and resumed his law practice. He did not, however, remain silent. In summer 1870, along with former governors Andrew J. Hamilton and E. M. Pease, Throckmorton signed a public document circulated throughout the state that attacked the policies of Radical Republicans as dangerous threats to the civil liberties of Texans. Thus, although a private citizen, he was able to remain a public figure. With the passage of the General Amnesty Act of 1872, Throckmorton was able to return to public office. In 1874 he was elected to Congress from the state's Third District and reelected in 1876. Throckmorton concentrated his efforts on lobbying for education and federal support of railroad expansion. The latter concern reflected the interests of his employer, the Texas and Pacific Railway Company, which retained Throckmorton as an attorney. In 1878 the former governor made an attempt to return to that office but was defeated in the Democratic party state convention. Throckmorton returned to Congress in 1882 and was reelected in 1884 and 1886. His health once again forced him from public service. He declined to run in 1888 in order to recuperate. For a few weeks in 1892 Throckmorton actively sought support for another run at the governor's office. His lifelong bout with kidney disease, however, left him without the strength to endure another campaign. He retired from politics and returned to McKinney, where he was the receiver for the Choctaw Coal and Railroad Company. During a business trip in March 1894 Throckmorton suffered serious injuries from a fall. His fragile health was unable to recover from this accident, and he died at McKinney on April 21. The citizens of McKinney erected a statue in his honor that carries the inscription, "A Tennesseean by Birth, a Texan by Adoption."

Claude Elliott, Leathercoat: The Life History of a Texas Patriot (San Antonio, 1938).

Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

David Minor, “Throckmorton, James Webb,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

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April 3, 2022

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