BENNETT, IRA MONROE
BENNETT, IRA MONROE (1857–1941). Ira Monroe Bennett, legislator, farmer, hotelkeeper, and real estate agent, son of George Bennett and Susannah (Hutto) Bennett, was born on March 17, 1857, in Clayton, Barbour County, Alabama.
On November 7, 1879, Bennett married Eudoxia M. (Hinson) Bennett in Clayton, Alabama. They had eleven children: Winona E., James Horace, Vela, Clissie, Arthur Monroe, Paul Lanier, Maymie, Jesse Burney, Robbie S., Alice, and George Lemuel Arnold. Bennett supported his family by farming and working as a hotelkeeper. By 1892 he had moved to Texas and settled in Bedias, Grimes County.
Bennett displayed a strong desire to immerse himself in his community by running for political office. He first ran for the Texas House of Representatives in 1896. Winning his race, he had represented Grimes County in the Twenty-fifth Legislature for only twenty-four days when A. F. Brigance, a Democrat and a lawyer, challenged the election and successfully ousted Bennett after a recount of the votes. Brigance charged that some Populist voters committed voter fraud by using ballots printed on tinted paper. The legal and valid ballots were required to be printed on pure white paper. After the recount was conducted, Brigance won the seat by fifteen votes. The legislature compensated Bennett for his time in office and paid $254.00 of his expenses. The setback, however, only deepened his political desires.
In 1897 he served as delegate for the People’s Party at various conventions including a national meeting in Nashville. In 1898 he ran a second time for the Texas House and defeated his Democratic opponent, W. T. Wasson. This time he served a full term in the Twenty-sixth Legislature. While in office, he held membership on two committees: the County Government and County Finances Committee and the State Affairs Committee. He introduced two bills—House Bill No. 631 and 657. House Bill No. 631 proposed to define and punish commercial swindling. This bill embodied a philosophy of the People’s Party which campaigned for responsible commercial practices through its antimonopoly messages and wanted the government to police corporations and banks to ensure equal access to capital. Bennett’s bill proposed to blunt the effects of irresponsible businessmen and business practices. House Bill No. 657 proposed to define rape and raise the age of consent to eighteen. Both bills died in committee. Additionally, he sponsored a resolution for railroad relief and pushed the House to consider the issue despite its unpopularity.
Bennett was a staunch Populist. He publically disagreed with other Populists who wanted to fuse with the Republican or Democratic parties. Bennett believed in keeping the People’s Party pure from non-Populist influences. As a true Populist his political convictions propelled him to encourage education. While in office he served on the State Industrial Education Committee, and in 1899 he attended a committee meeting in Galveston that focused on the “promotion of practical and industrial education among our people of all classes.”
Bennett was admired by his fellow Populists for his fair treatment of people and his dedication to the Populist philosophy of “equal rights to all.” In January 1900 he fought against what he considered a discriminatory resolution by Democrats. The House adopted a resolution to invite distinguished Democrats to a seat at the bar in the House. Bennett and his fellow Populists opposed the resolution unless men of all political parties and all races were invited to sit at the bar. The resolution was tabled, and Bennett was praised for his efforts. He was called “one of the most worthy members of the Twenty-sixth legislature….” Once his tenure in office ended, he returned to his family and worked in real estate and farming businesses.
He continued to be publically active. In 1919 the governor appointed several distinguished men, including Bennett, to serve on the board of managers for the state epileptic colony. The colony was authorized by the legislature during Bennett’s second term in office.
On October 18, 1941, Bennett died in Sweetwater in Nolan County and was buried in the Masonic section of the Abilene Municipal Cemetery.
El Paso Herald, February 18, 1919. Galveston Daily News, January 17, 1897; February 6, 1897. Houston Daily Post, June 5, 24, 1897. Journal of the House of Representatives Being the Regular Session of the Twenty-Fifth Legislature (Austin: Ben C. Jones & Company, 1897). Journal of the House of Representatives Being the Regular Session of the Twenty-Sixth Legislature (Austin: Ben C. Jones & Company, 1899). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: I. M. Bennett (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=3292&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=bennett~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed December 3, 2013. San Antonio Daily Light, March 19, 1897. Southern Mercury (Dallas), May 6, 1897; July 1, 21, 1897; January 12, 1899; March 23, 1899; January 25, 1900; February 15, 1900. Texas Legislative Manual for 1899 (Austin: Ben C. Jones & Company, 1899).
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