Coke-Davis Dispute – Texas History

In early 1874, the city of Austin was a landmine. People from all over the state had gathered to witness the inauguration of Democrat Richard Coke as its next governor. At long last, this would mark the end of Reconstruction and radical military rule in Texas.

The mood was far from festive, however. Despite a Coke victory over incumbent E. J. Davis by a margin of more than two-to-one, Davis refused to relinquish his office. By proclamation on January 12, he cited a trumped-up ruling by the state supreme court, and declared the election invalid.

Davis was supported by members of the Radical faction of the Republican party. Further, Davis and his Radicals claimed to have as an ally President U. S. Grant, and threatened that federal troops would be called in if necessary to maintain peace. In fact, unknown to the Democrats, Grant had already declined federal support. But Davis continued to believe that federal military backing would come, especially if the Democrats used force to make their case.

By mid-January, the situation seemed grave indeed. Davis and his Radicals took control of the lower level of the old capitol building. Tensions among the city’s armed citizens were strained to the point that any violence might easily trigger an uprising that could result in the deaths of hundreds of people.

The newly elected members of the Legislature ignored Davis’ proclamation. In short order, they organized and gained control of the legislative chambers on the second level of the capitol–one floor above Davis and the Radicals. They confirmed Coke as Texas’ new governor, and Coke was inaugurated late the night of January 15. Texas now had two governments. And both of them were “holed up” in the same building. A violent showdown seemed unavoidable.

The standoff continued. Then on January 17, Davis received a telegram from Washington in response to his second appeal for military assistance. The answer came via U. S. Attorney General George Williams. Williams stated bluntly that President Grant:

“…is of the opinion that your right to the office of the Governor at this time is at least so doubtful, that he does not feel warranted in furnishing United States troops to aid you in holding further possession of it, and therefore declines to comply with your request.” [Wooten, vol. 2, p. 207]

With his options now severely limited, Davis finally gave in, ending Reconstruction in Texas at last. Further, Governor Coke began a Democratic reign in Texas that would last without interruption for more than 100 years.

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