Political Parties

Historical Dominance Of The Democratic Party

From 1848 until Richard M. Nixon’s victory in 1972, Texas voted for the Democrat candidate for president in every election except 1928, when it did not support Catholic Al Smith. A full century of Democratic Governors stretched between the departure of Republican Governor E.J. Davis (1874) and the election of Republican William P. Clements (1979). The state had a white majority and Democrats re-established their dominance after the Civil War. In the mid-20th century 1952 and 1956 elections, the state voters joined the landslide for Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Texas did not vote in 1864 and 1868 due to the Civil War and Reconstruction).

In the post-Civil War era, two of the most important Republican figures in Texas were African Americans George T. Ruby and Norris Wright Cuney. Ruby was a black community organizer, director in the federal Freedmen’s Bureau, and leader of the Galveston Union League. His protégé Cuney was a mulatto whose wealthy, white planter father freed him and his siblings before the Civil War and arranged for his education in Pennsylvania. Cuney returned and settled in Galveston, where he became active in the Union League and the Republican party; he rose to the leadership of the party. He became influential in Galveston and Texas politics and is widely regarded as one of the most influential black leaders in the South during the 19th century.

From 1902 through 1965, Texas had virtually disenfranchised most blacks and many Latinos and poor whites by imposing the poll tax and white primaries. Across the South, Democrats controlled congressional apportionment based on total population, although they had disenfranchised the black population. The Solid South exercised tremendous power in Congress, and Democrats gained important committee chairmanships by seniority. They gained federal funding for infrastructure projects in their states and the region, as well as support for numerous military bases, as two examples of how they brought federal investment to the state and region.

In the post-Reconstruction era, by the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Republican Party became non-competitive in the South, due to Democrat-dominated legislatures’ disenfranchisement of blacks and many poor whites and Latinos. In Texas, the Democrat-dominated legislature excluded them by passing a poll tax and the white primary. Voter turnout in Texas declined dramatically following these disenfranchisement measures, and Southern voting turnout was far below the national average.

Although blacks made up 20 percent of the state population at the turn of the century, they were essentially excluded from formal politics. Republican support in Texas had been based almost exclusively in the free black communities, particularly in Galveston, and in the so-called “German counties” – the rural Texas Hill Country inhabited by German immigrants and their descendants, who had opposed slavery in the antebellum period. The German counties continued to run Republican candidates. Harry M. Wurzbach was elected from the 14th district from 1920 to 1926, contesting and finally winning the election of 1928, and being re-elected in 1930.

Some of the most important American political figures of the 20th century, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President John Nance Garner, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, and Senator Ralph Yarborough were Texas Democrats. But, the Texas Democrats were rarely united, being divided into conservative, moderate and liberal factions that vied with one another for power.