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About Oran M. Roberts, Governor
Oran Milo Roberts (July 9, 1815 – May 19, 1898), was the 17th Governor of Texas from January 21, 1879 to January 16, 1883. He was a member of the Democratic Party. Roberts County, Texas, is named after him.
Oran M. Roberts was born in Laurens District, South Carolina. He studied at the University of Alabama and graduated in 1836, and was admitted to the bar the following year. After serving a term in the Alabama legislature, he moved to Texas, where he opened a successful law practice. In 1844 he was appointed a district attorney by President Sam Houston. In 1846, after Texas had become a state, he was appointed district judge by Governor James Pinckney Henderson. He also served as president of the board and was a well-respected lecturer in law for the University of San Augustine. In 1856 Roberts ran for and won a position on the Texas Supreme Court. During this time Roberts became a spokesman for states' rights, and when the secessionist crisis appeared in 1860, he was at the center of the pro-Confederate faction. In January 1861 he was unanimously elected president of the Secession Convention in Austin, a meeting that he had been influential in calling. Along with colleagues Roberts led the passage of the ordinance removing Texas from the Union in 1861. In 1862 he resigned his seat on the bench and entered the Confederate army, and was elected colonel of the Eleventh Texas infantry, with which he served the Trans Mississippi Department, “Walker’s Division,” during the greater part of the campaigns in Arkansas and Louisiana. In 1864, and while he was with his command, Governor Roberts was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He held this position until he was removed along with other state incumbents in 1865.
During Reconstruction he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866 and also, along with David G. Burnet, was elected by the state legislature to the United States Senate. However, as the Reconstruction Act has become law, the states were subject to military rule, and none of the delegations of the southern states were seated. Roberts eventually returned to Gilmer, Texas, where he opened a law school in 1868. Among his students were a future Texas Supreme Court justice, Sawnie Robertson, and a Dallas district judge, George N. Aldredge. Upon the ascension of the Democrats to power in Austin in 1874, Roberts was appointed by Governor Richard Coke to his former position of Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Two years later, under the new Texas Constitution, he was elected to the same position. He served as chief justice for four years and was involved in rewriting much of Texas civil law. He resigned as Chief Justice after receiving a unanimous nomination from the Democratic Convention to run for governor. In 1878 he was elected governor of Texas and served two terms. He was elected governor of Texas on a platform of post-Reconstruction fiscal reform. His two gubernatorial terms were marked by a reduction in state expenditures. His plan for countering the high taxes and state debt of the Reconstruction years became known as "pay as you go." A major part of this plan involved the sale of public lands to finance the debt and to fund public schools. Though ultimately successful in both reducing the debt and increasing the public school fund, the decreased government appropriations under Roberts halted public school growth for a time. The present Capitol in Austin was contracted during Roberts's terms, and the cornerstone for the University of Texas was laid in 1882. Railroad mileage increased across West Texas, and the frontier became more secure.
In 1883, just before Roberts' second term as governor was to end, The University of Texas opened in Austin. After his term he was appointed professor of law, a position he held for the next ten years. During this period he was immensely influential in the state's legal profession. His impact on a generation of young attorneys was symbolized by the affectionate title "Old Alcalde" bestowed upon him by his students. In continuance of that legacy, the University of Texas named its alumni magazine "Alcalde" in his honor. During his tenure at the university, Roberts wrote several professional works, among them a text, The Elements of Texas Pleading (1890), which was used for decades after his retirement from teaching. In 1893 he left the university and moved to Marble Falls, where he turned his attention to more general historical writings. In 1893 he left the university and turned his attention to more general historical writings. Among his works are his essay The Political, Legislative, and Judicial History of Texas for its Fifty Years of Statehood, 1845-1895 which was published in an early general history of the state, Comprehensive History of Texas, 1685 to 1897 (1898), edited by Dudley G. Wooten; and chapters on Texas in volume eleven of C. A. Evans's Confederate Military History (1899). He participated in forming the Texas State Historical Association and served as its first president.
Roberts was married to Francis W. Edwards of Ashville, Alabama, from 1837 until her death in 1883. They were the parents of seven children. In 1887 Roberts married Mrs. Catherine E. Border. He is buried at the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.