Brig General (USA) Governor , Edmund Jackson Davis

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Brig General (USA) Governor , Edmund Jackson Davis

Birthplace: St. Augustine, FL, United States
Death: February 07, 1883 (55)
Immediate Family:

Son of William Godwin Davis and Mary Ann Channer
Husband of Anne Elisabeth "Lizzie" Davis and Elizabeth "Betsy" Cone
Father of First Lieutenant Britton Davis and Waters Davis

Managed by: Joel Scott Cognevich
Last Updated:

About Brig General (USA) Governor , Edmund Jackson Davis

Edmund Jackson Davis (October 2, 1827 – February 7, 1883) was an American lawyer, soldier, and politician. He was a Southern Unionist and a general in the Union Army in the American Civil War. He also served for one term from 1870 to 1874 as the 14th Governor of Texas.

Early years

Davis was born in St. Augustine, Florida, a son of William Godwin Davis and the former Mary Ann Channer. His father was a lawyer and land developer in St. Augustine, the oldest permanent settlement in the United States. In 1848, after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Davis moved with his parents to Galveston, Texas. The next year, Davis moved to Corpus Christi, where he was admitted to the bar. He was an inspector and deputy collector of customs from 1849 to 1853, when he was appointed district attorney of the 12th Judicial District, which included Webb County in south Texas. He then became a judge in that district.

The 1850 census has Davis living on Grant Street in downtown Laredo, the seat of Webb County. Davis, three carpenters, and a laborer were residing, apparently in a boarding house, with Tomasa Benavides and her children when the census was taken that year. He subsequently maintained a ranch in Webb County and conducted his law practice in Laredo. For a time he was a judge of the state 29th Judicial District.

Civil War years

In early 1861, Edmund Davis supported Governor Sam Houston in their mutual stand against secession. Davis also urged Robert E. Lee not to violate his oath of allegiance to the United States. Davis ran to become a delegate to the Secession Convention but was defeated. He thereafter refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and was removed from his judgeship. He fled from Texas and took refuge in Union-occupied New Orleans, Louisiana. He next sailed to Washington, D.C., where President Abraham Lincoln issued him a colonel's commission with the authority to recruit the 1st Texas Cavalry Regiment (Union).

Davis recruited his regiment from Union men who had fled from Texas to Louisiana. The regiment would see considerable action during the remainder of the war. On November 10, 1864, President Lincoln appointed Davis as a brigadier general. Lincoln did not submit Davis's nomination to this grade to the U.S. Senate until December 12, 1864. The U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on February 14, 1865. Davis was among those present when General Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate forces in Texas on June 2, 1865. Davis was mustered out of the volunteers on August 24, 1865.

Post war

Following the end of the war, Davis became a member of the 1866 Texas Constitutional Convention. He supported the rights of freed slaves and urged the division of Texas into several Republican-controlled states.

In 1869, he was narrowly elected governor against Andrew Jackson Hamilton, a Unionist Democrat. As a Radical Republican during Reconstruction, his term in office was controversial. His opponents accused him of institutionalizing his political opponents, suppressing newspapers in violation of the First Amendment, and denying enfranchisement to regular Republicans.

On July 22, 1870, the Texas State Police came into being to combat crime statewide in Texas. It worked against racially-based crimes, and included black police officers, which caused protest from former slaveowners (and future segregationists). Davis created the "State Guard of Texas" and the "Reserve Militia", which were forerunners of the Texas National Guard.

Davis' government was marked by a commitment to the civil rights of African Americans. One of his protégés was Norris Wright Cuney of Galveston, who continued the struggle for equality until his own death in 1896 and is honored as one of the important figures in Texas and American black history. Though Davis was highly unpopular among former Confederates, and most material written about him for many years was unfavorable, he was considered to have been a hero for the Union Army and gained the respect and friendship of Spanish-speaking residents on the Rio Grande River frontier.

In 1873, Davis was defeated for reelection by Democrat Richard Coke (42,633 votes to 85,549 votes) in an election marked by irregularities. Davis contested the results and refused to leave his office on the ground floor of the Capitol. Democratic lawmakers and Governor-elect Coke reportedly had to climb ladders to the Capitol's second story where the legislature convened. When President Grant refused to send troops to the defeated governor's rescue, Davis reluctantly left the capital in January 1874. He locked the door to the governor's office and took the key, forcing Coke's supporters to break in with an axe. John Henninger Reagan helped to oust him after he tried to stay in office beyond the end of his term.

Davis was the last Republican governor of Texas until Bill Clements defeated the Democrat John Luke Hill in 1978 and assumed the position the following January, some 105 years after Davis vacated the office. Davis ran for governor again in 1880 but was soundly defeated. His name was placed in nomination for Vice President of the United States at the 1880 Republican National Convention, which met in Chicago and chose James A. Garfield as the standard-bearer. Had he succeeded, he might have wound up in the White House as did the man who received the vice presidential nomination that year, Chester A. Arthur. Davis lost an election for the United States House of Representatives in 1882. He was nominated to be collector of customs at Galveston but declined the appointment because he disliked U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Edmund J. Davis died in 1883 and was given a war hero's burial at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. A large gravestone was placed there in Davis' honor by a brother. Davis was survived by his wife, the former Anne Elizabeth Britton (whose father, Forbes Britton, had been chief of staff to Texas Governor Sam Houston), and two sons, Britton (a West Point graduate and military officer), and Waters (an attorney and merchant in El Paso).

Edmund J. Davis, Union Army officer and Reconstruction governor of Texas, was born at St. Augustine, Florida, on October 2, 1827, the son of William Godwin and Mary Ann (Channer) Davis. His grandfather Godwin Davis, an Englishman, had settled in Virginia and had fought and died in the Revolutionary War. His father, who had lived in South Carolina, was a land developer and attorney at St. Augustine. The young Davis received his education in Florida and moved with his family to Galveston, Texas, in January 1848. There he worked as a clerk in the post office and studied law. In mid-1849 he moved to Corpus Christi, where he worked in a store and read law. He was admitted to the bar in the fall of 1849. Between 1849 and 1853 he was an inspector and deputy collector of customs at Laredo. In 1853 he became district attorney of the Twelfth Judicial District at Brownsville. About 1856 Governor Elisha M. Pease named him judge of the same district, and Davis continued to serve as a state judge until 1861. As judge he accompanied the ranger unit of Capt. William G. Tobin, who was involved in the Cortina affair at Brownsville in 1859..

On April 6, 1858, Davis married Elizabeth Anne Britton, daughter of Forbes Britton, a state senator and friend of Sam Houston. The couple had two sons, Britton and Waters. Britton was born in 1860, attended West Point, and became an officer in the United States Army. Waters, born in 1862, attended the University of Michigan and became an attorney and merchant in El Paso.

Davis was a Whig until the mid-1850s. In 1855 he joined the Democratic party in a fusion against the American (Know-Nothing) party, and he remained a Democrat until after the Civil War. In later politics he supported Sam Houston and opposed secession in 1861, when he ran unsuccessfully to become a delegate to the Secession Convention. After secession Davis refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, and the state vacated his judgeship on April 24.

As a result of his opposition to the Confederacy, he fled the state in May 1862. With John L. Haynes and William Alexander, he went to New Orleans, then to Washington, where the men met with President Abraham Lincoln, who recommended providing arms to troops that they wanted to raise. On October 26, 1862, Davis received a colonel's commission and authorization to recruit the cavalry regiment that became the First Texas Cavalry (U.S.).

Davis and the First Texas saw extensive service during the remainder of the war. They were at Galveston on January 3, 1863, and barely escaped capture when Confederates took that city back from Union hands. On March 15, 1863, Confederate citizens and off-duty soldiers seized Davis in Matamoros, where he was attempting to take his family out of Texas and recruit men for his unit. This event precipitated diplomatic trouble between the Confederacy and Mexico that lasted until Gen. Hamilton P. Bee released Davis to appease Mexican governor Albino López. From November to December 1863 Davis was in Texas as a part of Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's unsuccessful Rio Grande campaign. His unit marched to Rio Grande City and seized cotton and slaves in an effort to disrupt the border trade. On November 4, 1864, Davis was promoted to brigadier general. For the rest of the war he commanded Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds's cavalry in the Division of Western Mississippi. On June 2, 1865, he was among those who represented Gen. Edward R. S. Canby at Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's surrender of Confederate forces in Texas.

Davis participated in state politics as a Unionist and Republican after the war. He served in the Constitutional Convention of 1866 and ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate from his old district in the 1866 general election. He represented the border district and was president of the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69. In this period he consistently supported political programs that would have restricted the political rights of secessionists, expanded rights for Blacks, and divided the state. He also favored the ab initio theory, which held that all laws passed since secession were null and void.

In the election of 1869 Davis ran for governor against Andrew J. Hamilton, another Republican, and won in a closely disputed race. His administration was a controversial one. Its program called for law and order backed by a State Police and restored militia, public schools, internal improvements, bureaus of immigration and geology, and protection of the frontier. All of these measures encountered strong attacks from both Democratic and Republican opponents and added to the controversy surrounding Reconstruction in Texas. Davis ran for reelection in December 1873 and was defeated by Richard Coke by a vote of two to one. Davis believed that the Republican national administration was partly responsible for his defeat, and relations between the governor and Washington were strained until he was removed from office by Democrats the following January in what is known as the Coke-Davis controversy.

From 1875 until his death Davis, contemporarily described as a "tall, gaunt, cold-eyed, rather commanding figure," headed the Republican party in Texas as chairman of the state executive committee. In 1880 he ran again for governor but was badly defeated by Oran M. Roberts. In 1882 he ran for Congress in the Tenth District against John Hancock, again unsuccessfully. He was nominated as collector of customs at Galveston in 1880 but refused the job because of his opposition to the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Supporters recommended him for a cabinet position under President Chester A. Arthur, but he received no appointment. Davis died in Austin on February 7, 1883, and is buried there in the State Cemetery.

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Brig General (USA) Governor , Edmund Jackson Davis's Timeline

October 2, 1827
St. Augustine, FL, United States
June 4, 1860
March 15, 1862
February 7, 1883
Age 55