Historical records matching John H. Reagan, US Senator, CSA Postmaster Gen.
About John H. Reagan, US Senator, CSA Postmaster Gen.
John Henninger Reagan (October 8, 1818 – March 6, 1905), was a leading 19th century American politician from the U.S. state of Texas. A Democrat, Reagan resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives when Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. He served in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis as Postmaster General. After the Confederate defeat, he called for cooperation with the federal government and thus became unpopular, but returned to public office when his predictions of harsh treatment for resistance were proved correct.
Reagan was born in what is now Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Timothy Richard and Elizabeth (Lusk) Reagan. He left Tennessee at nineteen and traveled to Texas. He worked as a surveyor from 1839 to 1843, and then farmed in Kaufman County until 1851. During the time he worked as a surveyor, he also served as a private tutor to the children of John Marie Durst.
He studied law on his own and was licensed to practice in 1846, opening an office in Buffalo. The same year he was elected a probate judge in Henderson County and in 1847 he went to the state legislature, but was defeated for a second term in 1849. He was admitted to the bar in 1848 and practiced in both Buffalo and Palestine, Texas.
Reagan was elected a district judge in Palestine, serving from 1852 to 1857. His efforts in defeating the American Party (Know-Nothings) led to his election to Congress in 1857 from First District.
Reagan was a moderate and a supporter of the Union, but resigned from Congress on January 15, 1861 and returned home when it became clear that Texas would secede. He participated in the secession convention that met at Austin on January 31, 1861. He was chosen a member of the Provisional Confederate Congress, but within a month he was appointed to his Cabinet post.
President Jefferson Davis chose Reagan to head the new Confederate States of America Post-office Department. He was an able administrator, presiding over the only cabinet department that functioned well during the war. Despite the hostilities, the United States Post Office Department continued operations in the Confederacy until June 1, 1861, when the Confederate service took over its functions.  Reagan' sent an agent to Washington, D.C., with letters asking the heads of the United States Post Office Department's various bureaus to come work for him. Nearly all did so, bringing copies of their records, contracts, account books, etc. "Reagan in effect had stolen the U.S. Post Office," historian William C. Davis wrote. When President Davis asked his cabinet for the status of their departments, Reagan reported he had his up and running in only six weeks. Davis was amazed.
Reagan cut expenses by eliminating costly and little-used routes and forcing the railroads that carried the mail to reduce their rates. Despite the problems the war caused, his department managed to turn a profit, "the only post office department in American history to pay its own way," wrote William C. Davis. Reagan was the only member of the cabinet to oppose Robert E. Lee's offensive into Pennsylvania in June–July 1863. He instead supported a proposal to detach the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia to reinforce Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi so that he could break the Siege of Vicksburg. Historian Shelby Foote noted that, as the only Cabinet member from west of the Mississippi, Reagan was acutely aware of the consequences of Vicksburg's capture.
When Davis abandoned Richmond on April 2, 1865, shortly before the entry of Army of the Potomac under George G. Meade, Reagan accompanied the president on his flight to the Carolinas. On April 27, Davis made him Secretary of the Treasury after George A. Trenholm's resignation and he served in that capacity until he, Davis, and Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock were captured near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10.
Reagan was imprisoned with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens at Fort Warren in Boston, where Reagan spent twenty-two weeks in solitary confinement. On August 11, he wrote an open letter to his fellow Texans urging cooperation with the Union, renunciation of the secession convention, the abolition of slavery, and letting freed slaves vote. He warned of military rule that would enforce these policies if Texans did not voluntarily adopt them. For this, he was denounced by Texans. He was released from prison later that year and returned home to Palestine in December.
Return to public life
To those who felt that the Reconstruction was unduly harsh, his prescience was hailed—he became known as the "Old Roman," a Texas Cincinnatus. He was part of the successful effort to remove Republican Edmund J. Davis from the governorship in 1874, after Davis attempted to illegally remain in office after he had lost the election. That year Reagan returned to the Congressional seat he held before the war, serving from March 4, 1875 to March 4, 1887. In 1875, he served in the convention that wrote a new state constitution for Texas. In Congress, he advocated federal regulation of railroads and helped create the Interstate Commerce Commission. He also served as the first chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads. Though he had been elected to the Senate in 1887 (serving March 4, 1887 to June 10, 1891), he resigned to become chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas at the behest of his friend, Governor James Stephen "Jim" Hogg, who had run on a platform of state regulation of railroads, and chaired it until 1903.
Conscious of the importance of history, he was a founder of the Texas State Historical Association and attended reunions of Confederate veterans in his state. He wrote his Memoirs, With Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War, published in 1905, and died of pneumonia at his home in Palestine in Anderson County later that year, the last surviving member of the government of the Confederacy. Reagan was laid to rest in East Hill Cemetery Palestine Anderson County in Texas.
Historian Ben H. Procter included Reagan in his list of the "four greatest Texans of the 19th century," along with Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and James Stephen Hogg. Reagan County, Texas is named in his honor.
From Who was Who in the Civil War by John S Bowman Reagan, John Henninger (1818 - 1905) Confederate Politician He emigrated to Texas in 1839, received a license to practice law in 1848 and established himself as a leading lawyer/politician. Reagan served in the U.S. Congress from 1857 to 1861, and entered the Confederate congress after Texas seceded. Jefferson Davis appointed him the postmaster general in 1861. He retained this post until late in the war, when he became treasury secretary and joined Jefferson Davis in his attempted flight south. The Federals held him prisoner for several months after his capture with Davis in Georgia. eturning to Texas after his release, Reagan practiced law and won re-election to the U.S. Constitution , where he first sat as a Representative and later as a Senator.
From Secession and the Union in Texas by Walter L. Buenger: pg 38 - 39: (election of 1960?) In the First District (also called the Eastern District) the incumbent John H. Reagan was challenged by William B. Ochiltree. Ochiltree had previously run for office as a Whig and had been a member of the Know-Nothing party. After 1857, however, alarmed by what he viewed as northern aggression against southern rights, Ochiltree had moved toward an extreme states' rights position. Reagan, in contrast, had always been part of the moderate faction of the state's Democrats. In fact when he openly opposed the party's discussion of the slace trade and voiced his own support for the Constitution and the Union, he alienated the more extreme members of the Democratic Party in his district. Prominent Democrats such as R.W. Loughery, a lawyer and editor of the Marshall Texas Republican, refused to back Reagan at the nominating convention of the Eastern District. The majority of the convention, however, renominated the incumbent. At that point the extremists in the convention broke away and later convinced Ochiltree to run. So it was that in the east the canidate of moderation was a Democrat nominated by the Democratic Convention, and the more radical candidate was a formal Whig nominated by a splinter group of the Democratic Party. Ochiltree was an experienced and able politician. Reagan was equally experienced and able, and his record of fidelity to the party, his conservative stand in favor of the Union and the Constitution, and his service as both a district judge and congressman won him plaudits from all but the most vociferous exponents of southern rights. as the campaign wore on, Democrats closed ranks as Reagan attempted to mollify the extremists and retain the support of the unionists. The result of his efforts was a smashing victory in August. These victories were interpreted as overwhelming endorsements of the Union. Certainly Houston's personal magnetism, Whig and Know-Nothing's dislike for the Democrats, the defection of the disenchanted Democrats, and a smooth-running organization helped the Opposition. Even those things cannot explain why it won all but two of the major races, and the two it lost were won bu Democrats who took decided and vocal stands for the Union. In fact, George Paschal, a major leader of the Union Democrats, a major leader of the Union Democrats, backed both successful Democrats, endorsing Reagan for the U.S. House and Frank M. White for commissioner of the General Land Office. Unionists had cause for rejoicing in August of 1959, and most agreed with Charles De Morse of the Clacksville Standard the the Democratic defeat had been brought about by the votes of the Union-loving Democrats, a class sometimes sneered at by the Ultraists, but that class composes all that is valuable in the Democratic party -- its bone, sinew, and members. After the election, conditions looked good for the formation of a strong and permanent second party in Texas based upon devotion to the Union. Gaining the support of Congressman Reagan for this new party seemed a vital necessity. Not only was he a popular and influential, he was the most clearly visible unionist left among the Democrats. His open alignment with Houston, Hamilton, Throckmorton, Paschal and other like-minded souls would have been a major public relations coup for the new party and would have attracted many more former Democrats. The new party could then legitimately claim to represent the best facets of the old Democratic party as well as devotion to the Union. During the 1859 campaign Reagan had precariously balanced his Unionism with his commitment to the Democratic party. Party leaders Hardin R. Runnels and Guy M. Bryan spoke in the strident tones of southern extremists and placed the interests of their state and their section far above the future of the nation. Reagan had often clashed with Bryan when the two had served together in the Thirty-fifth Congress. Runnels believed Reagan's unionist pronouncements had weakened his own gubernatorial campaign against Houston, and he was particularly bitter about Reagan's condemnation of reopening the slave trade. Runnel's alleged support for this issue had been used with telling effect by the Opposition, and in Runnel's eyes Reagan's speeches and circulars were additional nails in his political coffin. Reagan, however, while not actively campaigning for Runnels, had endorsed the entire slate of Democratic candidates. When Paschal, whose ideas about the Union resembled Reagan's tried to solicit his support for Houston, Reagan replied that while he did not agree on the party's choice of candidates, he did support their platform and principles. Furthermore, as a candidate on the party ticket and a nominee of the convention, he had little choice but to back the whole slate of party candidates. Finally, he offered to Paschal the telling argument that for his entire life he had fought to maintain the principles of the Democratic party. How could he separate himself from the organization and still maintain his principles? For the man who had tried to promote the interests of an organized party since 1852, who had advocated the convention system, and who had fought against the Know-Nothings, it was difficult to break with the party simply because one slate of candidates did not meet with his full approval. After the election, James W. Throckmorton embarked on a crusade to win Reagan's backing for the Union Conservative party he hoped to form. In an 18 August 1859 letter to Ben Epperson, Throckmorton pointed out the impossibility of a Houston supporter or an old-line Whig being selected by the state legislature to fill the Senate seat held by Matthias Ward. He believe the best course of action was to support a Democrat whose views were closely held in accord with their own. Reagan was such a man, but as Throckmorton wrote, "I wish to do more, I am for taking Reagan and with him for a leader building up a Union Conservative Party in Texas." He went on to counsel Epperson that, while it would be a difficult pill to swallow, former opponents of the Democracy like themselves would have to stay in the background and let prominent Democrats like former Governor E.M. Pease or Congressman Reagan be the more visible members of the new party. He clearly realized that a successful party depended upon the ability of such respectable Democrats to draw to the party other unionist Democrats. Throckmartin also wrote to Reagan, pointing out that Runnels and the faction of the Democratic party he represented blamed him for their defeat. This enemy threatened Reagan's political future and in particular his ambition of becoming a senator. Throckmorton tried to persuade Reagan that he and Houston had more in common than he and Runnels and that both Reagan's future and the future of the Union would be best served by joining the Union Conservative party. Reagan, however, remained unconverted and resolved to work for the reform of the Democratic party from within. He admitted being uncomfortable in the company of some fellow party members, but blamed indifference on the part of the majority of Democrats for the control of the party by extremists. Neither he nor the public, he asserted, had worked had worked hard enough to ensure that the delegates to the nominating convention reflected public sentiment. Next time it would be different. Control of the party would pass back into the hands of the "national and conservative school." Reagan did not want to choose between the Deomcracy and the Union. He hoped to cling to his party and the principles he cherished and at the same time preserve the Union. Reagan's failure to join their ranks was disheartening to the Opposition leaders, and so was their failure to secure the election of a moderate to the U.S. Senate. The Democrats had lost almost every statewide office, but they still had a slim majority in both the state Senate and the state Houston of Representatives, and these two bodies, meeting in joint session, elected the senators from Texas. The Democrats were determined to elect one of their own to the U.S. Senate, and the extreme states' rights advocate Louis R. Wigfall, a former South Carolinian, was the most available candidate. Wigfall had been working toward the nomination for over a year. He had campaigned for Democrats of all shades of opinion, including Reagan. Unlike Reagan, he had few bitter enemies within the party, and although he had less than enthusiastic support from moderate Democrats, when the legislature convened in November of 1859 he received the backing of the Democratic caucus. The Opposition was poorly organized and unable to unite behind a candidate that could attract enough dissident Democrats to win the election. Reagan was unwilling to run because he had become convinced that his outspoken condemnation of the slave trade, filibustering, and other radical ideas had cost him the support of many Democrats in the legislature. Failing to find a suitable candidate, the Opposition split their votes among several candidates who attracted enough Democratic cotes to prevent Wigfall's election for several ballots. With the legislature voting on strict party lines, Wigfall was eventually elected. Less than a year after its burth and just a few months after its triumph in the election of 1859, the Opposition party suffered a severe setback. Like the Know-Nothing challenge of mid-1850s, the challenge of the Opposition of 1859 convinced Democrats to forget philosophical differences and unite for the good of the party. pp 69 In 1859 the Opposition party won wide support in Upper South counties. Ten of twelve organized counties in North Texas cast the majority of their ballots for Sam Houston. All the Upper South counties surrounding Austin followed suit and voted for their fellow Tennessean. Austin area voters generally supported the whole range of Opposition candidates. North Texans also voted for the entire Opposition slate, with the notable exception of John H. Reagan. More than any previous political party, the Opposition party clearly drew its strength in Upper South counties from its Unionism. Almost universally the Democratic candidates were identified with radical and extreme southern views, and the Opposition was identified with moderate and conservative views. Reagan, being the major exception, proved the rule. Like other winners he differed with the bulk of Democratic leaders and voiced strong support for the Union. The Clarksville Standard reported that in March of 1859 Reagan had engaged in bitter public argument with Guy M. Bryan, former Democratic congressman from the Second District and a leader of the state's party organization. Reagan, "planting himself on the Union platform," declared he "would go before constituents and advocate the constitution he had sworn to support in spite of combinations and conspiracies to break him down." Convinced of his commitment to the Union and well aware of his popularity, the Opposition fielded no opponent to oppose Reagan. Instead, Reagan's opponent came from the ranks of those who radically espoused southern rights. The issue between them was clearly that if a moderate unionist versus a radical southerner, and Reagan's tremendous margin of victory indicated that his constituents agreed with his stance. This was particularly true of the Upper South counties in his district, in which he received over 95% of the vote. Besides his personal popularity, almost all Sam Houston and Reagan had in common was an avowed commitment to the Union, so this cross voting strongly indicated that it was Unionism, not just party affiliation or stances on other issues, that made a candidate win or lose in the Upper South counties in 1859. P122 Organized attempts at secession really began in Texas in October 1860, when it became clear to many that Lincoln would be elected. Lincoln's imminent election convinced Texas Supreme Court Justice O.M. Roberts, U.S. Representative John H. Reagan and a few other Texans with whom they corresponded that secession must occur. Neither Reagan nor Roberts wanted secession to be accomplished by the machinations of a secret organization like the Knights of the Golden Circle. Instead, they favored free and open discussion of the merits of the Union and then the expression of the will of the people in a convention. For these two lawyers, secession was not to be a chaotic social revolution but a well-considered legal step which would preserve and promote stability. P147 That evening, after still more debate about the Secession Ordinance, the convention passed a resolution to vote the next day at noon with no debate. A few minor amendments were passed. John Reagan and four other members of a committee who had met with the governor delivered a letter from Houston to the convention. In his letter, Houston said among other things, "I can assure you, gentlemen, that whatever will conduce to the welfare of our people will have my warmest and most fervent wishes, and when the voice of the people of Texas has been declared through the ballot box, no citizen will be more ready to yield obedience to its will or risk his all in its defense than myself. Their fate is my fate. Their fortune is my fortune. Their destiny my destiny, be it prosperous or gloom, as of old I am with my country." The convention then adjourned to await the vote on Feb 1st. P148 After a strong remonstrance from the president the crowd calmed down and the voting continued. When it was over the tally stood 166 members in favor and 8 opposed: secession had been passed by the convention. On the motion of John Reagan the ordinance was ordered engrossed on parchment for the delegates' signatures that evening. The ladies gave their flag to George Flournoy, who with flamboyant oratory presented it on behalf of the convention. John Wharton accepted the flag for the convention and in gallant southern fashion thanked the ladies of Travis county for their expression of patriotism. The flag was draped across the president's stand. Loud cheering broke out once more. The group adjourned until evening. As he was about to depart, O.M. Roberts turned to Houston and remarked, "General, I am pleased to see you here today." Houston, showing no excitement and perhaps again worried about the future, responded, "I hope we will have many happy days yet." Most, however, left the hall amid cordial greetings, certain they had done the right thing. The joyous spirit of the moment carried them out of the hall and on through the next few months until it was replaced with the reality of the war Houston foresaw.