a state senator from Hall County had gotten his bill through the Legislature in
1915, the Panhandle and much
of the rest of West Texas would have
become a separate state named for Thomas Jefferson. |
would have been the capital of what would have become the 49th state of the union.
Though the political amputation would have ended Texas’
status as the nation’s largest state, both Jefferson and “Old” Texas still would
have been bigger than all but a few of the other states.
Fanciful as part
of Texas becoming a separate state sounds, it would
have been legal. That’s because the joint resolution passed by Congress on March
1, 1845 provided that the new state of Texas, formerly
an independent republic, could divide itself into as many as four other states.
Any of them would automatically be entitled to admission to the Union.
W.A. Johnson’s bill to create the state of Jefferson, however, wasn’t grounded
on a desire to add to the recogition of the nation’s third president. It was all
about politics, more particularly, achieving better representation for West
Texas in Congress.
The proposed state of Jefferson would have included
four congressional districts and four state senatorial districts. Its eastern
border would have been the western boundaries of Clay, Jack, Palo Pinto, Erath,
Comanche, Mills, San Saba, Llano, Gillespie, Kimble, Edwards, Kinney and Maverick
“Senator Johnson contends that the western sections of the state
have been unlawfully restrained from their lawful representatives in the Texas
senate and national congress by the constant and persistent refusal of the legislature
to redistrict,” one newspaper reported on Jan. 29, 1915, the day after Johnson
put his bill in the hopper.
The lawmaker from Memphis, where he owned
and edited the Hall County Herald, argued that the state’s “liquor interests”
had succeeded in blocking redistricting “by subscribing giant slush funds to control
the politics of the state.”
The legislature actually did have a redistricting
bill before it, but Johnson must have believed it had no chance of passing. His
proposal to create a new state had originally been looked on as a joke, but on
Jan. 31 the San Antonio Light said, in so many words, that the measure
seemed to be growing legs.
“The phenomenal growth of West
Texas and the development of antagonistic interests” made statehood for that
area a necessity, Johnson argued.
City newspaper continued: “A number of prominent antis [as in anti-liquor]
in the state are said to be looking with favor on the proposition on account of
the fact that a large part of the territory proposed to be included in the new
state is hopelessly dry.”
One place in the state not under the control
of prohibitionists was the island city of Galveston,
where beer and liquor flowed as freely as the daily Gulf tides.
William L. Hall of Wharton County, whose district included Galveston,
introduced on Feb. 4 a resolution that would divide Texas
into three states: The state of Jefferson as envisioned by his honorable colleague
as well as the states of North Texas and South Texas. Austin
would remain the capital of South Texas, while Palestine
would become the seat of government for North Texas.
The governor and
lieutenant governor of “Old” Texas would continue in office as the chief executives
of South Texas but the new state would have to appoint two new U.S. senators.
North Texas, on the other hand, would be represented by the current U.S. senators
from Texas, but would have to elect a governor and lieutenant governor. Jefferson,
finally, would have to select all four positions.
On Feb. 6, by a four-two
vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported Johnson’s bill, clearing
the way for its consideration by the full Senate. Sen. Hall, meanwhile, withdrew
his resolution to divide Texas into three states
but said he would bring it up again on the floor.
A savvy politician,
Johnson knew his Panhandle statehood
proposal had no realistic chance of passage. Indeed, by mid-session it had become
clear that Texas would remain undivided for the time
idea of West Texas statehood did not
come up again until 1921, when Gov. Pat Neff vetoed a bill that would have given
West Texas its first agricultural
and mechanical college. Once more, but this time with more vitriol than good humor,
people in that part of the state began clamoring for statehood. The movement played
out four years later when the legislature approved the creation of Texas Technological
College at Lubbock.
Several times since the 1920s a legislator has brought up the old notion of cutting
up Texas, most recently in 1975, but doing so has
long since been considered a political impossibility even if technically allowable
under the law.
As for the lawmaker who had first proposed turning part
of Texas into a separate state honoring Jefferson,
the Hall County newspaper editor won election as lieutenant governor in 1919.
He served one term, dying in Memphis in 1923.
Cox - April
25, 2012 column
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