Notes and Documents
William Alexander's Political Trick:
The "Secret Circular" of 1875
Edited, with an Introduction, by JOHN WALKER MAUER*
WE OF THE POST-WATERGATE PERIOD HAVE BECOME ALL TOO FAMIL-
iar with the term "dirty tricks." The excesses of the 1972 elec-
tion have given practical jokes during political campaigns an evil image.
Before these excesses had so colored the popular mind, the tactic of
tweaking the opposition's nose had been accepted as more humorous
than destructive. Indeed, trickery is a weapon which has long been in
the arsenal of American politicians.
One such joke dates from the election of delegates to the Texas Con-
stitutional Convention of 1875. The prankster was William Alexander,
a leading Republican who had served as attorney general under Andrew
J. Hamilton, Elisha M. Pease, and Edmund J. Davis. The means he used
to strike at his Democratic opponents was a bogus circular letter:
Circular Strictly Confidential-For the Exclusive use of the Person to
whom Transmitted. Additional Instructions for the Guidance of the Inner
Circle of the Democratic Party in Texas. Prepared and Addressed by a Se-
lect Committee Thereof, June 22, 1875.1
William Alexander was born in 1819 and came from a prominent
family who farmed and raised stock in Woodford County, Kentucky.
After graduating from both Centre College, Kentucky, and Yale Uni-
versity, Alexander studied law in Frankfort, Kentucky. He moved to
Galveston in May, 1846, to open his practice, and after about a decade
he settled in Austin. Opposition to secession forced the Kentucky lawyer
*John Walker Mauer is a doctoral candidate at Rice University.
1Two sources of this circular are still extant and both have the same wording. The text
used here is from Norton's Union Intelligencer (Dallas), July io, 1875. The other copy of
the circular is a broadside titled "The So-Called Secret Circulars of the Democratic Part)
of 1859 and 1875, With an Introduction, Notices of the Press and Notes." This broadside
was published after the controversy over the Secret Circular had crested. Authorship is un-
certain. The Circular of 1859, referred to in the title, was a document drawn up in support
of Hardin R. Runnel's campaign for governor against Sam Houston [see The Civilian and
Galveston Gazette (weekly), July 12, 18591]. Jacob Kuechler Papers (Archives, University of
Texas Library, Austin).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101205/. Accessed February 14, 2016.