Railroads, Radicals, and the Militia Bill: A New
Interpretation of the Quorum-Breaking
Incident of 1870
JOHN M. BROCKMAN*
H ISTORIANS HAVE DESCRIBED THE JUNE, 1870, ARREST OF THIRTEEN
Texas senators as an example of radical tyranny: "A travesty on
the democratic process!" "The most despotic act of the radicals." The
senators-who were trying to prevent the passage of the controversial
Militia Bill-were arrested after they had intentionally broken quorum
in an attempt to stop action on the bill. After their arrest the legislators
were forced to return to the Senate, where four of them were released
from arrest to restore a quorum. The Militia Bill then passed the Senate
by a vote of fifteen to five, with nine senators still under arrest and not
allowed to vote. Many historians subsequently portrayed these thirteen
senators as "heroes" of the Texas reconstruction era-as men who val-
iantly tried to protect the citizens of Texas from an abusive government.
The Radicals who had them arrested, on the other hand, have been
characterized as power-mad extremists who showed little respect for
There is considerable evidence, however, to support a different in-
terpretation of the events surrounding the passage of the Militia Bill.
This evidence centers on the struggle between railroad promoters who
wanted a generous program of subsidies and Radical legislators who
opposed subsidies to railroads. In an attempt to force the Radicals to
approve subsidies, the railroads tried to fasten the Militia Bill and rail-
road subsidies to the same legislative "log" and not allow one to pass
without the other. It was during this struggle that the quorum-breaking
*John M. Brockman is ill instructor of histoiN at Hce Counts College. His dissectation,
"Railroads, Radicals, and Democrats; A Study in Texas Politics, 1865-1900," was com-
pleted at the University of Texas at Austin in 1975.
1John L Waller, Colossal Hamilton of Texas. A Btogaplhy of Andrew Ja(kson Hamtl-
ton, MAtltant Untontst and Reconstulction Governoi (El Paso, 1968), 131-132 (first quota-
tion); Rupert Noival Richaidson, Einest Wallace, Adiian N. Anderson, Texas: The Lone
Star State (3rd. ed.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J , 1970), 270 (second quotation).
2Richardson, Texas, 217-218; Waller, Colossal Hamzlton, 131-132; SC)mour V Connoi,
Texas: A Htstory (New York, 1971), 221-222; Joe B. Frantz, Texas: A Bicentetenal History
(New York, 1976), 119-120; Charles William Ramsdell, Recon tiuction in Texas (reprint;
Austin, 1970), 296-298.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 83, July 1979 - April, 1980. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101207/. Accessed June 30, 2015.