James P. Newcomb: The Making of a Radical
DALE A. SOMERS*
THE TEXAS RADICALS HAVE CUSTOMARILY BEEN PICTURED AS A GROUP
of vindicitive, avaricious, corrupt politicians.' But a more dispas-
sionate view suggests that many Radicals supported Congressional
Reconstruction because they were deeply committed to the objectives
of Radical Reconstruction: loyalty to the Union, equal civil and
political rights for all people (except those who had been disloyal to
the Union), and the supremacy of the Republican Party (the only
party capable of preserving the fruits of victory).
A study of the career of James P. Newcomb of San Antonio demon-
strates that support of Radical Republicanism and Congressional
Reconstruction was not necessarily founded on base motives. Like
many "scalawags," Newcomb has been treated harshly by students of
the period. As one writer observed, "In the demonology of Reconstruc-
tion no reputation is blacker than that of the native white Repub-
lican," for "native white Republicans were traitors to race and section
alike, and thus deserving of the deepest contempt."' Texas historians
have responded accordingly. Charles Ramsdell dismissed Newcomb
and J. G. Tracy as a "pair of spoilsmen," and suggested that Newcomb
placed his interest in patronage above all other considerations.' Sim-
ilarly, Ernest Wallace argued that Newcomb was primarily interested
*Mr. Somers is associate professor of history at Georgia State College.
'For examples of books and articles reflecting this interpretation, see Charles William
Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York, 1910); W. C. Nunn, Texas Under the
Carpetbaggers (Austin, 1962); Ernest Wallace, Texas in Turmoil, i849-1875 (Austin,
1965); Merle Mears Duncan, "The Death of Senator Coke," Southwestern Historical
Quarterly, LXIII (January, 1960), 385-403; William A. Russ, Jr., "Radical Disfranchise-
ment in Texas, 1867-1870," ibid., XXXVIII (July, 1934), 40-52; George E. Shelley, "The
Semicolon Court of Texas," ibid., XLVIII (April, 1963), 501-512. For examples of highly
partisan characterizations of various politicians, see Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas,
55 (A. J. Hamilton); 126, 140-141 (James W. Throckmorton); 171-172 (Elisha M. Pease);
286-287n. (James P. Newcomb); 317 (Richard M. Coke); and 317-318 (E. J. Davis);
Wallace, Texas in Turmoil, 188-189 (Throckmorton); 201 (Newcomb); and 211 (Davis);
Nunn, Texas Under the Carpetbaggers, 8 (Throckmorton); and passim for a heated
indictment of the Radicals; and Walter Prescott Webb and H. Bailey Carrol (eds.),
The Handbook of Texas (2 vols.; Austin, 1952), "Richard Coke," I, 370; "E. J. Davis,"
I, 469-470; and "Elisha M. Pease," II, 351-352.
-Allen W. Trelease, "Who Were the Scalawags?" Journal of Southern History, XXIX
(November, 1963), 445.
'Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas, 286-287n.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117146/. Accessed March 9, 2014.