The Election of Louis T. Wigfall to the
United States Senate, 1859: A Reevaluation
BILLY D. LEDBETTER*
ON DECEMBER 5, 1859, THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE ELECTED LOUIS T.
Wigfall, the most radical states' rightist in the state, to the United
States Senate. The fire-eater's victory came on the heels of an overwhelming
defeat for his wing of the Democratic party in the previous August election,
when Unionist candidates, led by Sam Houston, swept the state by captur-
ing both United States House seats, and by electing a governor and a lieu-
The Democratic party in Texas during this period was dominated by the
ultrastates'-rights wing, which was generally referred to as the "regular
Democratic party," or more simply as the "Democratic party." The Union-
ist element was referred to as the "national Democratic party," or simply
the "Opposition." The two wings were called also, on occasion, the "anti-
Houston faction" and the "Houston faction." It was not always easy to
identify precisely the members of the two wings, especially those of the Op-
position because they had no real organization and crossed factional lines
not uncommonly. In the attempt to defeat Louis T. Wigfall for the United
States Senate in 1859, however, the Opposition was led by men like Ben
Epperson, house member from Clarksville, John L. Haynes, house member
from Starr County, and A. B. Norton, of Austin, all of whom were well-
known Unionists. Still, during the entire decade of the I850s the ultra-
states'-rights wing controlled the party machinery and dominated both
houses of the state legislature.2
The shift from a Unionist victory in August to an anti-Unionist victory in
December has generally been explained as a repercussion of John Brown's
*Billy D. Ledbetter is an instructor of history at Cooke County Junior College.
1Oran M. Roberts, "The Political, Legislative, and Judicial History of Texas for Its
Fifty Years of Statehood, 1845-1895," in Dudley G. Wooten (ed.), A Comprehensive
History of Texas, r685 to x897 (2 vols.; Dallas, 1898), II, 53-56; Llerena Friend, Sam
Houston: The Great Designer (Austin, i954), 325-326.
2Ernest W. Winkler (ed.), Platforms of Political Parties in Texas (Austin, 1916),
11-8o, passim; Alvy L. King, Louis T. Wigfall: Southern Fire-eater (Baton Rouge,
1970), 50-77, passim; Friend, Sam Houston, 243-326, passim.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 77, July 1973 - April, 1974. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117148/. Accessed February 11, 2016.