The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975

Municipal Reform in Beaumont, Texas, 1902-1909
PAUL E. ISAAc*
SOME RECENT STUDIES HAVE CONCLUDED THAT THE MOVEMENT FOR
reform of American city government in the Progressive era was primari-
ly the work of business and professional men who favored the establishment
of commission and city manager systems because these forms, based on
corporate models, were economical, efficient, and businesslike, designed to
provide expanding municipal services at reduced cost. While the reformers
-in the main upper-class-used the rhetoric of democracy, they did not
in practice seek to increase popular participation in government. Instead
they tried to replace the old ward systems, that had given representation
to the lower and middle classes, with highly centralized city administrations
controlled by and for businessmen. They might use democratic devices
such as the direct primary, initiative, referendum, and recall to unseat
political opponents, but were not in favor of permanently broadening such
public participation. Characteristic of the businessmen reformers was the
notion that the main concern of municipal governments was the promotion
of the cities' economic well-being and the faith that this goal could be
achieved through the commission and city manager systems.1 Beaumont,
Texas, in the first decade of the twentieth century, just after the great
Spindletop oil boom, experienced much the same sort of businessman's
municipal reform movement that occurred in many other cities in the
nation.2
Chartered in 1838 by the Republic of Texas, Beaumont was just a village
until the latter part of the nineteenth century. With the development of
the lumber industry in East Texas and the coming of new railroads to the
Gulf Coast, its population grew from about 3,300 to about 9,500 between
*Mr. Isaac, professor of history at Lamar University, is the author of Prohibition and
Politics: Turbulent Decades in Tennessee, 1885-1920.
1James Weinstein, "Organized Business and the City Commission and Manager Move-
ments," Journal of Southern History, XXVIII (May, 1962), 166-182; Samuel P. Hays,
"The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era," Pacific
Northwest Quarterly, LV (October, 1964), 157-169.
2While most people think of Beaumont in connection with Spindletop and the develop-
ment of the petroleum industry, it is not the aim of this paper to deal with those
subjects but to discuss reform in city politics after the oil boom had subsided.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117149/. Accessed September 16, 2014.