The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997 Page: 133
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Edmund J. Davis in the Coke-Davis Election Dispute
historian by the time the book appeared and his interpretation was inte-
grated into the scholarly literature.
The analysis of Davis by Roberts and others is suspect, however, in part
because of Roberts's political position and because even contemporary
Democratic sources offer more positive assessments of Davis's character.
By 188o, some six years after he left office, the Galveston Daily News,
long a major voice of the state's Democratic Party, called Davis "a true-
hearted Texan, a patriotic citizen, a liberal, progressive, and statesman-
like thinker." Upon his death in 1883, the Democratic legislature passed
resolutions that recognized the Republican governor as "an honorable,
honest man, a kind and obliging neighbor, and a tried and faithful
friend," as well as a "fearless, earnest and honest man."4
Which characterization of Davis is correct? The answer obviously is
complex, but this essay reexamines the actions of Governor Davis in the
notorious Coke-Davis episode in an effort to provide at least a partial an-
swer. Using some new sources, but primarily trying to deal with the al-
ready known sources in a more critical and analytical manner, this study
traces the governor's course through the events of January 1874 to illu-
minate his decision-making process and to try to understand more clear-
ly the mind and character of the enigmatic Davis.
The immediate cause of the Coke-Davis imbroglio was the state's gen-
eral elections of 1873. By the time of these elections it was clear that
Davis and the Republican Party's hold on the state government was over.
A variety of factors had doomed the party's effort at governing the state,
and both it and its leader were widely unpopular among many white
Texans, at least those who voted Democratic. When the polls closed on
December 2, Richard Coke had defeated Davis by an almost two-to-one
margin and Democrats swept to victory in other state offices while
strengthening their hold on the state legislature.
In Austin, Governor Davis received reports from the polls. He ex-
pressed little surprise at the results. From the beginning, he apparently
had expected no other outcome and declared his willingness to accept
it. In private letters, the governor indicated that he believed that the De-
mocrats had decisively and unquestionably won. Although aware of
fraud and intimidation at some locations, he did not think that these
materially changed the situation and he would do nothing to dispute
' Roberts's interpretation of Reconstruction was the basic source used by Ramsdell (see his Re-
construction in Texas, 317), and Ramsdell's conclusions regarding Davis's character closely paral-
lel those offered by Roberts. Ramsdell's assessment, in turn, was reflected in W. C. Nunn, Texas
Under the Carpetbaggers (Austin: University of Texas Press, 196o), 121-132, although Nunn did
not devote attention to ajudgment of Davis's character.
Galveston Daily News, Feb. lo, 188o (Ist quotation), Feb. 9, 1883 (2nd quotation).
SFor an analysis of the election see Moneyhon, Republicanism an Reconstruction Texas, 183-193.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997, periodical, 1997; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/m1/183/: accessed November 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.