The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 402
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
characterized by "a penitentiary board removed from political control" as
a solution to the state's penal problems.o
Colquitt, who formerly served on the board of managers for the Terrell
State Insane Asylum, did, however, express a great deal of empathy for
prisoners and other wards of the state. During the 1910o campaign he had
complained that "the state now kicks the convict deeper. When he gets
out, he has to commit another crime ... in order to make a living." As
governor, he proved generous with pardons, but not to the extent that his
foes maintained. Nevertheless, convinced that "many men will make good
if you give them a second chance," he defended questionable grants of
freedom on the grounds that "it [was] no sin to err on the side of mercy."
The governor sought to limit "pardon brokerage" by refusing to grant par-
dons to convicts who had retained attorneys and other agents who worked
for fees. "I discouraged the employment of lawyers," he later recalled, "but
when an old mother came to me with a favorable report of good conduct
for her son ... she generally got a hearing." Although Colquitt was more
inclined to pardon young "white, friendless tenant-farmer boys," he also
released African American and ethnic Mexican prisoners, especially on
holidays such asJuneteenth and Mexican Independence Day."
Unlike many past and present officials, Colquitt usually believed the
allegations and complaints prisoners voiced. He ordered prison commis-
sioners to permit convicts to write the board or the governor on a weekly
basis, with postage and supplies the state provided. Prison employees
were not to screen such letters. Colquitt appointed Ben Cabell of Dallas,
a former sheriff and mayor, as chairman of the prison board. "I found
many men, who had, through my efforts and activity as an officer of the
law, been convicted and sent to the penitentiary and are still in the peni-
tentiary," Cabell recalled. Convinced that "the penitentiary should be no
pleasure resort, neither should it be a hell," he proved to be a surpris-
ingly humane and enlightened administrator."2
10 Texas Legislature, An Act Establishng a Prison System zn the State of Texas (Austin: 191o), 1-2o.
On the new law and for a summary of the Texas convict lease system, see Walker, Penology for
Profit, 188, 191-199. Also see Report of the Penitentiary Investzgatzng Commttee, 1-996, and
Huckaby, "Oscar Branch Colquitt," 207 (quotation).
" Huckaby, "Oscar Branch Colquitt," viii, 227 (1st quotation), 301-302. Also see Colquitt's
sympathetic letter to convict "Happy Jack," Dec. 19g, 1910, box 2Elog, letter press, Colquitt
Papers; Austin Statesman,Jan. 15, 1910 (3rd quotation); Pittsburg Gazette, Feb. 13, 1934 (2nd and
remaining quotations); J. A. Palmer to Colquitt, June 23, 1912, Colquitt Governor's Records;
Fort Worth Record, July 26, 1912; and Colquitt to Robert A. Farmer, May to, 1912, box 2E112, let-
ter press, no. 198, Colquitt Papers. The Ramsey camp criticized what they regarded as an exces-
sively lenient clemency record, particularly in relation to African Americans and ethnic
Mexicans. See "Speech by F. N. Graves at Teague, 1912" in box 2E177; and Pamphlet: Colquatt's
Record, box 102B TXC, both in Colquitt Papers; Trenton Tribune, June 27, 1912; Houston Post,
June 28, 1912; and Seminole Sentanel,July 8, 1912.
1 For an example of the governor's convict correspondence policy, see Negro convicts at
Clemens Farm no. 1 to Colquitt, Nov. 18, 1911, Colquitt Governor's Records. The son of a Civil
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/470/: accessed August 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.