Yesterday afternoon, I received a telephone call from what is known locally as an “Old Ag.” An Old Ag is a former student of Texas A&M, and more especially a former student of riper years who is troubled by what he sees happening at his dear old alma mater. This particular Old Ag was troubled by the recent ruction over the statue of Sol Ross, for which he feels affection, and by the simultaneous enthusiasm for the proposed statue of Matthew Gaines, of whom he had never heard. In an effort to learn something about Gaines, this Old Ag did some reading and stumbled upon my recent post about the short and colorful career of the former Texas Senator and slave.
He called to ask me why the story I told was so very different than the official narrative.
As I explained in my recent post, Gaines was a Black member of the Texas Senate during Reconstruction, and it is now being claimed that he was “instrumental in the . . . passage of Senate Bill 276, which created the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas.” This quote is from the webpage of the “Matthew Gaines-12th Legislature Commemoration Fund,” and it is true only if we are not over particular about the meaning of the word instrumental.
On the same webpage, a student leader is quoted as saying “the legacy of Matthew Gaines is intertwined with the founding of Texas A&M University.” I shudder to think of the things with which I am “intertwined” if that word can be used to describe the very slight connection Senator Gaines had with SB 276. Finally, on that same webpage, the text from Student Senate Bill 70-10, which endorses the proposed statue, tells us that Gaines “worked tirelessly to pass legislation that enabled Texas to take advantage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act.”
From this I can only infer that student senators have a very low standard for what counts as tireless work.
The truth is that Matthew Gaines voted for SB 276 as part of a very large (21-4) Republican majority. The bill was written in a committee of which Senator Gaines was not a member, and which would have had no reason to consult him.* The committee was dominated by members of Gaines’ radical Republican faction, and the bill it wrote was in line with Gaines’ vision of Reconstruction, but I have yet to see any evidence that Gaines did anything more than vote for SB 276. Indeed, I have yet to see any evidence that passing this bill required tireless work on the part of anyone, since it was a simple piece of legislation that allowed Texas to scoop up free Federal money.
Here are the basic facts.
In January of 1871, Texas Governor Edmund Davis urged Texas legislators to establish an agricultural and mechanical college, warning that failure to do this before the end of the year would cause Texas to forfeit the Federal aid provided by the Morrill Act of 1862.** Under this act (as amended in 1866), Texas was entitled to proceeds from the sale of 180,000 acres of Federal land if it established a college that taught agriculture, mechanics and military science.
But this offer was going to expire at the end of 1871, so Davis told his legislators to get a move on.
The Governor’s recommendation was thus forwarded to the Senate Committee on Finance, and in March, 1871, this committee reported Senate Bill 276.*** This was called “An Act for the Establishment of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas,” and its principal author was most likely the chairman of that committee, W. A. Saylor, a carpetbagger from Iowa who briefly represented Brazos county (where the A&M College was eventually located). Matthew Gaines was on other committees, and on these committees he was no doubt tirelessly instrumental, but he was not on the committee that wrote this bill. On April 17, the Texas Senate passed this bill on its third reading by a vote of 21 to 4, Matthew Gaines voting with the majority.†
If Gaines was “intertwined” with this initial stage in the founding of Texas A&M, it was only because he was (briefly) “intertwined” with the radical Republicans and their attempt to reconstruct Texas after the Civil War. If the radical Republicans had not passed SB 276 in 1871, the deadline of the Morrill Act would have passed, Texas would have forfeited the script for 180,000 acres of Federal land, and there would have been no agricultural and mechanical college. But Gaines did not have a speaking role in this little drama, and he was out of office, penniless and powerless, by the time the little college opened its doors in 1876.
As it happens, this is implicitly recognized on the webpage that I quoted earlier. It is the webpage of “The Matthew Gaines-12th Legislature Commemoration Fund,” the 12th Legislature being the radical Republican legislature of 1871. The statue that will be paid for by this fund may therefore be a likeness of Senator Matthew Gaines, but it will also honor and commemorate the hoard of scalawags and carpetbaggers who looted and terrorized Texas for four very dark years.
Here is how a knowledgeable Texas writer described the radical Republican regime of Governor Davis and the 12thlegislature.
“His administration was the most oppressive, tyrannical, and iniquitous ever visited upon a free people.”††
Now that is a government whose monument a university can host with pride.
The words were written by Norman G. Kittrell, a Texas lawyer, judge, author and politician, for whom the nearby town of Normangee is named. Kittrell was no bigot, and he allowed that Governor Davis possessed admirable qualities, but he nevertheless maintained that the dark days of Reconstruction would be remembered with horror so long as there were free Texans in Texas
“As I said, he was esteemed to be personally an honest man, and doubtless possessed other personal virtues, but his administration will never be forgotten, and most likely never be forgiven, at least not for many a day to come.”†††
And now after many a day, it seems that day has come.
As it happens, Kittrell also had things to say about Lawrence Sullivan Ross, a man he knew personally, and whose baleful statue now offends and scandalizes a growing number of influential students.
“I recall no gubernatorial administration in Texas that was so free from friction, or that was so little subjected to criticism as was that of Governor Ross . . . . He was a man of culture and courage, and of an order of integrity so high, that even suspicion of infidelity concerning him was impossible . . .”*†
Or, worse yet.
“He was one of those plain, simple, unpretentious, yet forceful and efficient men, who arrived at every goal he set for himself, and measured up to the demands of every situation . . . . He always led. He said, ‘boys, come on.’ He never said ‘go on.’”**†
*) The Membership of the Finance Committee printed in the 1871 Senate Journal does not agree with Texas government records now online, but neither record show Senator Matthew Gaines as a member of the Finance Committee. See Senate Journal of the Twelfth Legislature of the State of Texas (Austin: State Printer, 1871), p 42.
**) Senate Journal (1871), p. 29.
***) Senate Journal (1871), p. 490.
†) Senate Journal (1871), pp. 631, 845.
††) Norman G. Kittrell, Governors Who Have Been, and Other Public Men of Texas (Houston, Tex.: Dealy-Adey-Elgin Company, 1921), p. 52.
†††) Kittrell, Governors Who Have Been, p. 54.
*†) Kittrell, Governors Who Have Been, p. 97.
**†) Kittrell, Governors Who Have Been, p. 98.