The (Non)Sense God Gave a Governor
January 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
Several years ago, an old friend who was then political director of a Texas political party that shall go unnamed, said, in so many words, that you have to be insane to want to run for political office. Or, as the old saying goes, be lacking in “the sense God gave a goose.”
With that sage insight in mind, let us step into the “Way Back” machine for a trip back to the Austin of 1882, back to a time when whores were paid professionals, not amateurs putting out for free, and gore was blood and guts, not some guy who claims he invented the internet.
It was a golden era when Austin was truly weird (thanks to world-class eccentrics like Professor Adolphus Von Damos) and genuinely funny, thanks to Texas Siftings, a humor and satire weekly that had started up the year before.
“Casting asparagus” (as Kinky Friedman likes to say) on Texas politicians, has been a time honored pursuit since the earliest days of the republic, when candidates for high office regularly committed suicide because of the calumnies heaped upon them like jalapenos on a plate of nachos.
In June 1838, Supreme Court justice James Collingsworth, Attorney General Peter Grayson, and Mirabeau Lamar were locked in a bitter, three-way race for the presidency of the Republic. Peter Grayson had reluctantly agreed to be the Sam Houston party candidate for president that year. His candidacy was passive, since after initially declining he agreed to be minister plenipotentiary to the United States. On June 20 he left Galveston for Washington. July 8 found him in Bean’s Station, northeast of Knoxville. That evening, he wrote of the terrible mental “fiend that possessed me” and bemoaned his acceptance of the presidential nomination, which had led to falsified, bitter campaign charges against him, so bitter that the next morning, July 9, he fatally shot himself.
On July 11, Collingsworth drowned in Galveston Bay, reportedly following “a week of drunkenness.” Whether he jumped or fell into the water is not certain, but it was generally assumed that he committed suicide, unable to stand the heat of political battle. Now unopposed, Lamar went on to win the election.
They would have laughed off what passes for grave political insult today.
These suicides, along with the suicide 20 years later of the Republic of Texas’ last president, Anson Jones, after failing in his quest to become one of Texas’ U.S. senators, gradually led to reforms in the nature and intensity of political attacks. Slander and asparagus took on a more humorous nature, as exemplified by the late Molly Ivins and a century earlier, Texas Siftings.
Several months ago, the Blunderbuss reprinted a March 1882 Siftings article, “A State Library Not Wanted,” that congratulated the sitting lege for its wisdom and fiscal acumen. It must be remembered that the wisdom of the legislature’s majority has not wavered over the last 130 years, only the name of party affiliation.
A few months earlier, Siftings had formally endorsed Austin’s own Professor Damos as the Democratic candidate in the 1882 race for Governor of Texas.
Any comparisons between then and now will be drawn by the reader. The Blunderbuss presents it solely for the humor contained within.
“If Governor [Oran} Roberts persists in refusing to become a gubernatorial candidate for a third term, we beg leave to suggest to the Bourbon Democracy of Texas that they consider carefully the claims Prof. Damos, of Austin, has on the party.
“The professor is a crazy man who has for years been going around the streets of Austin carrying in his arms a bundle of newspapers. He lives on charity and the draining of beer kegs.
“Like many of the gubernatorial candidates, whose names have been suggested, Professor Damos is entirely unknown outside of the town in which he lives. This appears to be an indispensable qualification of the Texas gubernatorial candidate this year, hence it becomes necessary that we should inform the people of Texas of the manner and habits of the man who is worthy to succeed Governor Roberts, and carry out the policy of the Bourbon Democracy of Texas.
“In the first place, the great qualification of Prof. Damos to carry out the Roberts philosophy is that he is hopelessly insane. In carrying out the Bourbon policy he has the advantage over Roberts that he never changes his mind. Roberts changes his mind continually, although the change is not always for the better. He has changed his mind about free schools and immigration. He has occasional lucid intervals. No man who changes his mind in the least or has a single lucid interval, is worthy of being the standard bearer of the Bourbon Democracy of Texas. Professor Damos never changes his mind, and he would not know what a lucid interval is if he were to see a dozen of them. In fact, Damos has no mind to change, hence as a representative of the party he has no equal. Why the Texas Bourbons have not displaced Roberts and made Damos their standard bearer, years and years ago, is utterly incomprehensible to us. Damos is more in harmony with the traditions of the party, and less contaminated with modern heresy about free schools, protection to life and property than either Roberts, Ireland, Coke or any of the would-be Bourbons who are aspiring to be somebody in the party.
“But to return to Professor Damos — the coming man. There is nothing the true blue Bourbon Texas Democracy detests as much as style. Plug hats, clean shirts, stylish clothes and dignified manners savor of aristocratic inclinations, and are calculated to undermine our republican institutions. This being so, Damos is the man to save the country. His clothes are in such a condition that they would have to be washed and repaired before they would be fit to throw away. In summer he frequently goes without shoes and stockings, and he is much given to picking up cigar stumps out of the gutter, and enjoying a quiet smoke in a back alley. He never washes, and could not identify a piece of soap if he were to see it. Governor Roberts has of late years departed from Democratic traditions by dressing up in a tolerably presentable manner, although his hair needs trimming right now. If he keeps on, and he usually does keep on, he will be little better than an aristocrat like Arthur, hence the election of the people will be made with Damos than with Roberts.
“Governor Roberts is very accommodating in signing pardons, thus giving expression to the natural sympathy the Bourbons have with the criminal elements of society, but Damos will sign anything. He would turn out all the convicts, which would add greatly to the strength of the party, which action would also be in harmony with its record in the past.
“When it comes to literary attainments, Roberts has nothing to brag about over Damos, although it must be admitted that as an idiotic production, Governor Robert’s book on Texas is a pretty strong card. It is also true that an Alabama university has conferred the L.L. D. on Roberts, thereby creating him a doctor, but Damos is a professor, and a professor is somebody in this country. Played-out music teachers, corn doctors, and sleight-of-hand performers are professors, hence we cannot see why Roberts should put on airs to Damos on account of the Alabama title of L.L. D.
“The great object of having governors at all, is to supply the coming Texas University with professors, and Professor Damos, after he has got through being governor, will probably be made Chancellor of the University, provided that Roberts does not already occupy that responsible position. Judging from the kind of material we have heard spoken of his connection with the proposed University, it will be a great act of condescension if Damos accepts any position, even the highest in the institution.
“If, however, the Democratic opposition overlooks the claims Damos has on the party, we hope Damos will run independent. Unfortunately, like several other prominent Democrats, being out of his head, he has not got sense enough to pursue that course.”