James E. "Pa" Ferguson Campaign Material

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James E. Ferguson was one of the most colorful, dominant, and controversial figures in the history of Texas politics. A rebellious youth, he took to the roads at age 16 and wandered for two years throughout the western states. When he returned, he studied for the bar and began to practice law in Bell County. He also worked in business and banking, where a certain audacity with the facts manifested itself early on. In 1899, he married Miriam Wallace, who later became known as "Ma" Ferguson.

Ferguson was no stranger to politics by 1914, when he jumped into the governor's race with an anti-prohibition stance, vowing to veto any prohibition measures that came to his desk. Possessed of a captivating personality and speaking style, he pledged to be "Farmer Jim," a people's governor who would spank the establishment and make the government work for the common man.

He was reelected in 1916 despite rumors that bribery and embezzlement were the way business got done in the Ferguson administration. But the seeds of Ferguson's undoing were already sown. He had declared war on the University of Texas, promising "the biggest bear fight that has ever taken place in the history of the state of Texas." Ferguson considered the university an elitist institution that took money away from the "country boys," and gave it to professors, whom he scorned as lazy freeloaders. Ferguson demanded the firing of professors he deemed personally objectionable, saying, "I don't have to give reasons, I am the Governor of Texas."

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"Pa" Ferguson 1914 campaign speech

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Campaign Material, James Ferguson, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: March 30, 2011