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Craddock: Early pol backed Union, fought Klan

Jan. 13, 2018 at 11:15 p.m.

Donald Campbell was lieutenant governor of Texas. Well, sort of.

The Marion County resident was fortunate to still be alive in 1870. That's when he was elected president pro tem of the Texas Senate. By constitutional succession, that made the East Texan ex officio lieutenant governor. (Campbell never was formally sworn into the post.)

To be honest, Campbell wouldn't have won any popularity contest in 1870. He was a Republican in heavily Democratic Texas, serving in the unpopular Reconstruction government of Gov. Edmund Davis.


Campbell was born in Alabama in 1830. He graduated from Knoxville College in Tennessee and moved to East Texas at age 28, settling in Morris County.

He had opposed Texas' secession when the Civil War began in 1861. He was a "Union" man, even if he did own several slaves.

After the war, Campbell was active in Republican politics and got appointed as an agent for the United States Internal Revenue Service. He incurred the wrath of local Democrats (mostly former Confederates) who believed he'd been disloyal by not supporting the cause of the Southern Confederacy.

Ex-Rebels were further angered when federal authorities appointed Campbell chief justice (county judge) of Marion County. He also was a delegate at the Republican-dominated Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869.

By 1868, East Texas was a center for Ku Klux Klan activity. Freed blacks and some white Republicans were threatened, beaten or killed by Klan nightriders.

Despite efforts by local federal troops, Jefferson had been the scene of several incidents by the summer of 1868. In August Campbell wrote Texas Gov. E.M. Pease:

"The negroes feel they have been outraged and that unless they protect themselves they will be killed by these outlaws. Threats have been made that their church is to be burnt or torn down and they have simply armed themselves … when night comes, they go to their church and await any attack that may be made upon it."

Threatened by the Klan, Campbell "had been compelled to leave his house and come to town and conceal himself … night after night his house was surrounded by armed men (who) attempted to decoy him out."

A local Freedmen's Bureau official implored Gov. Pease to send "a squad of Cavalry — say 25 or 30, for the men who are committing these deeds of horror."

In October 1868, following the murder of prominent Marion County Republican G.W. Smith, federal troops occupied Jefferson and restored order as best they could.

Campbell became a Texas senator in 1870, then replaced James W. Flanagan when the latter vacated his lieutenant governor's post to become a U.S. senator.

With Campbell's election to the senate, the pro-Republican newspaper The Jefferson Radical praised him:

"Mr. Campbell had so long been persecuted and hated for his devotion to law and order, Union and liberty, during all the dark days of rebellion … Every Republican in the State will heartily congratulate him on his triumph over fraud and treason."

Campbell supported the administration of Governor Davis, who had served as a Union Army officer during the Civil War. Disliked by many Texans, Davis eventually was voted out of office when former Confederates' voting rights were restored.

State cemetery

According to the New Handbook of Texas, Campbell's cooperation with the military government angered Marion County Democrats and resulted in his arrest by county authorities in 1868.

A district judge ordered Campbell's release, ruling that he had committed no offense.

Donald Campbell continued to fight the Klan and support Freedmen's Bureau programs until his death in November 1871. The former "lieutenant governor" from Jefferson was buried in Austin's Texas State Cemetery. He left behind his wife and three children.

Although military rule continued several more years, the Ku Klux Klan's influence in East Texas began to wane by the early 1870s.

— Van "Freedom" Craddock's latest book is "East Texas Tales, Book 2," available at Barron's, Gregg County Historical Museum and East Texas Oil Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net



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