Edmund Jackson Davis (October 2, 1827 – February 7, 1883) was born in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1848, Davis moved with his parents to Galveston, Texas. The next year, the 22 year-old Davis struck out on his own, moving to the new town of Corpus Christi where he was admitted to the bar. He was an inspector and deputy collector of customs from 1849 to 1853, when he was appointed district attorney of the 12th Judicial District, which included Webb County in south Texas. He became a judge in that district, and moved to Laredo in 1850. For a time he was also a judge of the state 29th Judicial District.
In early 1861, Edmund Davis supported Governor Sam Houston’s stand against secession. Davis also urged Robert E. Lee not to violate his oath of allegiance to the United States. Despite these leanings, Davis ran to become a delegate to the Secession Convention but was defeated. He thereafter refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and was removed from his judgeship. He fled from Texas and took refuge in Union-occupied New Orleans, Louisiana. From there, Davis sailed to Washington, D.C., where President Abraham Lincoln issued him a colonel’s commission with the authority to recruit the 1st Texas Cavalry Regiment (Union).
Davis recruited his regiment from Union men who had fled from Texas to Louisiana. The regiment narrowly missed capture in the aftermath of the Battle of Galveston (it was due to land and start the reconquest of Texas) but saw action in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and along the Atchafalaya line in Louisiana. In Late 1864, Davis earned promotion to brigadier general of volunteers. He mustered out of the army on August 24, 1865.
Davis returned to Texas and became a member of the 1866 Texas Constitutional Convention. He supported the rights of freed slaves and urged the division of Texas into several Republican-controlled states. In 1869, he was narrowly elected governor against Andrew Jackson Hamilton, a Unionist Democrat.
As a Radical Republican during Reconstruction, his term in office was controversial. On July 22, 1870, the Texas State Police came into being to combat crime statewide in Texas. It worked against racially based crimes, and included black police officers, which caused protest from former slaveowners (and future segregationists). Davis’ government was marked by a commitment to the civil rights of African Americans, and one of his protégés was Norris Wright Cuney of Galveston. To consolidate his power in office, Davis created the “State Guard of Texas” and the “Reserve Militia,” which were forerunners of the Texas National Guard.
In 1873, Davis was defeated for reelection by Democrat Richard Coke in a landslide election. Davis contested the results claiming voter fraud and refused to leave his office on the ground floor of the Capitol. Democratic lawmakers and Governor-elect Coke reportedly had to climb ladders to the Capitol’s second story where the legislature convened. When President Grant refused to send troops to the defeated governor’s rescue, Davis reluctantly left the capital in January 1874. He locked the door to the governor’s office and took the key, forcing Coke’s supporters to break in with an axe.
Davis was the last Republican governor of Texas until Republican Bill Clements defeated the Democrat John Luke Hill in 1978 and assumed the governorship the following January, 105 years after Davis vacated the office.
Following his defeat, Davis was nominated to be collector of customs at Galveston but declined the appointment because he disliked U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. He ran for governor again in 1880 but was soundly defeated. His name was placed in nomination for Vice President of the United States at the 1880 Republican National Convention, which met in Chicago and chose James A. Garfield as the standard-bearer. Had Davis succeeded, he might have wound up in the White House, as did Chester A. Arthur, the man who received the vice presidential nomination that year. Davis went on to lose an election for the United States House of Representatives in 1882 but died the following year. He recieved a war hero’s burial at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.