2-term governor vital to Palestine railroad success

Published on Sunday, 17 August 2014 22:25 - Written by Betty Waters blw@tylerpaper.com

PALESTINE — As governor of Texas in the early 1900s, Palestine resident Thomas M. Campbell was instrumental in creation of the Department of Insurance and Banking, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the State Board of Health and the Texas State Library.

Campbell was born in Rusk in 1856 and attended schools in Rusk before entering Trinity University, then located at Tehuacana, to study law in 1873, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

Lack of finances forced him to withdraw after a year, but he got a job in the Gregg County clerk’s office, studied law at night, was admitted to the Texas bar and began his law practice in Longview, states information about governors of Texas on the Texas Politics web site.

Campbell continued to practice law in Longview until he was appointed a master in chancery for the troubled International-Great Northern Railroad in 1889.

According to the Texas Politics web site, financier Jay Gould had allowed the ailing railroad to default on its debts in 1888 and then forced it into federal receivership in order to gain eventual control of it.

“Campbell soon found himself deeply involved in guiding the railroad’s recovery; he became its court-appointed receiver in 1891 and moved to Palestine,” the Texas Politics web site states. “After lifting the line from bankruptcy, he remained in Palestine as the general manager of the railroad.”

Gould managed to gain control anyway, and Campbell found his own attitudes clashing with the business practices of his employer, the Texas Politics web site states. Campbell distrusted monopolistic big business and sympathized with organized labor. He shared many of the reformist political views of his lifelong friend, former governor James Stephen Hogg, the website states.

Subsequently, Campbell resigned from the railroad in 1897, returned to private law practice in Palestine and became active in Democratic Party politics.

At Hogg’s urging, Campbell ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in the state’s first primary in 1906, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission web site.

Library documents show Campbell received a plurality but no majority and since the law did not yet provide for a primary run-off, the issue went into party convention.

“The last-minute support of U.S. Sen. Joe Bailey may have guaranteed Campbell’s nomination,” states the library’s website.

Campbell was elected in 1906. He served two terms, from Jan. 15, 1907, to Jan. 17, 1911. He was the second native Texan to become governor, according to the Texas State Library.

“Campbell initiated a number of reforms involving railroad regulation, antitrust laws, lobbying restrictions, equitable taxation and pure food and drug laws, according to the Texas Politics web site.

“Among the reform items passed during Campbell’s administration,” according to the Texas State Library, “were stronger anti-trust laws, a pure food law, lobby regulation, municipal regulation of utilities, increased tax support for public schools and insurance reform.”

The Robertson Insurance Law in 1907 brought to a halt the practice of insurance companies realizing large profits in Texas without investing policy reserves in the state, according to the Texas Politics website.

“The most significant legislation,” it states, “centered on prison reform, as Campbell’s administration ended the contract lease system for inmates and implemented more humane treatment of prisoners.”

Other changes during Campbell’s governorship, according to the Texas State Library web site, included the creation of the Department of Insurance, Banking, Statistics and History; the creation of the Texas State Library and Historical Commission, stock quarantine laws, reorganization of the state banking system and the establishment of irrigation and drainage districts.

After serving as governor, Campbell returned to practice law in Palestine. He remained active in Democratic politics and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1916. He served on the exemption board for World War I in 1917.

Campbell died in 1923 and is buried in Palestine.