Bud Kennedy

Don’t mess with Texas Gov. Stockdale! He said little, did less

Fort Worth resident Tanner Christian Graeber, 22, is accused of breaking into the Texas Capitol and throwing the oil painting of former Texas Gov. Fletcher Stockdale from the third story of the rotunda early Oct. 9.
Fort Worth resident Tanner Christian Graeber, 22, is accused of breaking into the Texas Capitol and throwing the oil painting of former Texas Gov. Fletcher Stockdale from the third story of the rotunda early Oct. 9.

Turns out Texans have ignored Gov. Fletcher Stockdale far too long.

Until the portrait of the state’s last Confederate governor was damaged by a man video shows climbing the Texas Capitol scaffolding, we never knew Texas had a governor who:

▪ In 1863, took office first as lieutenant governor but kept his inaugural address to 86 words, saying it “would seem unnecessary to prolong the ceremony.”

▪ In 1865, filled in a few days as governor after the previous governor took off for Mexico in the face of the Union victory.

▪ Did almost nothing but mind his office after Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston giving orders. (The big one was No. 3: “All slaves are free.”)

▪ Turned over the keys as soon as possible to military occupation Gov. A.J. Hamilton, an Austin Republican appointed by President Abraham Lincoln.

▪ At 57, married his congressman law partner’s 16-year-old daughter.

▪ Was not even considered a former governor until 1946, when his addition forced the disputed renumbering of other governors. (To this day, there is debate over whether Gov. Greg Abbott is No. 48 or 49.)

Almost nobody in Texas ever paid attention to Stockdale until early Sunday, when Capitol video shows that a man climbed scaffolding in the rotunda, yanked Stockdale’s portrait off the wall and tossed it.

A 22-year-old Texas Christian University student, Tanner Christian Graeber, faces two felony charges in the incident. State Preservation Board officials estimate $10,000 damage to the painting and frame. Mostly the frame.

His motive does not appear connected to history. At least, I never knew a Texas history activist to be up at 3:27 a.m.

TCU history professor Gregg Cantrell, a Reconstruction scholar, emailed: “I have never heard of Fletcher Stockdale.”

The days — how many is disputed — of Stockdale’s term were pointless, Cantrell wrote: “The government wasn’t functioning in any significant way.”

In 1940, Texas historian James DeShields wrote that Stockdale, a Southern states’ rights Democrat from Indianola in Calhoun County, simply “remained faithfully at his post … though making no special effort.”

Today, doing nothing would make him a top candidate.

Speaking of that, I found an 1884 Victoria Advocate interview with Stockdale, by then a Cuero attorney and still a party official, about the “great chaos” of that year’s presidential primaries.

“The members of the Republican party were like a herd of sheep that would follow wherever the leader jumped,” he said: “Even into the abyss.”

I think I like the Stockdale Plan: Say little, do less and leave quickly.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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