John Henninger Reagan

John Henninger Reagan (October 8, 1818  March 6, 1905) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Texas. A Democrat, Reagan resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives when Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America. He served in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis as Postmaster General. After the Confederate defeat, he called for cooperation with the federal government, an unpopular position. He was elected to Congress in 1874, after his predictions of harsh treatment for resistance were proved correct.[1][2][3] He also served in the U.S. Senate from 1887 to 1891, and as chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. He was among founders of the Texas State Historical Association.

John Reagan
United States Senator
from Texas
In office
March 4, 1887  June 10, 1891
Preceded bySamuel Maxey
Succeeded byHorace Chilton
Confederate States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
April 27, 1865  May 10, 1865
PresidentJefferson Davis
Preceded byGeorge Trenholm
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Confederate States Postmaster General
In office
March 6, 1861  May 10, 1865
PresidentJefferson Davis
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1883  March 3, 1887
Preceded byDavid Culberson
Succeeded byWilliam Martin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1875  March 3, 1883
Preceded byWilliam Herndon
Succeeded byCharles Stewart
In office
March 4, 1857  March 3, 1861
Preceded byLemuel Evans
Succeeded byGeorge Whitmore
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1818-10-08)October 8, 1818
Sevier County, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedMarch 6, 1905(1905-03-06) (aged 86)
Palestine, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Edwina Moss Nelms

Early life

Reagan was born in 1818 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to Timothy Richard and Elizabeth (Lusk) Reagan. He left Tennessee at nineteen and traveled to Texas. He worked as a surveyor from 1839 to 1843, and then farmed in Kaufman County until 1851.[3] During the time he worked as a surveyor, he also served as a private tutor to the children of John Marie Durst.[4]

Reagan read the law and was licensed to practice in 1846, opening an office in Buffalo. The same year he was elected a probate judge in Henderson County. In 1847 he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, but was defeated for a second term in 1849. He was admitted to the bar in 1848 and practiced in both Buffalo and Palestine, Texas.[1]

Reagan was elected as a district judge in Palestine, serving from 1852 to 1857. His efforts to defeat the American Party (Know-Nothings) led to his election to Congress in 1857 from First District.[1]

Reagan was a staunch supporter of slavery. He believed abolition would require Southern whites to "exterminate the greater portion of the [black] race."[5] He also believed in the federal protections of slavery under the U.S. Constitution as extensions of private property rights, therefore he supported the Union. But when it became clear that Texas would secede, Reagan resigned from Congress on January 15, 1861 and returned home to secure the state's right to self-government.[2]

He participated in the secession convention that met at Austin on January 31, 1861. Chosen as a member of the Provisional Confederate Congress, within a month Reagan was appointed by President Jefferson Davis as Postmaster General.

Civil War

Reagan was an able administrator, presiding over the only cabinet department that was described as functioning well during the war. Despite the hostilities, the United States Post Office Department continued operations in the Confederacy until June 1, 1861, when the Confederate service took over its functions.[6]

Reagan sent an agent to Washington, D.C., with letters asking the heads of the United States Post Office Department's various bureaus to come work for him. Nearly all did so, bringing copies of their records, contracts, account books, etc. "Reagan in effect had stolen the U.S. Post Office," historian William C. Davis wrote. When President Davis asked his cabinet for the status of their departments, Reagan reported he had his up and running in six weeks. Davis was amazed.

Reagan cut expenses by eliminating costly and little-used routes and forcing railroads that carried the mail to reduce their rates. Despite the problems the war caused, his department managed to turn a profit, "the only post office department in American history to pay its own way," wrote William C. Davis. Reagan was the only member of the cabinet to oppose Robert E. Lee's offensive into Pennsylvania in June–July 1863. He instead supported a proposal to detach the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia to reinforce Joseph E. Johnston in Mississippi, so that he could break the Siege of Vicksburg. Historian Shelby Foote noted that, as the only Cabinet member from west of the Mississippi, Reagan was acutely aware of the critical consequences of Vicksburg's capture.

When Davis abandoned Richmond on April 2, 1865, shortly before the entry of Army of the Potomac under George G. Meade, Reagan accompanied the president on his flight to the Carolinas. On April 27, Davis made him Secretary of the Treasury after George A. Trenholm's resignation. Reagan served in that capacity until he, Davis, and Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock were captured near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10.[2]

Reagan was imprisoned with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens at Fort Warren in Boston, where Reagan spent twenty-two weeks in solitary confinement.[3] On August 11, he wrote an open letter to his fellow Texans urging cooperation with the Union, renunciation of the secession convention, the abolition of slavery, and letting freed slaves vote. He warned of military rule that would enforce these policies if Texans did not voluntarily adopt them. For this, he was denounced by Texans. He was released from prison later that year and returned home to Palestine in December.[2]

Return to public life

To those who felt that the Reconstruction was unduly harsh, his prescience was hailedhe became known as the "Old Roman," a Texas Cincinnatus. He was part of the successful effort to remove Republican Edmund J. Davis from the governorship in 1874, after Davis attempted to illegally remain in office after he had lost the election.

That year Reagan was elected to the Congressional seat he held before the war, serving from March 4, 1875, to March 3, 1887. In 1875, he served in the convention that wrote a new state constitution for Texas. In Congress, he advocated federal regulation of railroads and helped create the Interstate Commerce Commission. He also served as the first chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.

Though he had been elected by the Texas State Legislature to the US Senate in 1887 (serving March 4, 1887 to June 10, 1891), he resigned to become chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas at the behest of his friend, Governor James Stephen "Jim" Hogg, and chaired it until 1903. Hogg had run on a platform of state regulation of railroads.[2][1]

Conscious of the importance of history, he was a founder of the Texas State Historical Association. He also attended reunions of Confederate veterans in his state. He wrote his Memoirs, With Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War, published in 1905. He died of pneumonia at his home in Palestine in Anderson County later that year, the last surviving member of the government of the Confederacy. Reagan was buried in East Hill Cemetery Palestine Anderson County in Texas.[2]

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. "REAGAN, John Henninger, (1818 - 1905)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  2. "REAGAN, JOHN HENNINGER". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  3. "John Henninger Reagan (2)". Kaufman County TXGenWeb Project. Retrieved November 27, 2010.
  4. Raines, Cadwell Walton (1902). Year book for Texas. Gammel Book Company.
  5. "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875". Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  6. Boyd B. Stutler, 1962. "The Confederate Postal Service in West Virginia". West Virginia Archives and History. Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  7. "HISD approves name changes for seven schools". ABC 13. May 12, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2017.
  9. Confederate Statues on Campus

Further reading

  • John Nathan Anderson. "Money or Nothing: Confederate Postal System Collapse during the Civil War," American Journalism, 30 (Winter 2013), 65–86.
  • Peter A. Branner. The Organization of the Confederate Postoffice Department at Montgomery. Montgomery, Alabama: The Author, 1960.
  • August Dietz. Confederate States Post-office Department. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Press, 1962.
  • August Dietz. The Postal Service of the Confederate States of America. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Printing, 1929.
  • John Henninger Reagan. Memoirs, With Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War. New York: Neale, 1905. (Reprinted subsequently)
  • Ben H. Procter. Not Without Honor. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.
  • Theron Wirenga, editor. Official Documents of the Post-office Department of the Confederate States of America. Holland, Michigan: The Editor, 1979. Two volumes.
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