This Week in Texas Methodist History November 25
If Texans think of Governor “Ma” Ferguson at all, they usually do so with a certain sense of amusement. They remember her campaign slogan in 1924, “Two governors for the price of one.” Everyone knew that her husband, James Edward Ferguson, who was barred from office by impeachment, would be the governor in all but name. Others may remember her response to calls for foreign language instruction in Texas schools, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas.” She was best known for her liberal use of the pardon power of the governor, releasing about 100 inmates per month. Those pardons tended to peak right before the holiday season. After her Thanksgiving pardon of 1925, the Central Texas Conference passed a resolution condemning that action. To understand why the CTC was so incensed over the pardons, one must go back a previous decade.
The battle over prohibition of beverage alcohol was the central issue in Texas politics and also in Methodist social action in the opening years of the 20th century. The Democratic Primary of 1914 provided a bit of irony. The “Drys” decided to choose one candidate so they would not split their votes. They met and chose Thomas Henry Ball, a Houston lawyer and ex-congressman. Ball was the son of the Reverend Thomas Henry Ball who had been president of Andrew Female College in Huntsville. Ball was born six weeks after his father’s death from typhoid fever so he never knew him.
The “Wets” also caucused to pick a standard bearer, but James Edward Ferguson refused to attend. Ferguson likewise bore the name of his distinguished Methodist preacher father. Like Ball, he also never really knew his father who died when the younger Ferguson was four years old. The elder Ferguson had achieved great fame as a powerful preacher at revivals. The wet caucus was fearful that any candidate they chose would split the wet vote. They picked Ferguson.
So it was that in July 1914 the two sons of famous Methodist preachers, each bearing his father’s name, lined up on opposite sides of the issue most important to Methodists of the era. Ferguson was by far the more able orator. He hammered Ball for his corporate connections and promised relief for tenant farmers. He won the Democratic Primary and the general election in November.
This is not the place to relate the events between Pa’s victory in 1914 and Ma’s pardons in 1925, but why was the Central Texas Conference so incensed? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Ma and Pa were from Bell County, one of the strongest counties in the Central Texas Conference. Another factor was the nature of the crimes committed by the pardoned inmates. A large percentage of the pardons went to convicted bootleggers! The preachers felt betrayed. For a whole generation they had worked to enact Prohibition. They were finally successful, and now that success was being undercut by laxity in enforcement and letting the criminals out of prison. No wonder they were upset.