Harry M. Wurzbach

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Harry McLeary Wurzbach
U.S. Representative from Texas's 14th congressional district
In office
1921–1929
Preceded by Carlos Bee
Succeeded by Augustus McCloskey
In office
February 10, 1930 – November 6, 1931
Preceded by Augustus McCloskey
Succeeded by Richard M. Kleberg
County Judge of Guadalupe County, Texas
In office
1904–1910
Personal details
Born (1874-05-19)May 19, 1874
San Antonio, Bexar County
Texas, USA
Died November 6, 1931(1931-11-06) (aged 57)
San Antonio, Texas
Resting place San Antonio National Cemetery
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Frances Darden Wagner Wurzbach
Relations Nephew Bob Eckhardt
Residence (1) Seguin, Guadalupe County

(2) San Antonio, Texas

Alma mater Washington and Lee University School of Law
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Episcopalian[1]
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1896-1898
Rank Private
Unit Company F, First Regiment, Texas Volunteer Infantry
Battles/wars Spanish-American War

Harry McLeary Wurzbach (May 19, 1874 – November 6, 1931) was an attorney and politician. He was the first Republican elected from Texas since Reconstruction to be elected for more than two terms and was re-elected to the Sixty-eighth, Sixty-ninth, and Seventieth congresses, representing Texas's 14th congressional district for several terms, from 1921 to 1929. He was re-elected in 1930 to the Seventy-second Congress and died in office. The first Republican elected from Texas who was born in the state, he was the only Republican from Texas serving in Congress during this period.

Early life and education[edit]

Wurzbach was born in San Antonio to Charles Louis Wurzbach and the former Kate Fink, who were ethnic Germans, descendants of immigrants. He attended public schools. He went to Virginia for college, graduating in 1896 from Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington. That same year, he was admitted to the Texas bar and established his practice in San Antonio.

Marriage and family[edit]

After starting his law practice, Wurzbach married Frances Darden Wagner of Columbus, Texas, in the Episcopal Church there.

Military service[edit]

During the Spanish-American War (1896-1898), Wurzbach volunteered as a private in Company F, First Regiment, Texas Volunteer Infantry. The unit served three months in the army of occupation in Cuba.[2]

Political career[edit]

After the war, in 1900 Wurzbach and his wife relocated to Seguin in Guadalupe County, where he continued his law practice.

Guadalupe County had a high proportion of people of ethnic German ancestry, many of whom were immigrants or their descendants from after the revolutions of 1848 in the German states. Historically many, and perhaps most, of the German immigrants who settled in Central Texas before the American Civil War had opposed slavery and quietly favored the Union.[3]

After the Civil War, during the Reconstruction era and well into the mid-20th century, many German-American Texans supported the Republican Party. The party was also supported by African-American voters, but most were disfranchised after 1901, when the legislature imposed a poll tax. With its German-American heritage, Guadalupe County was the third-most reliably Republican county in the state through 1964.[3][page needed]

In the late 19th century, the Populist Party attracted many white voters, including in the agrarian South. In 1896 Republican Robert B. Hawley of Galveston, Texas was elected as a Representative from Texas' 10th congressional district of the Greater Houston area; he won again in 1898, serving in total from 1897 to 1901. He won both elections by a plurality, when many white voters split between supporting the Democratic and Populist parties.

The Democratic-dominated legislature worked to prevent losing power again through split tickets or coalitions, as well as to disfranchise blacks, which was the goal of all southern legislatures. It adopted a poll tax in 1901, which resulted in the intended effect of almost eliminating voting by blacks, as well as many Latinos and poor whites.[4] In addition, the state adopted white primaries.[5] The blacks had been loyal Republicans since emancipation and passage of amendments granting citizenship and suffrage. The Democrat-dominated Texas state legislature was following those of other states of the former Confederacy in working to disfranchise blacks; from 1890 to 1910, southern states passed constitutional amendments, new constitutions and laws that achieved this.[6] The Democrats essentially established a one-party state.

Immediately becoming active in local politics after moving to Seguin, Wurzbach was elected as the Guadalupe County prosecuting attorney from 1900 to 1902. Running as a Democrat in 1902, he lost a race for County Judge (the chief administrative officer of a Texas county). But after "seeing the error of my ways," he ran as a Republican and was elected as County Judge from 1904 to 1910. The campaign in 1910 was personally bitter, and he resigned a few days after the election, returning to his law practice.[citation needed]

1916 return to politics[edit]

By 1916 Harry Wurzbach had returned to campaigning. He ran on the Republican ticket for United States Congressman from Texas's 15th congressional district, against the popular incumbent, John Nance Garner, who had held the seat since 1902 when the district was created. Wurzbach lost 3 to 1 across the district, failing to carry Guadalupe County. Garner was elected for a total of 14 consecutive terms from this district.

When the U.S. entered the war against the German Empire in 1917, the local German Americans suffered a wave of hatred, and were accused of being traitorous sympathizers to the Kaiser's side. To defuse tensions, Wurzbach helped to organize a show of loyalty by his fellow German Americans, who became active in the Red Cross and the "First Aid Legion", and publicized their purchase of many war bonds.

Wurzbach took Alvin J. Wirtz as a law partner. His wife was the daughter of a popular and well-connected doctor in Seguin. Wirtz was from Columbus, Texas as was Wurzbach's wife. They opened their offices in the First National Bank Building in 1917. They also worked in the Guadalupe County Abstract Company, Wurzbach as Manager and Wirtz as Secretary. Wurzbach became a lifelong mentor to his partner, who was 14 years younger.

Wurzbach had a place on the Republican ticket in 1918, as a state-wide candidate for judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals. He was crushed, losing by 7 to 1 to the Democratic candidate, but he carried his home county.

In 1920, redistricting moved Guadalupe County out of Garner's 15th district, and into the 14th congressional district. Wurzbach ran for Congress in the general election, and unseated the freshman Democratic Representative Carlos Bee of San Antonio, 17,265 (55.6 percent) to 13,777 (44.4 percent). Reflecting the high rate of immigration and migration to Texas for decades, Wurzbach was the first native Texan to win election as a Republican to Congress.[citation needed] In 1922, 1924, and 1926, Wurzbach won by margins of 54.8, 62.4, and 57.2 percent, respectively, the first Republican since Reconstruction to win more than two terms. He won his seat even as the Republican presidential candidates in 1920 and 1924, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, lost the electoral vote of Texas. The Democratic-majority state had supported Democrats for president since the end of Reconstruction and continued to do so into the 1960s.

Wurzbach was a delegate to the 1924 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, which nominated President Coolidge. But despite the opportunity that Wurzbach's election gave the Republicans, the national party leaders did not welcome him. They preferred to keep control of patronage jobs to themselves, and worked to undermine him.[citation needed]

In 1928, the powerful, patronage-based Democratic machine in San Antonio (along with Sam Johnson and Archie Parr)[7] targeted Wurzbach for defeat, and returns appeared to show him losing reelection. That year, the Republican Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover carried Texas over the Democrat Al Smith, whom many Southern Democrats opposed because he was Roman Catholic. But, Wurzbach polled 27,206 (49.7 percent) to a reported 29,055 (50.3 percent) for the Democrat Augustus McCloskey of San Antonio.

Wurzbach contested the election, claiming irregularities. He appealed his case to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. After an investigation into the corrupt voting practices in San Antonio, the House ultimately reversed McCloskey's election (after he had served for eleven months) and seated Wurzbach on February 10, 1930. Wurzbach won another term in November 1930, when he polled an impressive 27,206 (59.3 percent) to Democrat Henry B. Dielmann's 18,707 (40.7 percent).

1930 indictment[edit]

While contesting the 1928 election, Wurzbach was charged in 1930 with violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act for receiving money from federal employees for his primary campaign. The District Court threw out the indictment, based on two grounds: 1) That the term "political purpose" in the law did not include the behavior in question; and 2) If the term did include the behavior, then the Act was unconstitutional, as it was applied to state activities beyond its scope, not a federal election. The Democratic US Attorney appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in United States v. Wurzbach against the lower court, and remanded the case for resolution. The case may have been dropped; Wurzbach died in 1931 and his official congressional biography does not refer to the charges.[8]

With the Great Depression gathering force, Republican incumbents lost many seats in 1930, but the party still had majority control of the House of Representatives. Wurzbach died in office in 1931. His seat was filled by a special election, won by the Democrats. They gained control of Congress with 217 seats to the Republicans' 215.[9] The Republican Party did not regain a majority in the House until after the 1946 elections.

Because of the disfranchisement of African Americans and overwhelming dominance of the Democratic Party in the state, after Wurzbach, no other Republican was elected to represent Texas in Congress until 1950, when Ben Guill won a special election, serving the remaining eight months of the term. Until the late 20th century, the state was dominated by the Democratic Party. After Congress passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, the black minority in Texas switched to the Democratic Party, which nationally had supported their cause of enforcing constitutional rights.

In Texas, and the other ex-Confederate states, the white majority gradually has shifted from the Democratic Party to supporting conservative Republican candidates, first in national elections and, increasingly, for state and local offices.

Death[edit]

Wurzbach died at 2 A.M. on November 6, 1931 at his home in Seguin, from complications following an appendectomy. His death was a surprise; his surgery was not considered an emergency and he had otherwise been in good health. Wurzbach is interred at the San Antonio National Cemetery near Fort Sam Houston, based on his military service.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • Bob Eckhardt of Houston, a nephew of Wurzbach, became a politician and was elected as a Democratic Congressman.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "St. Andrew’s Episcopal is a Seguin ‘jewel’". Seguin Gazette. November 24, 2012. Retrieved 2013-09-20. 
  2. ^ "Spanish American War", Texas Military Forces Museum
  3. ^ a b Kesselus, Ken (2002). Alvin Wirtz, The Senator, LBJ, and LCRA. Austin: Eakin Press. ISBN 1-57168-688-6. 
  4. ^ "Nixon v. Condon. Disfranchisement of the Negro in Texas", The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 41, No. 8, June 1932, p. 1212, accessed 21 March 2008
  5. ^ Texas Politics: Historical Barriers to Voting, accessed 11 Apr 2008 Archived April 2, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Michael Perman.Struggle for Mastery: Disenfranchisement (sic) in the South, 1888-1908. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001, Introduction
  7. ^ Lynch, Dudley M. (January 1, 1976). The Duke of Duval: The Life and Times of George B. Parr. Waco: Texian Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-87244-044-3. LCCN 76-54438. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  8. ^ Peter J. Henning, Lee Radek, The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption: The Law and Legal Strategies, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 307, footnote 33
  9. ^ "Texas Republican's Death Assures Democratic Control of Next Congress, The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida), 6 November 1931, accessed 4 November 2012
  10. ^ Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Veterans Administration

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Carlos Bee
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 14th congressional district

1921–1929
Succeeded by
Augustus McCloskey
(disputed)
Preceded by
Augustus McCloskey
(disputed)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 14th congressional district

1930–1931
Succeeded by
Richard M. Kleberg