Roger Q. Mills

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Roger Quarles Mills
Roger Q. Mills - Brady-Handy.jpg
United States Senator
from Texas
In office
March 23, 1892 – March 4, 1899
Preceded by Horace Chilton
Succeeded by Charles A. Culberson
Personal details
Born (1832-03-30)March 30, 1832
Todd County, Kentucky
Died September 2, 1911(1911-09-02) (aged 79)
Corsicana, Texas
Political party Democratic

Roger Quarles Mills (March 30, 1832 – September 2, 1911) was a United States lawyer and politician. During the American Civil War, he served as an officer in the Confederate States Army. Afterwards he served in the United States Congress, first as a representative, and later as a senator.

Background[edit]

Born in Todd County, Kentucky, he attended the common schools and moved to Texas in 1849. There he studied law, passed the bar, and began practicing in Corsicana at the age of 20, after the Texas legislature made an exception to the usual age requirement.[1] He was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1859 until 1860, when he enlisted in the Confederate States Army. He served throughout the Civil War and took part as a private in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, and as a colonel commanded the Tenth Texas Infantry at Arkansas Post, Chickamauga (where he commanded a brigade during part of the battle), Missionary Ridge and the Atlanta Campaign.

House service[edit]

He was then elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1873 until 1892. In 1891 Mills was a candidate in the Democratic caucus for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated by Charles F. Crisp (1845–1896) of Georgia.

In the 1880s, when Prohibition sentiment was rising in Texas, Mills refused to make any political concessions. Reportedly, he declared in one speech, "If lightning were to strike all the drunkards, there would not be a live Prohibition party in Texas." (Mills claimed to have been misquoted: he had said "there would not be many [members of the party] left.") Elsewhere he was said to have vowed, "A good sluice of pine top whiskey would improve the morals of the Dallas [Prohibition] convention and the average Prohibitionist." (Mills again offered a correction: he had not used the words "average Prohibitionist," he insisted). .[2]

Mills quickly became noted as one of the ablest, if hottest-tempered, debaters on the Democratic side of the House, and, as was commonly agreed, a man "possessed of the demon of work." The reporter Frank G. Carpenter described him as true as steel and unpretentious in dress. "He is tall, straight and big chested," he wrote in 1888. "The distance between the top button of his high vest and the small of his back is longer than the width of the shoulders of the ordinary man, and he has a biceps which, if put into training, would knock down an ox. He is a fighter, too, and goes into this Congressional struggle with a brain trained to warfare. ...He is a successful man, and one who inspires confidence."[3]

Chairmanship of the Committee on Ways and Means[edit]

Mills had made the tariff his special study, and was long recognized as one of the leading authorities on the Democratic side. After the defeat of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Morrison in the 1886 election, Mills became the next chair of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means when the 50th Congress met. His selection, an historian of the tariff wrote later, "was a red rag to the high protectionists, for Mr. Mills was an out-and-out free trader."[4] Debate over the tariff issue had been thrust upon the United States by President Grover Cleveland in his annual December message to Congress on December 6, 1887.[5] The President requested that Congress drastically reduce the tariff on many manufactured goods so as to promote trade and reduce the cost of living for ordinary United States citizens.[6] Indeed, Chairman Mills, using the Walker Tariff of 1846 as a guideline, had been drafting a bill since September 1887 which would address several of the proposals that Cleveland had included in his December message. As it turned out, most of his work went for naught. As he later explained, "When I got to work with my brethren on the bill I found that it would not go, and I had to abandon my ad valorem tariff bill. The schoolmaster had not been sufficiently around, to bring our people back to the Democratic principle of taxation as to value."[7] This bill became known as the "Mills Tariff Bill of 1888".[8] The Mills Bill was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee in April 1888. The bill provided for a reduction of the duties on sugar, earthenware, glassware, plate glass, woolen goods and other articles, the substitution of ad valorem for specific duties in many cases, and the placing of lumber (of certain kinds), hemp, wool, flax, borax, tin plates, salt and other articles on the free list.[8] The bill looked like it might split the Democratic Party. Just two years previously, the high tariff wing of the Democratic Party had been able to muster 35 votes in the House.[9] However, now the Mills Bill had become so highly partisan that when the bill was passed by the Democratic House on July 21, 1888, only four Democratic Congressmen voted against it.[9] The high tariff wing of the Democratic Party was largely wiped out by the passage of the Mills Bill of 1888.

Although the Mills bill passed the House, a Republican Senate amended it heavily, and it never passed into law. Instead, it became the chief issue in the presidential campaign of 1888. Critics warned that American manufacturers could not compete against the flood of British manufactured goods sure to flood the country, and campaign crowds marched the streets chanting, "No! no! no Free Trade!" (The tariff was not, in fact, anywhere close to being a free-trade measure; it only offered an average reduction of seven percent, and many items were left untouched). "If Mills of Texas does not shut down, many other mills will have to," a California newspaper warned.[10] In the 1888 Presidential election, Republican Benjamin Harrison, a strong high tariff supporter lost the popular vote nation-wide to Cleveland, however, Harrison managed to narrowly win both swing states of New York and Indiana and, thus, Harrison won the presidency in the Electoral College based largely on the tariff issue.

Mills was known to have aspirations to the Speakership, after the retirement of John G. Carlisle. In late 1891, with the House returning to Democratic control, the Texas congressman put himself in the running against Georgia congressman Charles Crisp. Before the caucus met, Mills had 120 votes pledged to him, and if all of them had kept their word, he would have won; but only 105 did so on the final thirtieth ballot, to Crisp's 119. The reason, apparently, was that Mills refused to make deals. Some two dozen members wanted a guarantee of specific committee assignments, in return for their support. Mills would have none of it. Reportedly, Congressman William Springer of Illinois, who was also contending for the Speakership, offered to drop out if Mills would appoint him chair of Ways and Means, and was told gruffly to put his offer in writing. As a result, the night before the caucus voted, Springer withdrew on Crisp's behalf—and Crisp did make him chairman of Ways and Means, subsequently. To Congressman Tom Johnson of Cleveland, one of Mills's most earnest backers, the Texas congressman's conduct looked like political insanity. "I wish you wouldn't be a fool," he burst out; "give me two chairmanships and ask me no questions and I will elect you on the next ballot." All he got was a shake of the head in reply.[11]

Mills's problems, however, were deeper than his failure as a horse-trader. For one thing, his irascibility and the regularity with which he lost his temper made many of his party friends worry that he lacked the self-control necessary in a Speaker. The party's job would be hard enough without what one newspaper called Mills's "tempestuous style."[12] His selection would have signaled that the Democratic party's main agenda would be lowering the tariff drastically; Crisp was much less associated with tariff reform and much more closely associated with the supporters of free silver coinage—which, to most southern Democrats, ranked as the top issue by late 1891. Among the silver Democrats, it did not help Mills to have former president Grover Cleveland's backing, nor among those favoring the presidential nomination of Cleveland's rival, Senator David Bennett Hill of New York. Hill threw his weight behind Crisp's candidacy, too.[13]

Mills took badly to his rejection, issuing a letter, quickly made public that the Democratic party had been hurt more than he, by his rejection, and threatening that "a large element that has been voting with us [would] abandon us" in the coming election, unless those who had defeated him met with rebuke by their party.[14]

Senate service[edit]

Mills was elected to the United States Senate from the State of Texas in 1892 to fill the vacant seat of John H. Reagan and continued to serve in that post until 1899.

In 1893, when President Grover Cleveland sought repeal of the Sherman Silver-Purchase Act, Mills gave loyal support. Silver coinage was popular with both parties in Texas, and Democrats in particular felt that Mills had betrayed them; his action probably cost him re-election in 1898.

Other friends noticed a change in him, as well. His old colleague and co-worker in tariff reform, former Congressman William L. Wilson of West Virginia wrote in his diary in 1896, "Poor Mills, how he seems to have gone to pieces since the time when he was leading the tariff reform forces in the House, and a welcome and strong speaker on that great issue all over the country. Today he made one of the most extreme and wild jingo speeches in the Senate on the Cuban question that has marked the whole debate. Not less erratic has been his course for two years past on the financial question."[15]

Later life[edit]

He died in Corsicana, Texas.

Roger Mills County, Oklahoma took its name from Rep. Mills.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Mills, Roger Quarles". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  2. ^ Myrtle Roberts, "Roger Quarles Mills," M. A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1929, pp. 49-50.
  3. ^ Frank G. Carpenter, in "Washington Critic," January 7, 1888.
  4. ^ Ida Tarbell, "The Tariff In Our Times" (New York: Macmillan, 1912), p. 155.
  5. ^ Crapol, Edward P., James G. Blaine: Architect of Empire (S.R. Books Publishing Co.: Wilmington, Delaware, 2000) p. 106
  6. ^ Nevins, Allan, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (Dodd, Mead and Co.: New York, 1933) p. 379
  7. ^ Nevins, Allan, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, p. 372; Myrtle Roberts, "Roger Quarles Mills," M. A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1929, p. 77.
  8. ^ a b Nevins, Allan, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, p. 389.
  9. ^ a b Nevins, Allan, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, p. 393.
  10. ^ "Salem (Oregon) Daily Statesman," April 4, 1888.
  11. ^ Myrtle Roberts, "Roger Quarles Mills," M. A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1929, pp. 96-97.
  12. ^ "New York Evening Post," November 8, 1890.
  13. ^ Arthur W. Dunn, "From Harrison to Harding: A Personal Narrative," p. 78; Champ Clark, "My Quarter Century of American Politics" (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1920), 1: 273.
  14. ^ "San Francisco Examiner," January 9, 1892.
  15. ^ Summers, ed., "Cabinet Diary of William L. Wilson" (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), p. 51.

References[edit]

Attribution

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's at-large congressional seat

1873–1875
Succeeded by
John Hancock
Preceded by
John Hancock
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 4th congressional district

1875–1883
Succeeded by
David B. Culberson
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 9th congressional district

1883–1892
Succeeded by
Edwin Le Roy Antony
Political offices
Preceded by
William Ralls Morrison
Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means
1887–1889
Succeeded by
William McKinley
United States Senate
Preceded by
Horace Chilton
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Texas
1892–1899
Served alongside: Richard Coke, Horace Chilton
Succeeded by
Charles A. Culberson