And use much of the same tactics.
In 1904 at the Convention of County Judges in Fort Worth, Alexander W. Terrell gave a speech to the crowd about poll taxes. More specifically, the speech addressed how it would keep people of color and poor whites from voting. He spoke about how voter fraud was committed and gave examples of mass voter fraud.
If you aren’t familiar with Texas historical figures, Alexander Terrell was a polarizing figure of his day and weaved in and out of pivotal events during his life. He was a lawyer, a district judge in Austin, a Confederate General, served under the Mexican Emporer after the Civil War, and also served in both the Texas Senate and the Texas House.
Terrell County was named after Alexander Terrell.
The man who Terrell history portrays?
While it depends on what book or webpage you are reading, most of what’s available online about Terrell depicts him as a statesman, diplomat, and decorated general. It wasn’t until I began reading his speeches, that I got the sense of who he really was.
Terrell’s 1904 speech
You can find the entire speech here.
This part of his speech addresses previous voter fraud . I’m not sure if there was mass scale voter fraud or a few isolated incidents. I did research on it and is seems there was voter fraud in the early days of 1900s Texas due to ballot box stuffing. There were a few recorded incidents where the voter tally was a few dozen to a few hundred more than actual residents, or eligible voters in that area.
While there could have been several ways to solve this issue back then, Alexander Terrell made it about poor people, black people, and Hispanics.
“Every reading man knows that last winter, before this law passed poll taxes had to be paid. As many as 600 were paid by one man in one city and peddled out by him towards heelers. White tramps. Mexicans and negroes to overwhelm the vote of honest men.”
(I’m not sure what a “heeler” is or if I even read that correctly. I wasn’t able to find anything on Google, either.)
Every reading man knew.
It’s a striking statement for two reasons. One, every reading man does not include the men who could not read. In 1900, nearly 11% of all people were illiterate and nearly 45% of the black population. And two, it infers that if you were unaware of the law, you would be punished. The punishment in this case being the inability to vote.
In 1904, when Terrell gave this speech, he knew that over 90% of people could read, yet only 55% of black people could. So by stating, every reading man, he knew that it automatically didn’t include half of the black population.
The words of Alexander Terrell echo today.
Threatening punishment is a tactic used back then and it is a tactic Greg Abbott, himself, has used in modern day.
In 2012 Abbott threatened to arrest international election monitors invited by liberal groups to observe the conduct of next month’s presidential vote in states accused of attempting to disenfranchise minorities.
Abbott has written to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe warning that its monitors have no right to monitor the vote even though they have observed previous US elections.
Or more recently, the GOP passed new laws for harsh penalties if someone makes a mistake on a ballot. This was done to intentionally scare people away from the polls, especially within the Hispanic community.
Overwhelmed the vote of honest men.
Terrell was telling a specific story of voter fraud, then said that people of color and poor whites overwhelm the votes of honest men. The same sentiment has played out in modern time with state senator Paul Bettencourt.
Bettencourt, before becoming state senator, was a Harris County voter registrar. In 2005, Paul Bettencourt was hailed a conservative hero, when it was announced he discovered immigrants were registered to vote. However, later on, it came to light that Bettencourt was using this accusation as a guise to purge thousands of naturalized Hispanic citizens from the voter rolls.
Bettencourt intentionally purged Hispanics from the voter rolls, to help keep white Republicans in power the same way that Terrell implemented poll tax to keep people of color from voting, and the “honest man” in power.
In 1904, Terrell asserted that honest judges had to be at the polls to make sure watch them and ensure there was no funny business.
“If honest judges were at the polls…”
In modern days, according to The New York Times, a program led by Republican operatives is preparing to send 50,000 volunteers to polling stations in 15 battleground states, where they will serve effectively as poll watchers who can “challenge ballots they deem suspicious.” The program is just one part of a $20 million GOP effort that will seek to fight lawsuits filed by voting rights activists trying to loosen voting restrictions.
Objections from ignorance.
Alexander Terrell stated that any objections to the poll tax law comes from ignorance, because the law stopped corruption.
Where have we heard that before?
Everywhere. Like when Dan Patrick says Democrats are trying to steal elections. And it’s sentiment expressed again and again throughout the Republican party. Although, it’s not based on proof, evidence, or fact.
Free voting means fraud?
“Cheap election laws invite fraud.”
This is a big reason why Rick Perry got such a huge backlash when implementing voter ID laws. It is also why voter ID laws have been equated to poll taxes.
In Texas, you cannot get a free drivers license or any free ID of any kind. More so, the first time you get an ID with the state you must provide a copy of your birth certificate, which also costs money.
Way back in 1904, Terrell essentially said that paying money to vote will keep elections clean and away from corruption. Although, it disenfranchised the people who could not afford it. Just like today, the modern day GOP wants people to purchase a drivers license or a birth certificate to get an ID, because according to them, it would prevent fraud.
The GOP is jumping through hoops right now to prevent Democrats from voting in November, under the guise of preventing voter fraud. This is a tactic white confederates have used for over 115 years. They likely will never stop until they can completely stop Dems from even voting at all.
Don’t think it can’t happen? I bet you also thought that you’d never hear an American president declare war on American citizens and threaten to flood our streets with our own military.
November, 2020 will be the most consequential election in modern history. If we lose, this country will be controlled by a completely fascist party and our state will do everything they can to strip away the constitutional rights of everyone who is not white, man, or rich.
Vote like everything you’ve ever known is in danger. Because it is.
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