Congressmen of Texas' First District
The First Four First District Congressmen
Part I--Kaufman Through Evans
In it's more than 160-year history, the First Congressional District of Texas (in which I have resided for the last 30 years) has been served by 19 House members. Though being overwhelmingly Democrats (save for one "Know-Nothing" and two Republicans) and exclusively men, these members have been as varied as the history of the district itself. Most of them have been lost to history, though at least four achieved lasting reputations as leaders at the state level under two governments. As historical figures, all nineteen Congressmen deserve some attention, and so here are brief biographical sketches of each of them.
- David Spangler Kaufman--Born in Boiling Springs, Pa., on December 18, 1813; his parents were German Jews, and he was the second Jewish member of Congress. (The first was Lewis Charles Levin of Philadelphia, who served from 1845-51.) After graduating from Princeton in 1833, Kaufman studied law in Natchez, Miss., and began practicing in Natchitoches, La., before moving to Texas in 1837 and settling in Nacogdoches. He serve in the Texas House of Representatives from 1838-43 (during which time he was wounded in the Battle of the Neches during the 1839 Cherokee War); in the Texas Senate from 1843-45; and Charge D'Affaires to the United States in 1845. Elected as a Democrat to the 29th U.S. Congress by the voters of Texas' new 1st District, Kaufman took office March 30, 1846, and was re-elected later that year and in 1848.He is known to have made two speeches in Congress--a tariff speech in June of 1846, in which he defended the Rio Grande as his state's western boundary; and a speech on slavery in February of 1847. Kaufman died in office, of a heart attack on January 31, 1851, aged 37. He was originally buried at Congressional Cemetery in Washington, but was re-interred in 1932 at Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas. He was a Freemason; Kaufman County, Texas, as well as its seat, established in 1848, were named for him.
- Richardson A. Scurry--Born November 11, 1811, in Gallatin, Tenn. He moved to Texas in 1836 to fight in the coup against Mexico, and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. He served as secretary to the Texas Senate in 1836, and was appointed by Sam Houston district attorney of the First Judicial District, where he was elected judge by the Texas Congress in 1840; in this position he was associate justice of the Supreme Court until 1841, when he became Fifth District district attorney. Scurry was a member of the Texas House from 1842-44, and Speaker from 1843-44. Elected as a U.S. Congressman from the First District, he served from 1851-53; the website govtrack.us reports that he missed 26% of the 451 roll call votes in that term, ranking among the worst 10 percent of Congressmen for the latter period. After his term ended, he returned to law practice in Hempstead and later became Confederate adjutant general in the Civil War. In 1854, Scurry accidentally shot himself while hunting, and never recovered; he had to have his leg amputated eventually, and died of complications from the surgery on April 9, 1862, in Hempstead. He was the father of nine children, and the brother of Confederate Gen. William Scurry, for whom Scurry County, Texas, is named.
- George Washington Smyth--Born in North Carolina, May 16, 1803. A Texas resident since 1827 or '28, he worked as a surveyor in the 1830s (part of the time for the Mexican government), land commissioner in Nacogdoches, and judge of Bevil municipality under the Provisional Government. He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, and served on the commission that helped set the Republic's boundary with Texas in 1839. He served in the Texas House of Representatives in 1844, and helped write the new State Constitution in 1845. In 1848, he became second commissioner of the General Land Office, and in 1852 was an elector for Democratic Presidential candidate Franklin Pierce. Smyth was the third Congressman from the First District, serving from 1853-55. Later, he lost a race for State Comptroller because he opposed a bill to open the African slave trade in Texas. He opposed secession, but remained loyal to Texas and supported his sons decisions to join the rebel army. In 1866, Smyth's hometown of Jasper elected him to the state's Constitutional convention, and he went to Austin despite being in ill health; he died there on February 21, aged 62.
- Lemuel Dale Evans--Born in Tennessee, January 8, 1810. A lawyer, he moved in 1843 to Fannin County, Texas, which he represented at the Constitutional convention of 1845, where he supported citizens' tribunals in the place of traditional courts. He served as a district judge in Harrison County after that; was a Democratic elector in 1852; and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial election in 1853. Evans was elected to Congress as the American, or "Know-Nothing," candidate, in 1854, but was voted out two years later. A unionist and Houston supporter, Evans failed to secure nomination for President for the Constitutional Union party in 1860, but campaigned in Texas for John Bell. He opposed secession, and went to Washington to lobby for a plan to isolate his state from the Confederacy; instead, he was made a special undercover agent by Seward. After the war, Evans returned to Texas and was collector of internal revenue (1867); moderate delegate to the Constitutional convention of 1868-69; presiding judge (chief justice) of the state supreme court (the infamous "Semicolon Court," 1870-71); unsuccessful Republican candidate for Governor (1872); and United States Marshall for Texas (1875-77). He died in this office in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 1877, aged 67 years, and was buried at Congressional Cemetery.