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John Henninger Reagan
Born in Sevier County, Tennessee (some sources say he was born in the county seat, Sevierville) to Timothy Richard and Elizabeth (Lusk) Reagan, he left Tennessee at nineteen and, like so many from that state, landed in Texas. There he worked as a surveyor from 1839 to 1843, then farmed in Kaufman County until 1851. He studied law on his own and was licensed to practice law in 1846, opening an office in Buffalo.
The same year he obtained his license, he was elected a probate judge in Henderson County and in 1847 he went to the state legislature but was defeated for a second term in 1849. He returned to his law practice and was elected a district judge in Palestine, serving 1852 to 1857. His labors in defeating the Know Nothing Party in Texas led to his election to Congress from that state's First District in 1857.
In Washington, he was a moderate and a supporter of the Union, but he resigned from Congress on January 15, 1861 and returned to his home state when it became clear that Texas would secede. There he participated in the secession convention that met at Austin on the last day of January. The convention voted for Texas to leave the union and for Reagan to represent the state in the Provisional Confederate Congress, but within the month he was in the cabinet instead.
President Jefferson Davis named him to head the new Confederate post office and he accepted. Reagan was an able administrator, the only cabinet department that functioned well during the war. Despite the hostilities of the Civil War, the United States Post Office Department continued operations in the Confederacy until June 1, 1861, whereupon the new Confederate service assumed its functions.
Reagan's masterstroke in establishing his department was sending an agent to Washington with letters asking the heads of the Post Office Department's various bureaus to come work for him. Nearly all did so, bringing copies of their records, contracts, account books, etc. "Reagan in effect had stolen the U.S. Post Office," historian William C. Davis wrote. When President Davis asked his cabinet for the status of their departments, Reagan reported he had his up and running in only six weeks. Davis was justifiably amazed.
He cut expenses by eliminating costly and little-used routes and forcing the railroads that carried the mail to reduce their rates. Despite the problems the war caused, his department managed to turn a profit, "the only post office department in American history to pay its own way" wrote William C. Davis.
When Davis fled Richmond ahead of Meade's Army of the Potomac on April 2, 1865, Reagan accompanied the president into the Carolinas. On April 27, Davis made him Secretary of the Treasury after George A. Trenholm 's resignation and he served in that capacity until he, Davis, and Texas governor Francis R. Lubbock were captured near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10, 1865.
He was imprisoned with Confederate Vice-President Alexander Hamilton Stephens in Fort Warren in Boston, Massachusetts. On August 11, 1865, he wrote a public letter to his fellow Texans urging co-operation with the Federal government, renunciation of the secession convention, the abolition of slavery, and letting the freed slaves vote. He warned of military rule that would enforce these policies if Texans did not voluntarily adopt them. For this, he was denounced by Texans. He was released from prison in late 1865 and returned home to Palestine in December.
When the harshness of Reconstruction became apparent, his prescience was hailed--he became known as the "Old Roman", a Texas Cincinnatus. He was part of the successful effort to remove the Republican Edmund J. Davis from the governorship in 1874 after he attempted to seize power in the state. That year he returned to the Congressional seat he held before the war, serving from March 4,1875 to March 3, 1887. In 1875, he served in the convention that wrote a new state constitution for Texas. In Congress, he advocated federal regulation of railroads and helped create the Interstate Commerce Commission. Though he had been elected to the Senate in 1887 (serving March 4, 1887 to June 10, 1891), he resigned to become chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission at the behest of his friend, Governor James Stephen Hogg, chairing it until 1903.
Conscious of the importance of history, he was a founder of the Texas State Historical Association and attended reunions of Confederate veterans in his state. He wrote his memoirs and died at his home in Palestine in Anderson County in 1905. At the time of his death Reagan was the last surviving member of the government of the Confederacy.
- Peter A. Branner . The Organization of the Confederate Postoffice Department at Montgomery. Montgomery, Alabama: The Author, 1960.
- August Dietz . Confederate States Post-office Department. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Press, 1962.
- August Dietz. The Postal Service of the Confederate States of America. Richmond, Virginia: Dietz Printing, 1929.
- John Henninger Reagan. Memoirs, With Special Reference to Secession and the Civil War. New York: Neale, 1905. (Reprinted subsequently)
- Ben H. Procter . Not Without Honor. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.
- Theron Wirenga , editor. Official Documents of the Post-office Department of the Confederate States of America. Holland, Michigan: The Editor, 1979. Two volumes.
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