JAMES EDWARD FERGUSON was born in Bell County, Texas. He studied law and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1897. At the age of sixteen he left Texas for the far West, where he held jobs in fields and locations as varied as vineyard laborer in California, lumberman in the Washington territory, and workman in the quartz mines of Colorado and Nevada. When he returned to Texas he was employed as a bridge-builder and construction foreman. Although he had never held elective office, he permitted his name to be placed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1914 as an anti-prohibition candidate. His first term was marked by the passage of legislation providing for state aid to rural schools and for compulsory school attendance. In addition, three state teacher colleges were created. Although Ferguson was reelected, public dissatisfaction with his leadership had begun to arise, and charges were made that he had misused state funds. He also raised a public outcry when he vetoed nearly all appropriations for the University of Texas because the school’s administration had refused to dismiss certain faculty members whom he disliked. Although the charges of misuse of state funds had nearly been forgotten, the fight between Ferguson and the University resulted in a renewal of the accusations and leveling of new charges. In July 1917, Ferguson appeared before a grand jury in Travis County, where he was indicted on seven charges related to misapplication of state funds, one charge of embezzlement, and one charge of diversion of a special fund. After paying a $13,000 bond, he announced his candidacy for a third term as governor, and the legislature began an impeachment proceeding against him. Before the process could be completed, Ferguson resigned from office, contending that the legislative action against him was a kangaroo court. However, the judgment to impeach—handed down one day after his resignation-was upheld, preventing him from holding public office in Texas. Although he sought to retake the governor’s office a number of times in later years, his efforts were unsuccessful, as were his bids for the presidency as the Know-Nothing candidate in 1920 and for the U.S. Senate in 1922. He later managed the political career of his wife, “Ma” Ferguson, helping her to become governor in 1924 and 1932. He was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 15. New York: James T. White & Company.
Wife of Texas Governor Miriam Amanda Ferguson