James Webb Throckmorton-McKinney’s Courthouse Statue
In front of the Old Collin County Courthouse, in the center of historic Downtown McKinney, stands a quite conspicuous statue of a man whose name you may recognize, James Webb Throckmorton. You might recognize the name because there is a street in McKinney of the same name. Throckmorton Street is located on the east side of McKinney, just east of McDonald Street, intersecting US 380 and continuing south. Or, if you are a nature or creek nut (like me,) you may recognize the name because of Throckmorton Creek, which runs south-southeast through the north part of Collin County, and eventually empties into the East Fork Trinity River in Melissa. The name is unique and hard to forget, but unless you are a scholar of Texas history, you may not recognize the man behind the name. He was a man who certainly left his mark of the State of Texas, and on the City of McKinney.
Throckmorton was born in Sparta, Tennessee, and lived the first 11 years of his life in that state. His family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas for a time, until the death of his mother. Soon afterward, his father remarried, and the family moved again, this time to a parcel of land near the East Fork Trinity River in Collin County, likely near the creek that now bears his name. Sadly, his father died about a year after they arrived in Texas. He spent some time helping his family adjust to life in Texas without their father figure. Then, James went to Kentucky to study medicine.
He returned to Texas when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. Feeling a sense of duty to the state his family called home, he volunteered to serve in the army, though his time in the field was limited by a kidney ailment, which would continue to plague him for the rest of his life. After 3 months of service, he was reassigned as a surgeon’s assistant, but eventually received a medical discharge.
After his time in the military ended, he travelled to Illinois to marry Annie Ratton. The couple soon moved back to Texas and settled in a home just outside McKinney’s city limits, where they raised ten children.
For a time, James Throckmorton had a successful medical practice in Collin County. Through his good work and dedication to the community, he became a prominent resident of the town of McKinney. He bought property in town, studied law, and was a big supporter of education. After a time, he decided to dissolve his medical practice and pursue a career in law. He joined the law firm, R. De Armond & Thomas Jefferson Branch, which was located at 111 Virginia St. in downtown McKinney. However, his real passion was for politics.
He ran for office and was elected to be the State Representative for the 25th district, which included Collin and Denton counties, in 1851. He served in this role for six years. During this time, he became the Chairman of the Internal Improvement Committee, where he was a strong advocate for the establishment of land grants for free public schools and the construction of railroads in the State of Texas. He was elected to the Texas Senate in 1857, just 4 years before the start of the American Civil War.
James Throckmorton strongly opposed secession, and participated in the 1861 Secession Convention. He was one of only eight delegates to that convention who were against Texas leaving the Union at the start of the Civil War. Despite his opposition to secession, he decided to enlist in the war. He formed and led the 100 member Company of Mounted Riflemen of Collin County in May of 1861. When that unit was dissolved, he served in the Sixth Texas Cavalry, and eventually gained the rank of Brigadier General of Troops. When his kidney issues worsened, he was discharged from war service. He then joined the First Frontier District, and was appointed Confederate Commissioner to the Indians. In this position, he negotiated treaties with the Native Americans.
After the Civil War ended and Texas was placed under martial law, in accordance with the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, Throckmorton was elected as Collin County’s representative to the Constitutional Convention of 1866, and was then chosen to be chairman of the convention, largely due to his centrist political positions. It was hoped that he would be able to successfully negotiate with both the secessionists and those who supported the Union during the war. He ran for Governor of Texas in 1866 and won easily. However, his time in office was short. He only served as Governor for one year.
Admittedly, the job of being Governor during the Reconstruction period was a difficult one, so perhaps his short time in office was inevitable. Political tensions were high, and it couldn’t have been an easy job to lead a state back into the Union it fought so passionately to leave. His job was further complicated by his desire to support the positions and ideals of his state, against the wishes of the United States Congress.
The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the three “Reconstruction Amendments,” says that
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This Amendment was not supported by the government of the State of Texas, who believed former slaves were inferior to whites, and laws should not be applied to them equally. As Governor, Throckmorton supported this position and was subsequently removed from office for not providing adequate protection for African-American Texans through the state government. After his removal, he was barred from holding public office and returned to McKinney, where he went back to practicing law.
When the General Amnesty Act of 1972 was passed, Throckmorton was allowed, once again, to serve in the legislature, which he did. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to run for Governor once more in 1878, but was defeated in the primary election. He left public office in 1892 due to declining health, and moved back to McKinney. He died in McKinney on April 21, 1894, and is buried in Pecan Grove Cemetery.
So, was this man a hero in the State of Texas? Undoubtedly, he left his mark. He was a Brigadier General in the Civil War. Statues of many Civil War Generals have been coming down all over the country in response to rising racial tensions. This man was, however, the only McKinney citizen to serve as Governor of Texas, and he was also a prominent member of the community. It’s a shame he did not hold his ground and stick to his personal ideals during the Civil War. It’s also a shame that he did not support equal rights for blacks in the State of Texas as Governor.
His failure to support the 14th Amendment seem to suggest that, at the least, he was a racist. Texas is part of the South, and racism is part of our history. Only a fool would deny that. All you need to do is walk inside the former courthouse where Throckmorton’s statue stands today, and you will find two plaques on the wall downstairs- one that says “whites only” and one that says “colored only” in faded letters. In light of this, Throckmorton seems to have been a man of his time. What a strange position to take. Against secession, and against equal rights for all citizens. His position against the secession, however, seems dubious at best, since he served in the army during the war.
But, perhaps we can all learn a little something from this story. In today’s political climate, there seems to be little room for moderation or casual debate. Negotiation seems to be a lost art. Everyone wants things to be their way, and it is hard to be the one in the middle, who looks to the right and the left, and tries to bring them both into the center. James Throckmorton may have been against secession, but when the state voted for it, he conceded, and went along with what the majority wanted, even if it wasn’t what he believed in. That’s how democracy works.
The statue in the square doesn’t appear to celebrate James Webb Throckmorton as a war hero. The plaque on the statue simply states, “A Tennessean by birth, a Texan by adoption. A slight tribute to the patriot and statesman, from his fellow citizens and admirers, because of his pre-eminent personal worth, and distinguished public service.”
Interestingly, urban legends say that the finger he is pointing in the statue has been broken off several times by vandals and has had to be replaced by the city. I have never seen (or, at least, noticed) the statue without its finger. However, I work in Downtown McKinney, so if I ever see the statue sans finger, you can bet I’ll snap a photo.
Until then, when I see this statue, it will serve as a reminder to me that things in our country are not perfect today, but they were worse back in Throckmorton’s day, when McKinney was young and our country was at war. When we look at this statue, let’s choose to remember that, though we all see things differently, all of us are valuable and deserve to be treated with respect. The statue of James Throckmorton can remind us all that our past was divisive, but our future can be whatever we choose to stand for, as a community.
Sources: “Throckmorton, James Webb” by David Minor. Texas State Historical Association website. Accessed 1/26/18. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fth36
“Amendment XIV-Citizenship Rights, Equal Protection, Apportionment, Civil War Debt.” National Constitution Center. Accessed 1/26/18. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-xiv