While helping the sheriff at Quitman, Hogg earned the enmity of a group of outlaws, who lured him over the county line, ambushed him, and shot him in the back. He recovered and turned again to newspaper work in Tyler, after which he ran his own papers in Longview and Quitman from 1871 to 1873, fighting subsidies to railroads, the corruption of the Ulysses S. Grant administration, and local lawlessness. He served as justice of the peace at Quitman from 1873 to 1875. He studied law and was licensed in the latter year. Meanwhile, he had married Sallie Stinson; four children were born to them. Hogg received his only defeat in a contest for public office in 1876, when he ran against John S. Griffith for a seat in the Texas legislature. He was elected county attorney of Wood County in 1878 and served from 1880 to 1884 as district attorney for the old Seventh District, where he became known as the most aggressive and successful district attorney in the state. In the national campaign of 1884 he succeeded in winning enough black votes from the Republicans to make Smith County a Democratic stronghold. Despite a popular move for Hogg to go to Congress, he declined to run for public office in 1884 and entered private practice in Tyler, where he worked first with John M. Duncan and afterward with Henry Marsh.
In 1886 his friends urged him to run for attorney general. His father's connections with the older political leaders made it easy for Hogg to be admitted to their councils, and he received the Democratic nomination and was elected. As attorney general, Hogg encouraged new legislation to protect the public domain set aside for the school and institutional funds, and he instituted suits that finally returned over a million and a half acres to the state. He sought to enforce laws providing that railroads and land corporations sell their holdings to settlers within certain time limits and succeeded in breaking up the Texas Traffic Association, which was formed by the roads to pool traffic, fix rates, and control competing lines, in violation of the laws. He forced "wildcat" insurance companies to quit the state and aided legitimate business generally. He helped to write the second state antitrust law in the nation and defended the Texas Drummer Tax Law before the United States Supreme Court, but lost. He managed to regain control of the East Line and Red River Railroad, despite Jay Gould's delaying actions, by making use of federal receivers. Hogg forced the restoration to Texas of railroad headquarters and shops, as a result of which depots and road aids were repaired or rebuilt, and he gradually compelled the railroads to respect Texas laws. Finally, seeing that neither the legislature nor his small office force could effectively carry out the laws to protect the public interest against powerful corporate railway interests, he advocated the establishment of the Railroad Commission and was elected governor on this platform in 1890.
While governor, from 1891 to 1895, Hogg did much to strengthen public respect for law enforcement, defended the Texas claim to Greer County, and championed five major pieces of legislation. The "Hogg Laws" included (1) the law establishing the Railroad Commission; (2) the railroad stock and bond law cutting down on watered stock; (3) the law forcing land corporations to sell off their holdings in fifteen years; (4) the Alien Land Law, which checked further grants to foreign corporations in an effort to get the land into the hands of citizen settlers; and (5) the act restricting the amount of indebtedness by bond issues that county and municipal groups could legally undertake. In order to encourage investment in Texas, he traveled to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia explaining to businessmen and chambers of commerce the laws and advantages of the state. He was ever solicitous for the welfare of the common schools, the University of Texas, and Texas A&M. He also manifested earnest attention to the normals and to appointments to teacher-training scholarships. Always interested in the history of Texas, he succeeded in obtaining financial aid for a division of state archives and appointed C.W. Raines to supervise the collection and preservation of historical materials.
Without any real difficulty Hogg could have become a United States senator in 1896, but he was content to return to private practice. After his wife died in 1895, he invited his older sister, Mrs. Martha Frances Davis, to come to his home to help rear his children. Though he was in debt when he relinquished the governor's chair to his attorney general, Charles A. Culberson, Hogg was able to build up a sizable family fortune by his law practice and wise investments in city property and oil lands. He successfully inculcated in his children a worthy interest in individual and public welfare as evidenced by numerous gifts to the University of Texas and various services to Texas as a whole, as well as to the cities of Houston and Austin.
Although Hogg sought no other public office, he was always interested in good government. He aided William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 and 1900 campaigns and spoke on Bryan's behalf before Tammany Hall in 1900. Hogg had long been an advocate of an isthmian canal and increased trade for Texas to South America and the Orient via Hawaii, which he had visited after the Spanish-American War. He also championed progressive reforms in Texas in a famous speech at Waco on April 19, 1900. The meeting had been packed against him, but he insisted upon his right to speak and persisted until the crowd heard him. He pleaded for three separate principles: (1) that no insolvent corporation should do business in Texas; (2) that the free-pass system over the railroads should forever terminate; and (3) that the use of corporate funds in politics and in support of lobbies at Austin should be prohibited. At the end of a trying evening, he had won the audience over to his views. In 1901 he addressed the legislature on these progressive political principles, and in 1903 he rented the Hancock Opera House in Austin to plead again for their adoption. He raised questions about railroad mergers and consolidations and the unblushing use of lobbying and the corroding influences of the free pass. In conclusion he implored, "Let us have Texas, the Empire State, governed by the people; not Texas, the truck-patch, ruled by corporate lobbyists." At La Porte, on September 6, 1904, he prophetically spoke of the new role of labor in the twentieth century.
After the oil boom at Beaumont and a trip to England in connection with his expanding business interests in South Texas, Hogg gave up his partnership with Judge James H. Robertson in Austin and moved to Houston, where he formed the firm of Hogg, Watkins, and Jones. He continued his political interests but was hurt in a railroad accident, after which he was never well again. One of his last public addresses was at the banquet in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt at Dallas on April 5, 1905, when two of the finest leaders of their parties met and exchanged respects. During the State Fair of Texas that year, Hogg was expected to speak before the Legislative Day banquet, but he was taken ill and confined to his hotel room in Fort Worth. Arrangements were made by his daughter for a phonograph recording of remarks for use in Dallas. In this address he summarized his political views. Among other points, he called for the permanent establishment of rotation in office, the prohibition of nepotism, equality of taxation, the suppression of organized lobbying in Austin, steps to make "corporate control of Texas" impossible, and open records that would "disclose every official act...to the end that everyone shall know that, in Texas, public office is the center of public conscience, and that no graft, no crime, no public wrong, shall ever stain or corrupt our State." On March 3, 1906, Hogg died in the home of his partner, Frank Jones, at Houston. He was buried in Austin.
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