WILLIAM PITT BALLINGER: PUBLIC SERVANT, PRIVATE PRAGMATIST (TEXAS)
MORETTA, JOHN ANTHONY
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation is an in-depth examination of the personal and professional life of Galvestonian William Pitt Ballinger (1825-1888), one of Texas' foremost nineteenth-century jurists. From the day he took his attorney's oath to the time of his death, Ballinger pursued his legal career with a tenacity that often drove him to physical and mental exhaustion. Proclaimed by the legal community long before his death as "the Nestor of the Texas Bar," Ballinger, ironically, was uncomfortable with such praise, and throughout adult life questioned his potential. At times equivocal, even arbitrary when crucial political issues were involved, Ballinger was determined to do what was most honorable and just, regardless of consequence. Foremost to Ballinger was the security of his family and practice, but he nevertheless devoted himself to the aggrandizement and enrichment of his beloved Galveston. Minimizing his involvement in political controversy, Ballinger never actively sought political office but seldom ignored the popular demand for his participation in civic affairs. An elitist, Ballinger's sense of privilege was tempered by an equally strong sentiment of social responsibility. He believed that there was a certain accountability incumbent upon men of professional status: individuals had careers but gentlemen of substance had communal obligations as well. Despite an avowed apoliticism, by the late 1850's, Ballinger had thrown off his restraint and invested his reputation in saving the nation from dissolution. When that failed, he offered his talents and allegiance to his new country--the Confederate States of America. Whatever the cause, once committed, Ballinger's undertakings often became personal obsessions. Ballinger's contributions to Texas history were perhaps not as dramatic nor monumental as those of an Austin or a Houston, but were nevertheless significant: few Texans had ever done more to promote a given profession or a community's sense of welfare than Ballinger. While his services and devotion has secured his place in Texas history, Ballinger was above all a nineteenth-century man who shared the same experiences, disappointments and tribulations as his contemporaries. For the majority of nineteenth-century Americans, physical survival rather than the performance of romantic and gradiose deeds, was the principal concern. Ballinger distinguished himself in that he persevered beyond the challenges of everyday life to reckon with the crises of his times.