"The World Turned Upside Down:  Reconstruction in Texas"
  1. Introduction: The Myth vs. the Reality of Reconstruction
  2. Wartime Reconstruction
  3. Postwar Reconstruction
  4. Congressional Reconstruction
  5. Undoing Reconstruction
  6. Enduring Impacts of Reconstruction in Texas

The Myth vs. the Reality of Reconstruction

The Myth:

At the end of the Civil War, in which Southerners had fought valiantly against the brutal invasion forces of the North in an effort to protect local institutions and states rights, the South lay broken and destitute. Rather than trying to reunite the country as peacefully and quickly as possible, the victorious North set out on a deliberate policy of rape, pillage, plunder, and vindictive punishment.

The South was invaded and controlled during Reconstruction by vengeful Union soldiers, opportunistic carpetbaggers, and treasonous scalawags. The Yankee carpetbaggers were opportunists who came to the South to get rich in the aftermath of conquest through theft of money, land, property, etc. Their allies were the treasonous scalawags - Southerners who had always favored the Union, had opposed secession, and in some cases had even taken up arms against their countrymen during the Civil War. These traitors were now placed by military force into political power in the South.

These forces - the Union army of occupation, the carpetbaggers, the scalawags, and the ex-slaves they easily manipulated - subjected Southerners to unethical, unprincipled, and inhumane punishment during Reconstruction. Representative Southern leaders were displaced by Negro politicians and Yankee Republicans. They stood the South on its head - freeing slaves, ruining the economy, raising taxes, and using military force to savagely perpetuate their control. The effects were to last for decades, making the South a subjugated colony of the North - no longer the equal it had been.

The Reality:

Today most historians view the Reconstruction experience more moderately. The most important point is that Reconstruction was a period of marked irregularity for Southerners as they tried to gain readmission to the United States and rebuild a devastated economy while suffering the emotional, psychic burden of defeat and the "Lost Cause".

Certainly Reconstruction was abnormal for the people of the South. Slavery was abolished and blacks were given some limited rights. Reconstruction governments, imposed by the North, pursued active government policies that resulted in higher taxes. Reconstruction governments were relatively powerful in comparison to the weak, inactive antebellum governments Southerners had always preferred. The traditional political leaders of the South were temporarily disfranchised and blacks temporarily enfranchised.

Yet, when considered unemotionally from a historical perspective, the Reconstruction experience was very moderate compared to what it could have been. There were no mass executions of rebel leaders or ex-Confederate soldiers. There was no nationalization or appropriation of plantation lands by the victors. The North declined to force reparation payments on the defeated South.

All in all, Reconstruction, while exceedingly unpopular in the South, was quite moderate. The myth of Reconstruction arose from the emotional burden of defeat, the abolition of slavery, and the recognition that the North, because of population increases and industrialization, now was the strongest section of the nation. The South was no longer an equal partner.

Wartime Reconstruction

From the very beginning, Union political leaders disagreed on what requirements should be set for the South to regain its standing in the country after secession prompted the Civil War. The conflict between President Abraham Lincoln and the United States Congress during the war regarding the administration of occupied areas of the South presaged an enduring institutional conflict over Reconstruction.

President Lincoln's efforts to reconstruct several occupied states in 1863-64, while tentative, gave an indication of the way he would have dealt with a defeated South had he not been assassinated in early 1865. His efforts were quite lenient, designed to bring about rapid readmission rather than forcing fundamental changes on the South. Lincoln's initial efforts were known as the Ten Percent Plan.

Lincoln's Ten Percent Plan:

When ten percent of the voting population of a Southern state took a simple oath of loyalty to the United States, that state could hold a constitutional convention, set up a loyal government, and be readmitted to the Union.

Under Lincoln's plan, few Southerners were disqualified from political participation. Barred were "all men who'd held Confederate civilian and diplomatic posts, all who'd served as rebel officers above the rank of colonel in the army or navy, all who'd resigned from the U. S. armed forces or left the Congress or judicial positions to assist the rebellion, and all who'd treated Union soldiers other than as prisoners of war." Lincoln, however, pledged to review individual pleas for pardon from these groups liberally.

All reconstructed governments must accept and obey the Emancipation Proclamation and all laws Congress might pass with respect to slavery.

Congress refused to recognize Lincoln's plan, choosing instead to put forward its own plan of Reconstruction in the Wade-Davis Bill. Though it was vetoed by President Lincoln, the Wade-Davis Bill, passed in July, 1864, demonstrated Congress felt it, rather than the chief executive, had the power and responsibility to set the requirements for readmission to the Union. Furthermore, it demonstrated that congressmen were not as inclined to leniency as was Lincoln.

Wade-Davis Bill:

Congress proposed that atleast fifty percent of a state's voting population must take a simple oath of loyalty to the United States before the process of Reconstruction could commence.

Once the fifty percent requirement was met, the state could hold a constitutional convention, set up a loyal government, and apply for readmission. However, only those individuals who could swear an "iron clad oath" that they had never aided or fought for the Confederacy would be eligible to participate in this political process. Congress was thus determined to exclude from the process all persons who had participated in or supported the costly rebellion.

Further, the Wade-Davis Bill prohibited slavery in all reconstructed states and made slaveowning a federal crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.

President Lincoln vetoed the bill in July, 1864, infuriating Congress. Thus it was clear that President Lincoln and Congress disagreed about the requirements and objectives of Reconstruction. Further conflict over Reconstruction was certain. Lincoln, however, was assassinated in April, 1865 and was succeeded by Andrew Johnson as president. The institutional conflict between the executive and legislative branches was far from over however. Rather, that institutional conflict would continue and intensify.

Postwar Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln's assassination plunged the United States into institutional, political, and constitutional crises.

The conflict between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, which had been muted under President Lincoln because of the exigencies of the war effort, now broke into open warfare. President Johnson and Congress had totally different ideas about the objectives and methods by which the South would be readmitted to the Union. They fought eachother savagely to insure the triumph of their positions.

There was also a partisan political crisis in the war's aftermath. Andrew Johnson, a loyal Democrat from the border state of Tennessee, had been placed on the Republican/Union party ticket in 1864 in order to enhance Lincoln's electability and to demonstrate that the military effort to preserve the Union was a bipartisan effort. This effort to show solidarity backfired, however, in the opinion of Republicans when Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became both president and titular head of the Republican party. Every action he took regarding Reconstruction was suspect because he was a Democrat and because he came not from the North but from the border state of Tennessee.

These institutional and political conflicts culminated in a constitutional crisis. Determined to implement its own Reconstruction plan and rid itself of Johnson, the Republican-dominated Congress impeached and attempted to remove from office the president of the United States.

These institutional, political, and constitutional crises combined to make the Reconstruction experience one of the most emotional and bitter periods of American history.

Presidential ReconstructionUnder Andrew Johnson

President Johnson attempted to continue the lenient policy of Reconstruction initiated by Lincoln during the war years. He did so not only because of his own inclinations and beliefs but also because he felt committed to carrying out the policies of his predecessor. While forced to make additional demands of the South as prerequisites to readmission, Johnsonian Reconstruction was still incredibly lenient given the temper of the times.

Johnson's Reconstruction Plan:

Before qualifying for readmission, Southern states would have to hold constitutional conventions which took each of the following actions:

Under Johnsonian Reconstruction, the majority of Southerners were allowed to participate in the political process. Anyone who could swear the simple loyalty oath laid out originally by President Lincoln could vote and hold political office. President Johnson also was extremely liberal in pardoning individuals who had held high office in the Confederate governments or leadership positions in the Confederate armed forces. For instance, he pardoned Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, who was promptly selected as a U. S. Senator by the people of Georgia.

Given the temper of the times, such a lenient program was bound to produce problems with the Republican-dominated Congress.

The Texas Reactionto Presidential Reconstruction

Texas attempted to gain readmission to the Union under Presidential Reconstruction in 1866. However, the actions of the constitutional convention and the state legislature that met immediately thereafter demonstrated the unrepentant attitude of Texans.

Actions of the Constitutional Convention :

The convention refused to repudiate the ordinance of succession the state had adopted in 1861 withdrawing from the United States. Rather, the delegates declared that the ordinance of secession was null and void, which left the impression that secession was still a constitutional option and that only the loss of the Civil War rendered secession null and void.

While the constitutional convention recognized that the institution of slavery was dead as a result of the war, it refused to ratify the 13th amendment. Ex-slaves were given a few limited rights under the constitution but were denied most important rights, including citizenship, the right to vote, and the right to hold office.

The convention allowed all laws passed during the Confederate period to stand unless they were directly related to the war or violated the state Constitution of 1845.

The convention repudiated all state debts incurred during the war irrespective of whether or not they were in support of the rebellion.

Actions of the Eleventh State Legislature:

The new legislature refused to ratify either the 13th or the new 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which granted citizenship and all the rights of citizenship to ex-slaves.

The legislature enacted Black Codes severely limiting the rights of ex-slaves in the Lone Star state.

The legislature appointed Oran M. Roberts (president of the secessionist convention of 1861 in Texas) as a U. S. senator to represent Texans in Washington, D. C.

Despite the failure of the constitutional convention to meet several of President Johnson's requirements for readmission and the further effronteries of the Texas legislature, President Johnson declared that Reconstruction in Texas was complete and Texas eligible for readmission to the union of states as of August 20, 1866. Congress felt otherwise. At the very time that Texas was attempting to regain admission to the Union, the U. S. Congress was in the process of rejecting President Johnson's entire program of Reconstruction and implementing its own program. In late 1866 and early 1867 Congress did just that. Texas would be required to start the process all over again.

Congressional Reconstruction

The institutional crisis over Reconstruction policy reached its peak in 1867 when the Congress began the impeachment process of President Johnson over supposed violation of the Tenure of Office Act. At the same time, Congress set forward its own requirements for readmission in March, 1867. It was a much more stringent program than that envisioned by either President Lincoln or President Johnson. Congressional Reconstruction was passed over the veto of embattled Johnson.

Requirements of Congressional Reconstruction:

Before qualifying for readmission, Southern states would have to hold constitutional conventions which took each of the following steps:

Congress realized that such demands were totally unacceptable to those in the South as long as traditional antebellum leaders retained power. Therefore, Congress took two additional steps to force the compliance of the South.
The Texas Reaction to Congressional Reconstruction

Texans reacted extremely negatively to the requirements set by Congress. Texans, who had refused in 1866 to ratify the 13th amendment, now were forced to formally abolish the institution of slavery, grant blacks citizenship, and to accept them as voters and officeholders at the same time that the traditional political leaders of Texas were disfranchised. Only because of the effect of the iron clad oath and in order to rid Texas of a hated army of occupation did a majority of Texans grudgingly meet the requirements of Congress by adopting the Constitution of 1869.

The Constitution of 1869

The Texas Constitution of 1869 and the government which it created were tremendously different from past Texas experiences because it centralized and expanded governmental power, instituted many social welfare programs, and sought to bring the ex-slave more fully into the political system.

1. Centralization of Power in the Governor's Office

The governor's term was lengthened from two to four years and his salary was increased significantly. The governor was also given much greater appointment and removal power. This allowed him control over state officials and policy. In conjunction with additional powers granted by the legislature, the governor of Texas became a true chief executive of state government for the first time ever.

2. Expansion of Governmental Activity

The Constitution of 1869 created the first statewide public school system financed by public lands and taxation. This was just one of a number of social welfare activities permitted under the new constitution.

3. Minority Participation

Black Texans were enfranchised by and held governmental office.

The Reconstruction Administration of Governor E. J. Davis

Congressional Reconstruction brought on the governorship of E. J. Davis, the first Republican governor in the history of the state and the last for over a century to come. His actions as governor from 1870 through 1873 and those of the Twelfth Legislature would make this period highly unpopular among the majority of Texans. Each of the following actions played a part.

1. State Militia

The Twelfth Legislature, in which Republican members were a leading force, empowered the creation of a state militia system under the control of Governor Davis. The governor was empowered to use the militia to maintain law and order when local officials failed or refused to do so.

2. State Police

The State Police were a permanent force, as opposed to the state militia, which had the authority to operate anywhere in the state, overruling local law enforcement officials. The State Police were a relatively efficient group but they were hated at the time because blacks made up a sizable portion of the force and it was used to put down unruly and violent groups opposing Reconstruction.

3. The Enabling Act

This legislation allowed Governor Davis to fill some 8,500 jobs in government at every level in Texas that had been made vacant by enforcement of the iron clad oath. Such appointive power in the hands of the governor was unprecedented in Texas where Jacksonian Democracy had always kept governors weak.

4. Martial Law

Governor Davis declared martial law in Limestone, Freestone, Hill, and Walker Counties when law enforcement machinery broke down. He thus sent in the State Police to quell disorder. Historians today maintain the necessity of these actions but they were exceedingly unpopular at the time.

5. The Radical Legislative Program

Reconstruction legislatures across the South have been charged with incredible corruption and lavish spending. There is some truth to these charges, but the same can be said for northern state legislatures and the federal government at the same time. There can be no question, however, that the Reconstruction legislature in Texas pursued a much more active and expensive program than Texas had ever seen before. Public funds were used to create a public school system, to subsidize the construction of railroads in the state, and to construct a road system.

The Davis administration and Congressional Reconstruction were exceedingly unpopular among the majority of Texans for multiple reasons. They were accomplished by outside force through an army of occupation and centralized governmental power where Texans had always preferred decentralization. They pursued active government where Texans had always preferred small, inactive, and cheaper government. Large numbers of Texans were disfranchised by the iron clad oath while blacks were enfranchised. The coercive force of the state militia, state police, and martial law enraged the majority as did the fact that Reconstruction placed state government in the hands of Republicans.

Given the tremendous unpopularity and abnormality of Congressional Reconstruction, it is understandable that Texans moved to undo everything associated with Reconstruction as soon as the state was readmitted to the Union and the iron clad oath and military occupation came to an end.

The process of undoing Reconstruction began in October, 1871 when Texans removed the state's four U. S. Representatives in a special election and replaced them with four unreconstructed Democrats.

Democrats regained control of the Texas legislature in late 1872 as a result of elections in which Texans vented their wrath on the Republicans. Almost immediately the Thirteenth Legislature repealed most of the "radical" legislative program enacted by the previous body and removed some of the governor's most significant powers.

In December, 1873, Texans removed Governor Davis from office in favor of an unreconstructed Democrat, Richard Coke.

In 1875 Texans held a constitutional convention to replace the Constitution of 1869 which had been forced on the state and which the majority of Texans regarded as anathema. In 1876 Texans adopted our present constitution which was designed to prevent a recurrence of active government forevermore. With the adoption of the Constitution of 1876 by Texas voters, the undoing of Reconstruction was complete.

Enduring Impacts of Reconstruction in Texas

While the dismantling of Reconstruction was complete in Texas by 1876, the impact of this experience lasted far beyond that date. The Republican party was discredited in the Lone Star state for almost one hundred years, in large part because of its association with this unpopular period. Similarly discredited was active, interventionary government. Texans had seen such a government during Reconstruction. The majority were convinced it had done things to them not done things for them. They were determined to prevent any recurrence. Government would be kept as small and as weak as at all possible in the aftermath. Reconstruction also produced the exceedingly restrictive Constitution of 1876, under which the state of Texas still attempts to function today. Finally, the Reconstruction experience created a bitterness against black Texans that would delay the attainment of equal rights for a full century.