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Texas Politics - The Constitution
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For more information on the Radical Republican constitution of 1869, see the entry on the Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869 in The Handbook of Texas Online.

2.6    The Radical Republican Constitution of 1869

The Constitutional Convention of 1868-69 was called under pressure from Washington to comply with the Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Though Republican Party members dominated, they did not present a united front against the former slave-holding interests among the Democratic minority present.

The Republicans were divided into four groups of interests based on geographic region and their degree of support for policies promoting economic development and rights for blacks. The Democrats allied themselves with the four groups of Republicans by turns according to the subject under discussion.

Because of considerable disarray, requiring two sessions that lasted a total of 150 days, the convention failed to produce a complete constitution. Only forty-nine of the ninety delegates signed the long and detailed, yet uncompleted, document. This was published under orders of the military as the Constitution of 1869, and subsequently ratified by popular vote in July of that year. The Constitutional Convention of 1868-69 involved itself in a wide range of policy details, as well as in the usual constitutional concerns related to the organization of government authority. The conventioneers tinkered with the terms and method of selection of judicial and executive branch offices, as did constitutional conventions before them.

The Constitution of 1869 included specifications for a broad range of activist public policies. Schools were a high priority. The existing school fund was to be financed by receipts from a new poll tax, plus one-fourth of annual taxes, plus income from lands set aside to support schools. The position of the state superintendent of public instruction was maintained, and school attendance was made compulsory.

The Constitution of 1869 also included policy and administrative provisions that:

  • established an immigration bureau
  • established no-fee granting of homesteads to settlers
  • assigned mineral rights to landowners
  • authorized the Legislature to prohibit the sale of liquor near colleges (except in county seats)
  • forbade the Legislature to authorize lotteries or grant divorces

The Constitution of 1869 was criticized for the lengthy and incomplete process that produced it, as well as for its considerable detail and general unwieldiness. Perhaps more importantly at the time, it was criticized because it reflected the ideals of the newly dominant Republican Party, which sought to enfranchise blacks both politically and economically, and to invest in the human and physical infrastructure to make the state economically diverse and dynamic.

These are admirable goals, but they were difficult for the economic elite to accept, for several reasons. In particular, many leading citizens were barred from holding public office because of their participation in the Confederacy. Furthermore, the post-war surge in public investment in schools, roads, and bridges was paid for by much higher taxes and large government deficits.

Not surprisingly, there was considerable public opposition in Texas to the Constitution of 1869. It was created under pressure from Washington and the Radical wing of the Republican party. It centralized political power and strengthened public institutions. And it promoted an activist social agenda supported by higher taxes and public debt.

It was also incomplete - little more than a collection of pieces that had been approved by a bare majority of the convention delegates. Aesthetically and functionally, it was overly long, complex and cumbersome.

As with earlier Texas constitutions, we see again in the Constitution of 1869 the twin tendencies of revision and accumulation. It attempted to address the perceived deficiencies of the 1866 document by changing existing provisions and adding some new ones. The essence of the previous document - itself a "hand-me-down" of sorts - remained: a bicameral legislature, separation of powers, a state court system and an executive branch with a mix of appointed and elected positions. New provisions continued to accumulate, while existing provisions remained, though in somewhat altered condition.

Traditional interpretations of Reconstruction era have held that inexperienced and often corrupt "carpetbaggers" (northerners who came to the South) and "scalawags" (white southerners who joined or cooperated with southern Reconstruction governments) imposed overly aggressive and disruptive policies on states of the former Confederacy. However, scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s showed that such views were often exaggerated, opening the way to reinterpretation of the Constitution of 1869 and the Reconstruction experience in Texas. [8]

8 For a good overview of the history of the Reconstruction period, see Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, Random House, 1967; Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1867, Harper and Row

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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