Reconstruction in Texas
Digital History ID 3680
John H. Reagan
Reconstruction was the most daring experiment in American history. It represented an attempt to transform the institutions and patterns of social relations of the Old South. It gave black Americans in the South their first taste of political power. Out of Reconstruction came constitutional amendments that extended citizenship and voting rights to African Americans. This era also witnessed the federal government's first efforts to create social welfare programs.
In the end, however, Reconstruction failed establish a less racially divided society. Its failure doomed the South to decades of relative economic underdevelopment and ensured that the South would be dominated by a single political party. It also left the entire country with the unfinished task of achieving full economic and political equality to the descendants of slaves.
In Texas, Reconstruction was particularly tumultuous. Violence was widespread. Reportedly, 379 blacks were murdered by whites between 1865 and 1868. Vigilante groups, including Ku Klux Klan, terrorized blacks and white Republicans. For most of Reconstruction, no more than 3,000 troops were in the state, and most of these were stationed on the frontier. In one part of northeastern Texas comprising 1,838 square miles, there were no more than nine soldiers to help protect the rights of African Americans.
Blacks had little say in Texas’s Reconstruction era government. Only 9 of the 90 delegates to the state’s constitutional convention were black. Nor did it take long for “redeemers” to seize control of Texas’s government. As early as 1872, Democrats gained control of the lower chamber of the Texas legislature, and won the governorship the next year.
In this document written in August 1865, a former member of the Confederate cabinet called on white Texans to accept President Andrew Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction for fear that Republicans might adopt a more radical plan involving black suffrage.
The State occupies the condition of a conquered nation. State government and State sovereignty are in abeyance, and will be so until you adopt a government and policy acceptable to the conquerors. A refusal to accede to these conditions would only result in a prolongation of the time during which you will be deprived of a civil government of your own choice…. In order to secure yourselves again the blessings of local self-government, and to avoid military rule, and the danger of running into military despotism, you must agree: First, to recognize the supreme authority of the Government of the United States…and its right to protect itself against disintegration by the secession of the States. And second, you must recognize the abolition of slavery, and the rights of those who have been slaves to the privileges and protections of the laws of the land…. While the Government offers its terms of the restoration of the State to the Union, it demands no other sacrifices than those already made by the result of the war, of renouncing the right of secession and recognizing the abolition of slavery, with its necessary consequences. These demands being complied with, the civil governments will be organized, the military government withdrawn, your members will be admitted to their seats in Congress, and the State will be in the Union on an equality in all respects with the other states…. To the conferring of the elective franchise on your former slaves, I anticipate stubborn and sincere opposition…. I have no doubt that you can adopt a plan which will fully meet the demands of justice and fairness, and satisfy the Northern mind…. This can be done by: First, extending the privileges and protection of the laws over the negroes as they are over the white, and allowing them to testify in the courts on the same conditions….
Source: John H. Reagan, Memoirs (New York, 1906), 286-95
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