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The 1860s: Reconstruction

In the summer of 1865, many questions remained unanswered. How should southern states be readmitted to the Union? How were newly freed African Americans to be assimilated, especially in the South? Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, enacted a plan for the Reconstruction of the Union. It called for a convention process through which provisional governors would preside over individual states to repeal secession ordinances, frame a new constitution, and repudiate the war debt. Voters would then adopt the convention results and elect a governor and legislators who, in turn, would ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

With no African-American delegates and the will to meet only the minimum requirements for readmission to the Union, Texas's 1866 Constitutional Convention gave newly freed African-American men the right to sue or be sued, to contract and be contracted with, to acquire and transmit property, to obtain equal criminal prosecution under the law, and to testify orally in any case involving another African American. Significantly, the 1866 constitution did not allow African Americans to hold public office or to vote.

When the newly elected 11th Texas Legislature met in August 1866, the members refused to ratify either the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, or the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to African Americans. The legislature wanted to return Texas as much as possible to the way it was before the war and restrict the rights of African Americans. African Americans, especially former slaves, understood what freedom was supposed to mean and struggled mightily to obtain it. In many instances, the newly freed men were illiterate and lacked academic knowledge, but they immediately applied their innate intelligence upon liberation.

An anti-Johnson U.S. Congress elected in late 1866 passed the First Reconstruction Act in March 1867. Ushering in the era of Congressional Reconstruction, the law wiped out the ten southern state governments and grouped them into five military districts. Each district was to hold a convention to frame a new constitution that would give African-American males the right to vote and would ratify the 14th Amendment. Only then could a state be readmitted to the Union. Texas's new constitution, ratified by voters in November 1869, gave support to public education and granted suffrage to adult male African Americans. Shortly thereafter, the 12th Texas Legislature (1870-71) approved the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. President Ulysses S. Grant proclaimed Reconstruction in Texas at an end on March 30, 1870.

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Page last modified: August 26, 2011