Constitutional Convention of 1866

By: Claude Elliott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 6, 2020

On November 15, 1865, Andrew Jackson Hamilton, provisional governor of Texas, issued a proclamation fixing January 8, 1866, as the date for an election of delegates to a constitutional convention to meet at Austin on February 7. The number of delegates was to be equal to the number of members in the Texas House of Representatives, and no person excluded from President Andrew Johnson's general amnesty proclamation was eligible as a delegate unless pardoned by the president. Few former secessionists were barred from voting for constitutional delegates. When the delegates assembled, it became apparent that there were two strong factions in the convention-radical Unionists and radical secessionists-with the extremes of each group holding most power. Among the extreme Unionists I. A. Paschal, A. H. Latimer, Robert H. Taylor, and E. J. Davis were the most prominent, while J. W. Throckmorton and John Hancock represented the moderate Union view. O. M. Roberts, James W. Henderson, T. N. Waul, and former governor Hardin R. Runnels were of the uncompromising wing of the secessionist party. Throckmorton, who opposed secession but had fought as a Confederate soldier, was elected president of the convention by a coalition of moderate Unionists with the extreme and moderate wings of the secession party.

Matters of organization and arguments over requiring the delegates to take the constitutional oath consumed the time of the convention for the first three days. On the fourth day Hamilton's message outlining what would be expected of the convention was received and read. The governor made it clear that half measures would not satisfy the United States government and warned the delegates that hasty action might postpone indefinitely the day Texas would be represented in Congress. As minimum requirements for restoration of normal relations with the Union he recapitulated the points formerly set out: that the right of secession must be specifically denied; that acquiescence must be given to the abolition of slavery; that a fair and impartial determination of the social and political status of freedmen must be arrived at; and that the debt incurred by the state in the prosecution of the war must be repudiated.

The question of secession appeared on February 13 in an ordinance presented by Latimer that declared the Secession Ordinance null and void ab initio. This ordinance represented the view that the right of secession had never existed, as against the view that the right existed until the end of the war. This resolution was referred to a committee on the condition of the state. Division in the committee over the ab initio question resulted in majority and minority reports. After a long and bitter debate the delegates decided that the ordinance was merely null and void and made no reference to dates.

On the question of the abolition of slavery the members agreed that the Thirteenth Amendment, by then a part of the Constitution, had abolished slavery and that since they had taken the oath to support that Constitution, they had indirectly abolished slavery. They reasoned, therefore, that a direct and formal ratification of the amendment was not necessary and voted to allow the taking of the constitutional oath to suffice.

With greater unanimity than on most questions, the members agreed that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime, should exist in Texas and that freedmen should be protected in their rights of person and property. The right to sue and be sued, to contract and to be contracted with, should likewise be theirs. Freedmen should be prosecuted in the courts under the same rules as obtained for Whites, and they should be allowed to testify in court in cases that involved one of their own number. They also agreed that they should testify in such other cases as the legislature might deem proper. The idea of Black suffrage found little support even among the radicals, and Blacks were banned from holding public office.

The fourth question that the convention had been specifically enjoined to consider, that of repudiating the war debt, was disposed of with relatively little friction. The war debt, together with the entire civil debt incurred from January 28, 1861, to August 5, 1865, was repudiated.

The convention had at first delegated to itself legislative and constituent powers supreme and final; but on March 27, after it had declared secession null and void, cancelled the war debt and fixed the status of freedmen, it voted to submit to the electors the proposed changes in basic government known as the Constitution of 1866. The convention adjourned on April 2, 1866.

Claude Elliott, Leathercoat: The Life History of a Texas Patriot (San Antonio, 1938). Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). Rupert N. Richardson, Texas: The Lone Star State (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943; 4th ed., with Ernest Wallace and Adrian N. Anderson, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981).

Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Claude Elliott, “Constitutional Convention of 1866,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 6, 2020