Constitutional Convention of 1868-69

By: Claude Elliott

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 19, 2020

Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Fifth Military District (Texas and Louisiana) under Congressional Reconstruction, called an election to be held in each Texas county seat between February 10 and 14, 1868, to determine whether a constitutional convention should be held and to elect delegates to such a convention. Democrats were opposed to the convention, but the Radical Republicans won easily by a vote of 44,689 to 11,440. Of those who voted for a convention, 36,932 were Black. In all of Texas only 818 Blacks voted against the calling of a convention, while 52,964 (41,234 Whites and 11,730 Blacks) of the registered voters failed to vote. The convention assembled at Austin on June 1, 1868. The ninety delegates consisted of eighty Whites and ten Blacks. Six of the ninety had been members of the Constitutional Convention of 1866. Most of the delegates had been antebellum opponents of the Democrats and represented Republicans of varied interests. The Democrats, being in the minority, generally served as a balance between the different Republican factions, casting votes with one particular group to counteract the proposals of another. The Republicans were basically divided into four blocs, with no one faction really dominating. The largest bloc was led by A. J. Hamilton and supported Governor Elisha M. Pease. It represented Unionist strongholds in Northeast Texas and supported agricultural and commercial interests, law and order, and Black civil rights. James Winwright Flanagan headed the second bloc, which represented East Texas interests. It favored economic development, state division, and railroad interests, but did not favor benefits for freed slaves. The third bloc represented Unionist supporters from western counties and included Morgan C. Hamilton, Edmund J. Davis, James P. Newcomb, and Edward Degener. This group also supported state division, but had broad views on extending Black civil rights. George T. Ruby, a Black agent for the Freedmen's Bureau schools, led the fourth block and supported Black civil rights and free education.

The purpose of the convention was simply to write a constitution, but it was apparent from the beginning that the delegates wished to address broader issues. The convention soon became a contest between different factions pursuing their own agendas. The first trial of strength came in the organization when the radicals elected E. J. Davis over Judge Colbert Caldwell to be president of the convention. Progress on the constitution was exceedingly slow because the delegates gave so much time to such controversial matters as the division of Texas, railroad charters, and lawlessness in the state. Another key issue considered was the ab initio question regarding the legality of state laws passed under Confederate rule. Funds for the expenses of the convention were exhausted on August 31, while the factions were still debating and before they had begun the consideration of a constitution. The convention, therefore, adjourned and did not get back into session until the first Monday in December, the money to complete its sessions having been raised by a special tax. About ten days before adjournment the delegates got down to the business of writing a constitution and, in addition, by their acts bound the first legislature to assemble after the adoption of the constitution to ratify the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments. On February 8, 1869, the convention broke up in confusion, having devoted less than a month's time to the task for which it had convened. Forty-five of the ninety delegates signed the partially assembled constitution. The Constitutional Convention of 1866 remained in session only fifty-five days, completed a constitution, and spent $70,000. By contrast, the 1868–69 convention was in session 150 days, did not complete a constitution, and spent over $200,000.

By order of the convention an election was held in July, when the proposals of the convention were approved by the electorate as the Constitution of 1869.

Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). John Sayles, The Constitutions of the State of Texas (1872; 4th ed., St. Paul, Minnesota: West, 1893).

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 1868-69,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 19, 2020