While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Claude Elliott

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1868–69. 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.qqv 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.qqv 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).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Claude Elliott, "CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1868-69," accessed July 09, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjc04.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...