3.4.3 The Old South (1861-1877): Restoration, Reconstruction and "Redeemer" Laws


  • Ex-Confederate states changed constitutions rapidly during the Civil War and Reconstruction, in yet another reflection of  the turmoil that the era brought to the South: 
  • Most states modified their existing constitutions in 1861 to reflect the fact of secession and, prohibit abolition of slavery.  At the end of the war, they enacted "restoration" constitutions that abolished slavery. 
  • The Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867 required them to enact new constitutions guaranteeing the vote and other basic rights to blacks as a condition of regaining representation in Congress. 
  • At the end of Reconstruction some states, including North Carolina, enacted "Redeemer" constitutions that eliminated some Reconstruction-era reforms.  Other states, such as Virginia, saw less need for immediate change but later, at the beginning of the Jim Crow era (see § __), enacted new constitutions drastically limiting blacks' right to vote and their political power.
  • Reconstruction constitutional conventions were the first in American history that had a significant portion of black delegates, and they provided a showcase for the South's first black leaders.  Some conventions enshrined broad civil rights provisions and other reforms in their constitutions; others, more cautious, limited their constitutions to basic principles and left detailed reform to their state legislatures.  The patterns and extent of constitutional and legislative reform differed greatly from state to state - and the changes made by Redeemer governments after Reconstruction varied correspondingly.  
  • The tables below summarize the extent of constitutional and statutory reform in the coastal upper South states:

Delaware

Maryland

Virginia

North Carolina

Restoration Constitutions

None

1864 (has elements of both restoration and Reconstruction constitutions):*

Slavery abolished

Suffrage limited to whites

State may not compensate slaveholders for loss of slaves

Municipalities not allowed to subsidize corporations

General incorporation laws mandated

No imprisonment for debt

Homestead exemption

Married women’s property rights guaranteed

1865:

Slavery abolished

Suffrage limited to white males

1865:

Slavery abolished; slave code abolished

Reconstruction Constitutions

None

See 1864 constitution

 

1869: 

Suffrage extended to blacks

Ex-Confederates excluded from suffrage

Blacks eligible for jury service

State not allowed to subsidize corporations; ceiling put on state debt

Right to common school education guaranteed

Homestead exemption

1868: 

Suffrage extended to blacks

State not allowed to subsidize corporations; ceiling put on state debt

Right to common school education guaranteed

Homestead exemption

Married women’s property rights guaranteed

“Redemption” Constitutions

 

 

 

None

1867

Interracial marriage prohibited

Elective judiciary

Blacks allowed to testify in all situations except as limited by legislature

 

None

1876

Legislature given power to appoint county and local officials (and thus block election of black officials in majority-black areas)

Interracial marriage prohibited

School segregation required

 

Laws during the Congressional Reconstruction period

(Note:  As loyal states, Delaware and Maryland were not subject to Congressional Reconstruction)

Delaware

Maryland

Virginia

North Carolina

Suffrage granted (prior to 15th Amendment of U.S. Constitution)

 

 

X

X

Right to serve on juries granted

 

 

X

 

Discrimination in places of public accommodation prohibited

X

 

X

X

Black testimony allowed in all situations

 

 

X

 

Laws against terrorism (anti-Ku Klux Klan laws)

 

 

 

X

Right to serve in militia granted

 

 

X

 

Schools integrated

 

 

 

 

Married women’s property law

 

 

 

 

Homestead law

 

(Enacted 1851)

X

X


 

Judge John Underwood, chair of Virginia's 1867-68 constitutional convention - courtesy Library of Congress

Thomas Nast, "Colored Rule in a Reconstructed State" (1874) - courtesy Library of Congress

“I want it distinctly understood that the old slaveholder’s coach moves too slow for us.  They design again to enslave the blacks if they can.  The design to make him a slave by cutting him off from all opportunities for labor, by starving and oppressing him.  No slaveholder is competent to frame a constitution for a free people. … We shall recognize manhood suffrage if we succeed in doing nothing else.” – Thomas Bayne, in Virginia’s 1867-68 constitutional convention