Constitutional Development in Alabama, 1798-1901: A Study in Politics, the Negro, and Sectionalism

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE RECONSTRUCTION CONVENTION AND
THE SUFFRAGE

In December, 1865, Congress refused to seat representatives and senators from Alabama elected under the Constitution of 1865. The Johnson Plan of Reconstruction, under which the Constitution of 1865 had been written, was not replaced by the Congressional Plan, however, until the Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867. This act invalidated Johnson's plan and all that had been accomplished under it. The act made Alabama a part of the Third Military District and provided that the civil government organized under the Constitution of 1865 might remain as a provisional government unless altered or abolished by the military.1 Under this and the supplementary act of March 23, 1867, only Negroes and whites who could take the test oath2 could register and vote. The military commander was to register those eligible in each state and call for a vote on the question of a constitutional convention and the election of delegates. General John Pope, who had been placed over the Third Military District, issued orders creating boards of registration, which registered those eligible to vote in Alabama during the summer of 1867. He placed William H. Smith of Randolph County,3

____________________
1
The supplementary act of July 19, 1867, made this fact even more explicit.
2
The oath was not the simple oath of loyalty to the United States required by Johnson's plan. One had to swear that he had never been disfranchised for participation in the rebellion and had never been a state or federal official who had taken an oath of loyalty to the United States and later engaged in the rebellion. The latter qualification was incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment for officeholders but not for voters.
3
Smith, a Georgian by birth, represented Randolph County in the legislature in 1857-1858. He voted for Douglas in 1860 and opposed secession in 1861, arguing that slavery could be saved only in the Union. In 1862 he was threatened with arrest by Confederate authorities and escaped to Union lines. In 1863, he helped organize the first regiment of Union cavalry from Alabama refugees. In 1865, Parsons was appointed over Smith as provisional governor, because he was acceptable to the Montgomery delegation of loyal men that had gone to Washington as well as to the North Alabama delegation, the former of which opposed Smith. Smith, an ardent member of the Loyal League, was elected the first Republican governor of the state in 1868. The Daily State Sentinel, a Radical newspaper, published at Montgomery and edited by John Hardy, ran long biographical sketches of prominent Republicans in Alabama, including many in the Convention of 1867. Most likely the sketches were written by John Hardy, but some of them may have been written by M. P. Blue, who was attached to the staff of the Sentinel. Both Hardy and Blue were Alabama historians. A sketch of Smith is in the issue of June 28, 1867.

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