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

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XIV
THE BACKGROUND FOR SUFFRAGE REVISION, 1875-1901

In 1875, the Bourbons dared not even contemplate a revision of the universal manhood suffrage provisions of the 1868 Constitution because of the fear of federal intervention. The Fifteenth Amendment had been recently ratified and ways and means of circumvention were yet to be worked out. Alabama had been redeemed only the previous year and federal troops were still in the South. In an effort to secure a convention in 1875, Bourbons promised not to place any property or educational qualification on the right to vote,1 which pledge they wrote into the declaration of rights of the 1875 Constitution.2 Because of these circumstances, the suffrage was not an issue in the Bourbon convention.3

After writing the Constitution of 1875, the primary problem of the Democrats was continued control of the state by whatever devices they might command. Their problem was made easier by the decline of the Republican party in the state and the refusal of national administrations to interfere in state affairs after 1877. For a few years after the Democratic victory in 1874, the Bourbons had to depend on the "white" counties of Alabama for continued support, because the Black Belt counties were still under Republican-Negro control. However, as soon as the Bourbons got control of the Black Belt, it became the stronghold of conservatism in the state and Black Belt leaders came to accept Negro suffrage as a positive good, especially during the "independent" movements of the late eighteen-seventies and eighties. With a weak Republican party, Democrats could manipulate the Negro vote in order to "outvote" the "white" counties of Alabama. "The enfranchisement of the colored race [declared a Black Belt newspaper] whatever may have been the motives of the dominant party when accomplishing it, has resulted well for all our people."4 North Alabama newspapers and leaders

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1
Acts of Alabama ( 1874-1875,) 112.
2
The Constitution of 1875, Article I, section 38, reads: "No educational or property qualification for suffrage or office, nor any restraint upon the same, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, shall be made by law."
3
In 1875, delegate William C. Oates in reference to the suffrage declared, "it is the best that can be ratified under the circumstances that now surround us." Mobile Register, October 7, 1875. Later, delegate George Paul Harrison declared, "it was the best we could do under the circumstances, with federal bayonets glittering about our capitol and the Negro then with his heel on the neck of the white man." Montgomery Advertiser, April 26, 1899.
4
Montgomery Advertiser, April 6, 1879, quoted in Going, op. cit., 33. In other Southern states, Wade Hampton and L. Q. C. Lamar forcefully defended Negro suffrage. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma, II, 1312.

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