Issues on African American Suffrage



This concerns the divisions created by the topic of suffrage for the ex-slaves in Texas.  Keep in mind that the ex-slaves represented a source of cheap labor that the agricultural interest of Texas had become depended upon for the continuance of their way of life.  The ex-secessionists were still trying to retain control over the African Americans as a forced source of labor.


Many conservative looked for a means to compromise with the issue of universal suffrage.  It was the belief of many conservatives that even by giving the African American no more than the right to serve on juries and to testify in trials (without extending them the right to vote), they could avoid “black suffrage.”  However, the more conservative among the ex-secessionists “saw allowing blacks to serve on juries as a first step toward depriving agriculture of its necessary labor force …” and as a result, they were doing all that they could to establish “a new system (of control) that would provide coerced labor.”[1]


“Of the issues that faced Union­ist politicians, none created more internal disagreement than the definition of status for freedmen. Three major factions within the party were apparent early, factions that correlated with the particular wartime experiences of their adherents. Refugees, es­pecially those who had contact with Republican politicians in the North, held a view on granting civil and political rights to the freedmen that approximated those of the people they had associated with. This did not mean they had become "abo­litionized." They had come to believe that if the Southern states were to be rapidly restored, concessions on these issues would have to be made to the North. Having been in the North, they could not delude themselves that they would ever be allowed to maintain slavery; therefore they had been forced to develop alternative definitions of the status of blacks in postwar society. For the Texas Unionist who had remained at home and perhaps fought for the Confederacy, understanding what the North ex­pected would be more difficult, especially when the local news­papers suggested that more viable alternatives existed than those indicated by the returning refugees. Disagreement over what should be done concerning the freedmen would be a major impediment to the unity of Unionism.


“When the refugees returned home they brought with them views on the question of blacks that would have horrified most antebellum white Texans and did frighten those who had stayed in the state during the war. A few Unionist refugees had adopted the belief that the situation demanded a "radical" redefinition of the status of blacks in society.”[2]

[1] Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism in Reconstruction Texas (Austin, TX:  University of Texas Press, 1980), 28.

[2] Carl H. Moneyhon, Republicanism, 26