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Rethinking the Texas Constitution of 1876


An evaluation of the article reveals that the Texas Constitution is assumed to be a representation of the ideals of the Grangers or farmers. In effect, agrarian voters are seen as the chief influencers of the constitution’s grudging and explicit nature on issues like official salaries, tax rates, and state debts. It is further assumed that their primary concern was to ensure that the state economically develops, with an ability to cater to the needs of the citizens.

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Therefore, they sought to enforce biennial legislative sessions, refused that public money should be spent on immigration and railway construction activities, ensured that the state implemented corporate regulations among others. However, this myth has, in turn, overshadowed the scholarly literature meant to explain the governance of the state. In effect, it is through this mistaken knowledge about how the constitution was made that hinders a complete understanding of its management. In effect, a summation of the article’s main points reveals that the author’s aim was to prove that the ideals enforced in the Texas constitution are not solely the effort of the Grange Democrats, but also non-grange Democratic members.


Owing to nature in which the myth has spread, it has found its way to Post-bellum southern politics; that seeks to communicate the experience of the state to both Texan and non-Texan specialists. Among some of the accounts that the myth tends to affect are Michael Perman’s readings of the Road to Redemption, which views the 1875 convention as a rout of the business-minded.

Another reading with the same pre-occupation is the New South Texans reading, which tends to assign all the credit to the Grangers for their effort in defeating a poll tax limit in Texas (Williams 233). Nevertheless, a common tale about the 1875 proceedings implies that Democratic Grangers were responsible for the enforcement of major state legislation, which necessitated that citizens should pay a poll tax to qualify as voters.

However, it is only J. Morgan Kousser who agrees that, despite Democrats comprising a majority of people that advocated for scrapping off of the poll tax move for voters, they were also responsible for voting against it. He cites that, most of the Democrats that joined the fourteen Republicans to oppose the tax vote were, in fact, Grange members. Kousser further cites that Seth McKay also makes the same claims in the writing, Reconstruction to Reform (Williams 233). In effect, the major turning point at the convention that led to a change in votes was the influence and concern of delegates from the Democratic counties. Most of these delegates stated that a poll tax would notably burden their white constituents living in rural areas.

In fact, it is these concerns that outweighed any impulse they had to contain the power of the African-American voters in the state, as only a handful of counties were dominated by black majorities. Therefore, to exclusively identify this cause with Grange delegates is not fair. This is because some of the Democratic delegates keen with the scuttling of the poll, including the man that introduced striking the tax from the suffrage article, as well as other people that argued against the disfranchisement were not patrons. In fact, an estimate of about fourteen non-democratic members was in opposition to the poll tax voters as the most definitive persons, just as were many of those that were in opposition to the cause.

Moreover, even though most Democrats that identified as Grangers voted against the tax, Grangers also constituted the majority of the delegates that were in support of the suffrage restriction cause. The number of Grangers that endorsed the cause amounted to about 13 out of the total 28 voters. Among these were two men that were most active for the cause; namely, John Whitefield and John Reagan. Therefore, the key to voting against this issue surely was not the Grange or other influential interest group, but the number of the non-democratic delegate voters that were available in the home district at the time. Ideally, the high tendency of the Grange representatives to vote against the restriction of the suffrage relied on the premise that most of the people came from counties that are mostly populated by Democrats and a white majority.

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Further, other components of the Texas Constitution affirm that the state’s right to regulate the construction of railways, as well as other regulations present in the document are due to the Granger’s efforts. However, some of these measures like the management of the railroad were not a concept of the Grangers. In any case, these efforts were a cause spearheaded by both non-patrons and patrons, with a substantial majority of the non-Grange Democrats joining the Grange Democrats in support of the railroad regulation (Williams 234).

In effect, the broad support that culminated within the convention to ensure corporate regulation was not a surprising event as it had gained popularity, not in the farmers alone but also most people from the business community. For instance, some reliable people like the Galveston daily news and the Galveston cotton exchange had already requested for the regulation of the railroads even before the 1875 convention. Thus, most of the corporate groups and business people of the Texas community howled against the construction of the railroad whenever it occurred to them that they intended to divert businesses away from the community through discriminatory or extortionate rates.

Moreover, most of the crucial constitutional regulations, like reservation of the state to set high rates, as well as prevent discrimination, along with the restriction of railway lines with competing or apparel lines was not a Grange constitution amendment in 1875. All these resulted from an anticipation of the statutes, even before the formation of the patrons of husbandry in Texas politics. In fact, the Texas regulation had previously enacted railway regulations from 1853, and by 1873, most lawmakers were consistently incorporating these provisions into company charters (Williams 236).

Another regulation that was not as a result of the agrarian efforts was the restrictions imposed on the state that concerned giving subsidies to private enterprises. The need to ban the state from giving grants to private companies in the construction of the railroad bears no precedent in the Texas constitution or any agrarian measures. In fact, these actions had been put in place since 1872 by both Republicans and Democrats (Williams 237). Therefore, the matter about prohibiting subsidies to private companies generated no controversy. Thus, it was passed without any amendment attempts, just as it had been reported by the oversight committee, one which was characterized by Democrats with no affiliation to the Grange.


Overall, the fundamental idea suggested by the reading is that key constitutional amendments are not as a result of a unanimous Grange voting. In fact, just as much as Grange Democrats were instrumental in shaping some of these ideas, so were the non-grange Democrats. Therefore, the actions of the convention like taxation, education, and suffrage challenge the idea that Grangers were solely responsible for crucial areas of the constitution, also highlighting the fact that these people also never voted as a bloc. Instead, they would divide themselves over an array of issues discussed at the convention.

Work Cited

Williams, Patrick. “Of Rutabagas and Redeemers: Rethinking the Texas Constitution of 1876.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 106.2 (2002): 230-253. Print.

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