The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Of Rutabagas and Redeemers: Rethinking the
Texas Constitution of 1876
PATRICK G. WILLIAMS*
BY NOVEMBER 24, 1875, THE FINAL DAY OF A CONVENTION DURING WHICH
Redeemer Democrats scrapped Texas's Reconstruction-era constitu-
tion and remade the state's organic law, delegate John Johnson was ready
to strut a bit. According to newspaper reports, the Collin County farmer,
nicknamed "Rutabaga" by citified journalists, crowed to the convention
that "He had carried every point he had started out with when he left his
county. They had 'fit' the opposition carefully and beaten them. There
were thirty-six lawyers in that body, but they had been superior to them.
They had beaten the talent of the Convention all along the line." Rather
than simply mimicking England's reigning monarch in referring to him-
self with plural pronouns, Johnson appeared to be speaking for a fac-
tion-a faction that many of his contemporaries associated with the Texas
Patrons of Husbandry, or Grange. It was widely believed that delegates
identified with the order, whom the same citified journalists accordingly
dubbed "Rutabagas," had dominated the proceedings.1
From that day to this, scholars have tended to accept such estimates of
the convention at face value, perpetuating in whole or in part "Rutabaga"
Johnson's understanding of events. The Texas constitution written in
1875 and ratified in 1876 has been taken to represent the triumph of an
agrarian bloc within the convention and within the Democratic Party over
a more developmentally oriented and cosmopolitan wing. It has been de-
scribed as a "Granger product" and even the "master work" of the Texas
Grange, and the convention understood to mark the victory of an agrarian-
*Patrick G. Williams is assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville,
and associate editor of the Arkansas Hzstorical Quarterly. He is grateful to the late Barry Crouch for
his aid and encouragement, and thanks John W. Mauer for lively exchanges on the subject of the
Texas constitution.
'Seth S. McKay (ed.), Debates in the Texas Constztutional Convention of 1875 (Austin- University of
Texas, 1930), 459 (quotation); Seth S. McKay, Making the Texas Constitution of 1876 (Philadelphia:
n.p., 1924), 178. The Austin Daily Democratzc Statesman appears to have coined this "rutabaga" ap-
pellation, which, by comparing farm delegates to a variety of turnip, seems intended to suggest
that they were unappetizmg products of the soil.
VOL. CVI, NO. 2 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY OCTOBER 2002

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed December 29, 2014.