The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume 11, July 1907 - April, 1908 Page: 281
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Presidential Reconstruction in Texas. 281
The time of holding district courts and the form of the districts
were to conform to acts passed since secession "out of considera-
tions of public policy and convenience." Negroes were to be tried
and punished in the same manner as whites, but the Governor left
the question of their admission as witnesses to be determined by
the courts themselves on the ground that it was a judicial and not
a political question, and that an executive decision might be over-
ruled by some subsequent Supreme Court, or that the principle
might fail to be embodied in the Constitution by the future con-
vention.1 Attorneys-at-law not in the classes excepted from the
general amnesty were, upon taking the amnesty oath in open
court, to be allowed to practice.2 In all appointments, subscription
to the amnesty oath was required, but preference was given to men
of undoubted loyalty in so far as such matters could be deter-
mined. In many counties fit "union" applicants were so scarce
that it was necessary to appoint secessionists. A notable case of
this sort was the selection of Richard Coke, later Governor and
United States Senator, as judge of the Nineteenth Judicial Dis-
trict. Though there were frequent complaints from disgruntled
"loyalist" office-seekers, the appointments seem to have given gen-
The chief duty of the Provisional Governor, as set forth in the
or nothing and an injustice would be worked upon the debtor. Later, by
proclamation of December 5, the courts were empowered to proceed in
such cases to fin l judgment, but execution was stayed.
1A. J. Hamilton to I. R. Burns, Executive Records, Register Book, 281.
The courts, thus left to themselves, varied greatly in their rulings, Judge
C. C. Caldwell, in his charge to the grand jury of Harris county, in-
structed it that the abolition of slavery "has swept away those distinc-
tions both as to protection and liability to punishment which have hitherto
existed between whites and blacks." These distinctions and the exclu-
sion of negroes as witnesses had been necessary to the secure tenure of
the slaves; but "when the reason of the law fails, the law likewise fails,"
therefore "the late slaves, now freedmen, stand upon terms of perfect
equality with all other persons in the penal code." Hence all persons
were alike subject to the penal law, and it necessarily followed "that per-
sons of African descent" were "competent witnesses where any of their race
were parties." Tri-Weekly Telegraph, November 29, 1865. This was the
view that Hamilton himself held. In most cases, however, the courts
considered themselves bound by the State laws of 1860 which prohibited
negro testimony in any form.
2This rule was later so far modified as to allow attorneys and other
persons in the excepted classes, when they had been recommended by the
Governor to the President for special pardon, to follow their professions
pending the decision of the President.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume 11, July 1907 - April, 1908, periodical, 1908; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101045/m1/285/: accessed September 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.