The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994 Page: 14
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Because the 1866 Texas black code has been viewed as an anomaly, it
is necessary to set the laws in context and analyze them. First, by briefly
scrutinizing past perspectives on the code, we can ascertain how Texas
Reconstruction historiography has perceived them. Second, through a
short discussion of the political and economic situation at the time the
Texas legislature passed these statutes, the reasons for their passage be-
come clear. Finally, a dissection of the laws themselves and how they at-
tempted to regulate and coerce black Texans demonstrates that the
state's politicians intended to circumscribe severely the freedmen's con-
stitutional rights and maintain a stable laboring force.
The Southern black codes were a series of laws directly or indirectly
applied to the former slaves and passed by the states comprising the de-
feated Confederacy. Enacted between the close of the Civil War in 1865
and the imposition of Congressional Reconstruction in early 1867, the
statutes dealt with labor and contracts, apprenticeship, vagrancy, entice-
ment, domestic relations, property-holding, court testimony, litigation
procedures, criminal penalties, a revised penal code, convict leasing,
and numerous other aspects of the freedpeople's lives. Designed to re-
strain and control the free blacks, they penalized, fined, and imprisoned
them for the slightest transgression.
Nineteenth-century Texas writers, some of whom had been partici-
pants in the events they wrote about, found the black codes necessary.
Charles Stewart, a former Texas congressman, claimed that the 1866
convention and subsequent legislature followed presidential and con-
gressional requirements, which included providing for the "future edu-
cation of the negroes; for the equal preservation of their lives, liberty
and property, and for the bestowal of other rights and privileges upon
them." Oran M. Roberts believed that emancipation "made it incumbent
upon the Legislature to endeavor to regulate the conduct and control of
a large body of persons, who had heretofore been provided for, taken
care of, and governed for the most part by the owners."3
2 Older views are expressed in John M. Mecklin, '"The Black Codes," in South Atlantic Quarterly,
XVI (July, 1917), 248-259; George A. Wood, 'The Black Code of Alabama," ibid., XIII (Oct.,
1914), 350-360; J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton, "Southern Legislation in Respect to Freedmen,
1865-1866," in Studies in Southern History and Politzcs (New York: Columbia University Press,
s Charles Stewart, "Reconstruction in Texas," in Why the Solid South? or, Reconstruction and Its
Results, ed. Hilary A. Herbert (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Co., 189o), 353 (1st quotation); O.
M. Roberts, Our Federal Relations From a Southern Vew of Them (Austin: Eugene Von Boeckmann,
Printer, 1892), 79 (2nd quotation). Hubert Howe Bancroft barely mentioned the codes in his
North Mexican States and Texas (2 vols.; San Francisco: The History Co., 1886, 1889), II, 485-486.
Stewart's memory was faulty, as the legislators did not provide for black education. Had the gov-
ernment required that blacks be enfranchised, he insisted, it would have been implemented.
Texans would have submitted to these conditions due to the "arbitrament of the sword" and as a
duty imposed upon "brave men." Stewart, "Reconstruction in Texas," 353. See James Marten,
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 97, July 1993 - April, 1994, periodical, 1994; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117154/m1/42/: accessed October 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.