The Civil War and Reconstruction


The Civil War and Reconstruction brought renewed debates on the role and structure of state government. Between 1864 and 1879, thirty-seven new state constitutions were written and ratified as new western states were added and as the political situation changed dramatically. In the South, the so-called carpetbagger constitutions, designed to aid and protect newly enfranchised African Americans, were enacted. They were soon replaced with constitutions designed to ensure white supremacy. The Tennessee Constitution of 1870 prohibited miscegenation and white and black children to attend public school together. To prevent emancipated blacks from exercising political power, state constitutions across the South were amended or re-written to deprive them of the franchise. Mississippi's constitution of 1890 established a poll tax of two dollars and required that in order to vote a man had to be able to read, understand, and interpret any section of the state constitution. In Louisiana, which added a similar provision to its constitution in 1893, a grandfather clause excused all but African Americans from this exclusionary qualification.




The 1895 South Carolina constitution required that a citizen be able to read and understand the state constitution or own $300 in real property in order to vote. By the end of the nineteenth century, voting requirements in state constitutions prevented as many as 90 percent of African American voters in the South from voting. These state constitutional changes were supported by many state statutes and court decisions and by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which gave the Court's stamp of approval to the concept of "separate but equal" and prolonged legal segregation in America for another sixty years. This concept was implemented until landmark federal court cases and legislation of the 1950s and 1960s ruled the principle of "separate but equal" to be prohibited under the U.S. Constitution. All state constitutions continue to exist within the complex legal and political context created by dual sovereignty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore (2000) that followed the 2000 presidential elections reflects this complexity.
Summary: The Civil War and Reconstruction brought renewed debates on the role and structure of state government. The Court referred not only to the U.S. Constitution but also to the state constitution in considering the scope and power of the state legislature to set voting standards and processes within the state and the decisions.