Two Counties in Crisis

Measuring Political Change in Reconstruction Texas

Robert J. Dillard ,

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Two Counties in Crisis: Measuring Political Change in Reconstruction Texas

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The last of the Deep Southern states to secede, Texas experienced a cultural consolidation through the trauma of war and loss that has political relevance today. With the perceived indignities of Reconstruction, formerly pro-Union voices in the Texas Borderlands found themselves more culturally aligned with the former Confederacy by 1876, when the Texas Constitution was ratified. Two Counties in Crisis offers a rare opportunity to observe how local political cultures are transformed by state and national events. Utilizing an interdisciplinary fusion of history and political science, Robert J. Dillard analyzes two disparate Texas counties—traditionalist Harrison County and individualist Collin County—and examines four Reconstruction governors (Hamilton, Throckmorton, Pease, Davis) to aid the narrative and provide additional cultural context. Commercially prosperous and built on slave labor in the mold of Deep South plantation culture, East Texas’s Harrison County strongly supported secession in 1861. West Texas’s Collin County, characterized by individual and family farms with a limited slave population, favored the Union. During Reconstruction Collin County became increasingly conservative and eventually bore a great resemblance to Harrison County in its social, cultural, and political leanings. By 1876 and the ratification of the regressive Texas Constitution, Collin County had become firmly resistant to all aspects of Reconstruction. Both counties found themselves enculturated with the rest of the state, establishing for Texas an identity as a former Confederate state that has persisted for generations. The reactionary Texas Constitution of 1876, written as a backlash against perceived Northern radicalism, ultimately dismantled state education, reduced the state tax base, and spawned a legal black hole of amendments that Texans remain stuck with today. Overwhelmingly ratified by popular vote, the suboptimal Texas Constitution was not solely the product of political maneuverings from the economic elite, but a collective refusal of federal Reconstruction supported at the local level, where the politics of fear and group polarization had transformed former Unionists into die-hard rebels.
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