Mississippi’s third constitution arose in the context of federally imposed martial law during Reconstruction. National officials created five provisional military districts to govern the ten states (other than Tennessee, where reforms had already taken place) of the former Confederacy until they enacted constitutional reform. Mississippi citizens, including former slaves, passed an 1867 referendum approving a convention.
The following January, the “black and tan” assembly, as opponents labeled it because of the predominance of African American and “disloyal” white delegates, opened in Jackson. By all accounts, it was a passionate and divisive gathering that featured bitter controversy and impulsive resignations. The convention ended in May, having approved a document that would be submitted to the people for ratification, the only time in the state’s history that such a vote would be held. Mississippians rejected the draft constitution by a vote of 63,860 to 56,231, the only former Confederate state to fail to ratify its new constitution. White supremacist and Democratic opposition, instability among radical and moderate Republicans, and objections to a proposed bill of attainder in the document doomed its passage. The bill of attainder provision would have barred from public office any citizen, military officer, legislator, or convention delegate who had served or sympathized with the Confederate cause.
Undaunted, Pres. Ulysses S. Grant decreed that the constitution would appear on the ballot for the upcoming November general election. This time, however, voters would weigh in not on the document in its entirety but on each individual article: all were approved except for the section that restricted public service. The 1868 constitution not only abolished slavery but also extended an array of civil liberties to all citizens, including limited property rights for women. Seats in the legislature were apportioned based on the number of eligible voters in districts. The document also established free public education throughout Mississippi, though that issue later became entangled in the unremitting racial tension wrought by white supremacy. The lieutenant governorship was restored with a four-year term that matched the governor’s, and the governor regained the power to appoint judges. Ratification facilitated Mississippi’s return to the Union in early 1870, the first former Confederate state to do so.
- Barbara Carpenter, ed., Understanding Mississippi’s Constitutions (1989)
- George Etheridge, Mississippi Constitutions (1927)
- Mississippi Law Journal (April 1986)
- John W. Winkle III, The Mississippi State Constitution: A Reference Guide (1993)