Framing the Solid South

The State Constitutional Conventions of Secession, Reconstruction, and Redemption, 1860-1902

Paul E. Herron

The South was not always the South. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, those below the Potomac River, for all their cultural and economic similarities, did not hold a separate political identity. How this changed, and how the South came to be a political entity that coheres to this day, emerges clearly in this book—the first comprehensive account of the Civil War Era and late nineteenth century state constitutional conventions that forever transformed southern politics.

From 1860 to the turn of the twentieth century, southerners in eleven states gathered forty-four times to revise their constitutions. Framing the Solid South traces the consolidation of the southern states through these conventions in three waves of development: Secession, Reconstruction, and Redemption. Secession conventions, Paul Herron finds, did much more than dissolve the Union; they acted in concert to raise armies, write law, elect delegates to write a Confederate Constitution, ratify that constitution, and rewrite state constitutions. During Reconstruction, the national government forced the southern states to write and rewrite constitutions to permit re-entry into the Union—recognizing federal supremacy, granting voting rights to African Americans, enshrining a right to public education, and opening the political system to broader participation. Black southerners were essential participants in democratizing the region and reconsidering the nature of federalism in light of the devastation brought by proponents of states’ rights and sovereignty. Many of the changes by the postwar conventions, Herron shows, were undermined if not outright abolished in the following period, as “Redeemers” enshrined a system of weak states, the rule of a white elite, and the suppression of black rights. Southern constitution makers in all three waves were connected to each other and to previous conventions unlike any others in American history. These connections affected the content of the fundamental law and political development in the region.

Framing the Solid South makes a welcome contribution to our understanding of southern politics, state constitutions, and American political development. In a meticulously researched book that draws on a close reading of state constitutional convention debates, Paul Herron offers valuable insights and explanations regarding the South’s distinctive constitutional and political development.”

— John Dinan, author of The American State Constitutional Tradition

“Paul Herron has written an important book. In Framing the Solid South, Herron assembles persuasive evidence from the records of state constitutional conventions to show that it was in the many conventions held between 1860 and 1902 that a single collective Southern identity was formed. From the offenses explained in the secession conventions, through the painful acceptance of defeat in the reconstruction conventions, to the careful construction of a white electorate at the turn of the century, delegates grappled with the traumas and recovery of the southern states. Herron offers both a new history of the South and a new and surprising account of what constitutional conventions can accomplish.”

— Amy Bridges, author of Democratic Beginnings: Founding the Western States

Southern politics, to an unusual degree, has been a product of the process Herron traces. What his book tells us about these constitutional conventions and the documents they produced is key to understanding southern history and the South today.

About the Author

Paul E. Herron is assistant professor of political science at Providence College.