Galvestonians and military reconstruction, 1865-1867
Shannon, Stephen Franklin
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
Traditional literature on reconstruction in Texas considers the period as one in which democratic institutions such as home rule are abused and pre-empted by a hostile military authority. By the citation of specific instances and by implication historians paint a tragic image in which local government is rendered feeble, local officeholders are removed without the consent of their constituents, civil courts are attacked, and Texans are left to the mercy of a vengeful conqueror. Such general statements cannot be applied to Galveston, the headquarters of the army of occupation from 1865 through 1867. At the outset of the period islanders found the army command to be extremely solicitous of the needs of whites in reference to the labor situation and of the maintenance of local government. Any official disputes that arose were based on jurisdictional conflicts that were speedily resolved. The army actually lent strength to local provisional government by incorporating it into the military regime. Wholesale removals of personnel did not occur, nor was the insular society upon which government rested disoriented in any way. Both army and local government cooperated to police freedmen and to keep them productive. The only Federal authority that consistently confronted local government in behalf of freedmen was the Freedmen*s Bureau. This agency realized only minimal success in aiding the island's blacks, for necessary support from the regular army was not always present and islanders were naturally hostile to any power that threatened to modify the labor situation. Islanders learned that divisions within the reconstructing powers might be exploited to their advantage. By late 1866 a renewed confidence to resist reconstruction policy had developed on the island so that an overt confrontation ensued after the appointment of a district commander dedicated to the impartial administration of justice. The difference in attitude between this commander and his predecessors appeared to give substance to a charge of "military despotism." Despite various conflicts with the local population, however, this district commander did not remove local officials at random nor did he seek to disfranchise as many white islanders as possible. Local government continued to exercise its usual powers. Galvestonians, therefore, were not deprived of control of their own local institutions nor were they denied participation in government more stringently than required by Congressional acts. They did, in fact, blend a remnant of Confederate authority into reconstruction government, re-establish their economic regime with free black labor, and develop a strong will to resist further reconstruction programs.