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THE CONSTITUTION OF 1870.
The State having been re-constructed and restored to its place in the Union, remained under the control of the minority party, which was strong in East Tennessee, but included only an insignificant portion of the white population of the other divisions. At least two-thirds of the white voters of the State, representing an equal portion of intelligence, culture and property, were disfranchised, and a condition so unnatural, could not have continued long under any circumstances. Its termination was hastened by the increasing dissatisfactions of the conservative element of the dominant minority, and factional rivalries and jealousies speedily offered an opportunity, which was seized promptly, for the majority to recover their rights. In 1867, the conservative unionists nominated a candidate for Governor, but the issuance of a proclamation by the Governor, on the first of July of that year, giving notice that the State guard would be present in "rebellious localities to enforce the franchise laws," caused his withdrawal. In 1868, the famous "Ku Klux Klan" had become thoroughly organized, and the Legislature, having been convoked in special session, passed a law making participation in its proceedings a felony punishable by fine and imprisonment. The Governor was authorized to increase the State guard, and to declare martial law at his discretion. Of these powers he availed himself promptly by placing several counties under military control. But all efforts to suppress the “Klan” were unavailing, and according to the best authority, its influence continued for some time to be salutary in the middle and western divisions of the State. It is hardly possible to declare unqualified approval of a secret organization maintained in direct violation of positive law, but it cannot be doubted that the “Ku Klux Klan," for a considerable portion of its existence, and while confining itself to its original design, was protective and beneficial. That it was continued longer than was necessary may be true, and that toward the end of its existence, the more violent element in it, or outsiders who assumed its name and methods, were guilty of acts that are neither to be excused nor palliated, is certainly true.
In February, 1869, Governor Brownlow resigned, having been elected to the United States Senate, and D. W. C. Senter, Speaker of the State Senate, succeeded him and was a candidate before the Republican Convention in that year. His opponent was William B. Stokes. The Convention disagreed, the conservative element nominating Senter, and the radical element Stokes. The disfranchised Southern men, including members of the old Whig party, as well as the Demo
crats, combined to support Senter on account of his conservatism, and partly by methods that were not technically regular, though perhaps necessary, and certainly of salutary effect, their practical enfranchisement was accomplished, and Senter was triumphantly elected. At the same time a Legislature was chosen in which the Democratic or Confederate element had a majority of both houses. This body undertook at once the repeal of the objectionable legislation of the Republican administration, but its most important action to authorize the people to call a Constitutional Convention at election in which all male citizens twenty-one years of age were entitled to vote without presenting any certificate, or establishing any other than the foregoing qualification. The Convention, which was called by a popular majority of over forty thousand, was really a political expedient for the purpose of restoring the citizenship of the majority of the white voters of the State, and securing to them the control of affairs which justly belonged to them, and perhaps, also of giving them an opportunity to show that they accepted the results of the war. Public offices were filled by men elected or appointed under the Republican regime, who were, in most instances, members of the radical wing of that party, and the newly enfranchised majority was determined to wrest the State from their control, being actuated by the conviction that the change was necessary to the public welfare. The Convention of 1870 was thus produced by an extraordinary, unprecedented, and wholly unnatural condition of affairs, and was not called, as the Convention of 1834 had been, to adapt the Constitution to conditions created by the normal and healthy development of the community. The State had made steady progress from 1834 to 1861, but had not so far outgrown the Constitution as to make a new one necessary. The amendments of 1865, while proposed and adopted in the most irregular manner, were proper in view of the results of the war, and were sufficient to harmonize the Constitution of the State with that of the United States. The war had resulted in a ruinous destruction of values, and in the complete overthrow of the industrial system, but while the old order had been swept away, the new one had not been definitely established. The future was inscrutable and threatening, and the people were not yet in a position to reform their organic law so as to meet the demands which these great changes would inevitably create. That the Constitution, as it stood in 1870, was not in need of immediate amendment is very clearly shown by the fact that the Convention made hardly a single change of importance, which might not have been as effectively and as lawfully accomplished by a statute. Nevertheless, the Convention was called, and met at Nashville, on the 10th of January, 1870, while the drastic Federal policy of re-construction was in operation in most of the Southern states, and while, abstractly considered, it was indisputably the wiser policy to await developments. It was, probably, the most intellectual body of men that ever assembled in Tennessee for any purpose. The president was General John C. Brown, who had been the leader of the Democratic party in the recent movements, a man whose abilities were of a high order, and who deserves a larger place in history than has been accorded him. The venerable Neill S. Brown brought to the deliberations of the Convention ability, spotless character, and a ripe experience. James D. Porter has proved himself in many capacities one of the strongest, purest and best of our public men. Twice Governor of the State, and honored more than once by high Federal appointments, universally esteemed by the people of the State, he exhibits in his old age the best qualities of the Southern gentleman and statesman of the old school. John Netherland, one of the old Whig leaders held a prominent position in two generations of strong lawyers. John Baxter possessed extraordinary intelligence and force of character, was a lawyer of high standing, and a born leader of men. Joseph B. Heiskell, formerly a member of the Confederate Congress, and afterwards Attorney General of the State, was for nearly half a century one of the leaders of the bar of Tennessee. William H. Stephens, who with Heiskell represented Shelby county, was among the prominent men of the State, and was afterward strongly supported for the office of Senator. John F.