Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
Lesson 2: Constitutional Convention, 1875: Photographs as Historical Documents
1. Background Information for Teachers:
On November 24, 1874, George S. Houston was inaugurated governor of Alabama, restoring Democratic, white, home government after a period of "Radical Republican"-controlled legislatures. The 1872-73 Alabama General Assembly had seen the Republicans control the 86-member House (44 Republicans, 21 of whom were black) with only one shy of a majority in the Senate (18 Republican, 5 of whom were black).
Among the "Redeemer" Democrats in control of the state government after the 1874 elections there was a growing sentiment for a new constitution or extensive amendments to the old Republican-authored one of 1868. Governor Houston appointed a committee to consider the question of a constitutional convention and then submitted the question to the state's voters who concurrently elected delegates. Eighty Democrats, 12 Republicans and 7 "Independents" were chosen as delegates, only 4 of whom were African Americans.
2. Suggested Lesson:
1. Discussion - Compare and contrast the two photographs.
2. Research and writing - Show the students the printed information at the bottom of the photograph. Ask them to select (or you can assign) one of the delegates to research. Give them guidelines such as:
a. Where did the delegate live?
b. What political party did he belong to?
c. What was his occupation?
d. Did he own land?
e. What was his level of education?
Photograph 1: "Reconstruction Legislature, 1872" Photographs-Subject Vertical files, Legislative bodies, Box 5, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
Photograph 2: "Alabama Senate, 1872-73" Photographs-Subject Vertical files, Legislative bodies, Box 5, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
Photograph 3: "Constitutional Convention, 1875" Photographs-Subject Vertical files, Legislative bodies, Box 4, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.