In keeping with Section 5, of the Second Reconstruction Act, the Constitution of 1868 was submitted to the electorate, with the requirement that it be approved by a majority of those voting, and that a majority of the registered voters participate in the balloting. Alabama was the first, and subsequently only, of the former Confederate states to hold a referendum based upon the provisions of the Second Reconstruction Act.
At the request of General Ulysses S. Grant, General George Meade, commander of the Third Military District, established a five-day voting period, February 1-5, 1868. At that time, there were approximately 170,000 registered voters in the state.
At the expiration of the five-day voting period, the final tally was 70,182 "for" the Constitution, and 1,005 "against" - a clear majority of those voting, but the total of the two was woefully short of the requisite majority of registered voters.
The foremost reason for this deficit became increasingly clear throughout the five-day period of balloting. Those white voters still eligible to vote, simply did not show up at the polls. It was by no means incidental. Rather, it was the result of an intense effort of non-participation by white voters, in order to prevent the total voter participation from reaching the required majority. The immediate success of this effort is borne out by the numbers: Of approximately 95,000 registered black voters, over 63,000 participated in the referendum; of approximately 75,000 registered white voters, only 6,700 bothered to vote.
Amidst charges of corruption from both sides, General Meade conducted an investigation and finally concluded that the election had been fairly conducted and that ratification had "lost on its own merits". He forwarded the results of the election, along with his suggestion that Congress provide for the convocation of a new convention.
Meade's opinions were ignored. On March 11, 1868, Congress passed the Fourth Reconstruction Act over President Johnson's veto. Among other features, the Act repealed the provision of the Second Reconstruction Act, requiring participation by a majority of a state's registered voters in ratifying new constitutions. As Alabama was the only former Confederate state to have held its constitutional referendum under the provisions of the Second Reconstruction Act, Congress was presented with the choice of accepting Meade's report, or making the new Act retroactive.
While not formally doing so, Congress chose the latter. Delayed in its immediate consideration of the Alabama situation by the ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Johnson, the matter was essentially shelved until June, 1868. By that time, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina had ratified new constitutions under the provisions of the Fourth Reconstruction Act. When the United States House of Representatives originated an Act of Admission for these states, an amendment was adopted, adding Alabama to the group. The bill passed the House, 109-35, and all of these states were conditionally re-admitted to the Union, pending ratification by their General Assemblies of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Senate passed the bill, 31-5, and became law after it was re-passed over the veto of President Johnson.
The Alabama General Assembly ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, in a special session held in July 1868. Alabama was therefore re-admitted to the Union.
Thus, Congress, avoiding a direct confrontation with Meade's disconcerting report, nevertheless gave oblique approval to the Constitution of 1868.