The History of the Texas Constitutions
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The History of the Texas Constitutions
The unique history of Texas as an entity and its constitutions that have evolved through a series of amendments to create Texas that we know today distinguishes Texas substantially from other states. A Constitution contains a set of essential principles or established precedents that directs how a state or other organization is governed (Sajó & Uitz, 2017). The state of Texas has passed through numerous iterations since 1824. Texas was considered a part of the United States of Mexico between 1824 and 1876, an autonomous republic, a state within the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America (Gantt, 2021). Therefore, Texas constitutions encompass all the documents that legally facilitated the establishment of the entity of Texas, outlined its people’s rights and responsibilities, and explained the domain and powers of the government. Texas constitutions, therefore, are all the constitutions that were drafted and promulgated from 1824, leading to its current Constitution of 1876. The current Texas Constitution is the seventh Constitution which has been preceded by six more constitutions between 1824 and 1876, with distinct differences as a result of amendments and redrafting to meet the different political ideologies and assure proper governance. At least 507 amendments have been made to the Constitution of Texas of 1876 to adequately address the changing needs of its people as well as ensure to facilitate effective and proper governance (Gantt, 2021).
Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States (1824)
The Mexican federal Constitution of 1824 was the first governing document that led to Texas’ constitutional government. It was the Mexican republic’s first constitution after the Mexican War leading to its independence from Spain. To some extent, this constitution was patterned after the US Constitution but with more resemblance to the Spanish Constitution of 1812 (Schofield, 2019). Some of the key components of the Mexican federal Constitution of 1824 include making Congress the final interpreter of the Constitution, making the Catholic religion the state faith, and marshaling public treasury support for the church. In the Constitution, the state legislative bodies elect the president and the vice president for four-year terms, and the Congress’ lower house could elect if there was a lack of majority or there is a tie (Atilano, 2021).
Furthermore, Congress was comprised of two houses and required to convene annual meetings from 1st January to 15th April. The Supreme Court and other department and district superior courts held judicial power. The Supreme Court has 11 judges and the attorney general but the Constitution did not attempt to define the confederacy’s state rights (Rojas, 2020). Other important stipulations in the Mexican federal Constitution of 1824 include the selection of senators by their respective state legislators for four-year terms. Therefore, the Constitution of 1824 was a republican Constitution that came at a point where the Mexican people had limited or no previous self-government experiences. As such, it set several democratic goals and established a federal republic comprising of the Mexican federal district, four territories, and 19 states (Rojas, 2020). The Mexican federal Constitution of 1824 was drafted to help govern the Mexican people after the exodus of the Spaniards. Besides, the Mexican Republic Constitution of 1824 had a provision that each of its 19 states should frame its Constitution, resulting in the drafting of the Coahuila and Texas Constitution.
Constitution of Coahuila and Texas (1827)
The state of Coahuila and Texas was formed from the combination of Coahuila state and the previous Spanish province of Texas. As such, the legislature of the resulting state was planned at Saltillo in August 1824 with Texas being represented by Baron de Bastrop (Haynes, 2017). The framing of the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas two years and was published on March 11, 1827. Therefore, the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas 1827 divided the state into three departments with Texas being one of the departments, represented as the District of Bexar. The Constitution also declared Catholicism as the state religion; assured citizens liberty, equality, security, and property; and forbade slavery and its import six months after the Constitution is promulgated (Haynes, 2017). Besides, citizenship was defined in the Constitution and its penalization was outlined. Popular vote elected twelve deputies as the unicameral legislature who represented the legislative power, and as such, Texas had two deputies. Other than their legislative functions, this body had sweeping powers as could elect officials if a majority was not met during regular voting, regulate militia and the army, and act as a grand jury on issues relating to election and politics (Gantt, 2021). Another key attribute of the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas 1827 was its mandate to protect the freedom of the press and promote education.
Within the Constitution, the governor and his deputy were elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The elected governor was empowered to grant pardons, make legislative recommendations, lead the state militia, and ensure the laws were obeyed. Similarly, the vice governor’s role was to serve as the overall police chief to oversee the departmental chief of police appointed by the governor and also preside of the council (Gantt, 2021). Other notable stipulations of the Constitution include the state courts holding judicial authority. However, the courts were not allowed to interpret the law rather just try cases such that violations were by a judge without a jury. This, therefore, meant that the Constitution’s promise for a trial by jury was never established. Furthermore, the promotion of education via setting up the school system was never accomplished. The few Anglo-Texans could not read the laws that were mainly published in Spanish. These issues with the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas 1827 led to widespread resistance to the government under this document, prompting new proposals by the Convention of 1833 to establish the state of Texas separate from Coahuila (Gantt, 2021).
Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836)
In the middle of Texas, the 1836 Convention of fifty-nine delegates decided to hastily draft a Constitution for the new Republic of Texas which was ratified by the republic’s people via a vote. Considering the short time available for drafting, the Constitution that was drafted incorporated most US Constitution’s sections as well as Mexican law (Howell & Swanlund, 2017). The document is a resultant of the persistent threat of attack by Mexican cavalry. As such, the Constitution of the Republic of Texas of 1836 was drafted by combining portions of the US Constitution and from other modern state Constitutions. The new document was easy to read since it used popular words and phrases of older American constitutions. Common American features such as the three government branches (executive, legislature, and judicial); citizenship, “with the descendants of Africans and Indians”; checks and balances; male suffrage; bill of rights; and amendment methods (Acosta & Winegarten, 2021). Furthermore, the new document’s executive provision was similar to the American presidency, and the four-level judiciary system which comprised justice, county, district, and supreme courts. Evidently, the provisions in the Republic of Texas’ constitution were influenced by the Jacksonian ideas present in the states from which most of the delegates came. For instance, 14 of the delegates came from Tennessee. Annual elections were mandated, and office terms were shortened, ranging from representatives’ one-year terms to judges’ four-year terms. Similarly, some provisions were adopted from Spanish-Mexican law such as homestead protections and exemptions, community property, debt relief (Howell & Swanlund, 2017). Other notable laws include provisions that protect the rights of individuals in the republic’s unoccupied lands. Besides, the document incorporate the common law of England that facilitated handling of all criminal cases. This allowed Anglo-American immigrants to adapt well to the institutions of law and government in the Republic of Texas.
Constitution of Texas (1845)
This is considered by Constitutional scholars as one of the best-drafted state constitutions. Texas became extra careful when drafting its first state Constitution, resulting in the Constitution of 1845 that outlined Texas law in a clear and simple approach. This Constitution facilitated the establishment of the government of Texas as a state in the US. The Convention members of 1845 who framed the Constitution of Texas referred heavily to the Constitution of Louisiana and partly on the document drafted by the Convention of 1833 to promote a general plan of government and bill of rights (Gantt, 2021). The legislative department of the Constitution of Texas of 1845 was composed of 19-33 senators serving four-year terms and 45-90 House of Representatives serving two-year terms. Similarly, the constitution stipulated a two-year term for the governor with no more than four years in office in any period of six years. The governor was empowered to appoint the secretary of state, attorney general, and judges of supreme and district court, and confirmed by the senate (Morrow, 2020). The legislature was responsible for electing government officials including the controller and treasurer through biennial elections. Another notable change was that gospel ministers were rendered ineligible to hold legislative offices. The constitution further reassured homestead protection, community property recognition, and promotion of education. Amendments to the constitution would be proposed and ratified by a two-thirds vote of each house. As such, only one amendment providing for state official elections was ever made on the constitution of 1845.
Constitution of Texas (1861)
The constitution was drafted after Texas seceded from the Union in an attempt by the Convention delegates to transfer the statehood of Texas from UAS to the Confederate States of America. There were very few changes to the 1845 constitution, which include changing references from the United States of America to the Confederate States of America. The Constitution of 1861 also included a provision to mandate the state elected officials to ascertain their loyalty to the Confederate States of America through an oath (Gantt, 2021). As such, the new constitution was considered a conservative document that meant to mitigate fears of secessionists’ radical nature as well as smoothen Texas’ transition into the Confederacy. Besides, despite the new document’s elimination of the provision clause for slave emancipation, the secession movement ensured it did not legalize the resumption of the African slave trade.
The Constitution of Texas (1866)
The Constitution of 1866 resulted from the amendments made by the Convention of 1866 to the fundamental law, in addition to other actions relating to the presidential reconstruction. The proposed amendments were ratified via an election. The Constitution of Texas 1866 was amended with the move to allow Texas to rejoin the United States. Several changes were introduced in the new document including declaring the Decree of Secession null and void, acceptance to abolish slavery, provision of some civil rights to freedmen, renounce all war debt (Gantt, 2021). Furthermore, the governor terms were increased to 4 years, with at most 8 years of services in any 12 years. The governor was empowered to veto appropriations. Legislatures were mandated to be white men who must have lived in Texas for more than five years. Matters of education were also affected where black children would attend separate schools.
Constitution of Texas (1869)
The constitutional Convention of 1868-69 convened under the supports of Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867 but could not successfully complete a constitution. As such, the federal military officers ordered the work of the Convention to be gathered and published, resulting in the Constitution of 1869 which was accepted by the voters (Thompson, 2019). The new document’s bill of rights was a reflection of the intention of its framers on condemning secession and nullification. Furthermore, the United States Constitution was declared the supreme law. Issues such as slavery were prohibited in the Constitution of Texas of 1869 and it also recognized equality for all people. Other alterations include the setting of the House of Representatives and Senators to ninety members and thirty respectively. The terms of Senators were increased to six years. The fact that the 1869 Constitution was formulated in haste and under pressure from Washington, prompted much controversy among Texan political and social factions which also led to the disputing of the document’s legitimacy (Thompson, 2019).
Constitution of Texas (1876)
The Constitution of 1876 was written when Congress of 1873 was mainly controlled by Texan Democrats who decided Texas need a new Constitution (Gantt, 2021). The drafters of the Constitution of 1876 ensured that it generally reflected the public opinion unlike the Constitution of 1869, thus remaining in force. Therefore, the 1875 Constitutional Convention assembled in Austin replaced the 1869 Constitution with the notion that the new constitution had to hand power back to the people by restricting the state government. Some of the restrictions on the state government include creating a plural executive, the need for a balanced budget, the election of state judges by the people, and ratification of amendments to the people’s vote. Since its ratification, the 1876 Constitution has undergone a series of amendments leading to the addition of 216 new sections, removal of 66 original sections, and removal of 51 added sections (Gantt, 2021). Therefore, the current Texas constitution structure is considered Preamble, with 17 articles and 491 amendments, but unlike the US Constitution, it does not contain a ‘necessary and proper clause which renders it one of the longest state constitutions in America after Alabama’s constitution (Gantt, 2021).
The evolution of Texas Constitutions was affected by different political ideologies from the dominance of political parties during the framing of the different constitutions. For instance, Democrats are considered liberals while Republicans are conservatives, and as such, their respective dominance means Congress will be inclined to make provisions that are aligned with the ideologies of the ruling political party, which determines the accepted by the electorate (White et al., 2017). Texas is believed to have experienced Democratic dominance from 1848 t0 1960. From after Reconstruction, Texas politics were dominated by the Democratic Party until the 1990s. It is apparent that Texas voted for the presidential Democratic candidate in every election from 1848 until the victory of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 except in the 1928 election. Considering the fact that Democrats were pro-slavery pre-Civil War and Abolitionists, they influenced changes in the Texas Constitutions that include amendments that create provisions such as poll tax and white primaries that led to the disenfranchisement of Latinos, blacks, and poor whites. Evidently, Texas Democrats were divided as partly liberal, partly conservative, and moderate, meaning Republicans could easy dominate Texas politics easily especially towards 1960. For instance, the Republican strength increased in the early 1960s.
The division of Democrats on the support for the civil rights movement is evident from the fact that that outside of the South supported the movement while those in the South opposed it. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act 1964 and Voting Rights of 1965, the southern white electorate started to support the Republican Party. As such, the prominence of the Republican Party has grown since the 1960s, and it became the dominant political party in Texas by the 1990s (Huerta, J. C., & Cuartas, 2021). Since then, Texas has remained a majority Republican state to the present, rendering it a more conservative state than it is liberal.
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Gantt, F. (2021). 2 The Development of the Executive Article in Texas Constitutions. In The Chief Executive In Texas (pp. 15-39). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Gantt, F. (2021). 9 The Governor and the Legislature: Special Sessions. In The Chief Executive In Texas (pp. 220-234). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
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Huerta, J. C., & Cuartas, B. (2021). Red to Purple? Changing Demographics and Party Change in Texas. Social Science Quarterly, 102(4), 1330-1348.
Morrow, J. (2020). There Is Only One Texas Constitution.
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Sajó, A., & Uitz, R. (2017). The constitution of freedom: An introduction to legal constitutionalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford university press.
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Thompson, T. L. (2019). Representations of Texas Indians in Texas Myth and Memory: 1869-1936 (Doctoral dissertation).
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