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Texas has functioned under five constitutions (Johnston 142). Its current constitution, however, was written in 1876 (Johnston 146). The constitution of 1876 is Texas’ sixth constitution and by far, represents the central rule that governs Texas (Handbook of Texas Online). The constitution underpinned Texas’ relationship with the Spanish and the Mexican (Handbook of Texas Online). To understand the Texas Constitution of 1876 is to first understand its historical context.
The first Europeans to discover Texas were the Spaniards (Johnston 142). By 1821, a Texan named Stephen Austin bargained for 300 families to settle in Texas (144).
The first constitution of Texas came about in 1827. The constitution of Coahuila y Tejas was established following Texas’ independence from Mexico (Dye). The constitution instated an executive branch that is headed by a governor and vice governor (Dye). This constitution saw Texas mediating between Native American tribes and Mexicans (Dye).In 1836, upon Texas’ independence from Mexico, a new constitution was drafted (Dye). Framed from the constitution of the United States, the new constitution of Republic of Texas saw the legalization of slavery.
It also marked the creation of a bicameral Congress and the election of a president. Nine years after, Texas entered the United States. A new constitution was created (Dye). It introduced an elected bicameral legislature, comprising a governor and lieutenant governor. The new constitution included sections on ensuring support for public schools through permanent fund creation, separation of property rights for married women, among others (Dye). The Civil War followed and with it saw a ratification of a new constitution.
The constitution of 1866 put an end to slavery (Dye).
When Civil War ended, the United States began to patch up the states that had withdrawn from US (Frantz and Kracht 145). This period, also called Reconstruction, brought about the creation of a Reconstruction Constitution. The Reconstruction Constitution of 1869 included provisos that caused disagreement with Texans. Moreover, this new constitution gave increased political power to the governor (Dye). When Republican Governor Edmund Davis abused his power, Texans rallied to the capital to force evict him (Dye).
The new government, led by the Democrats, drafted a constitution to replace the Constitution of 1869. The Democrats sought to limit the powers for the legislature and the governor, limited taxes, power over schools and corporations (Handbook of Texas Online). By 1874, a joint legislative committee began working on amending the old constitution (Handbook of Texas Online). Finally, on 15 February 1876, with a vote of 136,606 cast against 56, 652, the Constitution of 1876 was adopted (Handbook of Texas Online).
The Texas Constitution of 1876 was drawn out of these principles- decentralization of authority, fragmented chain of command and public opinion (Dye). More so, the Constitution of 1876 was greatly influenced by farmers and was underlined by its belief that a government could avoid surpluses by curtailing what it can do (Dye).
Texas’ relationships with the Spaniards and Mexicans were seemingly present in the document as evidenced by its provisions in sections that dealt with lands, debts, water, spousal relations and adoptions and legal procedures (Handbook of Texas Online). Texas was also influenced by the Jacksonian agrarianism and thus the constitution consisted of provisos on separation of power of the state and church (Handbook of Texas Online).
It consisted of 17 articles (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations). The preamble of the Texas Constitution of 1876 is a one-liner appealing for God’s support to Texans in establishing the constitution (Jamail Center for Legal Research). Moreover, the constitution is a lengthy document, drawing a word count of over 100,000 (Dye).
Article 1 pertained to a long text on the bill of rights (Jamail Center for Legal Research). The article asserted on issues such as equality of rights, religions examinations for office entry, freedom of speech and press, among others ( Handbook of Texas Online). The Texas legislature was divided into two – the Senate, comprising 31 members, and the House of Representatives, with less than 150 members (Handbook of Texas Online). They received an allowance of not more than five dollars a day (Handbook of Texas Online) One County Commissioner was elected per county (Summers). The County Commissioner, together with the four elected commissioners [who distributed per county] comprised the County Commissioners Court (Summers). The Texas Supreme Court handled all civil cases while the court of appeals took care of criminal cases (Handbook of Texas Online ).
On education, the Texas Constitution of 1876 set up a permanent fund to support the public system (Handbook of Texas Online). To do this, a tax was imposed on all male residents aging from 21 to 60 (Handbook of Texas Online). Portions of land sales were also given to schools (Handbook of Texas Online). The constitution made it compulsory to set up an academic institution for higher education. Out of it came the creation of the University of Texas in 1871 (Handbook of Texas Online). A Permanent University Fund was also established (Handbook of Texas Online).
Precinct voting and poll tax were provided in the 1876 constitution (Handbook of Texas Online). The legislature had the power to provide for construction of new railroads (Handbook of Texas Online). Private corporations that would be established must protect the interest not just of the stockholders but the public as well (Handbook of Texas Online).
Like any other laws, the Constitution of 1876 is not perfectly written. One of its major flaws is what the constitution thought of as its strength- decentralization (Dye).This fragmented power has curtailed the government’s authority to use its power to the utmost, adapting to the demands of the changing economy (Dye). Additionally, the constitution contained provisos that , over the course of years, made it vulnerable, among which were limitations on voter participation, low compensation of the legislature, gaps in the public education system, budget restrictions, and fragment executive authority (Dye).
Moreover, some parts of the 1876 constitution are no longer at par with today’s standards and circumstances (Dye). For instance, when it was first ratified, Texas’ major unit of government was the county (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations). Nowadays, the local unit government consists of counties, cities and town. This causes problems within the government (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations).
More than 100 years later, the Texas Constitution of 1876 has had approved 221 amendments (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations). Among its amendments include establishment of state lottery and improvement in property exemptions on school property tax (Dye).
A constitutional convention in 1974 was also conducted, in an effort to revise the 1876 constitution (Dye). The revision, however, was rejected by the Legislature due to problems over certain issues such as gambling and right-to-work provision (Handbook of Texas Online) A proposal to rewrite it cropped up in 1999 but also ultimately turned down by the Legislature (Handbook of Texas Online). Professor McKay added that out of the 155 proposed amendments, only 84 have been ratified (Barker). A report was organized to change the Texas Constitution of 1876 without stripping it off its original form.
The Reorganized Texas Constitution Without Substantive Change was written based on research conducted since 1976 (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations). Documents from the 1973 Constitutional Revision Commission, the 1974 Constitution Convention and the 1975 session of Texas legislature were organized as part of the research (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations).
The report aims to correct the misleading provisions indicated in the constitution. An example given is on a section relating to suffrage. Article VI does not state the provisions adapted by the US Supreme Court (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations).
The Texas Constitution of 1876 is an explicit reflection of the state’s history, its values and cultures. Some have said that amending it would only result to losing its consistency, not just in syntax but also its essence (Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations).
Barker, Eugene. “Seven Decades of the Texas Constitution of 1876.” Southwestern
Historical Quarterly Online. 47.1(2007). 29 July 2007.
Dye, Thomas R. Politics in America. 6th Ed. 2005. Prentice Hall. 29 July 2007.
Frantz, Joe and James Kracht. Texas The Study of Our State. Illinois: Scott,
Foresman & Company., 1988.
Jamail Center for Legal Research.29 March 2006. Tarlton Law Library.
29 July 2007. <tarlton.law.utexas.edu/>.
Johnston, Bernard. Merits Student Encyclopedia. Ed. USA: Macmillan Educational
Handbook of Texas Online. 6 May 2005.Handbook of Texas Online.
29 July 2007. < http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/>.
Summers, Frank. History, duties of commissioners court. 7 February 2007.
Cameron Herald. 29 July 2007. <http://www.cameronherald.com/>.
Texas Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. 28 May 2007.
Constitution Society. 29 July 2007. <http//www.constitution.org/>.
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