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The Texas Constitutions

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1 The Texas Constitutions
By Loren Miller

2 Constitutions “A constitution should be short and obscure” Napoleon Bonaparte, 1803
If Napoleon’s statement about constitutions is to be taken at face value, then those persons responsible for drafting the present Texas Constitution failed miserably. The 23,500 word document (not including amendments) is neither brief nor obscure. The legislature has proposed 656 amendments and 474 have been approved by the voters making the Texas constitution over 87,000 words in length (second to Alabama) 2013


4 Constitutions In comparison to national constitutions, state constitutions are typically longer and amended more often. When the document in which the government is based contains a lot of specificity, this reduces the flexibility in which the document may be interpreted.

5 Constitutions Twenty-five percent of all state constitutions have been adopted after World War II. The average state has had three constitutions. Louisiana with 11 and Georgia with 10 top the list

6 Constitutions “A constitution should be flexible, concise and dedicated to the fundamental principles of government” The Texas constitution fails all three tests: “ill-organized, forbiddingly written document.” State Politics, 1984 “As bedside reading, it would be a Texas-sized sleeping pill.” Kim Quaile Hill and David Mladenka, 1993 “having to read the Texas constitution is ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’” Leon Blevins, 1993

7 Texas Under Spain ( ) Spain established the first European claim to what is now Texas in 1519 when Cortez came to Mexico. The first Spanish settlement in Texas, the Ysleta Mission near present-day El Paso, was not established until 1681. Until Mexican independence in 1821, other Spanish missions, forts, and civil settlements gradually followed.

8 Texas Under France ( ) In an attempt to expand west of Louisiana, France in 1685, laid claim to eastern Texas near the Gulf Coast. Though claimed by Spain, the nearest Spanish settlements were hundreds of miles away. A French nobleman founded a colony called Fort St. Louis, but by 1690 shipwreck, disease, famine, hostile Indians doomed the colony and France’s claim.

9 Constitutions of Texas
Between 1827 and 1876, Texans drafted and ratified seven constitutions, each reflecting the politics of the period and the history of the state. Coahuila y Tejas (1827) The Republic of Texas (1836) The Statehood Constitution (1845) The Constitution for the Confederacy (1861) The Constitution of Presidential Reconstruction (1866) The Constitution of Congressional Reconstruction (1869) The Constitution of 1875

10 Coahuila y Tejas (1827) The first constitution governed Texas while it was still a part of the Mexican Federation. Texas was joined with Coahuila as one state, although Coahuilan representatives dominated the legislature.

11 Coahuila y Tejas (1827) The constitution featured:
A community property system A homestead exemption from bankruptcy Promote education A separate executive, legislative and judicial authority A unicameral legislature Establishment of Catholicism as the state religion

12 Coahuila y Tejas (1827) The first constitution governed Texas while it was still a part of the Mexican Federation. Texas was joined with Coahuila as one state, although Coahuilan representatives dominated the legislature. Texas lobbied for their own state within the Mexican Federation, but their requests were denied. Mexico was rightfully concerned that an independent Texas state within Mexico would soon want annexation to the United States.

13 Republic of Texas (1836) On March 2, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas declared independence from Mexico and formed an interim government under a constitution that was drafted in less than three weeks. David Burnet was selected as interim president Most of the delegates were from the South and the document reflected the American influence. Brief and flexible Bicameral legislature and an elected chief executive Alamo Flag After statehood in 1845, this flag became the state flag

14 War for Independence The election of Santa Anna as president of Mexico in 1834 was initially viewed by Texas as a positive event as they believed that he supported their autonomy within a loose federal state. However, Santa Anna soon sought to consolidate power by centralizing control over all of Mexico, including Texas. By early 1836 Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande at the head of a large army: The Alamo (3/6/36) Goliad (3/27/36) Sam Houston’s army retreated eastward.

15 War for Independence Confident of victory, Santa Anna divided his forces. One column was sent to capture the provisional government of Texas One column was sent to find and destroy the Texas army One column was sent to drive the fleeing civilians out of Texas Santa Anna pursued Houston’s army, but was outmaneuvered, caught napping, and routed in the Battle of San Jacinto (4/21/36) Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco which recognized Texas independence.

16 Republic of Texas (1836) From 1836 to 1839 the government of the Republic of Texas met in temporary quarters first at Washington-on-the-Brazos, then in Columbia, and then in Houston. In 1839, Edwin Waller was charged with making Austin the capitol city of the Republic.

17 Republic of Texas (1836) The leading figures in the new nation were experienced politicians. Sam Houston was elected president Served in the U.S. Congress and was the former Governor of Tennessee Mirabeau Lamar Served in the state legislature of Georgia

18 Republic of Texas (1836) The constitution featured:
Separation of powers into three branches A bicameral legislature Checks and balances A bill of rights Democratic selection of government officials

19 Republic of Texas (1836) The people also overwhelmingly approved a referendum calling for annexation to the United States, but the United States was not ready for Texas. It would come in as a slave state and Jackson feared a hostile Northern reaction General Santa Anna repudiated the Treaty of Velasco. Hence, Mexico still claimed Texas. The United States risked war with Mexico and was not prepared for war. So Texas remained an independent republic until 1845.

20 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
By the 1840s, annexation became more acceptable to the people of the United States, who believed that the future of the country was tied to westward expansion. James K. Polk was elected president with a platform of Manifest Destiny (the inevitable expansion of the United States to the Pacific). A joint resolution of Congress passed both houses of Congress and on March 3, 1845, Texas became the 28th state.

21 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
The annexation agreement contained some unusual provisions: Texas could divide itself in to as many as five states The Texas flag could fly at the same height as the U.S. flag Texas was responsible for paying off its foreign debt Texas would retain title to its public lands (unclaimed land primarily in Western Texas) This land was to be sold to pay off the debt

22 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
Mexico had threatened to declare war on the United States if they annexed Texas. They did not follow through on this threat. Relations remained tense. Texas claimed that their southern border was the Rio Grande River, while the Mexican government claimed that Texas’ southern border was the Nueces River. President Polk ordered the commander of United States forces in Texas (Zachary Taylor) to move his forced into the disputed territory.

23 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
Polk sent Congressman James Slidell to Mexico to negotiate the purchase of the disputed territory. His mission failed General Taylor sent troops to the Rio Grande (territory claimed by Mexico), and shots were fired. Polk then received Congressional approval for a declaration of war against Mexico.

24 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
Mexico City was captured in September of 1847 and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in 1848 which ceded the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande as well as modern day California and New Mexico to the United States.

25 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
The state drafted a new constitution which was approved by Congress and ratified by the voters. This constitution was well-written, appropriately designed, and the best constitution ever produced by the state. It borrowed heavily from the state constitutions of other Southern states and of the Republic of Texas. Many provisions from this constitution were incorporated into subsequent state constitutions.

26 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
The constitution featured: Separation of powers into three branches A bicameral legislature A democratic form of government Elected legislative and executive positions Appointed judicial positions Homestead and community property provisions

27 The Statehood Constitution (1845)
In 1850, the state legislature appropriated money for a permanent capitol on the site of Capitol Square (the current site of the capitol).

28 The Constitution of the Confederacy (1861)
A state convention was held in January of 1861 which passed a resolution, later ratified, calling for secession from the Union. Sam Houston warned Texans that northern numbers and industrial capability would overwhelm the South Most Texans came from the South The vote was 46,153 for succession and 14,747 against Affirmation of “states rights” and the notion that the union was designed originally as a confederacy, in which sovereign states possessed a right to come and go

29 The Constitution of the Confederacy (1861)
Texas was admitted to the Confederate States of America, and a new constitution that was drafted that was little different from the constitution of 1845. All references to United States of America were replaced with Confederate States of America.

30 Texas

31 The Constitution of Presidential Reconstruction (1866)
Abraham Lincoln’s plan for bringing the Southern states back into the Union was very lenient.* If 10% of the people who had voted in the 1860 presidential election would swear their allegiance to the United States, then the state could elect their own state government (Ten-Percent Plan). *In 1868, the Supreme Court in Texas v. White ruled that secession was unconstitutional. Hence, the states of the Confederacy had never really left the Union.

32 The Constitution of Presidential Reconstruction (1866)
Andrew Johnson began to implement Lincoln’s plan by appointing A.J. Hamilton as provisional governor. His task was to restore civil government Registration of voters Assess and collect taxes A convention was called to draft a new constitution. The 1866 constitution is similar to that of 1845. As required by the national government, the convention abolished slavery, and repudiated the war debt and the ordinance of secession.

33 The Constitution of Presidential Reconstruction (1866)
A new legislature was elected and a new governor was inaugurated (J. W. Throckmorton) On August 20, 1866, Andrew Johnson proclaimed the insurrection at an end. While hindered by federal troops, Throckmorton made steady progress in returning order to the state

34 The Constitution of Congressional Reconstruction (1869)
In the November elections of 1866, the radical Republicans gained control of Congress. They chafed at the leniency of presidential Reconstruction and insisted on more punitive measures including the removal of former Confederate leaders from state governmental positions.

35 The Constitution of Congressional Reconstruction (1869)
Congress passed additional Reconstruction Acts: The South was divided into military districts with a military leader superior to civil officials. All voters had to take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Ex-Confederates were prevented from voting; Blacks were enfranchised Demanded new state constitutional conventions that would be open to voters of both races.

36 The Constitution of Congressional Reconstruction (1869)
E.M. Pease was appointed as provisional governor and he called for the convening of a constitutional convention in April of 1868. 90 delegates (10 were African-American and many others were Carpetbaggers) Many provisions of this constitution are items that reformers of today would support: Annual legislative sessions Cabinet style leadership for the governor Greater power at the state level and less at the local level

37 The Constitution of Congressional Reconstruction (1869)
In the gubernatorial election of 1868, the moderate faction led by A.J. Hamilton was defeated by the more radical supporters of E.J. Davis. Davis defeated Hamilton by fewer than 800 votes of over 79,000 ballots The constitution was approved by over 65,000 votes. In March of 1880, President Grant ended military rule in Texas. Officially, Reconstruction was over.

38 The Constitution of 1875 To many Texans, Reconstruction did not end in 1870. The Texas Legislature was dominated by the supporters of E.J. Davis (Radical Republicans). A state police and a state militia were created under the control of the governor. The governor was given power to fill vacancies in the city, county, district and state levels. The office of state printer was created (subsidized by the government and thus sympathetic to the government) to print official documents.

39 The Constitution of 1875 In September of 1871, a taxpayers convention met to protest the high salaries of government officials, violations of the state constitution and the allegation that the Davis administration was bankrupting the state. In 1872, Grant lost Texas to the Democratic candidate, Horace Greeley, and Democrats took control of the state legislature. By 1873, many newspapers were calling for the convening of a constitutional convention.

40 The Constitution of 1875 In 1873, Democrat Richard Coke defeated Governor Davis by more than two to one, but the governor refused to leave office. When the local militia took the side of Coke, Davis beat a hasty retreat. In 1874, Democrats gained control of the state judiciary. By 1875, the last vestige of the Republican administration was the Constitution of Most Texas believed that this too needed to be replaced.

41 The Constitution of 1875 In early September of 1875, a constitutional convention met in Austin. Of the 90 delegates: 76 were Democrats; 14 were Republicans (including 6 blacks) Average age was 45 72 were immigrants from other Southern states; 19 from Tennessee About 50 had come to Texas between 1840 and 1870 and had first hand experience with Reconstruction 33 lawyers; 28 farmers; 3 merchants; 3 physicians; 2 editors; 2 teachers; 2 mechanics; 1 minister; and 1 postmaster Many had held high ranks in the Confederate Army; 3 had been Union Army officers None had been members of the Convention of 1869

42 Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1875

43 The Constitution of 1875 Almost half of the delegates were members of the Texas Grange, a farmers organization. They favored frugality and anti-monopolistic business practices Members favored low taxes and limited governmental services Members favored governmental regulation of the railroads, banks and other corporations Members favored a limited public school system Members wanted a poll tax as a suffrage requirement



46 The Constitution of 1875 The new constitution included a provision for financing a new capitol building. In 1881, just as the plans for a new capitol were finished, the 1853 capitol burned to the ground. The new capitol, financed by the sale of three million acres of public land, was completed in 1888.

47 XIT Ranch Land in the Texas Panhandle was given to a group of Chicago
investors as compensation for the construction of a new state capitol in Austin. The land (3,000,000 acres) covered portions of 10 counties. This became the XIT Ranch and operated from 1885 to 1912.

48 The Constitution of 1875 The delegates were experienced in governmental affairs, but not very well read in the writings of the great philosophers. These were people who had been uninvolved in decision-making and they now had the opportunity to draft a state constitution to their liking. “We know that the convention has relatively but a few able men in its composition, but those we deem very able, with sound clear judgment.” San Antonio Herald, 1875

49 The Constitution of 1875 Goals and Objectives
Restrict the power of the state government Many believed that excessive tax money was spent to fund inappropriate government activities Promoting railroad construction Excessive funding of public schools Public debt had increased twenty times over what it had been in 1866 Further the interests of the agrarian community Limit the power of banks and railroads Place most of the power at the local level

50 The Constitution of 1875 The new constitution was longer and more detailed than previous state constitutions. Limit on legislative powers: Legislators were to meet in biennial sessions and only for a maximum of 140 days Legislator’s salary was reduced; any increase in salary would require a constitutional amendment Required legislators to create a balanced budget By including detailed sections on education, finance and railroad regulation, it forced legislators to propose constitutional amendments if they wanted to adopt policy changes

51 The Constitution of 1875 Limit on executive power
The executive branch was to consist of seven persons, all elected The governor was given the responsibility to “execute the laws” but not the power to do so The governor’s salary was cut The term of office was reduced to two years from four While the governor could appoint minor officials, he could not remove them

52 The Constitution of 1875 Limit on judicial power
The judicial article provided for the election of all judges to relatively brief terms The court system was divided into two segments (civil and criminal) thereby limiting the types of cases individual courts could hear By writing a long and detailed constitution they left little room for judicial interpretation

53 The Constitution of 1875 The Bill of Rights: Texans wanted to make sure that individual liberties would never again be trampled. 30 very detailed and lengthy amendments Can not be imprisoned for debt No monopolies are allowed Cannot use state money for religious purposes Cannot deport a citizen from the state for any offense committed in Texas

54 Comparing Constitutions

55 The Constitution of 1875 The constitution reflected measures that were popular in the 1870s; unfortunately the constitution was time-bound to that era. Hence, bringing Texas into the 20th and 21st centuries falls on the amending process rather than the legislative process. The fundamental law for the state is kept up to date not by custom, usage and interpretation, but by the amending process.

56 Uniquely Texas Many settlers came to Texas to escape debts, so the Texas Constitution promised that no one could be imprisoned for debt and your homestead could not be seized for debt. Even in bankruptcy, your homestead and personal property up to $60,000 for married couples and $30,000 for singles is protected. Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401k, 403b, and educational IRAs) are protected.

57 Uniquely Texas Texans enjoy a general protection against garnishments (seizure of wages to pay debts). Exceptions include spousal and child support, repayment of student loans, and payment to the IRS Texas is a community property state Property acquired before marriage or after marriage by gift or inheritance remains separate, but all property acquired in marriage is held in common There is a provision that requires officeholders to affirm a belief in a “supreme being” Violates the U.S. Constitution (1st Amendment)

58 Amendments Years # Proposed # Adopted Average #/Year

59 Constitutional Amendments November 5, 2013
Authorize the legislature to provide for a property tax exemption for the spouses of veterans. Eliminate a requirement for the State Medical Education Board and the State Medical Education Fund (neither is in operation with the Education Board closing over 25 years ago). Extend the tax exemption period on storing aircraft parts in the state and would provide more tax relief for aerospace manufacturers. Authorize the legislature to give a partial property tax exemption on charity donated residences to disabled veterans or their surviving spouses (would eliminate the 100% disabled requirement). Allow home owners 62 or over to use reverse mortgages to purchase residences.

60 Constitutional Amendments November 5, 2013
Would create two funds to finance key projects in the state’s water plan by pulling about $2 billion from the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund (pulling money from the Rainy Day Fund). Allow home rule municipalities to chose how to fill city council vacancies if the positions have less than 12 months remaining in a 3 or 4 year term (eliminates the requirement to hold special elections). Repeal a provision authorizing the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County. Authorize the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to use additional disciplinary actions – including public admonition, reprimand , or required additional education or training – against judges or justices after a hearing (current law only allows public censure, removal or retirement).


62 “Half the ballot items are ridiculous
because they deal with doing away with a constable’s position in Erath County or somewhere and the other half no one can understand because they involve bond financing or some arcane part of the Constitution that has to be fixed.” Former Senator Bill Ratliff

63 Prospects for Reform Calls to revise the constitution began fairly soon after its ratification. It was not until 1974 that a convention was held The legislature created a Constitutional Revision Commission to make recommendations to members of a constitutional convention, composed of members of the Texas Legislature The revision commission proposed a draft of a new constitution and this draft became the basis for debate in 1974.

64 Prospects for Reform Special interest groups that were protected by the Constitution of 1876 were afraid of losing their protected status. JPs feared the requirement that all state judges be attorneys Texas A&M and UT-Austin were worried about protecting the Permanent University Fund The highway lobby was worried about the Highway Trust Fund “Right to Work” angered labor leaders Members of the legislature were delegates and were afraid of alienating the major benefactors in their districts.

65 Prospects for Reform In 1975, the legislators voted to present the failed constitution to the voters as a series of eight constitutional amendments. Voters in 250 of the 254 counties rejected all eight amendments Overall, it was rejected by a 4 to 1 margin

66 Can Texas Secede?

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