Good Essay About The History Of The Constitutions Of Texas
The definition of a constitution is “The system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or another institution” (Dictionary.search.yahoo.com, 2015). In the context of the various Constitutions of the State of Texas, they reflect the growth of the economy and politics of the area from the time when it was a part of Mexico into statehood in the United States of America. Seven different constitutions were created in the time period between 1827 and 1876. As they evolve toward the present Texas Constitution, they retained some of the elements of the previous document old and added new provisions to reflect changing times. This paper will discuss the seven historical constitutions of Texas and show how the events of the past combined to create the document of today.
Texas Constitutions of the Past
The State of Coahuila y Tejas, Estados Unidos Mexicanos. As a Spanish province, Texas combined with Coahuila to form the state of Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas) (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). The Constitution of Mexico demanded the state constitutions separate the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. Catholicism was established as the religion of the state, as the Mexican Constitution did. Partially independent authorities were created by the Church and the military in that they were the authority over the people involved in each organization. The judicial branch could pass judgment in the name of the law, but not interpret it.
The stability of the family was promoted in the law regarding community property. In the event one spouse died, the other inherited the property. In tumultuous times when life was generally short, this kept the family united. In addition, Mexico did not allow deportation of individuals fleeing from debt in other countries. In this way, ownership of property in Mexico stayed with Mexican residents. While this law was repealed in 1831, it was reinstated in 1839 and remains in effect today. A resident in Texas in 2015 cannot have property liens placed or paychecks garnished for past debt except in the case of those owed to the federal government.
The Constitution of Coahuila y Tejas also assumed responsibility for education, reflecting the liberal influence of Spain. However, a statewide school was never established. The size of the Independence of Mexico was about 1,776,069 square miles and communication was a significant problem (Manchaca, 2001). As a state on the periphery, Coahuila y Tejas developed a type of confederalism to a moderate degree. The state had some portion of independent control over internal and external affairs.
For this and other reasons, the Constitution of 1827 was challenged and a new one drawn up in 1833 which established Texas as a state separate from Coahuila. Stephen Austin delivered the new Constitution to the government capital in Mexico City, where he was arrested and placed in prison for suspicion of inciting insurrection (History.com, 1990). The act was a landmark in the tensions between Mexico and the State of Texas. Austin was released eight months later to find Texans on the brink of rebellion and he began to prepare for war.
The primary event that promoted the move by the Texans to seek independence was the upheaval in the Mexican government. The federal system of government ended in 1935 and a centralist system was implemented; the new Mexican Constitution failed to define the rights of the states, including Texas. The political instability opened the door for Texans to declare their independence due to their lack of support for a centralized government of Mexico. The Republic of Texas was established and the war between Texas and Mexico began.
The Republic of Texas. The first constitution for the entity named the Republic of Texas was hastily thrown together at the Convention of 1836 (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). It contained wording from the constitution of the United States and several other states already in place. It mimicked the American Constitution by including a preamble, a bill of rights, separation of powers into three branches (executive, judicial, legislative), selection of holders of government office by democratic selection, and a bicameral legislature. As 14 of the 59 delegates were from Tennessee, populist ideas with anti-bank overtones were added. Finally, provision addressing protection from debtors, community property, and homestead exemptions were kept in place from the Mexican constitution.
The State Constitution of 1845. United States President James Polk annexed Texas and it became the twenty-eighth state of the Union in 1845 (Lsjunction.com, 2015). The new citizens opted to adopt another constitution, which became respected for its simplicity and direct manner. Some provisions were included to conform with the U.S. Constitution such as forbidding the legislature to authorize paper to circulate as money (a job for the federal government) (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015).
During this time, the road to the Civil War began to be laid (Historynotes.net, 2015). Shortly after his election, President Polk urged Texans to seize the land to the Rio Grande to provoke a war with Mexico in order to obtain California. In 1846, Mexico responded to the invasion and Polk signed and Congress voted for war. General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield Scott lead American forces across the border and seized Mexico City. The result was the acquisition of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and the extension of the border of Texas to the Rio Grande River.
However, some Americans saw the expansion as an attempt to spread slavery and obtain control of the government and economic power of the nation. The national election of 1848 was split between candidates for and against the issue of slavery with General Zachary Taylor taking the seat. His election solidified the split along sectional lines.
The Confederate Constitution of 1861. As the slavery issue fermented into open conflict, Texas succeeded from the Union in 1861 by a vote of 171 to six and altered the state constitution again (Historynotes.net, 2015). The Confederate Constitution of 1861 differed from its predecessor only in that references to the United States of America were removed, rights of states were asserted, and slavery was emphasized as being constitutional. It should be noted that the new Constitution did not promote the re-establishment of the slave trade from Africa.
During the course of the Civil War, more than 90,000 Texans fought for the Confederacy, but over 20,000 Hispanic people fought on both sides of the war (The Texas Historical Commission, 2015). Texans fought in every major battle and repulsed Union soldiers at Texan ports and trade routes. The last battle in Texas in the Civil War was at Pamito Ranch in southern Texas; it occurred more than 30 days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox (Lsjunction.com, 2015). Although Texans were spared the devastation dealt to many states, the economy suffered from the loss of slave labor in the cotton fields. An abundance of long-horn cattle marked the beginning of the trail rides to the northern states.
The Constitution of 1866. The Constitutional Convention met to revise the Texas Constitution back to an alliance with the United States. Actually, the Constitution of 1866 was kept in place with a series of amendments (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). However, there is one significant component of the constitution of 1866 and that is that established specific descriptions of public policies rather than the broad ones seen previously. A disagreement concerning laws passed during the succession arose. Radical Republican Morgan Hamilton believed these laws should be voided since the succession was voided. The Moderates under Andrew Hamilton proposed the laws should remain if they were not in opposition to the laws of the United States. The debate was significant in that if the laws were voided, many legal documents created during the five year period would need to be redone. In the end, this course was not taken.
There was one other very important problem with the Constitution of 1866: it did not grant African-Americans the right to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution allowed any man age 21 or older to vote regardless his face (Loc.gov, 2015). Some areas, especially in the south, administered a reading test in order to participate in the democratic process. Even if they could read, they were told they failed; illiterate white men, though, did not fail the “test”.
The Radical Republican Constitution of 1869. The Reconstruction Era after the Civil War was officially started to solve the problems associated with readmission of the eleven states that succeeded back into the United States (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014). It was also a period of adjustment for the issue of interracial democracy. The black people in the South came together with white supporters to bring the Republican Party into government superiority, ending over 100 years of Democratic reign. This required the government to redefine its responsibilities.
Once again, the Constitutional Convention was called into session in response to a demand from Washington, D.C. to come to an agreement with the Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867 (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). Dissenting factions from different areas of the state and different degrees of Democratic support resulted in an incomplete document that only 49 of the 90 delegates signed. Changes specified giving schools significant attention with funds to be raised with a poll tax and one-quarter of the annual taxes in addition to income from lands set aside for that purpose. School attendance was made mandatory. Other important ratifications included the creation of an immigration bureau and forbidding the Legislature to allow lotteries or grant a divorce.
The Texas Constitution of 1869 was criticized not for the incompleteness or being cumbersome, but because it represented the ideas of the new Republican Party that had come into power. One of the main purposes of the new government was to bring blacks into the population economically and politically, promoting diversity. There was a prejudice against previously involved Confederates and changes in the infrastructure of the state resulted in higher taxes and large state debt.
A restructuring of a previous document with some provisional changes is seen in the Constitution of 1869. In 1870, the United States Congress officially admitted Texas back into the Union (Lsjunction.com, 2015).
The Draft Constitution of 1874 and the Convention of 1876. The dissatisfaction with the Constitution of 1869 lead to another revision of the Constitution just six years later (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). In 1873, the Democrats regained control of Texan government and bowing to public demands, convened a special session of the State Legislature to call another Constitutional Convention and allow the voters to approve it. Most of the delegates were Democrats, but no delegates had participated in the creation of the previous Constitution. Many of the previous provisions were reversed, including the support for public education. Corporations and railroads were given limited powers and state banks were eliminated. A large popular majority vote approved the Constitution in 1876. That was the year the state’s first college open with the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (Lsjunction.com, 2015). James Hogg became the first governor of Texas born in the state in 1891, elected on a platform proposing to regulate big business and railroads. The discovery of oil near Beaumont threw the state in manned space travel, electronics, and exploration of oil in 1901.
The Current Texas Constitution
The Constitution of 1876 remains the basis of Texas government today (Laits.utexas.edu, 2015). Although there were several attempts at revisions as the state has grown economically, amendments must be voted in by the citizens of Texas in a special state-wide election. Today, the State Constitution is the second-longest in the country.
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