The Texas Constitution of 1876
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The Republic of Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836. A new constitution was ratified in September of 1836. For the next nine years Texas stood as an independent nation. In 1845, Texas was one of twenty-eight political units in the United States, raising the US flag in mid-February (Frantz 1976, p. 90). The Constitution of Texas was rewritten as the Constitution of 1845. This constitution borrowed a great deal from the Louisiana constitution, the constitutions of several other states, and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas (Frantz 93).
Texas adopted a new constitution after the Civil War. As part of the Constitution of 1866, Texas refused to acknowledge the thirteenth amendment and later the fourteenth. Even with this refusal, African Americans were treated better in the Constitution of 1866 then in any other former Confederate State or in any former Texas law. Indeed, the Constitution of 1836 required that free African Americans seek approval in order to remain in the Republic (Devereaux 55). This requirement was removed in 1837, but the Ashworth Law in 1840 gave those two years to either leave Texas, obtain permission to stay, or be sold into slavery (Deveraux 55).
In 1867, the Republicans passed the First Reconstruction Act, eliminating the governments of the Southern States (Frantz 117). A large number of Democrats boycotted the next vote in 1868, and the Republicans carried that election. They rewrote the constitution again, as the Constitution of 1869. This constitution was as well written as could be expected, but was misused by the radical element of the Republican Party (Frantz 118).
As reconstruction came to an end, Texans prepared to write, yet again, another constitution. This was intended to eliminate what many considered the Radical Constitution of The rewrite was first attempted by legislative joint committee, but the House of Representatives wanted to assure the citizens so the method was put to a vote. The voters approved a convention of three delegates from each state senatorial district (Frantz 124). There were thirty senatorial districts, so hence there were 90 delegates. Of these, seventy-five were Democrats and fifteen were Republicans. Eighty four of the delegates were white and six were African Americans. Occupationally, forty were farmers who belonged to the Grange, three had been Union soldiers, and over twenty had served as officers for the Confederacy. One of the delegates had helped write the Constitution of 1845, eight had served on the Convention of 1861, and one was a framer of the Constitution of 1869 (Frantz 124). Thus there was some consistency and some diversity in the makeup of the delegation.
The delegates refused to hire a stenographer and also refused to publish the proceedings. As such, no official record of the convention proceedings exists (Frantz 124). The constitution that was drafted by this delegation seems to indicate that they considered public administration and those who serve within it a nuisance. The salaries for elected officials were very low, the terms of office were short, and the powers given to these officials were very limited (Frantz 124).
The result was a system that turned away the elected official almost as soon as the official was elected. The system allowed for little continuity. Long term planning was also an issue, seeing that many of the elected officials would be replaced before any plan was adopted. Coupled with this is the fact that the constitution was unduly detailed (Frantz 124).
The Constitution of 1876 was almost a total copy of the Constitution of 1845 (Frantz 92). All content from the previous constitutions that disenfranchised African Americans was dropped, however there was no content added at the time that specifically gave equal rights to people of color. The Constitution of 1876 was more a reactionary piece of legislation than a statement of principles. The delegates were trying to step away from the recent past and step into a future that they believed would be better for them (Frantz 125).
The Constitution of 1876 does vary from that of 1845 in the realm of education. In 1845 education was provided for in Article X, simply titled “Education”. Section 1 of that article states:
“A general diffusion of knowledge, being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of this State to make suitable provisions for the support and maintenance of public schools.” (Howell 34).
Section 2 of the Constitution provided for the legislature to establish a system of free schools “as early as practical” (Howell 34). Although the constitution did address these educational issues, the State provided only rudimentary funds and service to education between 1845 and 1854.
The Constitution of 1866 provided for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. This was a position that was appointed by the Governor and required a two thirds vote of the Senate for confirmation (Howell 35). This constitution also provided for the Board of Education that would be responsible for the fund and schools, via regulations that were passed by the legislature. This constitution was never recognized by the United States government, and it was nullified by the Reconstruction Act (Howell 35).
The Constitution of 1876 provided for education in Article 7, which was titled “Education The Public Free Schools”. The concept of free public education, having been delayed after the Constitution of 1845, was explicitly called out in the first section. Section 1 of that article states:
“A general diffusion of knowledge, being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of this State to make suitable provisions for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” (Texas Legislative Council 89). (Emphasis added).
The Constitution of 1876 also retained the School Board provisions and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The 1876 version also specifically set forth several sections devoted to higher education in Texas. Section 10 established the University of Texas, to be located by a popular vote, to educate in the arts and sciences. The University of Texas was specifically required to have an agricultural and mechanical department. (Texas Legislative Council 94). Section 11 created a permanent university fund and Section 12 dealt with the land set apart for the University Fund. Section 13 dictated that the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas , which had been founded in 1871, was to be made a branch of the University of Texas and the Legislature was directly instructed to provide funding for “the construction and completion of the buildings and improvements” for the university at its next session (Texas Legislative Council 95).
The Texas state legislature met as a “Committee of the Whole” in 1974 to create a replacement for the Constitution of 1876. This legislature showed no more understanding than the creators of the 1876 constitution did with regards to the success of the Federal Constitution. The United States Constitution derives its greatness from the fact that it is broad in nature (Frantz 125). Every special interest group was allowed to have input in the new draft. This resulted, once again, in a document that got lost in the details. The Committee was embroiled in debate after debate in what to include or what not to include (Frantz 125).
After the draft was finished and several months and millions of dollars expended, the 1974 legislature refused to accept the draft or allow a public vote on acceptance. In 1975, the new legislature sent out eight sections to be voted on separately. When the results were tallied, the voters had rejected, by margins that ran as high as three to one, all eight sections. As a result, the State of Texas has a constitution still in force that was originally written in 1876 that does not have the broad language and elasticity of the Federal Constitution (Frantz 125). The current Constitution runs 189 pages in 17 Articles, with approximately 99,000 words (Texas Legislative Council 1). In contrast, the United States Constitution runs about 15 typed pages in 7 articles, with twenty seven amendments. The total word count, including all amendments, is about 8000.
The original Federal Constitution was written on four large pages.
The amendment procedure for the Texas Constitution is straight forward. Two thirds of each house must approve the amendment. Following that, a majority of the voters statewide must vote in favor of the amendment (World Book, Inc. 203). The Texas Constitution is now rather cumbersome. As of 2005 there have been 439 amendments passed and 176 defeated since it adoption in 1876. The current constitution is one of the largest in the Nation. (Legislative Reference Library of Texas 1).
Devereaux, Linda E. “William Goyens: Black Leader in Early Texas.” East Texas Historical
Journal 45:1 (2007): 52-57.
Frantz, Joe. Texas: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1976.
Howell, Kenneth W. “Texas School Laws and Public Education in East Texas: The Beginnings
Of Public Schools in Henderson County, Texas, 1854-1868.” East Texas Historical Journal
42:2 (2004): 25-37.
Legislative Reference Library of Texas. “Constitutional Amendments” Legislative Reference
Library of Texas 2005. Legislative Reference Library of Texas. 24 Mar. 2007
Texas Legislative Council. “Texas State Constitution” Texas Online. 1999. State Of Texas.
24 Mar. 2007
World Book, Inc. ed. “Texas.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Standard ed. 2004.