The Texas Constitution of 1876
Constitutional government began in Texas under Mexican rule. During the Texas Revolution, delegates to the Convention of 1836 hastily drafted a new constitution for the fledgling Republic of Texas. Faced with the threat of imminent Mexican attack, they incorporated large sections of the United States Constitution along with some Mexican law.
Nine years later, Texas was able to take more care when drafting its first state constitution. Adopted just before annexation, the Constitution of 1845 set forth Texas law in a simple and straightforward manner. Constitutional scholars consider it to have been one of the best state constitutions in the country. In 1861, when Texas seceded from the Union, this constitution was amended to transfer Texas statehood from the United States of America to the Confederacy.
After the Confederacy was defeated, a time of tumult for the Texas Constitution began. All of the former Confederate states were required to adopt new constitutions in order to rejoin the federal Union. After some bitter wrangling, the 1866 Constitution Convention emerged with a document that declared the Ordinance of Secession null and void, agreed to the abolition of slavery, provided for some civil rights for freedmen (though not the right to vote or hold office), and repudiated all war debt.
The Constitution of 1866 did not go far enough for the Radical Republicans in Washington who were in charge of Reconstruction in the South. In 1868, another constitutional convention had to be called. After a wild session, the delegates adjourned without completing their work. Nonetheless, the provisions they did pass were bundled together and submitted to an election. Known as the Constitution of 1869, the document remained controversial and the more radical provisions were not accepted by a large number of Texans.
By 1875, Reconstruction was winding to a halt, and Democrats had regained power in Texas. They seized the opportunity to undo the hated 1869 acts. The 1875 Constitutional Convention wrote a new document. In general, the new constitution reflected the lack of faith in government the delegates had formed over the Reconstruction years. They slashed the power of officials along with their salaries and terms of office. The document was submitted to the voters and ratified the following year as the Constitution of 1876.
Texas still operates under the 1876 constitution today. Because of its tight restrictions, it has had to be amended hundreds of times and is now considered to be one of the most disorganized and confusing of all state constitutions. In 1974, a constitutional convention met with much fanfare to draft a modern document. The convention ended in failure, and no attempt has been made since to replace the much-amended old warhorse.
For the complete text of the 1876 Texas Constitution (unamended), as well as other past Texas Constitutions, see Texas Constitutions 1824-1876, a project of the Tarlton Law Library at The University of Texas School of Law.