Dissecting Important Documents - Texas State Constitution 1845

Today marks the 176 anniversary of the ratification of the Texas State Constitution. After declaring independence on March 2, 1836, and ultimately securing this independence at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, Texas existed as a republic, separate from both Mexico and the United States. The Republic of Texas’s constitution established a government similar to the United States, with a bicameral legislature consisting of 14 senators and 29 representatives, and a President that served two year terms. David Burnet, Sam Houston (2), Mirabeau Lamar, and Anson Jones each served as President of the Republic of Texas until its annexation and statehood on December 29, 1845.

In preparation for statehood, Texas drafted a state constitution in the early months of 1845. Taking cues from both the Louisiana state constitution and the U.S. Constitution, the Texas state constitution began, “We, the people of the republic of Texas, acknowledging with gratitude the grace and beneficence of God, in permitting us to make a choice of our form of government, do, in accordance with the provisions of the joint resolution for annexing Texas to the United States, approved March first, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five, ordain and establish this constitution.” The constitution was then organized into 13 articles:

  1. Bill of Rights

  2. Division of the Powers of Government

  3. Legislative Department

  4. Judicial Department

  5. Executive Department

  6. Militia

  7. General Provisions

  8. Slaves

  9. Impeachment

  10. Education

  11. Head-Rights

  12. Land Office

  13. Schedule

Article I: The bill of rights consisted of 21 distinct sections that addressed various issues such as freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, legal protections including the right to a speedy trial and freedom from double jeopardy. This section mirrors many of the same rights outlined in the U.S. Bill of Rights, albeit spread out, and further elaborated on in some instances.

Article II: This article outlined the separation of powers into the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

Article III: This article was divided into 35 sections and outlined the functions and restrictions on the legislature. Electors were limited to free men over the age of 21 who were citizens of the U.S. and/or Texas at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and had resided in their respective district for at least six months. Members of the House of Representatives served for two years, while members of the Senate served for four years, with elections occurring every two.

Article IV: This article was divided into 19 sections and established the judicial branch. The Supreme Court of Texas had a chief justice and two associate judges, all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate with a ⅔ vote. Also included in the judicial branch were appellate courts, the attorney general’s office, and justices of the peace.

Article V: This article was divided into 23 sections and established the executive branch. The governor of Texas served in two year terms and could only serve up to 4 years per every 6 year period. Alongside the governor was the office of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and comptroller. The primary functions of the executive branch were to sign bills into law, insure they were executed properly, and serve as commander in chief of state militia unless they are called into service by the federal government.

Article VI: This article addressed the formation and maintenance of the militia. It exempted religious authorities from serving, but required unarmed citizens to pay a fee for the service of others.

Article VII: This article addressed several different issues including treason, elections, duels, compensation for minor government offices not previously outlined, revision of laws, prohibition of lotteries, prohibition of divorce, property rights, taxation, and constitutional amendments. It consisted of 37 sections including an oath for members of the legislature.

Article VIII: This article prevented the government from emancipating slaves without the consent of the owners, provided an impartial trial to slaves for higher grade crimes, and protected them from malicious dismemberment.

Article IX: This article addressed impeachment of executive and judicial offices. The House of Representatives had the power of impeachment, while the Senate was in charge of the trials. Impeachment only led to removal from office. If someone was impeached for committing a crime, they were tried for those crimes separately from impeachment.

Article X: This article established public schools, funded via property taxes. It also outlined how money would be allocated and how new schools would be created.

Article XI: This article addressed head-right claims. All fraudulent claims were marked null and void. It then established July 1, 1847 as the date where courts could issue new certificates for head-rights.

Article XII: This article established the general land office of the state for titles.

Article XIII: This article consisted of 13 sections and addressed the transition from the Republic of Texas government to the new State of Texas government.

The Texas State Constitution of 1845 lasted until 1861 when Texas joined the Confederacy. The Constitution of 1861 was very similar, only replacing mentions of the U.S. with the C.S.A. and including a loyalty pledge to the C.S.A. Texas had to ratify another constitution in 1866 in order to rejoin the Union after the Civil War and once again in 1869 in order to fulfill requirements established during Reconstruction. The current Texas State Constitution has been in place since 1876, however, 216 new sections have been added (although 51 of those sections have since been removed), and 66 original sections have been removed.

To learn more about the history of the Texas constitutions, go to: https://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/c.php?g=787043&p=5635509

Pictured: Thomas Rusk, President of the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1845

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