A constitution is a charter or plan of government that represents, in essence, a pact between the government and the governed. Like any pact or contract it identifies mutually agreed powers, duties, obligations and limitations on contracting parties, and establishes procedures for action, including law-making and citizen-voter participation. In performing these functions, constitutions also provide the fundamental law on which legal systems are established. They are usually set forth in written documents, although the English Constitution is not, depending instead on traditional precedents.
Since constitutions are the primary source of democratic governance and political "rules of the game," they tend to be reflexively revered by the general population and pragmatically respected by political professionals. Constitutions enjoy an exalted position among citizens, an almost heaven-sent symbol of who we are, that politicians are careful to celebrate. References to "constitutional authority" or "the sanctity of the constitution" sometimes carry the connotation of powers beyond the reach of mere mortals.
Yet constitutions are created within a particular configuration of history, culture, interests, and inherited rules that make them as much expressions of powerful, competing interests as of abstract ideals or disembodied tradition. Like most constitutions, the current Texas Constitution was the product of tumultuous times. Its organization and emphasis on specific concerns reflect the tumult of Reconstruction, and the struggle over the economic and political development of Texas.
The experiences of the post-Civil War period led to the complex, arcane, restrictive and, in the end, contradictory founding document with which Texas continues to be saddled today. These complexities and contradictions have only deepened as the state moves farther and farther from the political, economic, and social conditions of the time when the original document was developed. Its current form bears 130 years worth of stitches, scars, patches and excisions, each one reflecting the specific period in which Texans tried, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to alter it.
Like other state constitutions, the Texas Constitution borrows generously from the national system of government, reproducing the constitutional principles of separation of powers and democratic governance, both of which are expressions of republican government guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. This chapter's feature Federalism and the Distribution of Power in the U.S. Constitution explores how the U.S. Constitution both shapes state governments and incorporates them into the national system of governance. The U.S. Constitution imposes several requirements upon the states, as the feature A Constitution's Constitution makes clear.