UT Wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
Texas Politics - The Constitution
Texas Constitutions with links to originals Texas Constitutions with links to originals
Images of the flags flown over Texas Images of the flags flown over Texas
Capitol has changed with the constitution. Capitol has changed with the constitution.
checks and balances
separation of powers
2.    Constitutions in Texas History

Texas has been governed by several nations since Spain claimed the territory in the 1500s. These included Spain, France, then Spain again, and Mexico - all before the decisive battle of San Jacinto when Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna to seal the rebellious territory's status as an independent republic.

Over the fifty year period from 1827 to 1876, seven constitutions were formulated and implemented for Texas. Each one exhibits both continuity with and departures from its predecessors. Each constitution in specific ways attempted to correct the perceived deficiencies of the previous political order and address the challenges of its times. But each successive constitution also retained elements of its predecessors, building a cumulative constitutional tradition. Still, as attempts to revise previous documents, constitutions tend to reflect the era in which they were created. They are not simply the expressions of lofty, timeless ideals, democratic aspirations, and the political culture of the community. They also address the often gritty issues of the time when they are written.

Constitutions are repositories of ideas and of history that bring elements of the past into the present. Successive constitutions like those that have governed Texas tend to reproduce basic values, ideals, norms and policies. For example, Texas constitutions since Texas was part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas have asserted the value of representative institutions and popular control of government through competitive elections. Each Texas constitution has also divided governmental powers among three branches of government, each with some countervailing influence on the other two - what we have come to recognize as separation of powers and checks and balances. Even the Confederate Constitution of 1861, despite its rejection of other elements of the U.S. Constitution, retained these principles.

The durability of basic ideals and institutional arrangements in Texas derives from two main sources, one national and the other regional/local.

The first mainspring of these arrangements is federalism. The various Texas constitutions reflect the political necessity to conform to a national constitution, whether of independent Mexico, the United States, or the Confederacy. Each nation mandated democratic institutions, leaving (to varying degrees) the precise form to the people of Texas and their representatives.

The second mainspring of the ideals and institutions found in the constitutions of Texas is the diffuse but definite effect of local norms and values. Texas constitutions each reflected an effort to preserve local autonomy and "home rule" within a framework of both state and national authority.

Elements that do not necessarily define the political system, but which reflect (and reinforce) deeply engrained views of the relationships among members of society and other interests also persist across these constitutions. Constitutional provisions covering matters such as community property, protection of the homestead against creditors, and limits on private corporations (especially banks and railroads) both reflect and reinforce the political culture of Texas.

Over the past two centuries, as a result of its tumultuous history, Texas has been governed under seven state-level constitutions (under Spanish and Mexican rule it was part of the much larger state of Coahuila y Tejas). In addition to the seven conventions that produced these constitutions, two additional conventions and one legislative committee whose proposed constitutions failed also met. Several other attempts to fundamentally alter the Texas Constitution have been made as well. None succeeded.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
prev next