In contrast to the U.S. Constitution, which included its Bill of Rights only as an addendum in the first ten amendments, the Texas Constitution puts the Bill of Rights at the beginning in Article I.
Originally spanning 29 sections, the Texas Bill of Rights would at first glance seem to be much more extensive than its counterpart on the national level. But closer examination reveals considerable overlap of coverage, only reordered. Freedom of religion is enshrined in specific ways in several early sections (4 through 7).
Freedom of speech and the press is protected in section 8. Peaceful public assembly, the last of the U.S. 1st Amendment rights, appears in section 27. Protection against unwarranted searches and seizures is assured in section 9.
The rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions are specified in sections 10 through 21, including:
- a right to a speedy trial
- not having to provide evidence against oneself
- a right to bail
- the obligation of the state to provide its own evidence to support charges
- protection against double jeopardy (being tried a second time for an offense for which one has been acquitted)
- a right to a trial by jury
- no ex post facto laws
- no imprisonment for debts
- requirement of due process of law
There are some notable differences between the two bills of rights beyond the order of appearance of familiar civil liberties and protections. Notably, the Texas Bill of Rights has a declaratory tone, justifying the specific protections set forth with a number of sweeping generalizations aimed at the perceived political dangers of the time. These dangers included:
- the threat of national government - "the maintenance of our free institutions and the perpetuity of the Union depend upon the preservation of the right of local self-government unimpaired to all the States." [Article I, Section 1]
- the threat of state government - "[the people of Texas] have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient" [Article I, Section 2]
- the threat of government favoritism - "All free men, when they form a social compact, have equal rights and no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive separate public emoluments, or privileges, but in consideration of public services." [Article I, Section 3]
The conventioneers were expressing a reaction to the perceived abuses of both the national government and the state government under the Radical Republicans. Section 1 intimates a threat of secession, while Section 2 reads like a justification of the conventioneers' actions in drafting the new constitution. Section 3 seems like an explicit criticism of the perceived corruption of the administration of Governor E. J. Davis.
Other rights, specifically the basic right to vote and qualifications for voting, critical to a functioning democracy, are specified separately in Article VI on suffrage.