Texas Constitutions 1824-1876
Texas Constitutions 1824-1876 is a project of the Tarlton Law Library, Jamail Center for Legal Research at the University of Texas School of Law, The University of Texas at Austin.
From a legal perspective, what distinguishes Texas from other states is its unique history as an entity—a state, a republic, a nation—and the documents that actually created what became the Texas we know today.
Between the years of 1824 and 1876, Texas was at times a part of the United States of Mexico, an independent republic, a state within the Confederate States of America, and a state within the United States of America. Beginning in 1824, what we now know as Texas passed through many iterations—each with founding documents that can be accessed on this site. These founding documents legally established the entity of Texas, set forth the rights and responsibilities of its people, and defined the scope and powers of its government.
The Library's collection, as well as other collections on the UT-Austin campus, include rare copies of many of these Constitutions, published at the time of those instruments' adoption. Because these documents are so rare and in many cases very fragile, there are significant restrictions upon their use. As a record of the evolution of the government of Texas, these documents are unusually important to any number of groups of people.
The Library's first 'constitutional' TexTreasures grant was awarded in 1999; that grant provided the Library with funds to digitize the Constitutions, publish them online, and create a website showcasing this material.
Just as lawyers and historians look to legislative history—the committee reports, prior versions of bills, transcripts of hearings, congressional debates—to help them interpret legislation, so do historians look to related contemporaneous materials for help in interpreting provisions of historical constitutions. These related materials can place particular constitutional provisions in context, resolve ambiguities in language, evidence the discussions and process that preceded the adoption of particular constitutional provisions, and help explain why certain provisions were finally adopted in particular forms.
The second TexTreasures grant application, submitted in 2002, involved these related constitutional materials. When a group of elected delegates come together to draft and agree upon a written constitution, they meet in conventions. The proceedings of these conventions are often recorded and published.
The proceedings of Texas' Constitutional conventions consist of journals, the official record of the resolutions passed by the convention and the actions approved by the delegates, and debates, the actual transcripts or summaries of the discussions among the delegates to the constitutional conventions.
These journals, debates and ordinances are rich in materials for historical scholarship. For example, during the 1836 Constitutional Convention, delegates read letters received from Colonel Travis at the Alamo; Sam Houston was appointed commander in chief and made an appearance at the Convention to plead for additional resources. The full texts of that letter and speech are included in the Journals of the 1836 Convention.
In designing the proposal for the second grant application, the Library had a number of goals. Most importantly, the Library sought to publish digitized versions of all of the Texas Constitutional convention materials, many of those materials being very rare and subject to significant restrictions upon their use.
But merely digitizing and publishing those Convention materials, while useful, would not ensure efficient use of those resources. There are close to 5000 pages of constitutional convention materials for all of the 10 constitutions adopted by Texas since 1824. Most of the materials had not been indexed—those that were indexed, were indexed poorly.
In addition to digitizing the convention materials, the second TexTreasures grant was used to create means of access into the content of the multiple Constitutions and convention materials. An online hyperlinked subject index to the Constitutions was created that allows users to access all Constitutional provisions on a specific subject. Additionally, hyperlinked tables and descriptions of contents of the convention materials were created with links back to the related Constitutional provision.
We hope that Texas Constitutions 1824-1876 will prove useful to scholars, students, and the general public.