Constitution of 1876

The Constitution of 1876 opens with a long Bill of Rights. Among its provisions are the following:

  • Texas was a free and independent state, subject only to the Constitution of the United States
  • All free men had equal rights
  • The writ of habeas corpus (bringing a person to court to see if he/she can be put in prison) could not be suspended or unduly delayed
  • Religious tests for office were forbidden.
  • Unreasonable searches and imprisonment for debt were illegal.
  • It guaranteed liberty of speech and press.
  • It granted the right of the accused to obtain bail and to be tried by a jury.
  • Citizens had the right to keep and bear arms (guns).

The legislative article defined the powers and limitations of the legislature in detail. The legislature was to be made up of two houses, a Senate with 32 members and a House of Representatives with no more than 150 members. Senators would serve for four years, representatives for two. Sessions would be held once every two years.

The executive article provided for seven elected officers—governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, comptroller of public accounts, treasurer, commissioner of the land office, and attorney general. The governor could convene the legislature in special sessions, call out the militia to execute the laws, suppress insurrections, protect the frontier against hostile Indians, and veto laws and items in appropriations bills. His veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses.

The judicial article provided for a supreme court, a court of appeals, district courts, county courts, commissioners’ courts, and justices of the peace. All judges were elected by popular vote.

The article on education ordered the legislature to make provisions for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools but then added provisions that made the directive impossible. It eliminated mandatory attendance, provided for segregated schools, and made no provision for local school taxes. To support a university for blacks, the constitution set aside one million acres of public land, with all sales and proceeds going to the Permanent University Fund.

The constitution also provided for precinct voting and mandated a poll tax, but not as a prerequisite for voting. It provided for homestead grants of 160 acres to heads of families and 80 acres to single men eighteen years or older.

The document was adequate for rural people engaged in survival farming, but not for the urban/industrial/commercial society that Texas was becoming. Few changes were made during the first half century of the constitution’s existence, but since then it has been changed at a steadily increasing rate. Changes are made through amendments submitted to the voters by consent of two-thirds of the members of each house of the legislature and approved by a majority of those voting.

Source: Constitution of 1876
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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