When Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, Texas government had been largely shaped by Anglo-American traditions.
The first Texas state constitution, written in 1845 in order to join the United States, was based on constitutional principles common in the United States, such as that it was a written document, people had authority (popular sovereignty), people’s rights were guaranteed, there was a republican form of government, and there was a separation of powers. There were also differences from other states’ constitutions. The protection of slavery was similar to other southern states.
The legislative portion contained two houses; the House members served two-year terms and senators served four-year terms. The lieutenant governor was the president of the Senate. Debt was strictly limited. Concerns about land titles, public lands, and education were addressed.
The judicial article provided for a tiered structure of courts composed of the state Supreme Court, district courts, and “inferior courts” to be established by legislation. Supreme Court and district judges were appointed by the governor with Senate agreement for six-year terms. Trial by jury was protected.
The executive article included the popular election of the governor and the lieutenant governor. The governor was given a two-year term. His powers included the power to veto, send messages to the legislature, adjourn the legislature if the houses could not agree, and call special sessions. The governor appointed the secretary of state, judges, and the attorney general. The legislature selected the state treasurer, the comptroller of public accounts, and district attorneys.
Provision was made for the establishment of counties and for several elective county officers, including the sheriff, justice of the peace, constable, and coroner.
The 1845 Constitution included a rigid amending process that required two legislative approvals by a two-thirds vote with an intervening election at which point a majority of all voters had to approve. The statehood charter was amended only once.
The right to vote was liberal for the times, based on universal white manhood suffrage without property qualifications. One exception was the disqualification of members of the United States armed forces. The Bill of Rights included freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion, equality expressed in social-contract terms, property rights, rights of persons accused of crime, and trial by jury in civil and criminal cases. The statehood constitution protected slavery, since slaves were not considered “people.”
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association