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Constitution of 1876 Analysis

As Texas Democrats acquired control of Congress in 1873, they saw the opportunity to draft a new constitution for the state. It was expected that the new document would restrict the state government’s power and give power back to the citizens of Texas. The Constitution of 1876 is the sixth Constitution under which Texas had been governed since the point when the state acquired independence from Mexico in 1838 (Ericson and Wallace). Framed by the Constitutional Convention of 1876 and put into action on February 15, 1876, the Constitution remains the essential law of Texas since it includes important points that are unique to the state, many of which are associated with its remarkable history. It was written shortly after the state government was under the rule of Edmund Jackson Davis between 1870 and 1874. The state has undergone significant changes, such as the limitation of the state government power, the rise of agricultural interests, as well as the rising role of the economy in the government. Some of the significant examples regarding how the federal government was restricted include the creation of a plural executive, a mandated and balanced state budget, the move of legislative sessions away from annual to biennial sessions, the election of state Judges by the population, as well as the voting on the ratification of amendments to the Constitution (Ericson and Wallace).

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As with many US state constitutions, The Constitution started with an extensive bill of rights, declaring Texas to be an independent state that only subjects to the US Constitution, which suggested that all free people had equal rights. In addition, it explicitly established the division and separation of powers. Some of the provisions embedded into the Constitution can be traced to both Mexican and Spanish influences. Among such are sections that deal with land laws and related titles, the relief of debtors, marital relations, adoption, judicial procedures, as well as water and mineral rights (Ericson and Wallace). Besides, some of the atypical provisions in the Constitutions can be linked to the influence of Jacksonian agrarianism as well as frontier radicalism, which had become popular in Texas when it had initially become a state and then broadly supported by a large portion of immigrants to the state before the Civil War. Such influences have enabled the development of sections that prohibit banks and require significant separation between church and state that was already established in other states.

Under the greatly centralized and somewhat autocratic administration of Edmund J. Davis as well as fellow radical Republicans, the Reconstruction had initiated provisions for decentralizing the state government. Upon getting both executive and legislative government branches under control, the Democratic party aimed to eliminate the ineffective Constitution of 1869 with the one established in 1874. The party wanted all officials to be elected for shorter terms and have lower salaries as well as facilitate the abolition of the registration of voters, the control of schools locally, the limited power of both the governor and legislature, lower taxation, as well as much more (Ericson and Wallace). The legislature was expected to be made up of two parts, a thirty-one-member Senate and a one-hundred-fifty-member House of Representatives. Both representatives and senators and had to serve four- and two-year terms, respectively, which significantly limited their power in the state. The legislature was expected to gather biennially and could not incur liability greater than “$200,000 and could not have an office for more than two years and was mandated to levy taxes on all property proportionate to their value” (Ericson and Wallace).

In general, the Constitution of 1876 went hand-in-hand with the opinion of the public during that time. It helped provide for biennial legislature sessions, lower public officials’ salaries, a less costly court system as well as a school system with increased segregation. Besides, the document was important for supporting the rights of the rural population that engaged in subsistence farming; however, it did not favor the urban, commercial, and industrial society. Any changes to the Constitution were made through “amendments submitted to voters by consent of two-thirds of each member of the house of the legislature as well as approved by a majority of those who were voting” (Ericson and Wallace). The majority of the amendments that had been carried out concerned the legislature, state finances, education, and the judiciary. The changes to the legislative affairs have mainly eliminated the existing limitations imposed on legislative action. Alterations related to provisions of public educations had also destroyed the original restrictions and allowed for the broadening of the public education system. Provisions associated with the financial system of the state have been modified to enable the implementation of new programs of expenditure as well as the exploitation of new revenue sources. Other changes to the document were instrumental in relieving many of the detailed burdens imposed on the office of the governor, altering the methodology of municipal corporation chartering, as well as establishing a continuously expanding range of specially allocated funds in the state’s treasury.

Works Cited

Ericson, Joe, and Ernest Wallace. “Constitution of 1876.” TSHA Online, Web.

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