This chapter focuses on Texas’s constitutions: their purpose, their history, their evolution, and the issues that are inherent in the constitution that is used today.
The state of Texas has produced six constitutions since the 1836 Constitution of the Republic. The sixth and final constitution was ratified in 1876 and has grown to be much more of a political instrument than the U.S. Constitution. As of 2018, the state’s constitution had been amended 498 times. The current constitution was born out of Texans’ reaction to the abuses of power and the centralization of government during the Reconstruction years of 1869–1874. Therefore, to fully understand the nature of the Texas Constitution is to recognize that the framers wished to decentralize government and ensure that the institutions of government and their elected officials would be hindered in any attempts at abusing their powers. Popular sovereignty is demonstrated through the use of frequent popular elections in Texas, as most state officials who have significant power are elected. The nature of state government in Texas can be best described as a weak legislature dominating an even weaker executive. This is rooted in Texans’ distrust of government and belief in individual freedom.
While the Texas Constitution is unique in its historical influences, Texans have lived under both Spanish and Mexican rule, both of which had their own influence on constitutional development. Furthermore, Texas was an independent sovereign republic for nearly a decade and for a few years under the flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War. While Texas is part of a federal system of shared and divided powers among the states and the central government, the relationship between the state government and local governments in Texas is closer to the same unitary-style structure highly criticized during the Reconstruction years. Along with general laws enacted by the legislature, the Texas Constitution grants very limited powers and authority to cities and counties. Critics argue that the current constitution is cumbersome and does not fully meet the needs of citizens as the state’s issues become more contemporary and complex.