Texas Constitutions 1824-1876 is a part of the Tarlton Law Library/Jamail Legal Research Center at the University of Texas School of Law, The University of Texas at Austin. For more information, please contact Jane O'Connell, Deputy Director (; (512) 471-8761).
From a legal perspective, what distinguishes Texas from many of the other states is its 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, and a state within the United States . 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' TexasTreasures grant was awarded in 1999; that grant provided the Library with funds to digitize the Constitutions, publish them online, and create a website that showcased this material.Both page images of the Constitutions, as well as .html files providing the full and clear text of the documents in an easily searchable format, have been published online. For each Constitution, there are page images of the English version, full page images of the Spanish language version of the document (if one exists), and, finally, full text, searchable html files of the Constitutions.
Just as lawyers and historians look to legislative histories—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 (again published contemporaneously with the Constitutions themselves) can place particular constitutional provisions in context, they may resolve ambiguities in language, they evidence the discussions and process that preceded the adoption of particular constitutional provisions, and they 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 for posterity.
The proceedings of these Constitutional conventions consist, for the most part, 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. Delegates may also adopt ordinances at these 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 (among others) 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.
The second grant enabled the Library to use technology to make these resources more accessible than ever before, both in format and content. So, in addition to simply digitizing the convention materials - in many ways the easiest part of the project - the second TexTreasures grant was used to create multiple means of access into the content of the Constitutions and convention materials.
First, an online hyperlinked subject index to the Constitutions was created, complete with hyperlinked tables and descriptions of contents of the convention materials. Second, links were made among the individual Constitution provisions and the journal and debate entries that discuss those provisions. So, a researcher interested in a particular provision of a Constitution is able – from the text of that provision itself – to refer to the individual journal entries and individual debates that discuss that Constitutional provision or the subject it involves. Similarly, from any particular journal entry, the user can reference the constitutional provision discussed, as well as any debates that led to the activities described in the journals.
We hope that Texas Constitutions 1824-1876 will prove useful to a diverse group of individuals, and will enhance the relevance of the Tarlton Law Library to scholars, students, and the general public.