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Legal History

Introduction

Prior to the United States' annexation in 1845, Texas was ruled by:

  • France (1684-1689), 
  • Spain (1690-1821),
  • Mexico (1821-1836), and
  • the Republic of Texas (1836-1845).

With the exception of France, all left traces on Texas's legal landscape.

This guide highlights some selected versions of key legal documents from the different eras. For additional research assistance with Texas legal history, please contact Tarlton's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Navigating Tarlton's Collection

Whether seeking print or online materials, here are some tips for using TALLONS, the online catalog:

Helpful call number ranges:

  • Mexican history: F1201-1392
  • Texas history: F381-395
  • U.S. history: E151-904
  • U.S. legal history: KF350-374
  • U.S. Supreme Court history: KF8741-8748

Helpful subject headings:

Additional Resources at UT

Related Resources

Spanish period (1690-1821)

Las Siete Partidas

  • Spanish code compiled in late 13th c.; promulgated in 1348
  • Authority extended to New World in 1530 through its incorporation in Recopilacion de las Leyes de Indias
  • Provisions considered to be in force in TX until reception of the common law by the Act of 1840
  • Frequently cited in early TX cases
  • Derived from Roman law, canon law, maritime law, and native customs and laws of Spanish provinces
  • Includes some elements of the Visigothic Code of 480 AD

Cedulario Indiano of 1596

Recopilacion de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indias (1681)

Mexican period (1821-1836)

While part of Mexico, Texas was governed by federal and state law (most notably, the state of Coahuila and Texas).

Stephen F. Austin's Instructions and Regulations of 1824:

Federal Constitution of 1824:

Constitution of the State of Coahuila and Texas (1827):

Constitution or Form of Government of the State of Texas (1833): Tarlton's digital version

Laws and Decrees of the State of Coahuila and Texas (1824-1835):

  • Available in mulitple formats
  • Reprinted in volume one of Gammel's Laws (see below)

Gammel's Laws of Texas 1822-1897:

Republic of Texas period (1836-1845)

Constitutions

Tarlton's digital collection on Texas Constitutions includes:

  • Declaration, with Plan and Powers of the Provisional Government of Texas (1836)
    • Ordinances and Decrees of the Consultation (also reprinted in Gammel's Laws, see above )
  • Declaration of Independence (1836)
  • Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836)
    • Journals of the Convention, 1836
  • Constitution of Texas (1845) (upon joining the U.S.)
    • Journals of the Convention, 1845
    • Debates of the Convention, 1845

Legislation

Gammel's Laws of Texas 1822-1897: see above

    Laws of the Republic of Texas: 1836-1845

    University of North Texas digital collection of session laws from the Republic of Texas

    American Legislation Project: Texas sources

    N.B. Full text of all session laws from 1836-present can be found on HeinOnline.

    House and Senate Journals: Texas Legislative Reference Library digital collecton


    Supreme Court

    • Created by Constitution in 1836 but not assembled until 1840
    • Only court during the Republic to report its decisions

    Dallam's Digest of the Laws of Texas:

    65 Tex. L. Rev. 372 (1986): contains previously missing decisions

    Other Research Guides