Six constitutions over Texas : law in creating modern Texan political identity, 1835-1900

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2014-11-25

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Chriss, William J.

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This dissertation is a constitutional history of nineteenth century Texas. The central questions addressed are the extent to which fundamental laws are good indicators of the dominant ideology and political identity of a society, and if they are, what they tell us about such ideologies and such identities, in this case those which prevailed in Texas. Anglo politics in nineteenth century Texas was an ongoing struggle over the meaning of Texan identity; over who was included within that identity, and who was not. The constitutions adopted at each of six critical moments during the century reflect the changes in that dominant Anglo political identity and its ideology over time. Texas began as a nation defined by rebellion from Mexico, it became a slave state preoccupied with protecting itself from perceived northern and federal domination, and by late in the 19th century it achieved a stable political identity built upon an accommodation between ruling elites and white farm and labor radicals to the exclusion of blacks and Hispanics. The result was the emergence of a “business progressive” consensus that would pervade Texas politics and inform questions of Texan identity for most of the twentieth century. The principle contribution of the dissertation to existing scholarship is to provide the first comprehensive narrative of nineteenth century Texas’s constitutional history in about one hundred years. As a discipline, constitutional and legal history has largely ignored Texas and the American Southwest, and political histories of the region have undervalued the role of constitutions, laws, and court decisions. The victory of the modern conservative/progressive idea of Texas after the Civil War culminated in the rise of John H. Reagan and James Stephen Hogg, and the total victory of kingmakers like E.M. House in electing a string of “progressive,” yet pro-business, pro-segregation governors from 1898-1906. The six constitutions of Texas from 1836 to 1900, the constitutional amendments of 1891-2, and the state’s appellate jurisprudence epitomized the political and intellectual currents of their times and ultimately helped define Texas’s dominant political ideology of the early twentieth century.

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