Like the document proposed by the Constitutional Convention of 1974, the Constitution of 1874 was written and then rejected by a sitting legislature instead of the traditional constitutional convention. In 1874 it was the Democratic reaction against Reconstruction that brought about the constitution. A common desire for a new organic law, however, did not mean agreement on what such a document should contain. The legislature's rejection of the 1874 document was just one step in a constitutional struggle that ultimately produced a very different, and successful, organic law-the Constitution of 1876. The process of writing the 1874 constitution was unusual. As Democrats regained control of their state government in 1873 and 1874, they made writing a new constitution one of their main goals. Initially, however, the legislature's efforts for constitutional reform focused almost exclusively on the method of revision rather than the substance of it. Governor Richard Coke and the legislature's Democratic leadership sought to block a constitutional convention, the traditional means of reform, and have a legislative committee write the new document instead; an appointive commission was also proposed. A majority of the house of representatives, however, considered anything but a convention "anti-Democratic." Superior parliamentary maneuvering produced a temporary victory for the proposal to have a legislative committee draft the new constitution. The Senate approved that document, but the House rejected it. This defeat produced such a public outcry for a constitutional convention that Coke convened a special session of the legislature to call the 1875 convention. Ultimately the public overwhelmingly approved the Constitution of 1876, an organic law whose style and substance was without precedent in Texas and had only recently emerged in the nation as a whole.
The 1874 document can best be understood in comparison with the state's other post-Civil War constitutions. In terms of substance the 1874 organic law had much in common with constitutions Democrats wrote in 1866 and Republicans drafted in 1869, as all three of these documents provided for a stronger and more expensive state government (although the 1869 constitution was longer and contained more technical detail). Among the more important similarities were stipulations of annual sessions of the legislature, a state superintendent for education, higher salaries for state officials, and the traditional lack of controls on state and local taxing powers. A distinctive feature that the 1874 document shared only with that of 1869 was the absence of the usual constitutional prohibition on banks (see BANKS AND BANKING). The 1874 constitution also contained measures designed to exclude African Americans from the political process by introducing a poll tax and by giving the hated Republican measure of voter registration constitutional standing. Further reinforcing the anti-Black character of the 1874 document was its absence of provisions found in the 1869 constitution that affirmed the equality and rights of Blacks.
While the resemblances between the 1874 constitution and the earlier documents are notable, the differences between that organic law and the Democratic-prepared Constitution of 1876 are even more striking. The disparity between the 1874 and 1876 documents reflects the scope of the division that emerged in the state Democratic party after Reconstruction. Grangers dominated the 1875 constitutional convention, and their work stood in stark contrast to the legislative-written 1874 document. Though the 1874 organic law increased government power, the 1876 constitution imposed unprecedented controls on it. Using the technique quickly gaining popularity in other states, north and south, the 1875 convention employed the device of constitutional maximums. For example, not only were tax rates and the salaries of state officials lowered, but the legislature lost the authority to increase these measures in the future. The 1875 convention also refused to act against Black voting as the 1874 legislature had because such measures threatened poor Whites as well as Blacks. Points of similarity did exist, such as continuing to allow a maximum one-fourth of all the state's tax revenue to go to education (this was legislatively mandated until 1879). The continuity of the 1874 document with the 1866 and 1869 constitutions and its discontinuity with the 1876 organic law fitted a pattern: active-government state constitutions written in the 1860s and early 1870s were followed by restrictive ones starting later in the 1870s, especially in the North.
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John Walker Mauer, Southern State Constitutions in the 1870s: A Case Study of Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, Rice University, 1983). John Walker Mauer, "State Constitutions in a Time of Crisis: The Case of the Texas Constitution of 1876," Texas Law Review 68 (June 1990).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
John Walker Mauer,
“Constitution Proposed in 1874,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 30, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
August 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 7, 2020