The Consultation grew out of a proposed meeting of Texas representatives to confer on the prerevolutionary quarrel with Mexico. This idea was first advocated by opponents of revolution in the early summer of 1835 in Mina Municipality. Moderate and radical elements endorsed the concept to present a unified front. A meeting in Columbia on August 15 first used the term consultation, perhaps to avoid the revolutionary connotations that the word convention implied in Mexican politics. There was not complete agreement on the power of this body. Some treated it as sovereign, but others insisted that the gathering was to investigate, counsel, and recommend to the people and denied that it could assume legislative or constitutional functions. Though originally set for October 15, the Consultation was delayed until November 1 by the eruption of military hostilities earlier in the month, at the insistence of delegates-elect and army officers. On October 16 thirty-one members assembled at San Felipe and recognized the legitimacy of a Permanent Council for a two-week period. Enough of the delegates gathered on November 1 to begin deliberations, but no actual quorum existed until the fourth. They chose Branch T. Archer to preside.
The Consultation was not completely representative of all of Texas—no delegates served from the war zone districts of Bexar, Goliad, Refugio, Victoria, or San Patricio, and less than half of those elected attended from Bevil, Mina, and Matagorda. A total of fifty-eight of the ninety-eight credentialed delegates attended the Consultation. These factors weakened the influence of Stephen F. Austin, who remained with the Texas army, because several of the absent delegates had strong affiliations with him. John A. Wharton and Henry Smithqqv directed the faction opposed to the Austin group, headed by Don Carlos Barrett. Each group had the support of about a third of the delegates; the resulting balance of power led the Consultation toward compromise. The participants were experienced in Texas affairs—more than one-third had been local leaders during the earlier phases of the dispute with Mexico. The average delegate had resided in Texas longer than seven years and was thirty-eight years old, but many of those who had been identified with the land-speculating scandals in the Coahuila and Texas state legislature or those who had strongly favored conciliation with Mexico failed to win election. Most of the representatives were from the moderate movement that had sought a course between submission and revolution.
Three issues dominated Consultation deliberations—the purpose of the war, the power and structure of government, and the virtues of different leaders. Barrett, as leader of the Austin forces, favored endorsement of the Constitution of 1824. Pragmatic arguments supported this position, since there was hope that Mexican liberals might still rally to support Texas. The Wharton-Smith line of thought grew out of more overtly anti-Mexican attitudes and sought an immediate declaration of independence. On November 7 the Consultation, by a vote of 33 to 14, endorsed establishment of "a provisional government upon the principles of the Constitution of 1824." Yet, at the same time the delegates declared that Antonio López de Santa Anna had already dissolved the social compact and that Texas had the right to declare its independence.
Smith chaired the committee on the provisional government. The Consultation approved an interim structure called the Organic Law on November 13. The delegates abolished Mexican political titles and positions such as political chief. Otherwise, the Organic Law reflected a spirit of balance and hesitation. It established an executive along with a general council, made up of a representative from each municipality chosen by his delegation, to assist the governor. Its members had no legislative authority unless "in their opinion the emergency of the country requires" it, and could levy import duties but no other taxes. The governor was to have "full and ample" executive authority, including being head of the military forces, and could be given additional powers that the council thought necessary. The Organic Law also provided for judiciary and treasury departments. Structurally the Organic Law suffered from an unsound political concept in that the governor and council shared many of the same powers on the assumption that they would work together. The delegates chose the disputatious Smith as governor over Austin by 30 to 22. The Consultation displayed a deferential attitude toward the army in the field. It designed a land policy to reassure the soldiers who feared that while they sacrificed, the speculators would carry off the spoils. In three separate articles the Organic Law nullified the "fraudulent" grants made by the last state legislature, reaffirmed the benefits of earlier emigration policies to citizens who had not yet received their land, and ended all transactions for the duration of the war. The Consultation also provided for land grants of unspecified amounts for each volunteer.
The Wharton-Smith faction pushed for a regular army, disciplined by conventional military rules and subject to oversight by the civil government. The Consultation on November 13 passed both the Organic Law and a measure concerning the military. It provided for militia organization but also established a regular army with two-year enlistments and United States Army regulations; Sam Houston won unanimous election as commander, with the rank of major general. However, the Consultation made no attempt to assert its will over existing bodies of volunteer troops who elected their own officers, had little discipline, and served for unspecified enlistments. As a result, the regular army was not recruited. The Consultation refused to reconsider this arrangement on November 14, the day of its adjournment.
The focus on moderation and compromise held the Consultation together but left Texas without a clear course to its future in terms of leadership, purpose, structure of government, or military authority. The body left a legacy of uncertainty leaning toward anarchy.