Constitution of the Republic of Texas, 7 March 1836, Special Collections, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin.

A Work in Progress — the First Draft of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas

In March 1836, Washington, a small yet growing town on the Brazos River in southeast Texas, was the site of the conception of two foundational documents for the nascent Republic of Texas: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas.[1]

The stained, yellow paper on which the draft of the Constitution was written shows signs of age; however most of the writing remains completely legible.

The original signed Declaration resides at the Texas State Library and Archives in Austin; however the fate of the Constitution is shrouded in mystery. Both the Texas General Land Office and the State Archives possess drafts of the Constitution, but the final location of the copy signed on March 17, 1836 and ratified by the people of Texas on September 5, 1836, remains unknown to this day. Research suggests that the draft of the Constitution held at the GLO, a priceless memento of revolutionary Texas, may in fact be the first draft, and the first instance of the words “Republic of Texas” appearing on an official document.[2]

A reconstruction of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were penned in at Washington, Texas in March 1836. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Constitution, which laid out the basic framework and procedures for the new government of the Republic, was a vital task for the Convention of 1836 when they gathered on March 1.[3] Composed of eight pages of yellowed paper with writing appearing on both sides of the first six pages, the fragile draft is marred by stains and tears. It is currently encapsulated in an acid-free laminate, the result of a process (since discontinued) that took place at the GLO at some point in the 1950s.

Similar in many ways to the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the Republic of Texas established a government consisting of three branches — executive, legislative (including a House of Representatives and Senate), and judicial, with checks and balances between the branches. Guidelines for citizenship (excepting Africans and Native Americans), male suffrage, and legalized slavery were set down. Almost identical to the United States Constitution, the preamble reads:

“We the people of Texas in order to form a Government, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence and general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this constitution.”[4]
The preamble of the Constitution closely resembles that of the United States Constitution.

What is lacking from this draft is also notable — the Declaration of Rights, similar to the Bill of Rights from the United States Constitution — is not present in this iteration, but was added to the final version.

The first Article of the Constitution divided the powers of government into three departments — Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, “which shall remain forever separate and distinct.”

Throughout the brief, concise text, examples of editing can be seen where words have been crossed out, interlined, and crossed out again. Particularly of note, the second page indicates that there was debate regarding whether Representatives and Senators should be chosen or elected. Some Spanish and Mexican customs were carried over, especially in relation to land law, homestead exemptions, and the protection of community property.

There are examples of the editing process for the draft of the Constitution throughout its pages. Here, delegates debated whether Senators should be chosen or elected.

The final page of the document, a portion of a proposed amendment written by Robert Potter, did not make it into the final version of the Constitution. Potter proposed that all land grants issued under the authority of Spain and Mexico that were in excess of eleven leagues (approximately 48,708 acres) should be declared invalid.

This wording of Robert Potter’s proposed amendment under which “No claim of eleven leagues of land or more shall be valid” failed to be included in the final version of the Constitution.

This would have invalidated all eleven league grants acquired since they were authorized to Mexican citizens by Article 24 of the 1825 Colonization Law of the State of Coahuila y Texas, affecting a large amount of people. The amendment was rejected in this form, but was later added in a different, much more restrictive form, only outlawing the large grants authorized by Mexican laws passed in 1834 and 1835.[5] These laws only benefited a small amount of land speculators who lobbied the Monclova (Coahuila and Texas) legislature in 1834 and 1835. The 1834 and 1835 incidents became known as the “Monclova Speculations.”[6]

Regardless of its less than pristine condition, this draft of the Constitution is a powerful historical artifact. As one of two known drafts, it provides insight into the precise thinking of its creators, and captures a moment from a tremendously unstable time in Texas’ history. The hurried work done by the delegates of the Convention of 1836 set the foundation for the Republic of Texas, which gained independence slightly more than a month later. The Land Office is proud to possess such an important document, and to be able to share it with Texans and the world.

The draft Constitution of the Republic of Texas was conserved in 2005 thanks to a donation by the Sons of the Republic of Texas San Jacinto Chapter #1. You can read a transcription of the draft on our website.


[1] Ralph W. Steen, Handbook of Texas Online, “Texas Declaration of Independence,” accessed February 23, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjtce. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Joe E. Ericson, Handbook of Texas Online, “Constitution of the Republic of Texas,” accessed February 23, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mhc01. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] The handwriting on the majority of the document matches that of Herbert Simms Kimble, who was elected Secretary of the Convention, but was absent for a period during which another delegate assumed his duties. Taking this into account, the timing in which the draft was presented at the Convention, as well as the differing order of the articles and primitive state of the document’s contents, indicates that this document was likely presented on March 7, the first time a presentation was made, according to the diary of William F. Gray, an independent observer at the Convention. Jerry C. Drake, “Texas Constitution,” Austin, TX, 2006, accessed February 23, 2016, http://www.sanjacintosrt.org/aspx/Images/SaveHistoricalDocuments/1836_Republic_of_Texas_Draft_Constitution.pdf.

[3] Ralph W. Steen, Handbook of Texas Online, “Convention of 1836,” accessed February 23, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mjc12. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 3, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[4] Constitution of the Republic of Texas, 7 March 1836, Special Collections, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin.

[5] General Provisions, Sec. 10, The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, 17 March 1836, found in Wallace, Vigness and Ward, Documents of Texas History. Second Edition. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2002): 100, 104.

[6] Jodella K. Dyreson, Handbook of Texas Online, “War Party,” accessed February 29, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/waw02.