SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 1997-2000,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Coahuila y Tejas-Index | DeWitt Colony Government
The Government of Coahuila and Texas Under the State
Constitution of 1824
From Romance and Tragedy of Texas History by Sam Houston Dixon, 1924
Frequent reference is made by writers on Texas history to the constitution which governed the provinces of Coahuila and Texas during the first half of the nineteenth century. To secure a clear understanding of these references a brief discussion of the laws, decrees, etc., enacted under this constitution, is deemed appropriate at this time. To be able to discuss these matters in an intelligent manner we are forced to draw largely upon Mexican records, although the files of the Bexar and Nacogdoches records and the Austin and Lamar papers, supply valuable data covering this period.
According to a decree of the Mexican Federal Government the Provinces of Coahuila and Texas were united May 7, 1824. The congress of these joint provinces met the following August and remained in session until March, 1827. This congress framed and promulgated a new constitution and passed many laws. Among these laws was a general colonization law under which many colony grants, issued to Americans, were to be regulated. Baron do Bastrop, who was very friendly to American colonization, was one of the representatives to that body from the Province of Texas. The capitol of Coahuila and Texas was fixed at Saltillo and here this first congress, under the decree of May 7, 1824, held its long session. The Texans maintained agents at Saltillo to look after their interests.
The constitution promulgated by this congress divided the powers of government into the usual legislative, executive and judicial departments. The congress was composed-of one body. Its members were elected for a term of two years. To be qualified to serve as a member of this body one must have attained the age of twenty-five years. Foreign-born were required to have resided in the republic for a period of eight years and in addition thereto, must possess property valued at $8,000, or have an income of $1,000 a year. The congress was required to meet January 1st each and every year, following an election; a second session was required to be held in September. The January session was limited to four months and the September session to thirty days. Members were to receive such compensation as the preceding congress fixed. The compensation of the first congress to convene under the constitution was placed at a hundred pesos a month, with mileage of ten reales ($1.25) a league traveling, going and returning. The constitution enumerated the powers of congress largely after the powers possessed by legislative bodies in the United States. The members were enjoined by the constitution "to promote and encourage public knowledge and education by laws, and the progress of science, art and useful establishments, removing obstacles that retard such commendable objects."
All laws passed were subject to the veto of the governor, but could be passed over his veto by a two-thirds vote. The method of the governor's veto differed very materially from those of legislative bodies in the United States. In the exercise of its duties, congress created an executive council of three members, whose duty it was made to assist the governor, and he was required to consult this executive council in determining his course of action, on all measures passed by congress, although he was free to act as he chose after conferring with the deputies. In the event a bill was vetoed, he was authorized to send it back to the law-making body with a statement of his objections, and along with it a representative to present his reasons for his veto and to argue against it if it became necessary. In the event a bill was passed over the governor's veto, he was required to promulgate it as the law.
One provision of the constitution was unique in that it Provided that during the interim between the sessions of congress, it was to be represented by a board of four members chosen by that body and known as the "Permanent Deputies." The duties of this body were declared to be (1) to watch over the observance of the constitution and general laws of the union, and the private laws of the State; (2) to convoke extra sessions of congress when needed (3) to act as a credential committee and install new members after an election; (4) to organize a new session of congress and to administer the oath of office, and (5) in case of emergency, the permanent deputation might exercise the legislative power, reporting its acts to the congress at its next session.
The usual executive functions were exercised by the governor. To be eligible to this office be must have been born in Mexico, and must be thirty-five years of age or older. The term of office was four years, and he could not be re-elected to succeed himself.
The constitution also provided for the election of a vice-governor. He was ex-officio political chief of the department in which the state capitol was located; he could preside over the sessions of the executive council, but had no vote except in case of a tie vote. His real function was to act in the place of the governor in the case of the latter's incapacity to serve.
The judicial system was well defined in the constitution. Certain local officials were given jurisdiction over minor affairs, and there was a Supreme Court which sat at the capitol with appellate jurisdiction. Persons charged with criminal offense could give their testimony without taking an oath.
"Torture and compulsion shall never be used, in securing evidence," said the constitution. "One of the many objects of attention of Congress," said the constitution, "shall be to establish trial by jury in all criminal cases, to extend the same gradually and even adopt it in civil cases in proportion as the advantage of this valuable institution become practically known."
In obedience to this injunction, congress passed an act, April 17, 1834, extending trial by jury in both civil and criminal cases and more clearly defining a judicial system. The State of Texas was divided into three judicial districts, with a judge for each district. Inferior judges were provided for, corresponding with the present justices of the peace and county judges. The whole State was formed into one judicial circuit, denominated the "Superior Judicial Court of Texas." It was composed of one superior judge, one secretary, and one sheriff for each judicial district. This superior court was to open its sessions at San Antonio on the first Monday of January, April and August; at San Felipe on the first Monday in February, May and September; and at Nacogdoches on the first Monday, March, June and October. Superior judges were to be appointed by congress on nomination of the governor. They held office during good behavior and received $3,000 a year. Court proceedings could be carried on in both English and Spanish. Eight men out of twelve were sufficient to render a verdict. For local administration, the constitution divided Coahuila and Texas into three departments, all Texas constituting the Department of Bexar, with its capitol at San Antonio. A political chief presided over this department. He was appointed by the governor for a term of four years, on nomination of the local municipality. He received a salary of $800 a year and $400 for clerk hire and other expenses. He was the chief executive officer in his department, responsible for its peace and order. All laws and instructions, from superior authorities, were promulgated by him, and it was through him that citizens were able to communicate with the government.
In 1831 the eastern part of Texas was formed into a separate department, known as the Department of Nacogdoches. Its boundary was defined as beginning at Bolivar Point, on Galveston Bay. Thence running northwesterly to a stake between San Jacinto and Trinity Rivers, following the dividing ridge between the said rivers to the head waters of San Jacinto River. Thence following the dividing ridge between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers to the headwaters of the latter, and terminating north of the source of said Trinity River upon Red River.
In March, 1834, the Department of the Brazos was created. It embraced all that territory between the Departments of Bexar and Nacogdoches, the line between the Departments of the Brazos and of Bexar being in general the Lavaca and Guadalupe Rivers. Each of these departments was divided into municipalities, each consisting of a town or village, and an indefinite area of country surrounding it. The government of the municipality was vested in a board called the ayuntamiento elected by the citizens of the municipality. The presiding officer was known as the Alcalde. This office closely resembles that of mayor. The other members of the board were two or more regidores, according to the population of the municipality, and one sindico procurador. The regidores were the modern ward aldermen, and the sindico was the town clerk or recorder. The Alcalde was the official head of the municipality, and received and promulgated all public documents received from the political chief. -Municipal officers were elected by direct vote of the citizens of the municipality. State officers were elected by a different system. Primaries were held in each precinct of a municipality for the choice of electors. Voting was done by viva voce. As the name was called, the elector announced his vote and it was so recorded by tellers. The registration of voters was canvassed by the ayuntamiento and reported through the commissioners to the political chief of the department. The commissioners, in the presence of the political chief, canvassed the votes of the various municipalities, determined and announced the successful electoral candidates. Then the electors met at the capitol of the department and selected representatives to the State congress, and voted for governor and vice-governor. The election of governor and vice-governor was not completed until all of the votes of all electors' assemblies of the State were canvassed at the capitol. In case no candidate for governor and vice-governor received a majority of all votes cast, the election of these officers was made by congress, where one of the leading candidates was chosen.
The constitution also provided for a system of public education and a method of teaching the youths.
"In all the States," it provided, "a suitable number of primary schools shall be established wherein shall be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, the catechism of the Christian Religion, a brief and simple exposition of the Constitution, and that of the Republic, the rights and duties of men in society and whatever else may conduce to the better education of youths. "
Further, it provided the method of teaching shall be uniform throughout the State, and with this view * * * * congress shall form a general plan of public education, and regulate by means of statutes and laws all that pertains to this most important object. It also provided for the establishment of institutions of higher education where the arts and sciences were to be taught.
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SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 1997-2000,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved