#OTD 1866: Constitutional convention approves new article on Judicial Department

On March 23, 1866, the constitutional convention debated amendments to Article IV, concerning the Judicial Department. The entire article ordered to be enrolled after its passage by a vote of 38-28.

Among the new features of the 1866 Constitution, the article on the Judicial Department:

  • Authorized the Legislature to establish county courts and other inferior courts or tribunals (art. IV, § 1), with appellate jurisdiction in cases originating in such courts assigned to the district courts (art. IV, § 6);
  • Provided for county court judges to be elected to 4-year terms (art. IV, § 15), with jurisdiction that included “misdemeanors and petty offences,” civil cases with no more than $500 in controversy, probate of wills, and appointment of guardians (art. IV, § 16);
  • Authorized the Legislature to establish criminal courts “in the principal cities within the State” (art. IV, § 1);
  • Expanded the Supreme Court to “five Justices, any three of whom shall constitute a quorum” (art. IV, § 2), and provided that the justices would be elected to 10-year terms and to elect their own “presiding officer, to be styled the Chief Justice” (art. IV, § 2);
  • Granted the Supreme Court “power, upon affidavits, or otherwise as by the Court may be thought proper, to ascertain such matters of fact as may be necessary to the proper exercise of its jurisdiction” (art. IV, § 3);
  • Established 8-year terms for district courts (art. IV, § 5), and assigned to them original jurisdiction for all suits “to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;” “for the trial of title to land”; “for the enforcement of liens”; and “for the trial of the right of property, levied on by virtue of any writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment, when the properties levied on shall be equal to or exceed in value one hundred dollars” (art. IV, § 6);
  • Gave the governor the power to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court and the district courts (art. IV, § 10);
  • Provided for a district attorney to be elected in each judicial district (art. IV, § 14) and a county clerk to be elected in each county (art. IV, § 18);
  • Provided for election of “a convenient number of Justices of the Peace, who shall have such civil and criminal jurisdiction as shall be provided by law, where the matter in controversy, shall not exceed, in value, one hundred dollars, exclusive of interest” (art. IV, § 19);
  • Preserved the right of trial by jury for “all cases of law or equity, where the matter in controversy shall be valued at, or exceed twenty dollars” (art. IV, § 20).



OTD 1836: Republic of Texas constitutional convention adjourns sine die

On March 17, 1836, having adopted a proposed constitution for the Republic of Texas, the constitutional convention adjourned. As recorded in the journals, “the Convention adjourned Sine die . . . on the 17th day of March, Anno Domini, 1836, and in the first year of the Independence of the Republic of Texas.” The constitution was later approved by a vote of the people in September 1836.

“Introduction to Researching Texas Constitutional History Online” now available

Be sure to download the new issue of the Journal of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society. It features a short article by this blog’s curator (“Introduction to Researching Texas Constitutional History Online”), an interview with him discussing the genesis of this blog, and even a picture of his ancestor Alfred Madison Massengale who settled in Milam County in 1852 (see below).

Thanks to the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society and Executive Editor David Furlow for their interest, and we welcome any new readers who are just now finding the blog!

Alfred Madison Massengale

OTD 1866: Eligibility to serve in state legislature limited to “white” citizens; residency requirement increased to 5 years

Consistent with the general resistance to recognizing full civil rights for freedmen in the wake of the Civil War, on March 5, 1866, the constitutional convention approved amendments to the legislative article (art. III) to specify that only “white” citizens were eligible to be elected to the Legislature. These restrictions ultimately were adopted as part of the 1866 Constitution, then later deleted in the 1869 Constitution.

The eligibility requirements were also changed to require five years of residency in the state to serve in the Legislature, increased from two years for the House and three years for the Senate under the 1861 Constitution.