The following is a joint collaboration with Janice Hyde, Assistant Law Librarian for Collections.
March is a very important month for Texas. March is Texas History Month! Every year, on March 2, Texas celebrates the anniversary of its independence. And it’s no surprise that this anniversary aligns with the festivities set out for Texas Public Schools Week, a week-long celebration where members of the public are invited to activities at schools throughout the state. Since its declaration of independence, in 1836, Texas is celebrating its 181st anniversary. Another date, March 6, of that same year, marked the end of the most renowned battle of Texas history—the Battle of the Alamo. Most relevant for today’s post, on March 11, 1827, just nine years prior to its declaration of independence and separation from Coahuila, the Constitution of the Free State of Coahuila and Texas was issued in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila. That is, this constitution is celebrating its 190th anniversary. In observance of these anniversaries, we would like to share with you some institutional memory, alongside other details related to Coahuila and Texas.
In 1997 the Library of Congress mounted an exhibit to commemorate the restoration of the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibit, American Treasures at the Library of Congress, was divided into three parts that reflected the organizational scheme that Thomas Jefferson applied to his own collection of books: memory, reason, and imagination. I was fortunate to have assisted in the selection of items from the Law Library’s collection that were included in the “Reason” portion of the exhibit, where Jefferson filed his law materials. One of the items on display from the Law Library’s collection was the Political Constitution of the Free State of Coahuila and Texas (1827).
I was reminded of this particular book the other day when I learned that the Law Library had recently received approximately fifteen years of the official gazette from Coahuila, Mexico that had been missing from its collection. Today, Coahuila is one of the 31 states that presently make up the federation of Mexico, but in 1827, when the constitution was published, a large swath of what is today Texas was part of Mexico and the state was then known as Coahuila y Tejas. When describing the Law Library’s collection, we often say that the Law Library collects legal materials from all jurisdictions, past, present, and potentially future. The Political Constitution of the Free State of Coahuila and Texas (hereinafter, Constitution of Coahuila and Texas) represents the law at a particular time for a jurisdiction that no longer exists in the same form. The Law Library’s collection thus plays an important role in preserving the cultural heritage of past jurisdictions as expressed through their legal record.
While the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas was also published in Spanish, a curious fact about the English version shown here is that it was published in Natchitoches, which was once part of Coahuila and Texas and is now part of modern-day Louisiana.
Curiously, the constitution above is an English-language version of the constitution. This raises a question concerning the lingua franca of Coahuila and Texas, as a Mexican state: why would this Mexican state print a constitution in English? One possible explanation may be found in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence of the State of Texas:
“The Mexican Government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness, under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican Government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.” (Emphasis added.)
So, it is possible that when this constitution emerged, just nine years prior to Texas declaring its independence, Coahuila and Texas was a bilingual state—at least in its operation, if not officially. Another indication of this linguistic demarcation is that the vast majority of the signatories of the Texas Declaration of Independence and its constitution were Anglo-American.
Another question we wondered about was why Coahuila and Texas separated? The preamble of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Texas, in very powerful language, states that the Mexican Government
“. . . hath sacrificed our welfare to the State of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed, through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far-distant seat of Government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue.”
Below is an image of a Spanish version of this constitution that was published in Mexico City by “Imprenta de Galván, a cargo de Mariano Arévalo.”
Some of the nuances that we found interesting in the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas are the following:
Art. 16. The State is composed only of two classes of persons, viz: Coahuiltexanos †, and Citizens of Coahuila and Texas.
Art. 20. The rights of citizenship are lost; [. . .] by an executory [sic] sentence imposing, afflictive or infamous punishment; fourthly, for selling his vote, or buying that of another for himself or a third person, whether it be in the popular assemblies or any others; [. . .]
Art. 21. He who has lost the rights of a citizen can never recover them without the express enactment of Congress.
Art. 22. The exercise of these rights is suspended; [. . .] for not being twenty-one years of age. Married persons are excepted as they shall enter on the exercise of their rights as soon as they contract matrimony, no matter what may be their age; thirdly, for being debtors to the public after the expiration of the time given for accounting and after a previous demand of payment; fourthly, for a criminal prosecution, until the accused shall have been acquitted, or condemned to a punishment neither afflicting or infamous; fifthly, for not having any employment, office or known means of living; sixthly, for not knowing how to read or write: but this disposition shall take effect only after the year 1850; [. . .]
Janice and I found this segue into history absolutely fascinating. We hope to have whetted your intellectual curiosity. A special note of thanks goes out to David Little and Daniel Alonzo at the Texas General Land Office for their assistance with the map of Coahuila and Texas, and to our colleague Diane Schug-O’Neill at the Library of Congress Geography and Maps Division for pointing us in their direction.
†”Art. 17. The following persons are Coahuiltexanos: first, all persons born and domiciled in the Territory of the State, and their children; secondly, all those who, born in any other part of the Territory, may fix their residence in the State; thirdly, strangers of any nation, who are actually and legally established in the state; fourthly, citizens who may obtain from Congress a certificate of Naturalization, or who may have obtained a domicil [sic] in the State, according to the law which will be passed as soon as the general Congress of the Union passes a general Naturalization law, conformably, with the 26th section of the powers delegated to them by the Federal Constitution [of Mexico].”