Republic of Texas Draft Constitution
The Republic’s constitution included provisions for slavery
by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner
After declaring its independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, fifty-nine Texan delegates representing twenty-one municipalities began drafting a constitution, debating the nuances of how the new nation would be governed. Not up for debate was the subject of slavery. Anglo Texans had been bringing enslaved men, women, and children to Texas since the 1820s and were determined to set up protections for slaveholders that would permit the institution of slavery to expand.
The wording of the constitution approved by delegates reinforced slaveholder rights at the expense of those enslaved and allowed for expanded immigration by slaveholders.
All persons of color, who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude. Congress shall pass no law to prohibit Emigrants from the United States of America from bringing their Slaves into the Republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such Slaves were held in the United States.
The delegates took steps to ensure that slavery would continue in Texas by making it difficult for slaveholders to free their enslaved persons, and they limited the presence of free blacks in Texas.
Nor shall Congress have power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slave-holder be allowed to emancipate his or her Slave or Slaves without the consent of Congress, unless he or she shall send his or her Slave or Slaves [outside] the limits of the Republic. No free person of African descent, either in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently in the Republic without the consent of Congress.
Finally, they agreed to the prevailing laws of other major nations like the United States and Great Britain, to outlaw the importation of enslaved persons directly from Africa.
The importation or admission of African Negroes into this Republic, excepting from the United States of the North, is forever prohibited and declared to be Piracy.
When these laws went into effect in 1836, the estimated enslaved population in Texas was 5,000. By 1845, when Texas joined the United States, the enslaved population had swelled to 30,000 — a 500% increase. The institution of slavery did not end in Texas until June 19, 1865, when an order enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Galveston. It would be four more years before the Texas Constitution of 1869 formally outlawed slavery.
This page of the 1836 Texas Constitution is on display in the Second Floor Republic of Texas Gallery in conjunction with the special exhibition, Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865, on view through July 9, 2017.
Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin
This artifact is not on view.