Oil and the Permanent University Fund:
The Early Years
DAVID F. PRINDLE*
IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, TEXAS WAS A STATE POOR IN COMMERCE
and industry but rich in land. As part of the 1845 treaty under which
it entered the union, the state kept its public domain; unlike the situa-
tion in the other western states, the federal government was not a
major landholder in Texas. For half a century after gaining its inde-
pendence from Mexico, the Texas government used its public lands
to accomplish state purposes otherwise beyond its capabilities. It put
to use nearly 150 million acres to encourage railroads, attract settlers,
reward soldiers, and educate citizens.?
The first land endowment for a university was voted by the Congress
of the Texas Republic in 1838, but no surveys were authorized until
eighteen years later. This land was sold without creating a university.
In 1858 the original fifty-league (221,421 acre) grant was confirmed by
the state legislature, and the future university was promised, in addi-
tion, one of every ten sections of land that had been reserved for the
state in railroad grants.2
The Civil War and Reconstruction intervened at this point, and it
was not until 1875 that the state government returned to the problem
of creating a university. By that time, however, squatters had moved
onto much of the hypothetical university's possessions. Fearing to incur
the political opposition that would follow a confirmation of the uni-
versity's title to these tracts, the authors of the Constitution of 1876
reneged on the one-in-ten section promise and substituted for it a mil-
lion acres in the largely unsettled western half of the state. The legisla-
ture of 1883 added approximately another million acres in the same
* David F. Prindle is associate professor of government at the University of Texas,
1Newsweek, Sept. 17, 1979, p. 39; Thomas Lloyd Miller, The Public Lands of Texas,
159--1970 (Norman, Okla., 1972), xi, xii.
2Miller, Public Lands, 12o, 121.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed March 2, 2015.