Richard Coke on Constitution-Making
Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by
OSCAR WALTER ROBERTS*
UST A FEW DAYS AFTER HIS INAUGURATION AS GOVERNOR IN JANUARY,
1874, Richard Coke' pointed the Fourteenth Texas Legislature toward
the task of constitutional reform. His call set in motion the process
which created the Constitution of 1876. "It is admitted on all hands," he
proclaimed, "that the Constitution of ,Texas must be extensively and ra-
dically amended or a new one adopted."2 Thus he summarized two years
of public clamor which had surfaced when the Democratic party gained
control of the legislature during the last half of the administration of Re-
publican Governor Edmund J. Davis.3
Mode of reform was a particular concern. Since the choice for amend-
ment or for complete overhaul belonged to the legislature, Coke maintained
a nonintervention policy-hinting only that one procedure was less costly
than the other. When the House and Senate became deadlocked, however,
Coke sided with the forces for economy and a joint committee of the legis-
lature quickly drafted a revision of the 1869 Constitution. The new docu-
ment is said to have been better than either the Constitution of 1869 or
that of 1876 which finally replaced it. Nonetheless, the House rejected it,
fearing that the voters would turn down any but a totally new state charter
and might also vote out of office anyone involved in the creation of the
revision. Hence, the first session of the Fourteenth Legislature ended with
*Oscar Walter Roberts, a Presbyterian clergyman and a research assistant at the
Archives of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas,
is a doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Texas at Austin.
'Richard Coke (1829-1897), a Virginian and graduate of William and Mary College,
served as associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court, 1866-1867, governor, 1874-1876,
and United States senator, 1877-1895. Charles W. Ramsdell, "Richard Coke," in Allen
Johnson and Dumas Malone (eds.), Dictionary of American Biography (20o vols.; New
York, 1958), II, Part 2, pp. 278-279; Waiter Prescott Webb and H. Bailey Carroll
(eds.), The Handbook of Texas (2 vols.; Austin, 1952), I, 370. Coke resigned as gov-
ernor December I, 1876. The Handbook erroneously dates his governorship as 1874-1877
and his Senate service, 1877-1885.
2Richard Coke to the Legislature, January 26, 1874, [p. 7], Executive Correspondence,
4-15/161, Box 20 (Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin).
SEdmund Jackson Davis (1827-1883), a Floridian by birth, came to Galveston, Texas,
in 1838, and later studied law in Corpus Christi. A brigadier general in the Union army,
he was later president of the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869 and gov-
ernor of the state, 1870-1874. Webb and Carroll (eds.), Handbook of Texas, I, 469-470.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117149/. Accessed May 31, 2016.