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Agency History

Agency History

The Texas Secretary of State is a constitutional officer of the executive branch of state government, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate for a term concurrent with the governor’s (a two-year term at first, a four-year term since 1974). The office was first created by the Constitution of the Republic of Texas in 1836, and has been continued by each succeeding Constitution.

The Texas Constitution of 1845 required the Secretary of State to “keep a fair register of all official acts and proceedings of the Governor” and to provide these to the legislature when required. This duty (and others) were reiterated in the act “to define the duties of Secretary of State,” approved May 9, 1846. This authority was reconfirmed by the Constitutions of 1866 (Article V, Section 17), 1869 (Article IV, Section 17) and 1876 (Article IV, Section 21), and subsequent amendments.

The Secretary of State has an enormous number of duties and responsibilities, including the following: authenticating the publication of all laws passed by the state legislature; approving comptroller’s accounts against the state prior to payment; maintaining a register of all official acts and proceedings of the governor, and all appointments to state boards and commissions; interpreting and enforcing the Texas Election Code, as the state’s chief election officer; keeping the Seal of the State of Texas; and maintaining many business-related filings, including corporation and Uniform Commercial Code filings.

The only duty of the Secretary of State specified by the Constitution of 1836 was to receive “returns of all elections for officers who are to be commissioned by the President” (General Provisions, Section 2). The 1st Congress approved a Joint Resolution on December 13, 1836 “defining the duties of the heads of departments of the government.” However, the duties of this cabinet (composed of the Secretaries of State, War, Navy, and Treasury, and the Attorney General) were expressed in extremely vague terms, i.e.: “to conform to and execute the instructions of the president, whether general or particular; and to give respectively and collectively, such needful aid and counsel whenever required so to do by the chief magistrate of the republic, as may be requisite to a firm, wholesome and harmonious administration of the government.” Much of our knowledge of what the Secretary of State did during the Republic period derives from the existing records themselves. Although never so stated in law, obviously a major function of the Secretary of State under the Republic of Texas was diplomatic, a function unique to Texas’ history as an independent nation.

During the next nine years of the Republic’s existence, Congressional acts added little in the way of explicit duties: to receive from the chief justices of the county courts “a description of their county boundaries, and such other information and observations relative to the same, as they may conceive conducive to the convenience of their citizens” (December 17, 1836); to furnish Texan consuls with instruction for the proper regulation of foreign trade (December 18, 1837); to contract for the printing of the laws and journals of the Republic of Texas, and to arrange for their distribution (December 18, 1837 and later dates); to contract for the translation and compilation of Republic laws into Spanish ( “the Castilian language”) (December 18, 1837 and January 12, 1842); to become the depository for a Library purchased for the Republic of Texas (January 24, 1839); to create a Patent Office, as a bureau of the office of Secretary of State, and to grant patent rights “for any new and useful art, machine, instrument or composition of matter, liberal arts, sciences or literature, books, maps or charts, or any new and useful improvement of the same . . . invented or discovered” (January 28, 1839); to draw from the war department funds appropriated to run a boundary line between the Republic of Texas and the United States (November 26, 1840); to assume the duties of the Postmaster General, appointing and supervising a clerk for a bureau called the “General Post Office,” and to receive from the former Postmaster General all records of the abolished Post Office Department (January 18, 1841); to issue writs of election to fill certain vacancies in counties (December 7, 1841).

Except for its diplomatic duties, most of the functions of the Secretary of State under the Republic were apparently continued during the period of early statehood following annexation. An act of the 1st Legislature (approved May 9, 1846) “to define the duties of Secretary of State” included the following: to maintain a register of all official acts of the governor, and to provide the same to the legislature when required (this duty had also been spelled out by the first state Constitution, 1845); to keep a complete register of all officers appointed and elected in the state; to commission all such appointed and elected officers when not otherwise provided for by law; to record depositions and affirmations required by law to be made by resident aliens wanting to hold real estate in Texas; to arrange and preserve all books, maps, parchments, records, documents, deeds, conveyances, and other papers belonging to the State, that have been or may be properly deposited there, and sealed with the state seal (which copies shall be considered admissible as evidence in the state’s courts of law); to attend every legislative session to receive bills which have became laws, and to bind and maintain such bills and enrolled joint resolutions in the office of the Secretary of State; to deliver a certified copy of these laws (with indices and marginal notes) to the public printer, and to edit and correct them after printing; to distribute the printed laws and journals to a list of state, local, and federal officials specified; and to furnish forms to county election officials for election returns, and to receive certified election returns from these officials for members of the legislature (this last duty included in “an act regulating elections,” approved May 11, 1846).

An act of February 11, 1854 created a Board of Commissioners composed of the Secretary of State, the Comptroller, and the Attorney General, “to superintend the arranging and filing of the archives of the late Republic of Texas and of the State Legislature, and also the recording of the Journals of the said Congress and State Legislature … to be deposited in the General Land-office of the State.” An act of December 14, 1863 made the Secretary of State “the custodian of the records of the Senate and House of Representatives.” And an act of March 25, 1887 provided that “the entire archives of the late Republic of Texas, … together with the records, books, and journals of said Congress” would be “deposited in the Office of the Secretary of State,” and “declared to be Archives of said office.”

The office of the Secretary of State is divided into five divisions (as of November 2013): Administrative Services, Business and Public Filings, Elections, Information Services, and Protocol/Border.

For additional history of a specific division, see the Agency History note for that component of the Secretary of State’s office. Only divisions present in the Texas Digital Archive will have this additional information.

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