- Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas
When colonists first arrived in the northern part of New Spain in the early 1700s, they introduced into what is now Texas Spanish civil law mixed with New World modifications. The fascinating story of how this law became established and applied in Texas, and how it evolved after Texas independence and annexation to the United States, is told in Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas. Michael Ariens has written a compelling and well-documented analysis and interpretation of the transformation of Texas law and legal culture, taking readers on a journey from Spanish colonial times to the present. The scope of his survey is daunting, but Ariens narrows the task by discussing statutes and case law that reflect the salient jurisprudential and cultural changes that have taken place in Texas during the past three centuries.
The first two chapters are a chronological analysis of the development of Texas law from 1718 to 1920 in the context of political and other events that helped shape Texas law during this period. The story of how Spanish civil law merged into American common law following the 1836 Texas Revolution, with important exceptions relating to homestead and marital property laws, is narrated along with the establishment and evolution of the Texas Supreme Court during the Republic of Texas and early statehood eras. Laws relating to slavery and the turbulent aftermath of the Civil War are also discussed. Texas constitutional law is analyzed from the 1836 constitution to the adoption of the present constitution and several important amendments. The chronological narrative includes a discussion of Reconstruction laws and the infamous Semicolon Case, in which the Texas Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Moses Walker, a former Union soldier who came to Texas from Ohio after the Civil War to help enforce federal authority, declared an 1873 election law unconstitutional based upon an interpretation of a semicolon in a provision of the 1869 Reconstruction constitution. Ariens refers to this opinion, which generated much excitement and criticism at the time, as "perfectly acceptable as a constitutional matter," but it foreshadowed the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the modern era of Texas law under the 1876 Constitution. Other topics covered include the rise of Jim Crow laws as well as laws affected by the discovery of oil at Spindletop, calls for prohibition of alcohol, and the women's suffrage movement.
Ariens covers five specific areas of Texas law in greater depth: land, oil, and water; laws relating to railroads and other corporations; family law in the context of cultural change; the legal profession, legal education, and the courts; civil law and civil rights; and civil procedure, civil remedies, and civil law. A strength of the [End Page 325] book is the placement of these laws and important cases within their historic and cultural context. Literally hundreds of statutes and cases are referenced, but the author himself admits that many topics of interest to historians and legal scholars are briefly covered if at all. Ariens succeeds, however, with a remarkably broad and cogent narrative of the topics he does cover. He accomplishes his objective without "mythologizing" Texas law or avoiding controversial subjects.
Although the book would benefit lawyers, it is appropriate and clearly written for anyone interested in Texas legal history. It is the third in the American Liberty & Justice Series published by Texas Tech University Press. The narrative is documented with fifty pages of footnotes and a lengthy bibliography and index. A foreword by Gordon Morris Bakken, professor of history at California State University, Fullerton, and editor of the series, appropriately concludes with these words: "Michael Ariens gives the reader a sense of how people mattered in the evolution of the rule of law. Remember, the chef knows what went into the sauce. That is the secret of place, but in Lone Star Law Ariens excises the ingredients of law and makes the recipes...