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A Clash of Legal Systems in the Republic of Texas

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Abstract:

When Anglos began to move into the Texas region in the 1840s, they bought and sold land under Mexican law. Because of the existing Spanish/Mexican system, married women could own both real and personal property in their own name. Though husbands usually managed the property, wives could bring a lawsuit against their husbands if the husband was wasting their property. They could dispose of this property by deed or by will. Property brought into the marriage by either party was seen as being owned jointly, and equally, by both husband and wife. Land bought and sold under this system carried the same rights of ownership regardless of changes in nationality. When Texas seceded from Mexico, the Anglos in charge first sought to impose the English common law system onto all lands in Texas. As a result, the Republic of Texas legislature passed conflicting laws regarding property ownership, and regarding the rights of married women to own property in their own name.

This presentation aims to examine this crucial moment in the making of the political economy of the borderlands area during the period of U.S. expansion into Mexico with the U.S. annexation of Texas. John Hemphill, who later became Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, attempted to blend two entirely different legal systems. When Texas was about to be annexed to the United States, its legislators faced a problem of how to negotiate the older gender-based property rights regime which derived from the Spanish legal system with a new U.S.-based model, which promoted no special rights for women, insisting rather on claims of national affiliation. Because most residents of Texas had left the U.S. owing large sums to money to various entities, the U.S. annexation of Texas created the possibility that land owned by debtors in Texas could be seized to pay those debts. In order to avoid this result, lawmakers adopted the Spanish legal system’s approach to married women’s property rights. That way, only half at most of a Texan’s land could be seized for debt as the other half belonged to his wife. They also adopted the Spanish idea of exempting the homestead from seizure to pay debts, and steadily increased the amount of property that could be included in the homestead exemption. Hempill's research into Spanish law was unique for his time and his insistence on applying it remains a cornerstone of the convergence of the gendered and national identity in and around Texas.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245042_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Stuntz, Jean. "A Clash of Legal Systems in the Republic of Texas" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245042_index.html>

APA Citation:

Stuntz, J. A. "A Clash of Legal Systems in the Republic of Texas" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p245042_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: When Anglos began to move into the Texas region in the 1840s, they bought and sold land under Mexican law. Because of the existing Spanish/Mexican system, married women could own both real and personal property in their own name. Though husbands usually managed the property, wives could bring a lawsuit against their husbands if the husband was wasting their property. They could dispose of this property by deed or by will. Property brought into the marriage by either party was seen as being owned jointly, and equally, by both husband and wife. Land bought and sold under this system carried the same rights of ownership regardless of changes in nationality. When Texas seceded from Mexico, the Anglos in charge first sought to impose the English common law system onto all lands in Texas. As a result, the Republic of Texas legislature passed conflicting laws regarding property ownership, and regarding the rights of married women to own property in their own name.

This presentation aims to examine this crucial moment in the making of the political economy of the borderlands area during the period of U.S. expansion into Mexico with the U.S. annexation of Texas. John Hemphill, who later became Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, attempted to blend two entirely different legal systems. When Texas was about to be annexed to the United States, its legislators faced a problem of how to negotiate the older gender-based property rights regime which derived from the Spanish legal system with a new U.S.-based model, which promoted no special rights for women, insisting rather on claims of national affiliation. Because most residents of Texas had left the U.S. owing large sums to money to various entities, the U.S. annexation of Texas created the possibility that land owned by debtors in Texas could be seized to pay those debts. In order to avoid this result, lawmakers adopted the Spanish legal system’s approach to married women’s property rights. That way, only half at most of a Texan’s land could be seized for debt as the other half belonged to his wife. They also adopted the Spanish idea of exempting the homestead from seizure to pay debts, and steadily increased the amount of property that could be included in the homestead exemption. Hempill's research into Spanish law was unique for his time and his insistence on applying it remains a cornerstone of the convergence of the gendered and national identity in and around Texas.


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