Book Review – Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas

Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas, by Michael Ariens. Texas Tech University Press, 2011, 366 pages. List price $33 hardback on Amazon.com.

Professor Ariens is professor of law and director of faculty scholarship at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He has taught in the areas of constitutional law, church and state, American legal history, and evidence.

This title is recommended for those interested in American legal history, the history of Texas, or Texas legal history. It is an appropriate narrative for the nonlegal professional. The author tries to avoid legal jargon, and he does caution that he presents an overview only. He presents a wonderful collection of resources in both the notes and bibliography that are available for further study. Ariens takes an unvarnished, unromanticized look at Texas legal history from the early 1700s to the early 2000s.

As an attorney who attended undergrad in Texas, I was fascinated to learn how Texas culture shaped the law rather than the law shaping culture. I was particularly interested to see the continuing theme of a desire for trial by jury and how that shaped events in Texas history.

The book examines the impact of Spanish and Mexican law on the creation of the Texas legal system … including community property law. Austin’s Colony, organized by Stephen F. Austin as the first legal settlement of North American families in Mexican-owned Texas, is discussed and shown as somewhat contrary to Mexican law (see aforementioned concept of jury trial). Ariens goes on to describe the development of the law of the Republic of Texas, including the Supreme Court, then the transition to statehood, including the law of free persons of color and slavery. He continues to follow the development of the law, the Court, and the Constitution through the Civil War. No Texas legal history would be complete without discussion of the Texas Railroad Commission, Jim Crow laws, women and suffrage, prohibition, and of course, the Texas Rangers. Ariens includes all of these and more.

The natural resources of Texas soon made themselves known, and the law followed close behind. Land distribution became a major concern as cattle ranching flourished, and many of the cattle investment syndicates were foreign owned. Enter Attorney General Jim Hogg and the Alien Land Law. Ariens moves onward, examining the development of mineral rights, oil and gas law, and water law.

With abundant natural resources (including land), corporations and banks were eager to move into Texas, though most early Texans were leery of both. The author covers the development of corporation law in Texas, including the Texas Railroad Commission, The Texas Traffic Association, antitrust law, and the modernization of business law in Texas.

A chapter on family law and cultural change covers the issues of marriage, common-law marriage, community property, bigamy, bastardy, adultery, and how marital status intersected with both criminal law and tort law. Ariens also explains divorce law, the Married Women’s Property Act of 1913, alimony, parent-child law, adoption, and the modern family code, as well as the Equal Rights Amendment and its (slow) effect on family law.

There is also a chapter concerning the legal profession, legal education, and the courts. Ariens reviews the development of ethical standards and lawyer discipline, the creation of bar associations and the development of large law firms in Texas. He talks about Texas women in the practice of law, including the All-Woman Texas Supreme Court of 1925 (appointed by the governor when all three regular members of the court recused themselves from a particular case).

A separate section examines criminal law and civil rights, including such far-flung topics as the “unwritten law” justifying homicide in the case of adultery and the varying laws on sodomy, lynching, and the death penalty. The author covers confessions, sentencing, prisons and prisoners, and the desegregation of Texas juries. The discussion on civil rights examines their impact on voting and education, including the use of affirmative action in higher education.

Before concluding, the author discusses civil procedure, civil remedies, and civil law, including continuing tort reform.

The book’s 366 numbered pages include the text, notes, bibliography, and index.

Wanita Scroggs, JD, MLIS, is international law librarian and adjunct professor at Dolly and Homer Hand Law Library at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida.

1 Response to “Book Review – Lone Star Law: A Legal History of Texas”


  1. 1 Dorothy LaBarbera (@DotsDash) May 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    While researching my Texas family I realized the need for knowledge of the law in Texas history. This review helped me decide that this title may be a good source for knowledge of historical context for our family events. (Reading a judge’s strong personal comments led me to believe that the courts were emotionally charge in Texas during Reconstruction.)


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