Stephen F Austin to Josiah H Bell, 04-04-1829

Summary: Pointing out errors in the public attitude toward the ayuntamiento, and explaining its duties. Budget, manuscript translation of the laws, "shyster" lawyers.

April 4 1829

Mr J. H. Bell

Dr Sir, I have heard with regret and surprise of the numorous reports and rumors that are in circulation, and fomenting the public mind— When I first heard of them I paid but little attention to them, for they were so absurd and unfounded that I thought they would correct themselves— I also felt confident that the good sence of the people would point out to them the necessity of harmony and union, and the justice of at least enquiring into the truth of rumors before they were received as facts- It is reported, as I am told, that " the colony is to be loaded with Taxes to build a splendid court house for the lawyers to strut in"— All the answer that is necessary to this rumor is, that it is false.

The law requires certain duties of the Ayumtamiento and the members can be severely punished if they are not strictly attended to, and they cannot be discharged without some funds— The Ayto of last year did not comply with their duty in any one particular— they did nothing that the people ever heard of, and they were therefore popular, but it cost me and Williams a great deal of labor and it required all I could do to keep them from being fined severely— they contracted a debt of upwards of four hundred dollars which was turned over to this Ayto to be paid

It is necessary to have a secretary who understands both languages and a Salary of 1000 Dollars was offered to Williams- The other necessary expenses will be two hundred dollars more at least, for Blank Books, Stationary, fire wood, house rent, Indian expences; post office account etc these items make $1600—- It is by law the duty of the Ayto to provide a safe and secure place to keep the public records in and it is also a duty due to the people of the jurisdiction— The records are now kept in a log cabin, in danger of being distroyed by fire, and are dayly becoming defaced by wet and exposure and it was intended to try and build a fire proof room of brick merely large enough for the object, and to put up a frame house similar to the one built by Cooper which would have cost about three hundred dollars to serve as a court house or office for the Alcalde— The law requires that there should be a jail and it was intended to try and put up a small one— this is the extent of what was contemplated provided funds could be raised— The plan that was adopted as to raising funds, was to make an estimate of all the expences, including every thing, under the supposition that the buildings would all be put up, and 4700 dolls was the highest estimate, of this sum 100 would be raised by the ferry and it was calculated that about 1500 could be raised by the tax on stores, groceries, Lawyers and doctors, and out of the sale of town and out lots in this place making a sum of 1600 dollars, without calculating anything from fines on drunkards, a law by the bye which I will insist shall be inforced with the utmost rigor not because I delight in punishing a drunkard but because it is time to stop the confusion and disorder they have heretofore produced, agreeably to this calculation there would have been about $3000 to raise by taxes on property, but it was not intended to raise this sum all at once— The System that was intended to pursue was [to] raise enough first to pay off the old debt and to meet the common current expences; and then to make an exhibit of the same to the people— to procure the best data that could be obtained as to the expence of a small building for the records and another for a court house, or for only one of them, and also for a small jail, and if it was found after making an experiment that the funds could be raised to build them, it was intended to raise them and not otherwise, and never to raise them all at once, but gradualfy as they were needed— and if from the unproductiveness of some of the sources of revenue that were calculated on, it was found that the tax on property would be oppressive, it was intended to lower it and only to raise as much as was necessary and no more— I did believe that enough could be raised to defray the common expences and to build the office for the records this year and the jail could be built next year but I am now induced to think nothing can be raised and that the Municipal Govt must totally stop and be suspended— arrangements were made to procure a secretary— but they are broken up— there will be no secretary and the only way I see of getting along is for me to do all the writing that has to be done in Spanish— it is a much heavier burden than is supposed, but it seems that when I undertook the colony I inlisted myself for life— I am getting weary and less patient that I once was, tho I will not " give up the ship while I live and the people shall have the use of my time and labor so long as I can be of use to them in any way except one I never will be Alcalde if I can avoid it for if I ever take the oath required by that office I will rigidly execute it, and if I do I can hope for noth- ing but abuse and misrepresentation— the people are too much disposed to lissen to those who have more to says and less to loose than any body in the country honest men will become disgusted and will fly the country rather than accept of an office—

Another report is that no petition will be recd unless drawn up by a lawyer— that report is totally false and I cannot but be surprised that any one should have believed it for one moment— They have no idea of their rights or of the constitution or they never would have believed such a rumor— The Alcalde made a set of Court rules and posted them up in his office I never read them untill this day, and I send you a copy of the articles which I presume gave rise to the reports— they regulate the number of times that a person may speak, which is no more than is done in all courts

There is a report that the Alcalde will allow no suits to be brought before the Commisarios this is also false Some have insisted that he should issue process all over the colony for all sums and he has done so I believe in a few instances— for the future he will do so no more but compel all suits within the jurisdiction of a Commissario to be brought before that officer—the jurisdiction of a commisario is 100 Dollars and no more

Excessive and illegal fees have been allowed to the sheriff, but this Alcalde followed the example of the last one— I believe that the fee bill was not published last year because it was feared the sheriff would make a clamour, and it appeard that whoever abused the Alcaide was lissened to wheither he was right or wrong— Williams has translated the fee bill and it was published a few days ago—

There appears to be a great prejudice against Major Leagues and the most scurrulous and unjust abuse is heaped upon him—I believe that all this is unjust and unfounded so far as I can understand or know of his acts— and I am of opinion that it all originated from personal animosity and nothing else—

The ears of the people have been tickeled and irritated by the cry of party party and corruption untill they begin to doubt wheither there is an honest man in this place or in the world— I believe that this cry of party and corruption etc is all false, and that it is gotten up by personal enemies of League for the express purpose of trying to distroy him— I belong to no party and will engage in no personal animosities but I do say, justice compels me to say that League is an injured and persecuted man or I am more deceived than I ever was before in my life— he has been challenged and threat- ened with clubs and death— I know not for what}— It is said the people will rise and mob him— I cannot understand for what— he has one fault which has injured him greatly— he is too' irritable— his personal enemies are if possible more so— all is combustable matter ready to blaise out at every trifle and thus the best interests of the colony are actually sported with by a set of hot headed madmen, let the people frown upon all these inflamitory beings, alike, and they will all learn to keep their tempers, and not be wantonly playing with the public tranquility, the character, and best interests of the colony, and let them investigate both sides of every question, before they condemn or approve—

As regards the Lawyers, they abuse each other-— and charge each other with unfair practices etc, all this is in the natural order of things— they do the same in all countries, but I have never before seen a people who paid any other attention to such quarrels than to treat them with contempt—in this country the Lawyer who is most active in getting the ears of the people, has generally succeeded in inlisting their feelings in his favor and in rousing their inflamitory passions or creating violent prejudices against his opponent— I totally disapprove of this course in all— It is both criminal and contemptable in the lawyer who does it— and displays a want of common sence in the people to be operated on by such means— The people descend from the lofty dignity of sovereigns, when they suffer their passions to be inlisted in the disputes and animosities of a gabling lawyer— you wish the lawyers to be put down the way to do it is for the people to curb their contentious dispositions, and instead of calling on lawyers sheriffs and Alcalde, call in their neighbors and settle their disputes by means of arbitrations— in this way they will be put down— they fatten on the dissentions of the people, I do believe that a Lawyer would get rich by picking to pieces the property of one hundred americans, when he would starve on 20,000 of any other people on earth—

The truth is the people of this colony are better off and might be happier than any other people on earth—and it is also true that they are now on the broad road to total ruin—they are destroying themselves—most of the evils that now exist, or are supposed to exist have their origin with the people themselves—they are too much disposed to run into extreems, at one time withholding all confidence, and suspecting or doubting every thing, and opening their ears to idle rumors, and at another shewing the most perfect indifference as to who are elected to manage their affairs, or wheither the laws are executed or not—at the last election for Alcalde but few votes were taken in any part of the Colony, and part of those that were given in, were worse than thrown away— At the late Militia election about 150 votes were taken out of upwards of five hun- dred— in the 3d company out of about 140 men 44 votes were taken, in the 4th company out of 106 men 14 voles were taken—it was considered a matter of no consequence altho, those who are now elected are to be commissioned by the Governor and unless they resign or are broke are officers for life and rise by regular promotion as vacancies occur to the highest rank in the Regiment— It is considered a matter of no importance to elect an Alcalde to administer justice, an Ayuntamiento to manage our civil matters, and officers to lead us into battle—notices for elections are treated with indifference and contempt, and in this way the best and dearest interests of the Community are wantonly sported with, and are as likely to fall into the hands of a fugitive vagabond or an ignorant fool as into those of an honest or intelligent man— A community that tramples on so sacred a privilege as the elective franchise deserves to suffer, and sooner or later it will suffer— But if a talking, inflamitory and artfull demagogue opens his mouth, all is attention, these same officers whose election was of no consequence are suspected, watched, and often [abused?] and cursed and condemned by the awful . . .l ion without invest[gation] . . . This inconsistency . , . [This is a very seri?]ous situation, there is a general [spirit of cav-?] iling that will lead to ruin if it is not checked— The people must repose confidence in some one, and believe that there is some honesty in the world, or they are lost—their own wild passions will destroy them

If they will have confidence in me and apply to me to explain what they do not understand, I will attend to their requests—their enquiries shall all be answered so far as I can answer them

The laws cannot be published in print so that every man will have a copy of them, and there is no other way but for the people to come and read the manuscript translations that are in the office, or to have confidence in some one— I am bold to say that I have done nothing to forfeit the confidence of the people of this Colony-— and yet I have no doubt but that I should be abused if I was Alcalde as much as any body else

I hope you will all be satisfied as to the reports which I have noticed and that there will be no more excitement on that ground— and I also hope that in future the people will enquire before they judge or condemn—

[Stephen F. Austin.]

I have written in haste and expressed my feelings frankly—I am uneasy and concerned to see so much unnessery exictement. Would it not have been better to have ascertained the truth of all these matters before passion was indulged—? What I have said to you I say to all, and if you think proper to shew my letter you can do so to who you please


It is very important to send in the reports of births and deaths agreeably to the advertisement on that subject, and I hope it will not be neglected—for the Ayto are obliged to make this return every three months or be fined— I have explained this matter fully to Cap Baily for it is not understood

[Addressed:] Mr J. H. Bell Lower Settlement