Stephen F. Austin to Baron de Bastrop, 11-03-1826

Summary: Suggestions for legislation—judicial system, digest of laws, sub-political chief, recording titles, land fees, appointment of commissioners to extend titles,

To the Baron de Bastrop member of the State Legislature from Texas

One of the most important subjects to the people of the State of Cuahuila and Texas is a speedy organization of the Judiciary on a system which promises permanency uniformity in the interpretation of laws, and convenience to the people—A Superior Court to sit at Saltillo and at Bexar alternately, and subordinate Circuit Courts would probably be the best. The Department of Texas might be divided into two Circuits from the Sabine to the Baca to form one, and thence to the Western limit of the Department to form another, and the balance of the State to be divided as circumstances may require with a Judge in each Circuit. The Circuit Courts might have final appellant Jurisdiction in all cases sent up from Alcaldes and original jurisdiction in all Civil and Criminal Cases beyond the Jurisdiction of Alcaldes, and the Superior Court appellant jurisdiction from the Circuit Courts in all civil cases over a certain amount, and original jurisdiction in cases of great importance. The Circuit Courts to have jurisdiction in all cases of probate and settling Estates, recording will[s] etc. regulating the rates of ferriage and granting licenses to ferrymen, tavern keepers etc. etc. and in case the trial by jury is not allowed their decision in Criminal Cases should be subject to the revisal of some Superior tribunal so as not to give one man the power of deciding finally in Case of Life and death. The Circuit Courts for this Circuit might hold three terms at this place, and three terms at Nacogdoches in the year; say in this place on the second Mondays of October, February and June, and at Nacogdoches on the second Mondays of December, April and August. There should be a clerk appointed at each place where the Circuit Courts are held to keep the records of said Court [to] issue process etc and his fees clearly defined by law.

There should be a sheriff or alguacil in each place where said Court is held to execute its orders and decrees and his duties and fees defined.

There should be a Notary Public for this Colony and one for Nacogdoches with his fees clearly defined.

The jurisdiction of the Alcaldes and their specific duties and powers should be clearly defined even to the furnishing of forms so as to give uniformity to their proceedings.

Judicial proceedings in the department of Texas originally had in the English language when translated by the proper person should have the same validity as if originally had in Spanish. Without this the new settlers will be totally debarred all access to courts of Justice for not one in a hundred understands Spanish— Also there should be some provision for the appointment of translators and their perquisites or fees fixed by law.

There should be a complete digest of all the laws in force, published in a bound book and generally circulated gratis to every officer civil judicial and militia throughout the State and sold to the people on moderate terms.

Owing to the distance from the new Settlements to Bexar and the inconvenience that will arise in Communicating with the Govt by the Alcaldes individually there should be a Gefe Subalterno (Subaltern Civil Chief) to reside at San Felipe de Austin whose authority should extend from the Sabine to Labaca, or two Chiefs of this description, one for the Country from Sabine to Neches and another from there to Labaca—This Chief or Chiefs should understand both Spanish and English and be the organ of Communication between the Govt and the Alcaldes and the other subordinate officers of the jurisdiction, and be a subordinate executive officer subject to the orders of the Chief of Department and Govor of the state etc.—he should have a Secretary legally appointed and his fees for translating and other perquisites as well as his duties clearly defined by law. If such a chief is not appointed great in- convenience will arise in communicating with each Alcalde separately by the Chief of Department in consequence of the want of a knowledge of the Spanish Language and Customary forms of doing business.

All deeds or Mortgages for real Estate should be recorded in the office of the Notary in a bound book or should there be no Notary in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court within three months after they were executed or be void.

I deem it very important that there should be a clear understanding with the Govt as to the fees which the Empresario can ask and receive from the Settlers for he must be at a great expence, for translators, Clerks, attending in person to the Surveying, locating the Settlers, showing new Emigrants the Country, making presents to Indians, keeping an open house, as he must do for some time for persons who come into explore the Country and many other expences which at first view do not appear important but at the end of a year amt to a large sum.

Also the manner of running the division line along the reserve on the Coast should be defined—The law calls for the " Gulf of Mexico " as the base, and to leave the margin of the Gulf and meander round the lakes such as Galveston and Matagorda will entirely be a departure from the law—it appears to me equally as proper to follow up a River to its head because it discharges into the Gulf and to begin the measurement there, as to follow round the meanders of a Lake or shallow Bay that has a narrow inlet. The expense of runing this line will be very great if the lakes are to be meandered, and who is to pay it. I think the line ought to be nearly straight and the out side of the Coast, that is the shore of the " Gulf of Mexico " taken as the base to measure from.

Many old claims are said to exist on the Trinity, Neches and in the Nacogdoches district—there ought to be commissioners appointed with full power to decide on them finally so that it may be known what land is vacant and what is not, if this is not done several claims may be set up for the same land and hence will arise endless lawsuits and confusion, and it will also be impossible for the Empresario to know what lands he can settle or what are taken up by previous claims for the records of most of these old claims are said to have been lost in the revolution which renders it difficult to decide from any legal written evidence as to their validity

San Felipe de Austin 3 November 1826

Stephen F. Austin [Rubric]

[Endorsed:]-Reflections sent to the member of the Legislature of this state for Texas, the Baron de Bastrop—copy