Stephen F Austin to William H Wharton, 04-24-1829

Summary: An excellent statement of difficulties overcome in founding his settlements and of his vision of their future. The present administration in Mexico favors slavery. Immigration of 500 southern men of character would make Texas. Future of the cotton trade with England in return for "untariffed" English manufacturers.

April 24, 1829

W. H. Wharton

Dr. Sir, Relying on what you told me at the mill that you would call and see me before you left I expected you. You ought to have called. You and myself are almost strangers, our personal intercourse has scarcely been sufficient to enable us mutually to estimate each other properly. I have a very decided friendship for all Col G. [Groce's friends?] I have full confidence in League and he assures me that W. H. W. is all that a man of honor and a firm and stedfast friend ought to be. My own disposition is frank open and confiding. But the experience of the last six years in settling this wilderness and the unfavorable light in which human nature has been so often presented to me, has greatly weakened my genl confidence in mankind, it has however had the effect to make me cling the closer to the few who are really and substantially men. I now write under the conviction that you are of this class and shall therefore throw aside ceremony or reserve. I wish to see you permanently locate here. All that is now wanting in Texas is a few more men in this colony, not open mouthed politicians, nor selfish visionary speculators, nor jealous ambitious declamatory demegogues who will irritate the public mind by inflamitory criticisms about temporary evils and by indulging in vague surmises. We need men of enlightened judgment, disinterested prudence, and reflection, with a great stock of patience, unshaken perse verence and integrity of purpose. Men who will calmly put their shoulders to the wheel and toil for the good of others as well as for their own, and who will be contented to rise with the country without aimin[g] to force it forward prematurely to overtop the genl level of prosperity by undue individual advancement. A band of such men firmly linked together by the bonds of mutual confidence and unity of purpose and action could and would make Texas the garden of North America. You know enough of the population here to be convinced that we lack men of this class I have in this respect stood almost alone. The fate of this colony has so far rested pretty much upon my own resources, my own exertions and management. Councellors I have never had. When I began the whole country was a wilderness wholly destitute of resources, the Govt unsettled, the Mexicans genly very much prejudiced against North Amn emigration and public opinion in the United States most decidedly unfavorable both as to the real value of the country, the character of the Mexican Govt and even as to the practicability of succeeding in forming any other kind of settlement here, than a nest of fugitives. Such were the prospects under which I commenced. They were so discouraging that all my friends united in trying to persuade me by argument and ridicule and by every other means to abandon the project.

I myself believed that the probabilities of failure or success were almost equal, but I deemed the object worthy of the risk and I had confidence in myself. I foresaw that I must enlist myself as a kind of slave for years, that I must chain down all the impulses of a temperament naturally hasty and impetuous and sensitive to a fault; that I must patiently submit to toil injury and abuse and slander and misconstruction, sometimes bending and yielding to a degree that laid me liable to the imputation of weakness and at others resorting to measures that appeared arbitrary, or partial or whimsical; but to say all in a few words I had an ignorant, whimsical selfish and suspicious set of rulers over me to keep good natured, a perplexed and confused colonization law to execute, and an unruly set of North American frontier republicans to controul who felt that they were sovereigns, for they knew that they were beyond the reach of the arm of Govt or of law, unless it pleased them to be contrould. To have been universally popular amongst the settlers for the first two or three years would have endangered all, for it would have excited vague jealousies in the point (?) alone that I was conciliating popular favor in order to wield it in a particular way. To have been universally unpopular endangered all in another way, for it would have totally destroyed that degree of popular confidence and character abroad which was necessary to draw emigration and it would also have deprived me of the power of controuling the settlers sufficiently to have prevented them from destroying themselves. I could not stoop to associate with the low drunkards and rabble and would not do it under any circumstances but very extreme ones. The reflecting and worthy part of the settlers have always adhered to me firmly throughout. The former class abused me over their grog and at times have had weight enough to require humoring and management to keep within bounds, but they effectually removed all suspicion that I was courting the favor of a rabble for the purpose of wielding it and in this they did me and the colony a service though without knowing or intending it and I used their abuse of me to advance the public good and establish myself more firmly in the confidence of my rulers. Added to all this I was poor, destitute of capital, and never was there an enterprise in which money was more necessary than in this one, I involved myself in pecuniary embarrassments to raise funds at the outset, but they were in no degree sufficient, and the good of the settlers—in fact the salvation of the whole enterprise—compelled me to raise something out of the settlers themselves. This drew down upon me the imputation of being a speculator and curses and abuse followed. I did not suffer it to turn me aside from my duty to the settlers. I used what I recd for the general good and am still as poor as ever except in land.

There were but few men of capital in the country and they were of a cast of intellect better qualified for cent pr cent calculations of present profit than for liberal and enlarged views for the future. All were greedy to sow largely under the expectation of reaping 1000 fold in a few years, but none were willing to contribute anything for the seed. It was considered that I must furnish all and do all and risk all. Thus it is that I had Scylla or Charybdis constantly in view for the first three or four years of my labor, and I have actually labored hard and dreadfully to build up the fortunes of men, many of whom were heaping abuse upon me. I have no ambition of a political military or avaricious character. My ambition has been to succeed in redeeming Texas from its wilderness state by means of the plough alone, in spreading over it North American population enterprise and intelligence, in doing this I hoped to make the fortune of thousands and my own amongst the rest. My success so far has fully equalled my expectation, and I think that I derived more satisfaction from the view of flourishing farms springing up in this wilderness than military or political chieftains do from the retrospect of their victorious campains. My ambition is to build up, for the present as well as for future generations, to do it silently without ostentation or display. I deemed the object laudable and honorable and worthy the attention of honorable men. The country is now sufficiently advanced to offer inducements for emigrants of capital to flock to it. The allusions I have made as to the difficulties which have been surmounted added to your own observations while here, will enable you to form a pretty accurate estimate for the future and I think you will agree with me that we are leaving both Scylla and Charybdis far astern and that there is nothing but plain sailing ahead.

As I before said all we need is men of intelligence and capital who can harmonize with each other, and a plenty of them, the more the better. Should such men in reply to your arguments in favor of their removal here say that they cannot bring their slaves, you may safely tell them that they can bring them without any fears of being troubled (?). The men now in power in this state wish to tolerate slavery, and whether they wish it or not if Texas firmly and decidedly and prudently wills it so it will be for the voice of Texas will not be disregarded. Should they say that our laws and constitution are defective, tell them that both can be amended and that the people of Texas if united can and will amend them. Should they say that Mexico is in a state of revolution and its Govt crumbling to pieces, tell them that we are 1000 miles from the seat of revolution and separated from any adjoining state by an uninhabited and almost uninhabitable wilderness of 200 miles and that all the adjoining states are thinly populated poor and nearly destitute of resources. Should they object to living under the Mexican Govt tell them that they will find it to be to their interests to be inhabitants of Texas as Mexican citizens. The policy of this Govt to emigrants is liberal beyond parallel. An immence coasting trade is open round the Gulf of Mexico and to the West Indians, and Europe will turn with joy and avidity from the " tarriffed cotton " of the U. S. to the fine long staple of Texas. The subject of the cotton trade has been laid before the national executive through various channels and the secretary of state has informed me in reply to a communication I made on the subject last fall that the President would at a proper time call the attention of Congress particularly to it. He has already recommended a reduction of the tariff.

You can also tell him that the Genl land Comr will shortly be here to distribute land and issue titles, and that this fall is the great seed time. If they come in then they will most surely reap a bountiful harvest hereafter, but they must come "bag and baggage " wives children and "plunder" for an actual removal is necessary to get a title. A great part of the coast of Texas will be open for settlement this summer and fall, including the shores of the fine bays of Galveston and Matagorda and also the whole country up to the San Antonio road in this and De Witt's colony. Now then is the time. Let there be a strong population of North Americans here, with a sufficient number of talented and virtuous and prudent men to direct them and who would oppress us? Mexico? She lacks both the power and the inclination for it would be her interest to bind us to her. Spain ? She cannot. England dare not for war with the U. S. would of course be the result of the occupancy of Texas by that power and the same applies to France. What then have emigrants to Texas to fear? If they harmonize with themselves and are prudent they have nothing to fear and they have everything that man desires to hope for and expect. Look back at the prospects when I commenced. What were they in comparison with the prospects now ? My standing with this Govt and with the people of Texas generally is now established I think on a firm basis and I could do much to benefit Texas if there was a sufficient population here of the right kind, and if such a population would treat me with candor and confidence they could use me very much to their own advantage for I am not selfish. I will remain firm to this Govt so long as it stands and will lose my life sooner than betray in the slightest degree my oath as a citizen. All the alterations that are needed in our laws I think can be constitutionally obtained without difficulty.

If the Govt stands and prospers Texas must prosper under it. If the Govt falls the bonds which bind Texas and Mexico will of course be severed by that fall, and in this event Texas can either unite herself to the North under the necessary guarantees from that Govt or become an independent speck in the galaxy of nations. Europe will gladly receive our cotton and sugar etc. on advantageous terms in exchange for " untariffed " manufactured articles. We should be too contempt able to excite the jealousy of the Northern Mammoth, and policy and interest would induce Europe to let us alone. I deem it to be more than probable that the great powers would all unite in garanteeing the Independence of little Texas, There are many powerful reasons why it would be to their interest to do it.

Suppose that some 4 or 500 southern men of talents and capital and high character were to emigrate to Texas in a body next fall, what can prevent their future prosperity ? I have the legal right to garantee to them a reception as emigrants in my colony and as such the law grants them land, The door is legally opened to them and they are invited to enter and partake of the fortune and prosperity and happiness which nature has provided with a liberal hand for all who will now advance and receive them. Such an opportunity never offered upon earth, never can offer again, and it will be trifling with fortune to neglect it. But do not misunderstand me as to the kind of emigrants—ardent inexperienced hot headed youths piping from college or ignorant self willed "mobish" mountaniers and frontiersmen who " hold to Lynch laws' and damning those who are in office merely because they are in office, would totally ruin us forever. We need that class of emigrants who deserve the appelation of southern Gentlemen, whose fortunes are independent but not overgrown, whose judgment has been enlightened by education and matured by experience, and who have families to keep the intemperate wild ambitious passions of the human heart within the circle of prudence. I would fearlessly pledge my head that an emigration of 400 such men next fall to Texas would permanently ensure the prosperity of this country and the happiness of its inhabitants.

I have expressed myself to you with more freedom and frankness than is usual with me on subjects of this kind. It is not every man whose mind is capable of embracing the past the present and the future and I have never sought celebrity by trying to confound the ignorant by matters which they could not comprehend. It is my request that this letter should be confidential and that it should not by any means be published. I cannot but think that if proper exertions were made a large company of Southern Gentlemen from C. G. A. and T. [Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee?] might be made up to emigrate here next fall. I am too poor in money to make the trip or I would have gone on with you. I wished to see you on this subject and regret that you did not call.

[Stephen F. Austin.]