Stephen F Austin to [Edward Livingston?], 06-24-1832

Summary: General description of Texas; population; political condition. People do not want to separate from Mexico. This partly due to suspicions of the United States aroused by Poinsett. Looking to the time when Texas may be a separate state of the Mexican Republic, he wants Livingston's opinion of a law providing that debts shall not be secured by property and coercively collected. Most of his colonists have suffered severely from the credit system, which such laws would abolish. Sees many disadvantages and difficult points.

Matamoras June 24. 1832

You stand before the public in the character of a philanthopist. By your labors to ameliorate the condition of your fellow citizens in their various relations with each other through the medium of the tribunal of justice—your codes designed for the particular use of Louisiana but embracing genl, principles applicable to all civilized communities you seem to have given to the people of all countries a species of tacit claim upon the richly stored treasures of your mind in relation to the political organization of society and the general principles of jurisprudence.

Should this view of the subject be correct, it will serve as my apology for this letter—but should you deem it incorrect, I must then solicit your kind indulgence for having intruded upon your valuable time—hoping that the great interest I feel in the subject will be viewed by you as an excuse for what might be deemd. presumption in me.

It may perhaps not be entirely unknown to you that I have been engaged since 1821 in establishing colonies of foreign emigrants in Texas. I have spent the prime of my life trying to redeem that country from the wilderness and feel the greatest solicitude for its future prosperity. When I commenced there it was entirely uninhabited by civilized man except the small villages of Bexar and LaBahia on the San Antonio river, and a few scattering families on and near the right bank of the Sabine just over the boundary line- since then the colonies settled by me on the Brazos and Colorado rivers have progressed considerably and now contain a population of about 8,000 souls principally all natives of the U. S. of the north—other parts of Texas have also been populated by the same kind of emigrants, and a sufficiency of the country has been redeem'd from the wilderness to form a basis for the future rapid population and progress of the whole. The native Mexican population has also augmented some, tho not in proportion to the foreign.

I have stated this much merely to show the fact, that the principle difficulties those arising from the wilderness state of the country. against settleing Texas are surmounted, and that its progress in future will probably be rapid. There will he population—which of course forms a basis for political and social institutions

Texas, under the Spanish Govt, was a separate province and after the independence it was annexed to the former province of Coahuila which together now form the state of C. & T. The act of congress establishing this state expressly says that they are thus united untill Texas possesses the necessary elements to form a state of itself of which fact the national congress are to judge. The formation of a seperate state govt, may be more distant than the sanguine expect, tho in all probability it will not be very remote. In anticipation of this important event, many of the first emigrants, who have acquired a home in this wilderness by means of toil and privations which have learned them to appreciate its value—have anxiously turned their thoughts to the subject of their local laws their social regulations— their state constitution—

The general basis which they have adopted and will most rigidly adhere to, is to form Texas into a state of the Mexican confederation. They do not wish to seperate from Mexico—and of their own accord never will seperate. If such an unfortunate event should ever occur, its causes will originate in the mistaken policy of the national Govt, of Mexico in relation to Texas, and not in the desire or in the true interests of the people of that country. I state this as a positive and permanent rule of action with the people of Texas from which nothing but the most aggrivated injustice can ever cause them to deviate in the slightest degree. I deem it necessary to be the more positive on this point, because opinions of a very different nature have heretofore prevailed amongst some of the Mexicans and even with many persons elsewhere. Those opinions are very unjust and have had a fatal effect—they produced the 11 article of the law of 6 April 1830 by which natives of the U. S. are prohibited from emigrating to Texas, and caused the colonists and North Americans generally to be viewed with jealousy which seemed at one time to have extended to the Govt, of the north who were suspected of having designs on Texas. Those ideas were all erroneous—they have however pretty much passed away and I think have no weight at this time with any intelligent or thinking man.

[Deleted by Austin: It is the firm belief of many that the real objects of the plan of Jalapa, by which the Guerrero administration was overthrown, was to centralize and aristrocracise the Govt, and perhaps to monarchise it—whether that was the object or not I do not pretend to say—Mr. Alaman, the soul of the Bustamante administration, personally hated Mr. Poinsett and a portion of his hate may possibly have extended to his countrymen in general—he is said to have been the author of the law of 6 April before mentioned. It is the opinion of many very good and impartial men, that the intreagues, speculations and general deportment of Mr. P------ would have caused any people or any Govt to loose confidence in the purity of his intentions and even to doubt the good faith of the Govt, which he represented—he was certainly an unfortunate minister for he has left a prejudice against his countrymen in the minds of some which nothing but time can remove.]

No, sir, the people of Texas do not wish to seperate, and it is not and will not be their interest to do so, unless they should be kicked off. They will do their duty to this govt, but they will also have an eye to the duty which every man in all communities, owes to himself.

But to return to our future state consitution we have some few settlers in Texas, now bending under the weight of years, whose youth was spent in building up a home in the wilds of Kentucky and other parts of the west. The indians, the Buffalo, the cane breaks and the forests gradually disappeared—population and civilization soon changed the face of everything. They rejoiced and looked forward to the enjoyment of a quiet old age in their once forest homes, surrounded by their children, and by peace and plenty. It was all a delusion—there was nothing real but the pleasure of dreaming that thus it would be—civilization brought with it the monied mania. The hostile indians were replaced by civilized savages of a more brutal and dangerous character, cold hearted unprincipled speculators, men who considered that to make a fortune, was the great and paramount and only object of human life—Lawyers, who found in the labyrinths and abstruse sections of the common law, unexhausted and unexhaustable arms for the protection of tergifersation quibbling and injustice, and for the ruin of unsuspecting and ignorant honesty.

The forest homes of the first settlers were converted into scenes of legal discord and contention—the first emigrants whose enterprise had opened the road for the easy entrance of land and law harpies were dragged by them into court and after years of ruinous suspence were finally told that they might live in their homes as tenants or if that did not suit them they might go penniless farther west and seek new ones. We have a few of another class who have been reared in affluence, and were content with their situation—they enjoyed in a prudent manner what they possessed without jeopardising it by grasping after more—their prudence and systematic mode of living availed them nothing—it ruined them, for it gave them credit. Their neighbors and friends needed endorsers, ruin, beggary, and the total loss of friends was the result.

We have a No. of another class-—able bodied men, capable of earning an honest and competent living by labor—but having been raised in a country where the credit system prevails to such an extent that everything is regulated by it where men of empty pockets and emptier heads with a little credit to begin with, disdain to work, and live by their wits, upon the earnings of honest laborers, they have acquired habits of cunning and the art of imposing by appearances and fictions, which renders them nuisances to society.

We have some southern men who are longing after negros to make cotton to buy more negros—it is in vain to tell them of the demoralizing influence of slavery, of its ruinous effect upon the physical energies and enterprise of the community—or to lead forward their imaginations to the period (perhaps not very distant) when the natural increase of the slaves will enable them to masacre their masters and desolate the country—all stuff—the future will take care of itself, and as to the present, nothing is wanted but money, and negros are necessary to make it. The mass of the settlers are plain honest farmers, working men—untill within a short time past they have had no lawyers amongst them, and consequently very little litigation. The monied mania did not disturb the repose of the wilderness—it enters not the temple of nature they have had time to contemplate from the peaceful solitudes of their new homes the war of lawyers the intreagues of speculators, in short the agonizing th[r]oes of neighborhoods counties and states, under the high pressure of the credit system. Having enjoyed a few years of quietness they dread a change and [wish to] shield themselves from the evils of the monied mania and the expensive labarinths of the old law systems but how prevent it ? Here sir is the great question which we all wish to have solved. Many very wise and good men have raised their voices for centuries past against the mal organization of society, the rottenness of the old systems etc.

Books have been written and Rob. Owen undertook to teach mankind how to govern themselves. He expected to distroy the monied mania, by making everything common. This distroyed man's individuality it confounded him with a common herd, character was therefore of no consequence to him. Would not the reverse of Mr Owens basis be a better one? The old systems recognize the individuality of property—to this let us add that of character but entirely divested of the weight which property gives to it— character based upon intrinsic moral worth good faith and virtue without any regard whatever to wealth. How is this to be effected? By changing the old laws so as to base the credit system upon moral character alone, and not upon wealth and coersive means—or in other words to place the whole credit system upon good faith, and annul all laws, (avoiding unjust retroactive effects) for the coersive collection of debts all landed or personal securities, all imprisonment or process against the person or property for debts.

Under the present system the enquiry that is made when a person applies for credit is what is he worth or who is his security? Under the new basis it would be what is his character for good faith, honesty, and industry. The monied mania seems to be inherent in man or perhaps I should say in civilized man it belongs to his nature and never can be distroyed. It is and always will be the general moving principle to all his actions. I speak in the general for there are no doubt some exceptions.

If then our social systems were so organised that the never tireing propensities of this mania could only be gratified by establishing a solid character for morality, good faith, industry, and honesty would it not have a powerful and regenerating influence on society? A young man begins the world poor, and wishes to get rich—to do so he must establish a character for industry, and virtue this gives him credit? and constitutes his capital—during the first years of his exertions his interest keeps his bad passions in check for fear of injuring his credit—it finally becomes habitual for him to watch and restrain himself and to be honest. Man is supposed by many to be the perfect creature of habit. If so we have a guarantee for the good conduct of the same person after he has made a fortune—the guarantee of habit—to this also may be added that which naturally proceeds from the love of virtue and a belief in religion, this latter I think is absolutely indispensable for the well being, and sound organization of all societies.

I am well aware that the total abolition of the credit system as it now exists will to a certain extent cramp the progress of improvement for a time. It would not only be impracticable in a country that did not abound in natural resources or that depended principally on commerce but this would not apply to Texas.

It has become a matter of very solicitous inquiry with me to know how far this system is practicable. What would be its probable effect upon the advancement of the country, and upon the morals harmony and character of the people. It would evidently be a very bold and perhaps a dangerous experiment it would effect more or less all the relations of society. My greatest doubt arises from the fear that men who were injured by misplaced confidence would endeavor to seek redress by personal violence—in fact this fear has sometimes caused me to abandon the idea as visionary and hopeless. Some of my friends however in Texas have full faith in its practicability and utility—they are very sanguine on the subject and wish to see the experiment made. They think it cannot cause as many personal quarrels as the present system does. Some doubts of a constitutional character have also occured to me. The genl, principles of the Mexican constitution are similar to those of the U. S. How will it affect the citizens of other states who have dealings in Texas to prohibit the coersive collection of debts there—how will it affect debts contracted by citizens of that state, in other states, or in foreign countries who have treaties with this nation? Those debts would of course be contracted with the knowledge by both the contracting parties, that they could not be coersively collected in Texas. There would have to be an exception in favor of debts due to the Genl, or State govt.—ought there not to be some others ? for example in favor of mechanics or laborers for their wages—or of minors or widows for property sold on credit to settle an estate etc.—of carriers and freighters—how far ought the exceptions to extend or ought there to be any? This system would probably greatly reduce the number of lawsuits about 99/100 which would of course greatly diminish the number of lawyers—this would be an important point gained. I wish you to understand that I have no prejudices against lawyers merely because they belong to that profession. My objections are to the system of laws that renders such a swarm of agents necessary to administer them. [Deleted by Austin: if justice ought to be prompt plain simple and not expensive—to be so the laws must be plain, as few as possible, and accessible to the understanding of everyone—not loaded down by a labarinth of forms, nor by the precedents and decissions of centuries past, which no one but a very well read lawyer can comprehend]

The situation of Texas is peculiarly fortunate in some respects, with reference to its future political organization, As a member of the Mexican confederation its weight will be respectable—it is a new country untrammeled by old and fixed habits customs or local laws—a vergen soil ready to receive any seed that is sown upon it. But few such opportunities have occurred of perfecting the local organization of a community [such] as Texas will present.

I have no doubts as to slavery, it is now prohibited in Texas by the constitution and I hope always will be.

I have trespassed greatly upon your time and cannot hope that you will answer this letter to the extent that the subject with all its bearings and details admits of, but I should esteem it as a favor to have the benifit of your experience and of any other learned and experienced man so far as the expression of an opinion, whether a system based on the general principle that debts should not be coercively collected, would be benificial in practice as applicable to Texas and what would be its probable influence upon society, and its effect on human happiness. I think it is a question worthy of the discussion of Philanthropists. It is not entirely a new one, but it needs anilizing—in fact the sifting and critical examination of a public discussion. My object is to get all the information I can that will be useful to the people of Texas, and with this view you are at liberty to show this letter or make any use of it you may think best calculated to affect that object. The learned and pious in the U. S. have devotd much of their time to the discussion of the merits or demerits of the systems of other countries, with a view to enlighten public opinion generally. Why not also take some interest in the happiness of a new and rising country, their close neighbor and a sister republic a friend.

I am now on my way to Saltillo the capital of our State to attend the Legislature of which I am a member from Texas, and shall not return home untill October or November next. Should you think proper to answer this letter it would be best to send the answer through some person in New Orleans who would attend to forwarding it to me at San felipe de Austin, by some vessel bound to Brasoria.

[Stephen F. Austin.]