Stephen F Austin to Rafae Llanos, 01-14-1834

Summary: Announcing arrest, explaining his purposes in Texas, and showing need of reform.

Monterrey, January 14, 1834.

Señor Don Rafael Llanos.

My dear Sir : In times of political disturbances like those of the past year it is difficult to have any relations whatever with political affairs without becoming entangled in some way or other, now with parties, now with individuals, now with the authorities. Thus it is that I have fallen into the net, and was arrested on the 3d of this month by order of the minister of war, and depart in a few days for Mexico as a prisoner.

From what I have said to you in our conversations concerning Texas, you will have understood that that country was exposed to anarchy for the want of adequate local government. During the winter of last year there was strong sentiment, in fact, for an organization of the local government, always as an integral part of the Mexican federation.

The energetic representations of the ayuntamientos and towns of Bejar and Coahuila, dated December 19, 1832, demonstrate with sufficient clearness the evils of Texas and the aroused feeling of those towns over the torpor of the population and the backwardness of Texas through inadequate legislation and the neglect of its best and dearest interests. The great majority of the people expressed their opinion in favor of separation from Coahuila, and their determination to so organize if there were no other remedy. The Convention framed the memorial of April 13 [1833] to the general government, asking that Texas be erected into a state of this federation, and nominating me to carry it to Mexico. It appears that since then some ayuntamientos have changed their opinion because they believe that the people ought not to have petitioned for erection into a state under Article 2 of the organic law of the General Constituent Congress dated May 7, 1824, without the previous consent of the Legislature of Coahuila and Texas. But they do not mean to be understood by this as being content with their situation. They desire radical remedies, and only believe that they have mistaken the means to obtain them. Concerning this point, it must be said that at that time (November and December, 1832) Texas was almost in a state of nature as to government—and perhaps one would not venture much in saying that the whole republic was in the same situation,—so that the wisest were divided in opinion whether or not we had a legitimate government, or whether the Constitution still existed.

I did not know of this new attitude of the ayuntamientos until November 5 [1883] at the conference of ministers called by the President, at which you assisted, when Señor Blanco brought it out. I therefore acted in conformity with the instructions given me by the convention in April.

In Mexico I did all that I could to obtain the prompt and favorable dispatch of the petitions of Texas, or busied myself to obtain such things as the repeal of the 11th Article of the law of April 6, 1830, exemptions from the tariff, the regulation of the mails, the payment of the presidial companies; in short, anything to calm and content the people of Texas.

At the beginning of October I was discouraged and irritated by an incident or bad news or a mistake which occurred then, and lost hope and patience, and in that moment wrote to the ayuntamientos of Texas recommending that they consult among themselves in order to organize the local government in union and harmony, in case the General Congress did nothing to remedy the evils of Texas. I had also an other reason which influenced me to make this recommendation: at that time, the result of the revolution was, in the opinion of many, doubtful, and I knew very well that the inhabitants of Texas were decided to revolt rather than submit to the domination of the Church party. In such case it would have been much better for the interest of Texas, of the popular party, and of the republic that it be organized in union and harmony, by agreement and approbation of the local authorities and under their direction than to proceed by means of a popular uprising without the intervention of any authority.

Thus my recommendation was entirely conditional, subject to the developments of the future, a precautionaiy measure and nothing more. As soon as Arista surrendered and the 11th Article of the law of April 6, 1830, was repealed, I informed the ayuntamientos, and in so doing believed that I had revoked the recommendation made in my letter of October, because it was made under the supposition that nothing would be done.

I understand that I am arrested for having written that letter of October to the ayuntamientos, and that the governor of the state is my accuser, but I do not know certainly whether this is true or not.

All that I have done in this matter has been public and without concealment. I wrote to the ayuntamientos officially, and not confidentially or privately. I did not leave Mexico until December 10, more than two months after writing the letter. I took leave of the Minister, of the Vice President, and of my friends; travelled in a coach with Deputy Don Luis de la Rosa as far as Lagos; and thence by San Luis Potosi to Saltillo, presenting myself at the moment of my arrival there to the Commandant General. I had started by the most direct road to Monclova to see if it was possible to obtain some laws for Texas in conformity with the recommendations of the general government on the subject. I believe that if I had been able to reach Monclova during the session of the legislature, as I desired, it would have been possible to regulate the affairs of Texas upon a basis satisfactory to Texas, to the state, and to the general government. It would have been very easy to go to Vera Cruz and embark for Orleans, if I had thought that I had committed a crime that deserved punishment. The truth is that the hope of accomplishing some good for the contentment of Texas caused me to go by land, although the trip is much more severe than a voyage to Europe.

In so far as there may be crime in having labored thirteen years, spending a life of weariness, in peopling the wilderness of Texas; in having spent my time and my money in a journey to Mexico to obtain relief from the evils which afflict Texas and threaten its ruin and even its separation from Mexico; in measures to save that country from a violent revolution; in having assisted in establishing the foundations for the prosperity and security of the frontiers of Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas and the advancement of those states in population, industry, and agriculture—in so far as there may be crime in all this, I am a great criminal.

Without population in Texas the frontiers of the Eastern Interior Provinces are worse than nothing, for they are an abandoned field where the Indians may rob, kill, and destroy to suit their fancy, without protection for the wretched people. It would be an enormous expense to maintain garrisons and troops enough to restrain the Indians even in a small degree in deserts so vast.

I have been accused of having magnificent schemes for Texas, and I confess that I have had them.

My friend, I am a Mexican citizen, and as such I shall speak with entire frankness: To suppose that the Mexican nation in its present situation, immersed in clouds of prejudice, and backward in everything, can advance rapidly of itself alone and reach the level of other nations without drawing learning, industry, and population from abroad is almost the same as to imagine that the Mexicans of the time of Cortés could have advanced to where they now are without knowing any other people or having had communication with any other nation in the world. The United States of the North were much more advanced at the time of their independence than the Mexicans, and yet they needed learning, arts, and population from abroad. Upon the same policy are based my schemes for Texas, and for all the eastern frontier. It is depopulated; I wish to people it. The population that is there is backward; I wish it to be advanced and improved by the introduction of industrious agricultural settlers, liberal republicans. I want the savage Indians subdued; the frontier protected; the lands cultivated; roads and canals opened; river navigation developed and the rivers covered with boats and barges carrying the produce of the interior to the coast for export in exchange for foreign products, thereby saving the precious metals which are now our only medium of exchange; I wish to take from my native land and from every other country the best that they contain and plant it in my adopted land—that is to say, their best inhabitants, their industry, and their enlightenment, so that the eastern frontier which is now without population and in its greater part almost without government, might present an example worthy of imitation. These are the magnificent, and as it now appears, visionary, plans which I have held for Texas, and for all this frontier; and if there is a Mexican who does not wish to see them realized, I must say that he does not love his country; neither wants to see her emerge from the darkness of the fifteenth century nor shake off the chains of superstition and monastic ignorance which she is still dragging along.

Very little do they know me who believe that I have sacrificed the best years of my life in the wildnerness of Texas to gain a fortune! I have not gained it, and I could have lived in comfort in a settled country. I entered Texas in 1821 an enthusiastic philantropist and now at the age of forty I find myself on the verge of misanthropy, tired of men and their affairs, and convinced that I wished to finish in a few years the work of a century. I have seen the United States of the North make every effort to attract population, knowledge, and capital from abroad for its development. I have seen a wilderness covered with a dense population in a few years, and new states erected where at the time of my birth there was not a single civilized person. I believed that it would be the same with the free and nascent Mexican nation. I see that I was mistaken. Before Mexico can develop in that manner she must pay the price by a moral revolution in which shall be overthrown all the customs and the Gothic politico-religious system set up by Rome and Spain to hold the people in subjection like beasts of burden—such a revolution she will have in a century but not in the life time of one man.

You have been my friend since 1821, and I owe you a frank expression of my thoughts. In this letter I have told all my desires and dreams for Texas. I was not born in a wilderness, and have not the patience of the Bexareños and other inhabitants of this frontier who are daily enduring the same dangers and annoyances that their fathers and grandfathers and perhaps their great-grand- fathers suffered, without advancing a single step or even thinking of advancing. Death is preferable to such stagnant existence, such stupid life.

I am very grateful to your brother, Don Manuel, I and to the Commandant General, Don Pedro Lemus, and to all here for the kindness which they have shown to me.

Please show this letter to Don Victor Blanco and to Don Teodoro Rivarol and tell them that I put their letters for Monclova in the mail here.

I remain your very sincere friend, etc.

Estevan F. Austin.

P. S.—I wish you would also do me the favor to show this letter to Señor Rejón. I should be sincerely sorry if that patriot and eloquent defender of liberty and reform should have erroneous ideas concerning this matter. I understand that the foundation of the political creed of that gentleman is that we should proceed firmly and unwaveringly with the system of radical reforms until the life and habits of the mass of the Mexican people are entirely in harmony with the form of government adopted by the nation. This also is the object of my efforts in the little sphere in which I have worked.

In the United States of the North the government was adapted to established practices. In Mexico the process has been the reverse of this. Here it is necessary to shape habits and customs to the system of government; and it is due to this fact that the nation has encountered so much difficulty in consolidating itself.

Customs are not changed or corrected by theories nor by oral or written preaching, no matter how clearly reasoned and eloquent it may be, without some practical and palpable application to the life and understanding of the mass of the people. I wished to make this application in Texas, and so, progressively, throughout the Rio Grande frontier; at the same time strengthening the political and economic relations of that remote section of the Republic with, the other states by direct representation in Congress, by improved roads, and by interior and coasting trade.

Taking a general and impartial view of the matter, with the government settled, it is very evident that it is not to the interest of Texas to separate from Mexico even if she were free to do so. But on the other hand it is well known that men are influenced more by petty local annoyances or grievances in the present, even though temporary, than by the hope of great benefits in the future. One may call the grievances of Texas temporary, but they are not petty; they are very serious. And it is from this that opinions arise that there is a conflict between the union of that country with Mexico and its progress and happiness. This opinion is erroneous, for nothing is easier than to remove that conflict and remedy the present local evils in Texas by an organization of its local government in conformity with the experience and particular needs of that country—that is, to erect it into a state of the Mexican Federation. Doing this will fulfill, moreover, the object and the principles of the federal system, and will carry forward the important work of reforming the ancient customs of the people which conflict with the system, because there are none of these customs in Texas, and it is not possible to conceive that there will ever be any such.

Men of large conceptions are always exposed to attack as visionaries, ambitious and selfish schemers, deserving of suspicion, or something else, particularly if their plans look to general and philanthropic improvements, because there are few who labor for anything but their personal interest. In the colonization of Texas I have wanted to make a personal provision for myself and for my family, and if he who sows is entitled also to reap the harvest, I deserve it; but at the same time I have wanted to confer upon my adopted country a general benefit by peopling and redeeming from its savage state an important part of its territory.

I have labored in good faith, exposing myself to all sorts of burdens and responsibilities for the good of my country; but at the same time I have duties to the settlers who have emigrated to the wilderness through my influence; and they owe a duty to themselves and to their families—the duty and the right of self-preservation. And if there were no other way to fulfil it but to separate from Mexico and join the United States of the North, or maintain independence, it is very clear that it would then be their most sacred duty to attempt it.

All that has been said by rumor and prejudiced reports about projects in Texas for separation from Mexico is false. There have not been and are not now any such projects. What is wanted there is an organization of the interior government in order to avert disorders, disturbances, and divisions which would undoubtedly terminate in a revolution.

I have said and I believe that Mexico should either establish the local government of Texas or sell it to the United States of the North, in order to get some profit from it before losing it, and the Mexicans with whom I have talked and who thoroughly understood the matter are of the same opinion.

Estevan F. Austin.