Stephen F Austin to James F Perry, 08-25-1834

Summary: Account of imprisonment, discussion of political conditions in Mexico, his past policy in Texas, advice for future.

Prison of the Acordada City of Mexico 25 Aug. 1834

To James F Perry

Dr Brother, I write you more for the purpose of informing you that I am still in the land of the living, than to communicate any thing agreeable as to my situation.

I presume you are already informed that I arrived in this city on the 13 Feb. last, and was shut up in one of the dungeons of the inquisition where I remained three months in close confinement, incomunicado, that is locked up day and night with very little light except candles and not allowed to speak or communicate with any one, not to have books, pen, ink, or paper—The President Genl. Santana put me in communication soon after he resumed the Govt, in May—The treatment I recd from the vice President Gomez Farias was in the highest degree rigid and marked through out by strong personal feeling which I attribute in part to the result of an interview I had with him the first of October, in which he was highly offended at me because I stated that the affairs of Texas required the prompt attention of Government for the people there had taken the position, that if the evils which threatened that country with ruin were not remedied by the Govt the people of Texas would remedy them of themselves without waiting any longer, on the ground that self preservation rendered such a step necessary and would justify it. The vice president construed this into a threat, and a personal insult, and we both parted in anger, and in very- great irritation—I wrote the letter of 2d October to the Ayuntamto— became cool again—persevered in getting the remidies—reconciled the vice president and parted with him on the 10th December in harmony and with the best of feelings and the most sincere respect. The Ayuntamto of Bexar changed the face of things and revived the passion of the vice president by sending my unfortunate letter of 2d October.

Individuals who were unfriendly to me because I opposed a territory for Texas, and others who were unfriendly to all foreigners, improved this opportunity to inflame the minds of the vice president and his ministers against me, so that on my return to Mexico as a prisoner, he was the most violent and bitter enemy I had. I believe him to be an honest man and a true federal democratic republican in principle, but he believed, or was led by others to believe, that the political situation of Mexico required something like a Robespierre system, or reign of terror. No one was executed, but hundreds were banished and imprisoned. Whether this system was the result of the vice president's own inclination, or whether he was led into it by his councellors and friends, I cannot say. Some think it was all his own policy, and others that he was forced into it contrary to his wish, by the power of circumstances, and by the excitements of the day. His administration was unfortunate for the nation, and for the federal party, for no one who has any sence of justice, or of common humanity can approve of an illegal, unconstitutional and arbitrary system of banishment, and imprisonment. The religious prejudices of the people were also alarmed by the measures of that administration to a great degree—hence the reaction that is now operating all over the nation, and which some think will shake the federal system, tho I am not of that opinion, for I do not believe the President Santana has designed to change the system, or to do anything more than to get a Congress together in Jany next, with the character and powers of a national convention freely elected by the people in order to reestablish or revive the Constitution, which has been so dreadfully outraged by all parties, that none respect it. A great personal animosity is said to exist between the President Santana and his friends and the vice president Gomez Farias and his friends. I believe there is no harmony between them and much hatred.

But to return to my own affairs, which I presume are much more interesting to you than the family political quarrels of this republic— I remained in the inquisition untill the 15th of June, when the mili- tary tribunal to whom my case had been referred decided that they had no jurisdiction over it, and I was removed to this prison, and my case was deliverd over to a civil tribunal or juez de letras in whose hands it slept, untill the 12th of this month, when he also decided that he had no jurisdiction over it, and it was then sent to the federal district Judge who soon dispatched it by deciding that he had no jurisdiction over it, as I did not reside in his district. The matter was then sent to the Supreme Court of the United Mexican States in order for them to decide what court or tribunal ought to try me, and there the case rests at present. So that after eight months, I do not know as yet what court is to investigate my case. I have long since requested to be delivered to the authorities of the State of Coahuila and Texas, and I presume I shall be finally sent to the district court (federal judge) of that State, but when, is quite uncertain for these things move very slowly.

The President Santana is friendly to Texas and to me. Of this I have no doubt, he would have set me at liberty long since, and in fact issued an order to that effect in June, but some statements arrived about that time (as I am told for I have seen nothing) from the State government of Coahuila and Texas against me, which I understand have contributed mainly to keep me in prison so long. It is said that the report of the State Govt, on the subject is founded solely on statements of persons who live in Texas—who those persons are I know not—it is said they are North Americans by birth I have even been told, that if I am not imprisoned for life and totally ruined in property and reputation, it will not be for the want of exertions or industry on the part of some of my countrymen who live in Texas. Whether all this be true or not, I do know not, I am unwilling to believe it. I have also been told that no efforts were left untry during the last winter and spring to prejudice the members of the legislature and State Govt, against me at Monclova—I cannot believe these things—I wish you to inquire of Oliver Jones —he is an honorable man, I am confident he has had no agency in such matters, and I shall rely fully on what he says about them.

Chambers was at Monclova—I have long since been told that he was my enemy—he said that he was not. He has taken upon him- self in his pamphlet of April 18333 all the credit (if there be any) of having been the first to discover and propagate the idea in Texas of separating from Coahuila, and the first to call public attention to that point, and to excite public opinion in favor of that measure and of the Convention etc. I was told that he was opposed to my appointment, as the public agent to come to Mexico, on the same ground taken by W. H. Wharton and others, which was that I would not use energy enough with the Govt.-—that I would be too passive and humble, and not display independence and firmness etc, and also that I was opposed to a State, and would defeat it, and would not obey the instructions, or regard the wishes of the people as expressed by the Convention etc, etc. Now, what I cannot understand is, that these same men, who at that time were violent political fanatics in favor of a State, and of high handed measures with the Govt, and who abused and opposed me, because I was too mild too passive, too luke-warm—the same men who were the first, as they themselves say, to create an excitement in favor of separating Texas from Coahuila, and who in fact contributed very much to involve me and my friends in all this difficulty, and in the labyrinth in which I am entangled, by compelling me, as it were, to yield to public opinion, or what I believed to be, and what I now believe was the public opinion at that time, and which public opinion was first excited by these same men (The fact is that the excitement in the colony at that time in favor of the State placed me in the alternative of yielding to them, or of opposing them by force by means of party divisions, or of leaving the country. I was disposed to adopt the first, or the last of these alternatives rather than the other of organizing a party or creating party divisions in the Colony). That these same men should now attack me, as it is said they have done, because I faithfully, fearlessly, and firmly represented the wishes of the Convention and of my constituents, as these same men said those wishes were when I left there, instead of concealing or counteracting those wishes, as these same men said I would do—That these same men should now try to ruin me and perpetuate my imprisonment, and should rejoice and exult at my sufferings, is what I cannot understand, and am unwilling to believe, for it would be the same as to believe that all their show and display of zeal for the public good, their pretended patriotism, had in fact no other definite object but to create confusion, out of which they hoped to derive some benifit, or at least to involve me in difficulty or total ruin. This I cannot believe, altho such a thing was told me— I cannot yet believe it.

I was told before I left the colony, that no matter what I did, or how I acted, some persons there would seek my ruin if they could. I am unwilling to believe that such baseness exists in human nature. That men should err in politics, become convinced of their error, and change their opinions, is a common and natural thing and amounts to nothing at all except a mere error in judgment which we are all liable to, and have all committed during our lives-—but, there is a vast difference between an honest error in judgment or opinion, and an honest change of that opinion; and a secret or malicious design or plot to ruin another, by weaving a political net around him for that express purpose. Neither the public good nor patriotism can have any influence in such a design— none but a base and corrupt heart could, or would have any hand in such a foul plot. I am unwilling to believe that any persons in Texas are influenced by such low and degrading motives. However time will show. There is an investigating and discriminating power in the public eye, that sooner or later will penetrate the most complicated mysteries, and arrive at the truth, and public opinion will then award justice where it is due. To that eye, and to that opinion, I am ready and willing to submit my actions, my reputation, or my life. In common with my friends at San Felipe, and in other parts of Texas who took a part in the State question, I possibly may have committed the error, which is often committed in all countries, of paying more attention to popular excitements, than they deserved. Both my friends and myself were precipitated into the measures of the Convention, by the circumstances of the times. That measure was adopted to avoid greater evils, than those which then afflicted the country, as well as to seek for a redress of existing ones; but whether my friends and myself committed an error or not, on that occasion is not now so important a question, because good, and very great and, permanent good has resulted to Texas, and to the Mexican nation from those measures, and from my exertions and sufferings, and no one can say with truth that he has been injured by us. We have persecuted no one, and used no efforts to undermine or to distroy any one.

Neither S. F. Austin nor one of his friends have made charges before the Government, or before the public against any one, on account of the past transactions. Their object, and their only object, was the public good of Texas, and of the Mexican republic, and not the ruin of this, that or the other individual. Their object has been accomplished. The public good has been promoted, and no one has been injured or calumniated by them. They have not established news papers to abuse and calumniate a companion who acted with them in those measures, and in consequence of having done so, is incarcerated in a distant dungeon, unable to defend himself or to repel calumny. They have not attempted to reach the ears of the Government by entering the back door of the Government house, and infusing suspicion and poison into the minds of the high authorities for the purpose of perpetuating the imprison- ment of a fellow citizen, and of one too who has labored faithfully and with pure intentions to benefit every body he could, who has in fact devoted the last 13 years to the advancement of Texas and of its inhabitants. They have not attempted to shuffle off any of the responsibility upon the shoulders of others. Their conduct has been open, public, frank, and candid, and marked by good faith, as the conduct of all men is, who labor solely for the public good. They harbour no low, vindictive and malignant feelings of envy or revenge. If they have committed any errors, they where honest ones, and they are free and frank to confess them, without attempting to shake them off upon their former companions. In short, the object of S. F. Austin and his friends was the public good of Texas, and of Mexico. They acted in good faith in the whole matter. Their object has been accomplished. The Government have remidied the evils complained of in Texas, and which threatened that country with ruin, and those who last year acted in good faith, and with pure intentions in favor of separating from Coahuila, are now opposed to it, because the reasons which made a seperation necessary no longer exist, and Austin, and his friends will therefore now be the first to oppose such a separation, or any other measures, that tend to disturb the established and regular order of things. They will discountenance all men, whomever they may be, who attempt to attack the Mexican Government, or any of its authorities, by word or deed.

S. F. Austin's motto always has been Fidelity to Mexico, opposition to violent men or measures. That motto will continue to be the basis of his political faith, and the rule of his actions. He also owes duties to the citizens of his colony, and to Texas, which he has never shrunk from executing, so far as he could. If proofs are needed to establish this fact, let them be sought for in the last 13 years, and they will be found. His present incarceration and persecutions are proofs. The heaviest responsibilities, the risk of his liberty, of his all, were presented to his view on the one hand, and his duty, or what he believed to be his duty to Texas, on the other,—he adopted the latter and did not hesitate to risk the former. And is he to be persecuted, calumniated and abused for having done so, and that too by some of the same men, who were the most active, as they have boasted, in precipitating him into the measures which have led to his present entanglements? At one time I am abused for being too Mexican, too much the friend of Mexicans, too easily deceived by the Mexicans, too confiding in them, opposed to the separation from Coahuila, and in favor of keeping Texas forever bound to the State of Coahuila and Texas. The people are excited against me to a fury, because I am too Mexican. I yield to the popular opinion, am appointed to represent that opinion, accept of the appointment in good faith; and truly, firmly and fearlessly represent that opinion, as it was my duty to do as an agent, and for having done so, I am calumniated and abused by the same men who, as they say, were the first to excite that popular opinion!! I cannot comprehend these matters.

In my letter to the Ayuntamto of Austin from Monterrey dated 17 January last, and in all my letters written since my return to this city (I wrote you in May, and Oliver Jones and Williams in June) I have earnestly requested of my friends not to suffer themselves to be excited on account of my arrest and imprisonment. I have also advised and recommended the most prompt obedience and submission to the authorities of the State and Genl. Government, and an expression in writing, by some public act of the gratitude of the people for the remidies that have been applied by the State and Genl. Govts, to the many evils that were threatening Texas with ruin. I have advised the people of the colony to discountenance all violent or disorderly politicians or men. and especially all political adventurers and all political fanatics. I now repeat the same advice, and will add to it a rule which if strictly followed will be the means of preserving peace and harmomr in Texas, and of advancing its prosperity rapidly. The rule is, to discountenance in the most unequivocal and efficient manner all persons who are in the habit of speaking or writing in violent or disrespectful terms, or in the language of contempt or defiance of the Mexican people or authorities.

This rule is a necessary consequence of the motto before stated. I have no doubt that motto will be adopted, and publically avowed and sustained by all my personal friends and I hope it will also be by all the friends of Texas, of good order, and of commonsense. I earnestly recommend that it may be. It will become a sound and distinguishing centre of union and operate as the magic of a name often does, by which unity is given to a party or to a whole community. I do not believe there is any anti-Mexican party in Texas but if there be, the adoption by the people of the motto and rule above stated, will soon detect and mark it, and render its members harmless, for there is so much honesty and sound sense in the mass of the people that a revolutionist need only be known to be put down.

A gasconading and silly letter dated Brazoria 4 May was published in the Bulletin newspaper of New Orleans, and republished in the Telégrafo in this city. It has injured me very much and I presume it was written by some enemy of mine for the express purpose of injuring me. I disapprove of such things very much and thank no man for putting my name into the news papers in such equivocal terms. I am a Mexican citizen, I have never failed in my duty as such, and I never will—

I fear the first pronouncement by the State Government made at Monclova in June against the President Genl. Santana has had a bad effect in Texas. It was a very precipitate and imprudent step and has produced an answer from Saltillo quite in character, that is a counter pronouncement I hope that the authorities of the colony have paid no other attention to either of these two pronouncements, or to any others, than to say officially and in the most respectful terms, that those authorities will recognize and obey the President of the United Mexican States Genl Antonio Lopez Santana, imtill he is constitutionally deposed from that high station, which he occupies by the legal vote of the nation; and that those authorities recognize no other mode of deposing a President, except the one prescribed in the general Constitution of the nation, which every citizen has sworn to obey, and which those authorities will obey rigidly etc, etc. I again and again advise Texas to keep clear of the political family quarrels of this republic. A dead silence is the best possible course for Texas.

The President Santana has been accused by his enemies of having turned Congress out of doors on the 31 of May, and of having trampled upon the national representation etc. This whole question turns upon the construction of the 71st article of the general constitution, which says that Congress shall close Its sessions on the 15th day of April each year, but may extend the sessions for 3O days more, if the two houses think proper or if the president requests it. Now, on the 15th day of April of this year the sessions were closed as the above article prescribed, and Congress decided that the session should be extended to 30 days more (exclusive of feast or holy days) as said article prescribed they could do. The said thirty days expired, and Congress attempted to continue the sessions beyond that time. Had they any constitutional power to do so ? If they had not, was it, or was it not the duty of the President, under his oath of office, to prevent Congress from doing an unconstitutional act? The whole question turns upon these constitutional points. It will be remembered that the judicial authority have no power to annul an unconstitutional act of Congress, and that the president is bound by his oath of office to prevent any unconstitutional acts from being committed by any person, or by any authority—should it be necessary for Congress to meet after the expiration of the 30 days the constitution Article 110 clause 17 and 116 clause 3 says they may be called in extra sessions by the council of government, and the executive and there is no other mode prescribed in the constitution for getting Congress together, after the expiration of the 30 days. Men of judgment can easily decide, I think, by examing these constitutional points whether the President, or Congress were in error. I fear these things have not been understood in Texas, and that the people have been excited to take part against the President. What they ought to have done, and ought to do in future, is to take no part at all in such matters and to preserve a dead silence. Neither yea nor nay, pro nor con. Stick to the Constitution and close their eyes and ears against all kinds of Plans, and Pronunciamentos, and against all inflamatory advice, from all quarters.

Santana is friendly to Texas and to me. My personal friends have cause to be grateful to him. I know not how you are all getting along in Texas. It is a long time since I have heard from there except indirectly, or by rumors which now and then reach my prison. I have no letters since 15 April—I recd one from you and Emily dated in March. I do not know who are Alcaldes anywhere in Texas—I hear that all is peace and contentment which is the only consolation I have recd to soothe my imprisonment.

Amongst those who have befriended me in my misfortunes I hope that my family and personal friends will never forget Don Victor Blanco, and his brother in Law Don Ramon Musquiz of Bexar.

I sent you duplicate powers of attorney to sell any of my property, and attend to my affairs. I rely on you and S. M. Williams to save my property from the wreck that seems to have been intended for me. I hope you have kept up the Chocolate bayou stock farm and have one hundred cows there by this time at least.

Should I ever return I will make your house my home, untill I can build a house and improve a farm. I will never again take any part whatever in public matters of any kind. On this point my mind is fixed.

Remember me very particularly to H. Austin, send him this letter, also show it to J. H. Bell, to Capt. Wiley Martin, D. G. Burnett and such other of my friends as you think proper. I wish them to know my opinions on these matters, and I wish them and all Texas to adopt and firmly adhere to the motto and rule I have stated in this letter. I have been led into so much difficulty and Texas has been so much jeopardised in its true and permanent interests, by inflamatory men, by political fanatics, political adventurers, would-be-great-men vain talkers, and visionary fools, that I begin to loose confidence in all persons except those who seek their living between the plough han[dles]. Show this letter to S. M. Williams- it is strange, but it seems that I am blamed for all he says, or writes, or does. He ought to have nothing more to do with politics or public matters, but stick closely and exclusively to commerce. No one can prosper or be happy who has any thing to do with public affairs.

I sent you two miniatures from Monterrey by Peter and Joseph Powel and two books and some seeds which I hope you have received

I am much pleased that you have employed Mr. Pilgrim to teach the children. I hope you will keep him if you need funds to pay him sell some of my land for that purpose. I hope Eliza will continue Stephen with Pilgrim—he can board at your house and be as well attended to, as at home. I am now in tolerable health, but have suffered very much with rheumatism. I feel the effects of the first years of the settlement in Texas. The damp close air of the dungeon in the inquisition and want of exercise brought on the rheumatism.

Remember me to all the old settlers and all others who think me worth inquiring after.

Farewell may heaven bless and preserve you Your Brother

S. F. Austin

Aug. 26. The above is principally the copy of a letter I wrote you yesterday and sent by mail. This copy is rather more correct than the other—

P. D.—-August 26—I wish you to show this letter to T. F. McKinney and if he thinks proper, or thinks it will do any good he can inform his friends at Nacogdoches of my opinions. The fact is that public opinion has been disjointed and led astray in all parts of Texas ever since January 1832. McKinney and many others know how much wretchedness the political excitements in Texas have cost me, and how much I dislike all inflamatory politicians. But I could not stem the current—it would have been worse than useless, it would have augmented the evils, to have attempted it. But now the thing is different. The farmers of Texas have been or ought to be, alarmed by the inflamatory events of the last two years and I think they will now adopt the principles of the motto I have always followed and now recommend to all Texas—that is to the honest and sound part of the people—as for the balance, that is, mere demagogues and political fanatics—they will disappear, before sound public opinion as the gnatts and mosquitoes do before the rays of a bright and unclouded sun. The farmers need only proclaim with one unanimous voice Fidelity to Mexico, opposition to violent men or measures, and all will be peace, harmony and prosperity in Texas. I hope the State question is totally dead and will so remain.

Another important matter is to bury all personal animosities and vindictive feelings—no one has as much just cause as I have to entertain such feelings. I am the only one who has suffered, the only one whose total ruin has been attempted and intended—and I will be the first to forget it all, and even embrace my personal enemies, provided they meet me on the basis established in the above motto. I have no object but the good of Texas, and of Mexico and will make any sacrifice to that object.

S. F. Austin

I send this by New Orleans.