Stephen F Austin to D C Barrett, 12-03-1835

Summary: Strong statement of reasons for calling a new convention

San Felipe de Austin, Dec. 3, 1835.

To D. C. Barrett, Esq.

Dear Sir,

I have just received your note of this date, in which you request my opinion, as to calling a convention, without delay, on the plan of equality of representation, as nearly as practicable.

In two communications, which I have made to the provisional government, under date 30th ult. and 2d inst., I took a view of the present political situation of the country, which has a close connection with the subject of your enquiry. I refer you to them, as those communications were of an official character; the object of which was to state facts, as I understood them. I gave no opinion as to when the convention should be called, believing it to be more proper to leave the provisional government to draw its own conclusions.

The present communication is of a different character: I am directly called upon to give an opinion. I should comply with this request with great diffidence, did I not believe that the prudence and better judgment of the council (to which you say it will be submitted by you, as chairman of the committee on state affairs,) will detect any inacuracies or false positions it may contain.

The general consultation of Texas was elected at a time when the country was distracted by popular excitements, produced by the diversity of opinions which naturally resulted from the disbelief of some that the federal system would be destroyed, or was even attacked, the excited and intemperate zeal of others, and the general want of certain information in all. It could not be reasonably expected that a body elected under such circumstances, would be entirely free from the conflicting opinions that prevailed amongst their constituents, or that a clear and positively definite position would be taken by it. The majority of Texas, so far as an opinion can be formed, from the acts of the people at their primary meetings, was decidedly in favor of declaring in positive, clear and unequivocal terms, for the federal constitution of 1824, and for the organization of local government, either as a state of the Mexican confederation, or provisionally, until the authorities of the state of Coahuila and Texas could be restored. This measure was absolutely necessary to save the country from anarchy; for it was left without any government at all, owing to the dispersion and imprisonment of the executive and legislative authorities, by the unconstitutional intervention of the military power. Some individuals were also in favor of independence, though no public meeting whose proceedings I have seen, expressed such an idea.

We have seen the consequence of these conflicting opinions, in the declaration made by the consultation, on the 7th of the last month. It is not entirely positive and definite in its character. Whether or not the crisis in which Texas is now placed, can be met and sufficiently provided for, by a position which admits of construction in its application, is a matter of opinion; as for myself, I believe it cannot.

The character of the struggle in which Texas is engaged, is now clearly developed; it evidently is one of life or death, "to be, or not to be." It is no longer a mere question about the forms of political institutions; it is one of self-preservation. Texas is menaced with a war of extermination: the government of Mexico has so proclaimed it. The people now understand their situation, and consequently are much better prepared to elect public agents to provide against such a danger, than they were at the time of the last election. At that time the form of government was not changed by any act which had the influence or the character of law; it now is by the decree of the 3rd of October last. At that time the state government existed; at this, no such thing as a state exists, not even in name. The decree of the 3rd of October has converted them into departments, without any legislative powers whatever, and entirely subject to the orders of the president and central government in Mexico.

Again, the representation in the consultation was very unequal, a principle that should be cautiously avoided, so far as practicable, in a body that is to settle the political destinies of a community where all are equally interested.

The consultation, foreseeing that such a crisis as the present might arrive, has very wisely provided for the calling a convention by the provisional government; and I am clearly of opinion it ought to be done with the least possible delay.

Another weighty reason in favor, is that the world are not yet sufficiently informed or enlightened on the causes or the merits of the present conflict. The people of Texas have been, and now are accused of being ungrateful rebels, who have repaid the favors and bounties of the nation with ingratitude and rebellion. This accusation is unfounded and unjust. That individuals have committed imprudences and even excesses, and by so doing, have injured the character and the best interests of Texas, by giving a pretext to our enemies to confound the whole of the people with those individuals may be true; but when the causes of such excesses are sought for, they will be found to have proceeded from bad government, bad legislation, bad administration, or no government at all. Is this the fault of Texas? Whenever the people here have tried to get a local organization of government, in order to correct and punish such excesses, they have been treated as rebels; so that the people are denounced because the want of local government produces anarchy; and when ever they attempt to apply a remedy, they are treated as ungrateful rebels! This country has been redeemed from the wilderness by the people who now live in it, and without any cost to the general government or to the nation. The settlers were stimulated to persevere and to overcome the most appalling difficulties, by the express guarantees of a liberal system of government, and of the right of self-government in their internal affairs, as a state of the Mexican confederation. The lands thus received were granted and sold by the state of Coahuila and Texas, and not by the general government, (except a few old grants, previous to the establishment of the federal system) ; and it is worthy of notice, that one of the crimes attributed to the authorities of Coahuila and Texas by the general government, as justification for its military intervention, was a granting of their lands; and yet the general government claims all the merit of having given them away to the Texians! These lands and this country, at the commencement of the settlement, fourteen years ago, were valueless, and so considered by the general government, they became the sole property of the state of Coahuila and Texas, and the state alone had the power to dispose of them. The state authorities have always considered them to be valueless; a proof of which is the manner in which they have been disposed of, given away for nothing to native Mexicans, in eleven league tracts, and sold to them and to the colonists (for all the land acquired by foreign settlers was sold to them by the state,) at from thirty to one hundred dollars per square league. In 1833, thirty square leagues of land were voted by the late legislators, to a young man (who had previously received a grant of eleven leagues), as pay for one years salary, for his services as judge! Some eight hundred square leagues were sold by these legislators, in 1834 and 1835, to speculators, principally foreigners, and to themselves; for the same legislators who passed the law for a part of this sale, were purchasers, at from about fifty to seventy-five and a hundred dollars per square league.

It is not my intention to cast any censure on the legislators of Coahuila, or on the individuals who purchased; the object of the former was to raise funds out of the sale of Texas lands, to replenish the state treasure which was empty—the latter were speculators, whose object was to take advantage of any law or circumstance that favored their views. I have mentioned this subject to prove more clearly the fact that all the legislation of both general and state governments, on the subject of Texas lands, has been based on the full belief that they were valueless, and that the nation and the state were great gainers by getting this wilderness settled, so as to have a barrier against Indians, without any cost whatever to the nation, on the contrary, with the gain of from thirty to one hundred dollars per square league. There never has been any kind of organization in Texas, that merits even the name of a governmnt, at least not since the year 1827. The moral principle of the people governed them, and kept the country quiet. Peace prevailed in this country, until last May; in that month, a revolutionary ball was thrown into it by the state authorities of Monclova, all valient Mexicans; and since then, not a month, indeed scarcely a week has passed, without some act on the part of the general government or its authorities, to increase the irritation, and hurry this country into revolution, or into anarchy and ruin, so as to involve it in a war, to which they give the character of a national one against foreign adventurers. And yet, according to the general government of Mexico, the people of Texas alone are to be blamed for every thing, and deserve death. It is something like the fable of the wolf, who devoured a sheep for muddying the water of a brook in which they were both drinking at the same time, the wolf some hundred yards above the sheep. That some acts have been committed in Texas, which I have always disapproved, and still disapprove, is well known. They were reprobated and disapproved by the great mass of the people. But that these individual acts were of the rebel character, which the government of Mexico says they are, or that all Texas should be condemned to ruin on this account, is as false a pretext as that of the wolf for eating the sheep. The truth is that liberal and free principles must be banished from Texas, as they have been, or perhaps will be, from all Mexico, to suit the views of the central party. To do this, the people of Texas must be annihilated; and some reasons must be given to the world, for so harsh a measure. The rumors circulated by my enemies, that I was instructed, [interested] or in any way concerned in these large land sales and speculations, is false. This specimen of the ruinous legislation of Coahuila, as to lands, is a fair specimen of their legislation for Texas, in all other matters. A large portion of this country has thus been thrown away into the hands of speculators, and entangled by conflicting claims. And are the people of Texas to be blamed for all this? Was it their acts that involved this country in a perplexing land labyrinth, and in anarchy and revolution? No, it was the acts of native born Mexican legislators and revolutionists. ThSs subject, and all other matters connected with Texas, ought to be fully explained in a manifesto from the representatives of the people. This is therefore another reason why a convention ought to be called. The fact is now evident that Texas is engaged in a struggle for existence, against great numerical strength and resources; and she must supply her physical weakness, by the justice of the cause. If she cannot do this, she deserves to fall.

For the reasons expressed, I am of opinion a convention should be called, without any delay, to meet as soon as possible to hold the elections and convene the members. This is also the decided opinion of the citizen volunteers of the army, as expressed to me very generally, before I left the camp.

The provisional government will, of course, continue in full force, until changed by the convention. Their labors, in my opinion, have been directed by the purest desire to promote the general good, and merit the approbation of the country.

I remain, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

S. F. Austin.