Actions of the Texas Legislature in 1834

 

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The History of Texas: Legislative Actions in 1834

(Previous Section: Stephen F. Austin Goes to Mexico: 1833)

Texas Legislature Actions: 1834

The legislature of Coahuila and Texas met on the first of January, 1834; and, in default of the governor and vice-governor, Councillor Francisco Vidaurri y Villasenor was duly invested with the executive functions. The influence of Texas was much felt in this body, and the presence of Thomas J. Chambers at Monclova added greatly to that influence. The new municipalities of Matagorda and San Augustine were created at this session;t Texas was divided into three departments, and it was provided that both the Spanish and English languages should be used in public affairs; an additional representative in the legislature was also allowed her, thus giving to Texas three out of eight in that body. Acting in the spirit of Gomez Farias, the legislature did what they could to restrain the privileges of the clergy; it prohibited the founding of edifices by charitable donations; also debarring any one from disposing of more than one fiftieth of his estate for the benefit of his soul; likewise forbidding the ecclesiastical authority from intervening in civil affairs, and the bishops from making the testament visit (visita testamentos). It may be proper to state here that the political chiefs, of which Texas was to have three, were selected in the following manner; the ayuntamientos of each department named three persons to the council of state; if that body approved of them, it nominated them to the governor, out of which he selected and appointed one as political chief for the department. He held his office for four years, and received a salary of eight hundred dollars per annum.

Another decree, passed at this session of the legislature, for the sale at auction of vacant lands, is important for other matters embraced in it. Its provisions exhibit considerable liberality. The lands were to be surveyed into labors (one hundred and seventy-seven acres each), and sold for not less than ten dollars each, the purchaser paying down one third in cash, and the balance in one and two years. Foreigners were likewise allowed to purchase; and, what had not before been permitted, they were allowed a year in which to bring their families to Texas. But the most important article provided, that "no person should be molested for political and religious opinions, provided the public order was not disturbed."

This law for the sale of lands was in a few weeks dispensed with, to make way for more gigantic projects. The Mexican members of the legislature, who themselves set no value upon wild lands, had discovered that the Texans did. As the former loved money, and the latter real estate, an arrangement of interests was mutually effected. At this time the memorial sent by Austin, for a separation of Texas from Coahuila, was still pending before the federal government, and the issue was uncertain. The state legislature, fearful of losing the rich lands of Texas without consideration, was disposed to make the most of them while it had the power. Many complaints had been made of the depredations committed by the Indians on the Texan frontier. A proposition was therefore made to provide a body of rangers, and to pay them in lands, for which purpose four hundred leagues were to be set apart. The proposition passed into a decree; but, in its engrossment, a fraudulent alteration was made, by which the executive was authorized to sell the lands. Accordingly, the lands were sold, and the settlers on the frontier left to battle with the Indians as they had done before.

The great necessity for a well-organized judiciary, and the numerous complaints of the Texans on that subject, induced the passing of a decree on the 17th of April, 1834, making Texas a judicial circuit, dividing it into three districts, and prescribing the mode of procedure. The most important feature in this law was the provision establishing trial by jury. In other respects it was as much assimilated to the rules of common-law courts as Mexican prejudices would permit. Thomas J. Chambers was appointed judge of the circuit; but, after making efforts to organize the courts in the several districts, such was the confusion incident to the approaching revolution, that the law became useless.

The legislature closed its session on the last of April, leaving the government of the state in the hands of Villasenor, the acting governor, and the council and standing deputation.

These functionaries, on receiving intelligence of the plan of Cuernavaca, assembled on the 24th of June, and declared that the state would not permit the exalted name of religion to be invoked within her limits, under any such pretence; that the executive should take measures to banish from the state such as endeavored to do so; and that he should not permit the troops of the standing army to be introduced into the state under any pretence.

On the same day, an extra session of the legislature was convoked to meet on the 11th of August, to take measures for the safety of the federal system of government, and for the regulation of the public treasury, which was exhausted. The acting governor was also authorized to levy and organize such number of the civic militia as he might deem necessary for the defense of that system. In a short time, however, the will of the nation having expressed itself so fully in favor of Santa Anna and his strong government, the executive of the state and his council withdrew their opposition, and declared for the dictator.

Four days previous to this, however (July 19), the town of Saltillo issued its pronunciamento against the government of the state, and established a government of its own, appointing the licentiate Jose Maria Goribar as governor. At the same time it declared all the acts of the state congress and government, since the first of January, 1833, to be a nullity!

Civil War in Texas: 1834

Thus a civil war was about to commence in the state. The respective parties flew to arms. The call for an extra session of the legislature was not obeyed. To add to the confusion, a meeting, composed of the ayuntamiento of Monclova, three members of the legislature, and two of the council, was held on the 30th of August, at which the constitutional governor was deposed, and Colonel Juan Jose Elguezabal appointed in his stead. On the next day, Elguezabal issued his proclamation, declaring that he had "taken the administration by the free suffrage of the representatives of the people;" and that the state recognized Santa Anna as president, and would conform to whatever a majority of the national Congress, with his approval, would do. He then advised the two parties of Saltillo and Monclova to make peace. The warlike preparations of these rival factions, however, continued. It was only after some skirmishing, and the speedy prospect of bloodshed, that the acting governor, on the part of Monclova, and Vicente Campos and Ignacio de Arispe, on the part of Saltillo, met at the former town, on the 6th of November, 1834, and at midnight made a treaty of peace. The terms of the agreement were, that the question of difference between them should be referred to Santa Anna; that, in the meantime, all prisoners and property taken should be restored, the troops disbanded and sent home, and everything placed in the position it occupied before the difficulty occurred.

Santa Anna Rules on Stephen F. Austin's Demands

The Texans were not a party to these disgraceful scenes. They beheld with astonishment two petty aspirants claiming to be governor of the state in which they lived, neither one having the least color of a claim to the office! But they were not indifferent. The pending confusion had prevented the constitutional recurrence of the elections; the government under the constitution was in fact destroyed. Under these circumstances, Jose Antonio Vasquez and Oliver Jones, the Texan representatives to the state legislature, and Thomas J. Chambers, superior judge of Texas, in a short address, dated at Monclova, on the 1st of September, 1834, presented to the people of Texas the unhappy condition of their affairs, and proposed a congress, to meet at Bexar, on the 15th of November following, to take into consideration the political situation of their own department of the state, and, if necessary, to form a provisional government. The adoption of this measure, it is believed, was prevented by the uncertainty of their affairs in the Mexican capitol. Santa Anna, after his resumption of the reins of power, on the 13th of May, 1834, released Austin from the dungeon of the Inquisition, in which he had been confined, but kept him in confinement elsewhere until the 12th of June, when the military tribunal, to whom his case had been referred, decided that they had no jurisdiction over it. It was then referred to a civil tribunal, which also disclaimed jurisdiction; a like decision was made by the judge of the federal district of Mexico, to whom the case was referred. The matter was then submitted to the supreme court of the nation, that they might declare what court had jurisdiction. This body never made the decision, nor was Austin ever tried; neither can it be for a moment supposed that he was made to run the round of these courts for any other reason than to gain time, and hold him as a sort of hostage for the good behavior of Texas. His letter of the 25th of August following, and the flattering attention of Santa Anna, show this fact conclusively. But, after the reference of the affair of Monclova and Saltillo to the decision of the president, and a temporary calm was experienced in the state of Coahuila and Texas, Santa Anna found it to be good policy to enter seriously into the discussion of the petitions with which Austin had been charged by the Texan convention of 1833, and to decide upon them. Accordingly, on the 5th of October, 1834, the president convoked a meeting, composed of his four secretaries of state, the three representatives from Coahuila and Texas, three of his confidential generals, Lorenzo de Zavala, and Stephen F. Austin. The session was opened at eleven o'clock in the morning. The president having stated the topics to which the discussion was limited, Austin laid before the meeting the object of his mission, and the grounds of his petition. After a discussion which lasted three hours, embracing every head of the question, and in which several of the members participated, Austin urged lastly the separation of Texas from Coahuila, and its formation into an independent state. This was opposed by the representatives of the state in the national Congress, and particularly by Victor Blanco, who spoke last on the subject. Santa Anna then resolved —

1) That he would meditate maturely the decree repealing the 11th article of the law of the 6th of April, 1830, and, if no objections were presented, would give it his sanction.

2) That a corps, composed of cavalry, infantry, and artillery, four thousand strong, should be stationed at Bexar, for the protection of the coast and frontier of the country, to be under the command of General Mexia.

3) That proper steps should be taken to have regular mails, and to remove all obstacles to the agricultural and other industry of the inhabitants, " who are viewed with the greatest regard."

4) That Texas must necessarily remain united with Coahuila, because it had not the elements warranting a separation, nor would it be convenient. And, though it might be allowed to form a territory, if the inhabitants called for it, yet the dismembering of a state was unknown to the Mexican laws, and he would be at a loss how to proceed.

Thus was decided all the matters embraced in Austin's mission. Still he was detained in Mexico. His continued absence necessarily produced much feeling in Texas. This, added to the chaotic proceedings in the state and federal governments, not only excited but exasperated the colonists against Mexico, and everything that pertained to her.

The reference of the dispute between Saltillo and Monclova to Santa Anna was accepted, and a solution given. It was as follows;

1) The seat of government should remain at Monclova.

2) Alguezabal to continue to at as governor until a new election.

3) A new election for governor, vice-governor, and members of the legislature, to be ordered for the entire state.

This arrangement referred the matter to the people; and, although there was no law for the election, it was satisfactory. The decision was made on the 2d of December, 1834; and Austin hastened to communicate the fact, in a letter of that date, advising the people of Texas to sustain this adjustment of their difficulties by the president. "All is changed," said he, " since October of last year. Then there was no local government in Texas; now there is, and the most of your evils have been remedied, so that it is now important to promote union with all the state, and keep down all kind of excitement. All is going well. The president, General Santa Anna, has solemnly and publicly declared that he will sustain the federal representative system, as it now exists, and he will be sustained by all parties."

In the spring of 1834, Colonel Juan N. Almond, who, after his return to Mexico, had become distinguished, was sent by Santa Anna to visit Texas, and report upon its condition, physical and moral. He devoted some months to this business, spending most of his time with his old friend, and the friend of his father, Colonel Ellis P. Bean.* On his return, he published so much of his report as was deemed expedient. In that report, he attributes the rapid advance of the Texans to their industry, and the absence of that civil strife so common in Mexico. He estimated the population at twenty-one thousand souls, though there were doubtless at that time thirty thousand. He computed the number of negroes at only eleven hundred, when they were undoubtedly three times that number. The trade of the three chieftaincies of Texas was estimated as follows; Brazos, six hundred thousand dollars, mostly in cotton; the imports about three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars; Nacogdoches, four hundred and seventy thousand dollars in cotton, skins, grain, and cattle; the imports about two hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars; Bexar, only eight or ten thousand skins of exports, and a few articles imported from New Orleans—thus making the total foreign trade of Texas, in 1834, about one million, six hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

* After the Fredonian war, Colonel Bean ceased to be actively engaged in public affairs. He continued to hold his appointment as a colonel in the Mexican service, and was Indian agent. During the troubles of 1832, he was stationed with a detachment of troops at Fort Teran. His command was ordered to Nacogdoches by Piedras, and were taken prisoners by the Texans. Bean, not wishing to lose his commission, did not take part in that contest.

On the return of Colonel Almonte to Mexico, in the autumn of the foregoing year, it was proposed that he should again proceed to Texas, in the capacity of colonial director, and aid in introducing a larger number of Mexicans into that department; but the subsequent troubles prevented, and he did not return till he came with the army in 1836.

It was during the year 1834 that an attempt was made by the Creek Indians to obtain a settlement in Texas. Through some influence, the chiefs Apothtayoha and Ben Hawkins came to Nacogdoches, and entered into an agreement to procure the lands lying north of that town, which were then under the control of a New York company. A part of the purchase-money was advanced by the Indians, and further steps were taken to complete the title. In the meantime, the report of this project having gone abroad, and been made public by the newspapers, aroused the American settlers, and also the Cherokees. Colonel Bean, the Indian agent, was consulted; and in a short time the public mind became so exasperated, that the matter was abandoned. Hawkins was killed by the Cherokees.*

* "September 15, 1835: F. Thorn, president; T. J. Rusk, secretary. Resolved, That General Houston be appointed to take such steps as he may deem necessary in attempting to arrest the progress of one Benjamin Hawkins, who, we have every reason to believe, is attempting to introduce a large body of Indians from the United States into Texas."--Proceedings of Vigilance Committee, Nacogdoches.

[Next Section of Texas History: First Revolutionary Movements: 1834]

 

 

 

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