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Houston, Sam (1793-1863) to Edward Burleson

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01171 Author/Creator: Houston, Sam (1793-1863) Place Written: Houston, Texas Type: Manuscript letter signed Date: 11 April 1842 Pagination: 5 p. ; 32 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Houston, as President of the Republic of Texas, writes to Edward Burleson, the Vice President of Texas, about the security of Austin as Texas's capital. Considers the vulnerability of the archives of the Republic to attack, while they are kept in Austin. Advocates the removal of the Texas government from Austin to Houston, because Houston is much easier to defend, especially in the case of a war with Mexico. Declares that the "Constitution has reserved to the Executive the right to remove the offices when he may deem proper in time of war, for the security of the archives of the Government. The contingency has arrived, in the opinion of the Executive; and he is the sole judge of the necessity." Believes that an attack on the Texas capital and the destruction of its archives would be "overwhelm[ing]" to the Republic and diminish its status in the eyes of the world. Describes how the Texas legislature has not provided him with the means necessary to defend the capital and the archives or to move the archives to another, safer place. Calls upon Burleson to help him quiet insurrections and defend the laws of the Republic. Suggests that Texas has a "spirit of insubordination," and uses "[t]he Alamo not being blown up, and Colonel [James] Fannin's disobedience of orders" as an example of that spirit. Argues that Texas's wellbeing depends on foreign aid, especially from the United States, and that aid will disappear if Texans "show that they are incapable of self-government." Therefore, Houston urges Burleson to use his authority to allow the government archives to be moved to a safer location.

Background Information: Colonel James Fannin, to which Houston refers, failed his mission to relieve troops at the Alamo.

Full Transcript: City of Houston
11 April 1842
To the honorable Edward Burleson
Vice President of Texas
Your absence to Bexar [San Antonio] has prevented my addressing you on the subject of a ...removal of the archives of the Republic to some point of undoubted security.
This point has been designated as the most eligible in the present crisis, and to meet events which we must anticipate. To give proper direction to the action of our Navy, and orders to our Army, which must to a great extent be dependent upon contingencies, will at all times require the greatest facilities that Texas can command.
If the Government were to remain at Austin, it would require from ten to fifteen days longer at Austin to meet and attend to dispatches than at this point. This calculation does not embrace accidents and impediments arriving from high waters on the road to Austin from this place, which contingency, as well as others should be regarded. From Austin to Matamoros would not be less than 360 miles; and it may be that over connexion with that point may be established, in the event of a war being carried on by Texas against Mexico. The time required through an uninhabited country, apart from the dangers of the route, could not be calculated at less than eleven days - when by sea from this point, dispatches could go in four days. Dispatches could reach the [2] East from this place as soon as they could be forwarded to Austin. Indeed, all parts of the frontier settlements are nearly equidistant from this city; and all the resources of Texas could be at once called into action, and efficiency given to the operations of war. As it has been, only evil has arisen. Instead of those portions of the country most densely populated being apprised of the true state of the frontier, dispatches had to go to Austin, where the population could afford no present assistance; and the country particularly the West, sustained thereby injury equal to that inflicted by the Mexican invasion of 1836.
The Constitution has reserved to the Executive the right to remove the offices when he may deem proper in time of war, for the security of the archives of the Government. The contingency has arrived, in the opinion of the Executive; and he is the sole judge of the necessity. The measure was not adopted until he was satisfied both of the necessity and the propriety of such a course.
From the locality of Austin, it is [struck: as] certainly as approachable and as liable to surprise as Bexar was; and the inducements to an advance upon it much greater. It is needless for me to suggest to you the evils which would result to our country from the fact that a Mexican force had taken the capital of the Nation and destroyed the archives. Texas, now struggling with difficulties, would be overwhelmed by such a calamity. Abroad it would destroy all our prospects: and we ought to hazard nothing, since we must look abroad for assistance; so far, at least, as our credit and the sympathies of the world are concerned.
To oppose the orders of the Executive, when he is in the exercise of his constitutional functions is insurrection; [3] and he has the power to suppress such acts. And though he may, as every good citizen should do, deplore recourse to the remedy, he will perform his duty. In anticipation of evils , the President called on the last Congress for the power, and the means necessary to sustain a force at Austin, for the safety of the place and the archives. His request was disregarded by the honorable Body, and no provision made. He has only power to call out the militia in the event of insurrection or invasion but not to defend Austin, or any other point which may or may not be attacked. If Mexicans had no motives for an attack upon the place, it is at all times liable to be sacked and burned by the Indians. It has been their constant resort; and depredations are committed in sight of the city in open day. It is no argument in favor of the safety of the place that it has never been attacked yet, and the Indians have always resorted to the place. This may all be true, and surely it is no reason for its remaining as the seat of Government. The only question is, are the archives safe? or as safe at Austin as they would be at some other point in the Republic? All must answer, they are not. They are not even probably secure at Austin - yet they may possibly be so. It is the duty of the Executive to be assured of their safety, apart from all benefits which would result to the country from their removal to some point near the sea board. This city has been selected as the point most nearly connected with the United States to which we are to look with peculiar interest until our war with Mexico is terminated. Emigrants arriving at Galveston would [inserted: perhaps] be detained for 12 or 15 days at Galveston until dispatches could go and return from Austin; when their detention would not exceed three days if they had to report to this point, and conveyed by water to their destination. [4]
Aware that some acts of sedition have been perpetrated by individuals holding office under the Government, I call upon you as the second officer [struck: of the Government] known to the constitutional to put down all insurrectionary acts and conduct, and to sustain the Executive in the exercise of his constitution duties - feeling confident that you will not fail to maintain the oath which we have solemnly taken to support the constitution and the laws.
The present moment is one fraught with important consequences to Texas, and upon our conduct and actions the weal or wo must depend. If volunteers from the United States find us in a seditious or insurrectionary state, they will not remain in Texas to unite their efforts or their destiny with a people who will not regard the constitution, and thereby show that they are incapable of self-government. They know our past history and among the causes of our misfortunes they will rank the conduct of the General Council in deposing Governor Smith and their acts done in violation of the organic law. The Alamo not being blown up, and Colonel Fannin's disobedience of orders, all arose from a spirit of insubordination. These things produced to Texas the greatest calamities, as they gave rise to panic, and panic to the desolation and waste of our country. Now if the same spirit is shown by the Texans, when we have had six years of comparative peace, we need place no reliance on foreign aid or at least its continuance. The Santa Fe [struck: expedition] excitement may hurry some on for the present but if our friends in the United States find that orders of the government are to be disregarded and every man is to become a leader or dictator "on his own hook," our hopes will be short lived, [5] and even those who have rushed to aid us, by the first impulse, will soon withdraw from a cause, which is not sustained by reason and law and whose foundation is not order, subordination and civil rule.
For these reasons, with many more which must suggest themselves to you, I feel bound to urge your influence and authority in preventing [struck: any impediment] the interposition of any impediment to the removal of the archives to this place in obedience to the orders of the Executive. I regard the archives of the Senate, in cases of emergency, as under your care; and, of course under your control until they reach the point of safety which may have been designated.
I have the honor to be your
obt. Servt.
Sam Houston

See More

People: Houston, Sam, 1793-1863
Burleson, Edward, 1798-1851
Fannin, James Walker, Jr., 1804-1836

Historical Era: National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860

Subjects: State ConstitutionMexican WarGovernment and CivicsTexasLatin and South AmericaMilitary HistoryWestward ExpansionAmerican WestLawAlamoRebellionGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyFinanceEconomics

Sub Era: Age of Jackson

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