The goodies in statute books

The laws of Texas — the Republic, that is!

As the daughter, granddaughter, and great granddaughter of Texans, it’s always fun to have time to poke around in old Texas records. I had a chance this weekend to poke around in really old Texas laws — those of the Republic of Texas. Not because I was looking for anything in particular but just because it’s fun. You never know what you’re going to find.

Act for relief of Ministers, 1837 TX

On just one day, 12 June 1837, acts covering a wide variety of subjects were presented by B.T. Archer, Speaker of the House of Representatives,1 and Jesse Grimes, President pro tempore of the Senate,2 to the President of Texas, Samuel Houston,3 for his signature.

It was likely the last day of the special session called in May, just after the capital had moved to the City of Houston.

Money was clearly on the minds of those legislators. The first thing signed into law that day was an act to impose import duties on goods brought into the Republic. And by looking at the duty rates, we have a pretty good sense of what things must have actually cost and what was valued in the new Republic. The import duties included:

     • Provisions and groceries, free;
     • Coffee, one cent per pound;
     • Brown sugar, two cents per pound;
     • White sugar, four cents per pound;
     • Pepper, pimento or allspice, five cents per pound;
     • Cinnamon, cloves and other spices, ten cents per pound;
     • Mustard, 25 percent of the value;
     • Vinegar, free;
     • Ready-made clothes, 30 percent;
     • Hats, 25 percent;
     • Jewelry, 33-1/3 percent;
     • Drugs and medicines, 20 percent;
     • Playing cards, 50 percent;
     • Seeds, free;
     • Fire arms and munitions of war, free.4

And the very next statute signed was a tax on real and personal property of one half of one percent of the value. The act also set up business license fees, mostly on places that sold liquor or had a billiard table, charged a head tax of one dollar on every white male over age 21, and imposed a fee on pedlars.5

Yet another law that day was to sell off Galveston Island and all other islands belonging to the Republic in 10-40 acre tracts to the highest bidders. The proceeds were to go half to pay for the Republic’s army, one fourth to the navy and one fourth to the general treasury.6

What does that tell you about the priorities of politicians, then and now?

Some of the law were entirely mundane — to print thousands of copies of the laws,7 to authorize the hiring of extra clerks for the public auditors office,8 to fix the meeting date for the Republic Congress for the first Monday each November.9

Others are a chilling reflection of just how precarious life was in Texas at that time, as bills were signed into law:

     • Authorizing the President to call out the militia as needed.10

     • Authorizing the President to send a flag of truce to Mexico to try to arrange the release of prisoners of war especially those from the ships the Independence11 and the Julius Caesar,12 but not limited to those.13

     • Suspending the operations of the General Land Office if Texas was invaded.14

     • Ordering a mounted force of 600 men to serve for six months at a time, assisted by companies of spies from friendly Indian tribe, to protect the northern frontier.15

There was a law calling for vacant land to be surveyed and sectioned in 640-acre and 320-acre tracts,16 another establishing the County of Houston (not to be confused with the city of the same name)17 and an act authorizing the President to appointed a commissioner to run and mark the boundary with the United States.18

But I think my favorite of all the bills passed that day was when the Republic of Texas exempted “all ordained ministers of the gospel” from military service.19 It’s a sure bet it wasn’t because they were particularly peaceful men. Circuit-riding preachers back in their day didn’t have a choice but to defend themselves, and their flocks, from all kinds of threats. My guess is, the Powers That Be figured the troops would behave better if there were preachers preaching to them rather than fighting alongside them.

You never know what you’ll find in a statute book.


SOURCES

  1. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Branch T. Archer,” rev. 12 Apr 2012.
  2. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Jesse Grimes,” rev. 17 Mar 2012.
  3. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Sam Houston,” rev. 27 Apr 2012.
  4. An Act To raise a public revenue by Impost Duties, Laws of the Republic of Texas, in two volumes (Houston : p.p., 1838), 1: 253; digital images, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History (http://texashistory.unt.edu : accessed 29 Apr 2012).
  5. Ibid., An Act To raise a Public Revenue by direct Taxation, 1: 259.
  6. Ibid., An Act To Dispose of Galveston and other Islands of the Republic of Texas, 1: 267.
  7. Ibid., Joint Resolution For Publishing the Laws and Journals, 1: 262.
  8. Ibid., Joint Resolution Employing extra Clerks in the Auditors Office, 1: 269.
  9. Ibid., An Act Regulating the Meeting of Congress, 1: 275.
  10. Ibid., An Act Authorizing the President to call out the Militia, 1: 267.
  11. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Texas schooner Independence,” rev. 12 Feb 2012.
  12. See generally Texas State Historical Association, Handbook of Texas Online, “Booker Shields,” (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online : accessed 29 Apr 2012).
  13. Joint Resolution Employing extra Clerks in the Auditors Office, Laws of the Republic of Texas, in two volumes 1: 269.
  14. Ibid., An Act Supplementary to an act entitled “an act to establish a general land office for the republic of Texas”, passed Dec. 22, 1836, 1:263.
  15. Ibid., An Act For the better protection of the northern frontier, 1: 274.
  16. Ibid., An Act Supplementary to an act entitled “an act to establish a General Land Office in the republic of Texas”, passed Dec. 22, 1836, 1: 266.
  17. Ibid., An Act Establishing the County of Houston, 1: 270.
  18. Ibid., An Act To authorize the President to appoint a Commissioner to run the Boundary line between the United States of America, and the Republic of Texas, 1: 271.
  19. Ibid., An Act For the relief of Ministers of the Gospel, 1: 272.
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