Committees of Safety During the Texas Revolution of 1835

"In the American Revolution it was the committees of correspondence which began in Massachusetts in 1772 that kept the people in touch with developments and finally made possible organized resistance. Similar organizations, some of which were originally formed for protection against Indian raids, existed during the Texas Revolution. Without them the colonists could not have been aroused to the point of resistance or have been organized with any degree of effectiveness. Mina (Bastrop) on the frontier led the communities by appointing on May 8, 1835, its Committee of Safety and Correspondence. Organizations in Gonzales and Viesca were formed a few days later. Before the end of the summer apparently every precinct had such an organization. The central committee held over from the convention of 1833 served as a guide and a clearing body for the local committees.


"These committees were responsible for a decision to bring together representatives of the municipalities for a consultation. On July 4 the Committee of Safety at Mina issued an address to the ayuntamientos of the Department of the Brazos, urging a consultation of the representatives of the several communities. Within ten days the ayuntamientos of Columbia and a citizens' meeting in San Felipe likewise had called for a consultation. Actually, it was the people of Columbia who called the general meeting. At a gathering of the citizens on August 15, 1835, with William H. Wharton presiding, the Committee of Safety and Correspondence was instructed to issue a call for a consultation of all Texans. Three days later the committee framed an address in which it asked that each jurisdiction elect and send five delegates to a consultation to be held in Washington on October 15. The tenor of its message is revealed in the sentence: 'The only instructions which we would recommend to be given to our representatives is to secure peace if it is to be obtained on constitutional terms, and to prepare for war � if war is inevitable.'


"Some three weeks later Stephen F. Austin, free at last and home again, gave the consultation his approval. He accepted the chairmanship of the Central Committee of Safety of San Felipe and by common consent became the leader of the Texan cause. The news came that C�s was on his way to B�xar with reinforcements. This destroyed the last hope of peace. On September 19, the central committee reinforced the call for a consultation and added: 'War is our only resource. There is no other remedy. We must defend our rights ourselves and our country by force of arms.'" - pp. 91 & 92


"While these developments were taking place in the military field, the political scene had shifted several times. Texas had formed two temporary governments, and had organized a third that promised to be ineffective. Ironically, the first, which lasted only three weeks, is known as the Permanent Council. Organized on October 11, 1835, it consisted of the Committee of Public Safety in San Felipe joined by representatives from other communities. During its brief existence, the Permanent Council served well. It sent supplies and volunteers to the army in the field, commissioned privateers, established a postal system, ordered the land offices closed and surveying discontinued, authorized an agent to go to the United States and borrow money, and appealed to the citizens of the United States for men, money, and supplies. It kept the people of Texas informed about the revolution and spurred them to greater efforts.


"The Consultation, the second governmental body of the revolution, was delayed because of the outbreak of hostilities and moved from Washington to San Felipe. When a quorum was finally reached on November 3, fifty-five delegates from twelve municipalities of the departments of the Brazos and Nacogdoches assembled. Branch T. Archer, a Brazoria delegate and former member of the Virginia assembly, was elected president. An early issue in the meeting concerned the question of independence. A committee, composed of a delegate from each of the twelve municipalities, could not agree on whether the colonists were fighting for independence or for their rights under the Constitution of 1824. When the issue was returned to the full assembly, there were three days of 'lengthy and animated' debate before the Consultation voted on November 6 for a 'provisional government, upon the principles of 1824,' and then voted 33 to 15 against a declaration of independence.


"The statement adopted was, however, a compromise with those who advocated immediate independence. It spoke of Santa Anna's tyranny and of the 'natural rights' of the people of Texas, declared that the Texians were fighting to maintain the federal Constitution of 1824, and stated that they offered their assistance to all Mexicans who would join them in resisting military despotism. But the fifth article of the resolution suggest the possibility of more extreme action. The colonists, it stated, 'hold it to be their establish an independent government,' but they would 'continue faithful to the Mexican government so long as that nation is governed by the constitution and laws...'


"Another act of the body that constituted a definite step toward separation was the election of Branch Archer, William Wharton, and Stephen Austin as commissioners to the United States to obtain aid. The delegates must have known that their kin east of the Sabine would not send men and money to Texas merely to have a part in an internal squabble of Mexican politics. In fact, the cause of their friends of the Constitution of 1824 was already lost. That instrument had been replaced on October 3 when the Mexican Congress, under the direction of Santa Anna, had adopted the Siete Leyes, which established an authoritarian system of centralist government.


"The Consultation endorsed most of the work of the Permanent Council, adopted a plan for the creation of an army, elected Sam Houston commander in chief, and drew up a plan for a provisional government. The plan provided for a governor, a lieutenant-governor, and a general council to be composed of one member from each municipality. All officials were to be chosen from the members of the Consultation. The delegates voted to sustain the army, then in siege of B�xar, but declared that the volunteers were not obliged to submit to its control. Thereby the Consultation confessed its weakness and transmitted to its successor an army over which it had no control. The Consultation finally adjourned on November 14, agreeing to reassemble on March 1, 1836, unless called sooner by the governor and general council.


"Although the Consultation performed very well in many matters, it made two serious mistakes. Despite the best of intentions, it deprived Texas of valuable services of its two most essential men. Austin, a logical choice to head the provisional government, was sent away 'in honorable exile' to the United States, and Houston was made a commander in chief without an army. Equally serious was the failure of the Consultation to delineate clearly the powers of the general council and of the governor in the new provisional government. Henry Smith, who had served a political chief of the Department of the Brazos, was elected governor, and James W. Robinson of Nacogdoches was chosen lieutenant-governor. Smith sympathized with the aims of the war party; most members of the general council tended to support the aims of the more moderate peace party." - pp. 100 � 102


SOURCE: Rupert N. Richardson, Texas: The Lone Star State (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1943; 4th ed., with Ernest Wallace and Adrian N. Anderson, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981).