March 2, 2009
By MICHAEL E. YOUNG
The Dallas Morning News
As historic documents go, this one doesn't look like much – a quick scribble on a scrap of paper five inches long and eight wide, the writing so rushed it's barely legible.
Note concerning Texas Declaration of Independence
But to historians and numismatists, the "resolution to print," discovered recently in a file at Southern Methodist University's DeGolyer Library, is "not only a link, but the missing link" from those frantic first days of the Republic of Texas.
"It was an order to publish the Texas Declaration of Independence and circulate it in Texas and in the United States to let them know the Texans had declared themselves independent from Mexico," Houston author James P. Bevill said.
He found the document while researching his soon-to-be published book, The Paper Republic, about the coins, currency and credit that funded the fledgling nation.
Spreading the word about independence was critical. A group of investors in New Orleans had demanded that Texas pass that declaration – exactly 173 years ago today – before it would provide capital to carry out the war with Mexico, Bevill said.
So, as state archivist Chris LaPlante put it, the resolution was "a fairly significant little document."
And it truly was a "missing link."
Initially placed with the Texas secretary of state's office, the resolution and other important documents from the republic were moved to the predecessor of the current Texas State Library and Archives Commission for safekeeping in the first years of the 20th century, LaPlante said.
"We had it in 1904," he said, "but from what we can tell, there was later a large theft of documents, not all at one time, but sometime in the 1960s, maybe the '50s."
Over the years, more and more people began collecting documents from the Texas Republic. Thieves found it a potentially lucrative market, and papers began disappearing from state offices, libraries and county courthouses.
The stolen documents began appearing in auction catalogs in the 1970s, he said, and many eventually passed into collectors' hands.
So it was with this scrap.
Bevill found it a few months back at SMU, in a file with other documents from the John N. Rowe III collection.
"He bought it 20 or 30 years ago," Bevill said, "and effectively rescued it when he donated his collection to the DeGolyer."
The document has since been returned to the Texas archives.
Map of the Republic of Texas
It also provided a key bit of information lost long ago.
For years, the history books said secretaries made five handwritten copies of the original declaration to send to settlements in Bexar (San Antonio), Goliad, Nacogdoches, Brazoria and San Felipe.
But the rediscovered resolution to print actually directed that a copy be sent to a sixth city – Natchitoches, La., the starting point of the El Camino Real de los Tejas, the King's Road.
"Remember, these copies traveled by horseback, and that was the easiest way to get a copy into the U.S," Bevill said.
And the delegates to the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos wanted the word to spread.
Within a day or two of adopting the Declaration of Independence, the delegates approved the resolution to print, requiring a San Felipe printing company to produce 1,000 copies for distribution across the new republic.
The first 100 were printed as soon as the Declaration of Independence could be typeset, Bevill said. The printers stopped work on the local newspaper to do the job, then went back to the paper before printing the final 900.
Only about 15 copies are known to exist 173 years later, the large majority from the smaller first printing.
"A lot of that second batch went to the wind," Bevill said. "News that the Alamo had fallen came within a day or two, so that makes sense.
"You didn't want to be caught by Santa Anna's army carrying a copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence."
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