are as important to lawyers as a bookcase full of tan-covered, black-labeled
Southwestern Reporters used to be before the internet made appeals
court decisions easily available online.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that a lawsuit can fail or prevail
on the nuance of a single word. Accordingly, a well-crafted legal
brief is built on linguistic redundancy, as in a matter being "ordered,
adjudged and decreed."
Fortunately, while William Henry Stewart was a smart lawyer who
rose to become a wise judge, no doubt versed in all legal terms
of art, he also knew how to arrange simple words for clear communication.
It is thanks to him and the journal he kept that Texans can today
easily visualize the last day in the nearly decade long life of
the Republic of Texas, an event that transpired five years before
the mid-point of the 19th century.
Noting that Austin was
only “a very small town on the frontier,” Stewart recorded in his
journal that somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 persons were in town
for the ceremony on Feb. 19, 1846 for the ceremony marking the end
of the Republic of Texas and the beginning of Texas’ status as the
28th state of the Union.
“It was a wonderfully impressive scene,” he wrote.
A group of gutsy men had signed a document declaring Texas independent
from Mexico on March 2, 1836. It took a baptism of blood to make
that freedom a fact, but for more than nine years, Texas would stand
among other nations of the world as a sovereign entity.
the 27-year-old Stewart played no role in the revolution, he got
to Texas as soon as he could. That
was in the fall of 1844, when after a brief stint in Iowa, he walked
off a ship at Galveston.
Soon, he decided to move inland and begin a legal practice in Gonzales.
Not quite two years later, he traveled the 65 miles from Gonzales
to the Capital City specifically to see the change-of-government
“After prayer the President of Texas, Anson
Jones, delivered a speech,” Stewart wrote. “It was a strong,
vivid review of the trials, the privations and the triumphs of the
early settlers of Texas, of the making of the republic, of the war
with Mexico, of the tragedies of that war, and so on through the
[almost] 10 years of the life of the republic.”
related the recent history of the move toward annexation, and the
reason everyone had gathered on that day to witness the transition
of governmental authority.
“He closed with a solemnity that was profound,” Stewart continued.
“His closing sentence was: ‘And now the Republic of Texas is no
Those nine words seemed to hit the crowd as forcefully as a load
of grape shot from the Twin Sisters,
the two cannon that helped assure Texas independence at the decisive
San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.
“Although we all knew why we had gathered there; although we knew
beforehand just what was to be done, the services were so simple,
yet so serious, and the speech of the President so grave that when
he said: ‘And now the Republic of Texas is no more,’ the people
acted as though they were stunned.”
And then Stewart really produced some powerful prose:
silence was broken only by the rattling of the ropes as the Lone
Star of Texas, which had been floating from the flagstaff, came
down. Then those 2,000 or 3,000 persons looked as though they would
cry. There was a look of suffering in every face. The full significance
of their act was brought home to them by the hauling down of the
flag – the flag for which they had borne so much and which represented
so much to them.”
The spectators continued in that “unsettled, tremulous, deeply sentimental
state” when the man standing at the halliards “began pulling at
the ropes and slowly but surely another flag was hoisted on high.”
As a crowd “still as death” looked on, the flag reached the top
of the staff. The wind caught it “and the Stars and Stripes of the
United States burst into view.”
At that, those
gathered outside the one-story frame building that had been the
republic’s capitol came back to life.
“A mighty cheer went up, hats were thrown a-high, cannon boomed
and there was a tremendous tumult,” concluded. “Never before and
never since have I see such a sudden change from grief to rejoicing.
It was marvelous.”
did well in the new state. Voters in Gonzales
elected him mayor in 1848, and a year later they sent him to Austin
as a state representative. He served one term, and then after nearly
a decade long hiatus, represented the Gonzales
area again during the final legislative session before the Civil
Though born in Maryland, when Texas
seceded from the Union that Stewart had witnessed it join, he joined
the Confederate Army, serving as a major in the Quartermaster Corps.
In 1868, three years after the South’s failed attempt to divorce
itself from the United States, Stewart moved to Galveston.
With the exception of time spent in Austin
as a delegate to the 1875 Constitutional Convention, he practiced
law in the prosperous port city until 1876, when he was elected
as a district judge.
Stewart remained on the bench until his death on March 26, 1903,
but his description of the final day of the Republic of Texas will
© Mike Cox
- February 20, 2014 column
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