Speech in Houston

May 11, 1875

Countrymen, Friends of Texas: I am proud to be the one, and I have had too many evidences not to claim the other. Friends and countrymen, for many years I have desired to pay you this visit, but circumstances have prevented me. I was prepared, however, for all the hospitality you have shown me—that hospitality which a noble people like yourselves have shown to one who led you in your suffering, but on whom in his distress you were not prepared to turn your back. [Cheers.] And this is your merit, for of no other people is there any record in history who have followed the failing fortunes of one who has been the cause, primarily, of their disasters. Though I was but the instrument in your hands, a people less noble than yourselves would make me responsible for your evils. I am glad to see you, more glad than I can express, and the welcome with which you receive me most unfits me for utterance. You are the descendents, fellow citizens, or the successors of those men who, as a band, true to the Anglo Saxon instinct, rose to assert the great principle of community independence. Alone, unfriended seemingly; alone in their conflicts, your predecessors won that victory that caused the Lone Star of Texas to rise above the din and obscurity of battle, and shine above that smoke that enshrouded it with a radiance that commanded the admiration of the world, and that brought the recognition of your independence, the knowledge that you had created a nation, and that you were fit to hold a place among the nations of the world. You had achieved all that men could achieve. You were a republic in your own right. You had everything that a people could desire to start a nation; you possessed within yourselves and your fair land the true element of nationality. But the heart yearned for the old Fatherland, and so it brought you back into the Union. Thrice and four times I am happy to stand before such men. Four and five times to stand before such women. [Cheers.] For if it has sometimes been uttered in reproach that the women in the late war contributed largely to the success of our arms, and the obstinacy of our resistance, I hug the memory to my heart that it is so. [Prolonged cheers.]

As you have been told I am not here to make you a formal address. But being invited to talk to you, and it being expected that, I would, a non compliance with that might find myself in the play of Richard with the part of Richard left out. I shall, therefore, give you a few practical suggestions, principally with reference to the organization which is represented in the gentlemen who sit behind me. Your purposes are agricultural and mechanical, as I understand it. Agriculture was the first order of creation, for as we learn from the only authentic history of the creation of the world. From that record, which we know to be true, we are told that when the Creator brought order out of chaos, when he had separated the land from the waters, when the sea was filled with fishes, when beasts and creeping things filled the earth, and he looked upon the whole and saw it was good, yet the work was not completed. One thing was wanted; still all this was ready yet there was none to utilize it. Still there was wanting a man to till the ground, and that, the last work of the Creator is the highest, and completes the chain of animated nature. Well, as your President has told you, the law of usefulness, the law of action binding upon us all is work, work, work. But after man had been made of the dust of the earth and the breath of life, the soul, had been breathed into his nostrils by his maker, the work was not yet complete. There was something still higher and holier to complete the work. Out of the dust of the earth was the man created, but it was of this dust divested of its dross, purified and vivified, and that matter alone was fit to make a woman, and the helpmeet was made for Adam. We are the descendants of the Adamic race, and to us are descended the obligations and privileges of tilling the ground. It is by this alone that the wealth of the earth is increased. No addition is made to it by any other means. Everything comes from the ground and the tilling of it. Manufactures make it more valuable; commerce makes it still more valuable, but agriculture is the very foundation of all life. Yet it may not be that agriculture, from this point of natural vantage ground, will look down on commerce and science with other than kindly sympathy. They are handmaids and administer to each other's wants. They are parts of one great whole. To hold aloof would be as if the head should say to the hand or the hand to the head, I am not of thee. But agriculture does not mean merely digging the land, for we learn of the two first sons of Adam in Biblical lore, that they were herders; so those gentlemen of Texas who feed the vast flocks on the broad plains of your State are agriculturists in the comprehensive signification of the word.

You have now reached the point where manufactures are to be resorted to in aid of agriculture, and I am glad to know that you are making progress in that respect, for I have often as a Southern man been ashamed to see the broom corn grown on Southern soil sent to Northern parts, there converted into brooms and returned to us, the freight paid both ways and our blessed Southern women made to sweep the floors with Yankee brooms. [Laughter and applause.]

Now, why should this be? Why should we not make our own carts, wagons, and farm implements? All these things are within the reach of the first manufacture; and in progressing, why should we not spin our cotton into yarn? The labor thus adduced would be the means of entertaining our people, keeping our resources within the confines of our own State, and render us, in the practical sense, less dependant upon the people of the Northern country. The profits would be immense to us in every way. Then you may go on to manufacture cloths; but until you cultivate your land, until you invoke the aid of the genial sun and showers to help you, you cannot hope to compete with those who make the fabrics in the outer world. I am not one of those who would counsel you to turn away from your uncultivated fields to carry our people into manufactures and surrender what the earth would give us. Let the achievements of science follow the feet of the husbandman.

I don't intend, my friends, to tax your patience by telling you what I know about farming [laughter], for although I was a cultivator of the land years ago, the knowledge I obtained then was of a different character and under greatly different conditions than those that now govern your case. But, generally and briefly, I will touch upon the case. And in doing this I shall refer briefly to an organization which possesses within itself the elements most conducive to your material progress as an agricultural people I am glad to notice the Grangers. [Suppressed applause.] The farmers have heretofore in many ways been greatly imposed upon, and when we said we had no fair chance in the world, people said we were grumblers, that we were always grumbling. [Laughter.] But now in this organization you will find a chance to assert your rights in the fields of labor.

Now take the railroads. They make their own cars and do their own work. Why? Not simply because they can, but because the money is kept with them; they are not dependent upon Northern manufacturers. They are, in a measure independent. Now why should not the Grangers assert their independence in the fields of labor? Now that you have asserted for yourselves, I hope to see in Texas, as in every other Southern State, manufactures for the implements of husbandry, and that the time may come—God send it soon—when our farmers may ride something which will carry them as fast as they please, and be able to compete in that line with the people of Illinois and other States. As a practical suggestion I have to offer, I would say that one of the great ends we have to look to is direct trade. In the exportation of our produce by direct trade you increase your intercourse with the people of the earth, and you diminish the cost of that you consume. You send out ships laden with produce to those suffering for them and you bring back things which the people may sell to you at an advantage, and the ships go to and fro on the great highway of all nations laden with the products of the soil and the workshop, like the white-winged doves bearing the olive leaves of peace and plenty. [Tremendous cheering]

It may be asked, where are your ports? I was glad as I entered the port of Galveston to see that they were improving it, and I don't see why they should not improve it. And there is your Ship Channel, which will open up your city as a port of entry. Some say, or have said, that is chimerical. Well, your bayou is about as big as the river Clyde in Scotland. It was so small once that only little sloops could ascend it. But they dredged it, and improved it, until now, at a point between Greenock and Glasgow, the largest and finest war ships are built and taken out on the Clyde. [Applause.] But if all this failed, let us not despair. A German, a man of great science, recently invented in England a new model of ship, a ship which he told me would go over sixteen feet of water, which is always to be found on the bar, with a capacity of ten thousand bales of cotton–and the ship could go into Galveston without an improvement on your part. And by this means we are to send out our freights at a greatly reduced rate under which it is possible for small vessels to carry them. I will not detain you by making the model of the ship. One has been built and sent out to China. On her voyage she met with a terrible sea, one of the heaviest gales on record, and made one knot (nautical mile) more an hour, in the teeth of the gale, than would be made by any other vessel under the same circumstance. It will have a great breadth of beam, forty feet, thus giving ample accommodations to a certain class of immigrants to whom the fare is a considerable item in the cost of travel. These, ships offering comfortable quarters at a price adapted to the means of the immigrant and coming to Galveston and New Orleans. We hope that the tide of immigration will get in here instead of North, and gradually the vast acres now unused will be eagerly sought after and taken up, thus forcing attention to manufacturers. It is now about a year ago that I was in Paris, and learned that 30,000 people went out from the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to Canada and the Argentine Republic. They were of the best class that went out, and went with money to pay their expenses, and money to purchase and cultivate the land wherever they might settle. The only temptation they had to go was that the land was given to them. Land was given them in Canada, but they preferred the land which had already been cleared by the pioneer race. Now you can surely afford to pay an agent to look after business of this character, which would secure the attention to the inducements you can offer, given to the immigration movement to the Argentine Republic and Canada. But suppose you had to pay the passage of the immigrant to where he would render your ground productive, increasing the value of all adjacent to it, and that it costs you $200 to do it. There could not be a better investment than to pay that if it was necessary. [Applause.] Then, if any ask, how do you propose to do this, I answer that it is not mere speculation. I am thoroughly convinced that it is perfectly feasible. It requires that you commence with a good and sufficient fund of information as to what lands are for rent, what for sale, and what price to be asked for sale, and what for those for rent; if labor is employed, and what wages will you pay. And this information must be sifted through a committee to show them that the promises will be carried out And if you can assure them of these things, I confidently believe that the tide of immigration will flow rapidly into your country. The dissemination of news of the character I have spoken of, would assist you greatly. And of Great Britain I will say that the best lecturers (the best means of dissemination) are those for whom you would pay the smallest price, and because it is the reverse of what you would naturally expect, it is proper that I should explain it. The best lecturers are those gentlemen of leisure of fine educational attainments who study and lecture, I suppose, for nothing except fame. Their only compensation is their traveling expenses, with the usual incidentals, such as hall rent, lights, etc., paid. The lectures are always free. You require also that the press should aid you, that it should be a fund of correct information which a prudent man would require before coming to this country. Something like this is done by land companies and railroad companies, and when the immigrant arrives in this country, with no settled point of destination, he is sent to one. Their agents have generally advised them before they started, and these descriptions are often apt to be couleur de rose. But in this struggle with the North you have the advantage of soil and climate, and a vast amount of land here, which, if I am correctly informed is sold for a sum that would not pay the rent in England. When the great Napoleon, great in many ways, not only as a soldier but in his civil system, when he conceived the idea of a Continental policy, which would render him independent of the great maritime power of the world, his glance did not fall upon a country like this over which the Lone Star sheds its benignant ray. You have here a vast domain extending in its reach from the land of wheat to the land of the orange, and interspersed between, tobacco, corn, sugar, cane, cotton, and all this with the countless herds of cattle upon your plains. This is, my countrymen, to be the great country of the world. You have a wonderful advantage in the markets of the world. Soon now you will be harvesting your wheat while the wheat will not be ready in other countries, and which may be sent into the markets near you. And the railroads will help you do this. Then you will have a variety of products which will enable you to employ your ships all the year round, and you will be supplying almost the whole circle of the wants of man. I don't feel that I at all overestimate the qualities of such a country as this is. If the Napoleonic policy of independence, so far as the simple plan of making sugar from beets is concerned, is worthy of consideration, surely it is more profitable for Texas to do so with the sugar cane. But just here the natural inquiry suggests itself what the answers would be to the very pertinent question that would be put to your agents relative to the vast pasturage lands of which I have spoken. When they have described a climate where it is possible to raise animals without housing them, and they are asked for the markets, and you tell them you are importing from the North, I do not say that they will doubt your statements. They may believe them, but it is very apt to be the case in their minds. You must be able to supply whatever is requisite for those who come among you as well as for yourselves. It must not be said that Texas imports one barrel of flour, one barrel of pork, or anything else to feed the hungry within her borders. [Cheers.]

I have thus run rapidly over some of the suggestions that presented themselves to me, and I believe I have fulfilled the promise I started out with, not to tell you how to cultivate your own farms. [Laughter and applause.] There is another topic which I desire to touch. That is, your mineral resources; your mines of iron and coal which lie in such proximity to each other that the one will answer to produce the other. Iron is a far more valuable metal than gold, not pound for pound, but in the manifold uses to which it can be applied. It is by the aid of iron that you cultivate the land, that you fell the forests, and perform all the functions of commerce; and when you have already a population that shall force attention from agriculture to other pursuits, then, if not until then, those great fields of coal will be developed, and those fields of iron, more precious than the most precious of metals. And thus, for instance, of marble, which is capable of receiving that high degree of polish, and which renders it also a valuable article of commerce. Now I suppose if any one—I see some are taking notes, and faith they'll print them. [Laughter.]

And now with regard to your live stock, your cattle, your sheep and horses. I am glad to know that you are improving your breeds, and your horses, I understand are already beating the horses from the North. I am glad to know that you have some on exhibition at this Fair. Your pasturage region is about 150,000 square miles in extent. I would not give all that to pasturage, but I think if it was to be left, I would try to get water to the surface by means of artesian wells, for in this climate, with that aid, you may vie with other countries. I remember when the Government tried to get water on the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains, and it failed. Your General Rusk insisted on sending the same man to attempt it again. His success fell far short of his promises, and are only paralleled by the want of accuracy and reliability, which in latter years distinguished his dispatches from his "headquarters in the saddle." [Laughter, and a voice—General Pope.] These artesian wells may avail on arid plains to make them fruitful. It will amply repay the labor put upon it. And I am glad that you have here a man among you, a man now upon this stand who can do this for you. I mean the man who was called upon at Buena Vista to give the Mexicans a little more grape. [Laughter and cheers.] Of your prosperity I have a very amusing reminiscence. This year I understand your cotton crop to be about 450,000 bales. It was in the early part of 184- odd that I heard a Texan describing the cotton crop that they could raise, and a gentleman said, derisively, behind him: "Yes, I have heard that story before. [Continued laughter, rendering the last sentence unintelligible to the reporter.]

Now you have risen to 450,000 bales, and I hope you will go on until cotton will be the least of all your crops. In all the periods of your history, I have followed the fortunes of Texas with peculiar interest. In passing I may remark, I have been associated with your people in all the relations of life. I hardly know whether more in one than the other, but in all the relations I have sustained, I have never known them untrue to the trusts confided in them. You have received a noble heritage of valor from your ancestors, and you will bequeath it to your children.

You had, I think, at the beginning of the war about 400 miles of railroad; and you have since the war, when the South generally was impoverished and almost paralyzed, increased it say 1000 miles, until your State is so well built up with railroads that even if nothing more was done a large portion of what land is cultivated would be within easy reach of a market. But you have not stopped, for Texans never stop. I hope that the road to Santa Fe will be accomplished, and that road, the only really proper plan to reach California all the year round, the Texas Pacific. It is admitted that the distance from San Francisco to New York, the equated distance, is shorter than by any other projected line. But I feel that I have lingered too long. I am very happy to see you all and your city where I have received such generosity and kindness at your hands. I find you as I have always found you, a brave, generous, chivalric people, and your land a land of flowers; and what is better still, those fair flowers of creation—the women of Texas [cheers]; and what is next to them, the brave men of your State, who never turn their backs upon a friend, and always set their face to the foe. May that star that rose in the midst of such a terrible struggle for independence shine through all the gloom that may come upon you and stand a beacon light to guide you to safe and pleasant rest. As long as I may live, and wherever I may live, I shall remember that Texan is another name for chivalric generosity and bravery, and my thoughts shall go out to you and endure as long as life lasts.

Houston Telegraph, May 12, 1875.

The Papers of Jefferson Davis
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