≡ Menu

Texana Classics | Four

Texana Classics IV
Books That Matter in Editions That Inspire

José Antonio Pichardo.
Pichardo’s Treatise on the Limits of Louisiana and Texas: An Argumentative Historical Treatise with Reference to the Verification of the True Limits of the Provinces of Louisiana and Texas; Written by Father José Antonio Pichardo, of the Congregation of the Oratory of the San Felipe Neri, to Disprove the Claim of the United States that Texas was Included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Edited and translated by Charles Wilson Hackett. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1931, 1934, 1941, 1946. Four volumes: xx, 630; xv, 618; xxii; 623; xiii, 415. Five maps (four folding). 24 cm. Cloth, dustjackets.

Many books describe or interpret historical events but others—The Wealth of Nations, Common Sense, The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf—actually shape history itself. Among those influential volumes, one must list Pichardo’s Treatise, the tireless effort of an obscure Roman Catholic cleric toiling away in what people then called New Spain.

Bear with me.

Beginning in 1762, our story is a long one and includes many moving parts. That year witnessed the Treaty of Fontainebleau, a secret agreement wherein France ceded Louisiana (New France) to Spain. The treaty followed the last battle in the French and Indian War in North America, the Battle of Signal Hill, which confirmed British control of Canada. Having lost Canada, King Louis XV of France proposed to King Charles III of Spain that France should give Spain, “the country known as Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and the island in which the city is situated.” On November 13, 1762, Charles accepted the gift and took possession of a wilderness region half a world away.

Thus, all the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains (what the French called Louisiana) fell under Spanish hegemony, where it remained until 1800. In that year’s Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, a secretly negotiated accord between France and Spain, Charles IV agreed to return the colonial territory of Louisiana to France. It was an act of imperial bullying, as Napoleon I browbeat the weakened Spanish crown. Even though not written into the treaty, the French delegation pledged that if Napoleon ever wished to leave Louisiana, he would return the land to Spain and not to any other state.

Notwithstanding the French Emperor’s solemn promise, in less than three years, he reneged on his pledge and sold the domain to the United States. With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States acquired 828,000 square miles of France’s claim to the territory. Spanish officials were enraged that Napoleon had broken his promise not to sell the territory to another party—especially the United States. Spanish officials, thus, considered the treaty illegal.

Negotiators, Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe, had their own reservations. While the Americans agreed to pay France fifteen million dollars for the province, the French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, admitted that neither he, nor anyone else, knew the exact limits of the territory. What Livingston and Monroe thought a liability, the sly Tallyrand perceived as an opportunity. “Gentlemen, you have made a noble bargain,” he rejoined, “and I’m certain that you will make the most of it.” His point was this: since no one knew the specific boundaries of the Louisiana Territory, the Americans might draw them wherever they wished.

That was what Spaniards predicted would happen. They were well aware of the expansionist tendencies of the United States, the reason they had exacted the pledge from Napoleon not to transfer the land to the avaricious Americans in the first place. The nightmare scenario had now become a troublesome reality.

Almost immediately, President Thomas Jefferson began pushing boundaries like an obstreperous teenager, claiming the Rio Grande as the southern border of the newly acquired territory.

This was, of course, codswallop. As early as 1690, Spaniards had established a presence in Tejas when they founded Mission San Francisco de los Tejas to convert Hasinais tribesmen. In the interim that had constructed numerous missions—along with presidios (forts) to protect them. Villas (civilian villages) also sprang up around the religious and military installations. Moreover, Spanish traders had begun relations with numerous Indian tribes. Mexico City officials understood that their claims to the land between the Rio Grande and the Red River were valid, but now found themselves in the awkward position of having to prove it.

Enter Father Doctor José Antonio Pichardo, one of the keenest minds of his (or any other) time. Born in 1748, he was a native of Cuernavaca, New Spain. He was a student at the college of San Juan de Letrán and it was there that he later held the chairs of Latin and philosophy. He took religious orders and joined the Oratory of San Felipe Neri in Mexico City, where he served as secretary for twenty-three years. A superb linguist, Father Pichardo read Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, English, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Spanish administrators knew that no one was better qualified to build the case for their ownership of Tejas and, in 1808, set him to the task.

For the next four years, Father Pichardo labored almost non-stop. “I worked uninterruptedly night and day, without even leaving my room.” In 1812, the viceregal authorities in Mexico City received his findings, three-thousand folio pages containing some one million words. During his research, he had amassed a personal library of more than six-thousand books and manuscripts; he examined thousands more. Today, this remarkable scholar’s original manuscript resides in the Mexican National Archives in Mexico City.

In 1818, retaliating for the raids of Seminole warriors mounted from Spanish Florida into southern states, General Andrew Jackson led his American forces into the region. The natives faded back into the swamps like a fine mist, but Jackson managed to capture two British agents who had supplied and instigated the forays. He had one shot and the other hanged. The execution of two of His Britannic Majesty’s subjects on Spanish soil created an international firestorm. Even some of President James Monroe’s closest advisors were calling for Jackson’s head. Yet, the embattled chief executive stood firm and refused to sack, or even censure, his bellicose general. Spain and the United States stood poised on the brink of war.

The Napoleonic Wars had devastated Spain. Officials in Madrid doubted that their demoralized soldiers could win a confrontation on the far side of the Atlantic. Moreover, they wondered if the poor Florida colony was even worth the outlay in blood and treasure. Ultimately, cooler heads in Madrid and Washington determined that war was not in the interest of either country. It was time to deploy the diplomats.

Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Spanish “minister plenipotentiary” Luis de Onís y González-Vara met to hash out what we know today as the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. The Spanish minister offered to transfer Florida to the United States if its officials backed off on their claims, ridiculous though they were, to Texas. Onís had come loaded for bear; when he presented Pichardo’s exposition for Adams’s inspection, its sheer bulk forced the norteamericano to concede that Texas did indeed belong to Spain. As the historian and bibliophile John H. Jenkins, observed: “Few works of history have had a more direct effect on international diplomacy and law or on the subsequent history of the area involved.”

Sadly, the good father did not live to see the benefits of all his hard work. Pichardo died soon after he submitted his work. As one of his contemporaries reported, the “extreme labor which he spent in fulfilling his commission occasioned his death on November 11, 1812, at the age of 64 years.”

We now fast-forward to 1888, a year that witnessed the birth of another extraordinary scholar in the tiny Texas farming community of Chilton in Falls County. Yet, Charles Wilson Hackett was not destined to be a farmer. In 1909, he received his B.A. degree from the University of Texas. Then, traveling west, he studied at the University of California where, in 1914, he earned an M.A. and, in 1917, his Ph.D. Returning to his native state, the Texan returned to Austin where, in 1918, he joined the faculty at the University of Texas as an adjunct professor. Hackett quickly climbed the academic ladder, winning promotion to associate professor in 1923. He spent his entire career at U.T., serving as professor of Latin-American history from 1926 to 1944, when he earned distinction as a distinguished professor. In 1941, Hackett became director of U.T.’s Institute of Latin American Studies. Under his guidance, the institute established one of the world’s most inclusive Latin American libraries.

As an author, Hackett made several important contributions to the history of Latin America. Among these were Historical Documents Relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, and Approaches Thereto, to 1773 (3 vols., 1923–37), The Mexican Revolution and the United States, 1910–1926 (1926), New Spain and the Anglo-American West (1932), and Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Otermín’s Attempted Reconquest, 1680–1682 (1942). He also contributed numerous articles to historical journals, including the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, which he served as managing editor from 1937 to 1939. Nowadays, however, his fame rest largely on his editing and translating of Pichardo’s Treatise.

Hackett spent fifteen years translating and editing Pichardo’s manuscript. During that time, he and his assistants, Charmion Clair Shelby and Mary Ruth Splawn, generated four volumes, 3,137 footnotes, and inserted 486 bibliographical citations. A colossal job of scholarship, the Hackett edition was the first publication of the treatise in any language. Jenkins explained the importance of the work:

The value of publishing the treatise in English is less in the light it sheds on the border question than in the enormous wealth of data it presents on the history of Texas. Pichardo examined and included in his report literally thousands of documents relating to Texas. Many of these no longer exist and many others have never before been brought to light. With the addition of Hackett’s superb annotations, the treatise provides us with one of the fundamental resources on the early history of Texas.

Nor was Jenkins alone in praising Hackett’s efforts. Professor Herbert Gambrell considered it “easily the most important reference work on the colonial history of Texas yet published in English.” F. B. Steck thought it “a work of inestimable value and lasting credit to the high scholarship of editor and translator; a rich storehouse of bibliographical and historical data.” While Professor Carlos E. Castañeda declared, “If the original Treatise is a monument to the industry of the compiler, so it is also to that of the editor.”

The four volumes are an example of what one might best describe as academic utilitarianism. They sport cloth boards, dark blue in color with gold lettering on the spine. The type is tiny and rather pedestrian. Still, we do not treasure reference books for their design, but rather for their content.

Pichardo’s Treatise is among the rarest of Jenkins’s Basic Texas Books—difficult to find and expensive when one does. (A reprint edition appeared in 1971 but I have never seen it.) Having attempted to acquire it for years, I feel privileged to have finally added it to my library. Once again, I am indebted to my friend David Pratt. A bookseller par excellence, he is also a canny book scout. Not only was he able to track down a full set of the first edition, three of the four volumes are still in their original dust jackets. As a book collector, I am delighted to have the dust jackets (even while having to admit that these are some of the most unappealing that I have ever seen). Suffice it to say, Carl Hertzog would have been underwhelmed.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tragedy tainted the enterprise, devastating both the compiler and the editor. Pichardo succumbed to exhaustion soon after finishing his work. Shortly after publication of the last volume, Professor Hackett took his own life.

Nonetheless, Pichardo’s Treatise remains—a monument to the dedication of both of these remarkable scholars.