Bell to the Texas Senate, January 31, 1850

Texas is unique in being the only state with complete control over its public lands and over the proceeds resulting from the administration and sale of lands. The reasons are rooted in history. Early Texas settlement was based on land grants made by Spain and Mexico. The cash-poor but land-rich Republic of Texas honored these grants, and one of the first priorities of the first Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1836 was to establish a General Land Office to assemble the records of the land grants from the archives of the previous governments and translate them from Spanish to English. In addition, the General Land Office surveyed and registered new grants issued by the Republic to new settlers and veterans of the Texan Army.

In the period of early statehood, Texas still faced a near-empty treasury and an enormous public debt. Revenues from the sale and administration of land were vital to Texas' ability to pay the debt and to finance the government and any public projects. To lose the records in a fire would have meant chaos and disaster, and in those days the government was still operating out of log and frame buildings. In this 1850 letter, Governor Bell addressed the need for a fire-proof building to house the records of the General Land Office and Treasury Department. A two-story stone building located northwest of the present Capitol was completed in 1852 and was the first permanent building erected on Capitol Square. (The building proved to be too small. The "Old General Land Office Building" that today houses the Capitol Visitor's Center southeast of the Capitol was completed as a replacement in 1858. It stands today as the oldest remaining state office building in Texas.)

Over the years, public land revenue has financed improvements to the Capitol building, irrigation, drainage, railroads, and the construction of schools from one-room schoolhouses to the University of Texas and Texas A&M. Oil revenue from the land was dedicated to the Permanent School Fund, which has received over $6 billion since 1854.

"Early Statehood "

Bell to Senate

Executive Department

Austin Jan'y 31st, 1850

To the Hon'ble

The Senate

In compliance with a Resolu-

tion of the Senate requiring the Executive "to procure

from some competent draughtsman a plan of a

fireproof building for a General Land Office and

Treasury Department, to be included in one buil-

ding, if practicable, with an estimate of the prob-

able cost," I have the honor to state that I

engaged, at the earliest day, the services of a

most competent draughtsman, Robert

Creuzbar Esq, and submit herewith to the Sen-

ate the plan and estimate believed to be con-

templated in the Resolution.

P.H. Bell

"Early Statehood "

Bell to the Texas Senate, January 31, 1850, Records of Peter Hansbrough Bell, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: March 30, 2011