While visiting Washington, D.C., you get chased by the cops or a victorious Nationals fan or a gang demonstrating against too many demonstrations, where to go? To the Ecuadorian Embassy? No, Julian Assange tried that until he was thrown out. Go to the Texas Embassy, of course, where you can stay until the statutes of limitations runs out. Actually, there is no Texas Embassy in Washington – anymore. But maybe it will return. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Austin, is leading a movement to recognize that the Republic of Texas had a diplomatic minister and legation in Washington. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Doggett’s bill, called the Republic of Texas Legation Memorial Act, has bipartisan support and would authorize the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to create and raise funds for a memorial. Next would come a review by a federal commission which has to approve memorials in Washington.
There is one slight, self-inflicted problem: Where to put the “memorial,” and what would it say or look like or should it be taller than the Washington Monument? A brief background: The Republic of Texas lasted almost 10 years, mostly broke and facing numerous enemies. One solution was to join the United States, except that Texas had slavery and Northerners didn’t like slavery – except for those who made a fortune on the slave trade. As a republic, Texas had a secretary of state and diplomats. In London, the Republic of Texas embassy was at Pickering Place. To find it, go to St. James’s Palace. Running up a hill in front of the palace is, obviously, St. James’s Street. At 3 St. James’s is the liquor store of Berry Bros. & Rudd, Ltd., which has been there since 1699, so Our Man in London must have known of the place. (So did Charles de Gaulle, a frequent customer during his exile in London during World War II.) Go past the liquor store and you’ll see a walkthrough leading to a patio. On the right-hand wall of the walkthrough is a plaque noting that this building is where Texas had its embassy, or legation as it was called back then. It’s still there.
On May 10, 1842, our ambassador at the time, Dr. Ashbel Smith and his cousin and personal secretary, Daniel Seymour, checked into their London living quarters at 103 Jermyn Street. For four guineas a week they rented a parlor and two bedrooms. Today an apartment house stands on the spot. Dr. Smith had problems with the Brits. He wrote back to his government, “The conduct of England toward Texas is very ungracious. To be remembered.” In the British government archives under “Texas,” there is a “Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between Great Britain and the Republick of Texas.” It sports blue ribbons and two wax seals. In Paris at Number 1 Place Vendome is where Dr. Smith also served – Texas could only afford one ambassador at a time. He was listed as “M. Aschbel-Smith” in the Paris city records. The Hotel Vendome has four flags out front: French, U.S., Spanish and – yep – the Lone Star Flag of Texas. There is also a plaque maybe 20 feet above the sidewalk, saying this was the site of our embassy. Dr. Smith reported, “In France, I find the best disposition to think favorably of Texas. . .” but he went on to say that Texas newspapers “so bewray our country, defame our Govt. and calumniate our administration that persons in Europe cannot put confidence in our institutions or credit our ability for self-government.” As we can see, even in 1842, Texas politicians knew how to get out of a bind: blame it on the press.
Closer to home is 111 Decatur Street in New Orleans. That was once the Texas embassy. A brief aside: On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 25, 1843, Commodore Edwin Ward Moore, commander of the Texas Navy, went there to there to see William Bryan, a local merchant who represented Texas’ interests. As the two men were leaving, a messenger came to that building and handed Moore a sealed letter from President Sam Houston. The letter ordered Moore back to Galveston. The Texas Navy was being sold. The Lone Star Republic couldn’t afford a navy. I visited the place a few years ago. It was a four-story brick building painted blue, with an overhang and a sign: “Mr. Jack’s barber and beauty salon.” Inside, were bare-brick walls, and a barber shop. A resident, Mr. Jack I assumed, told me that he had heard about the Texas connection and a woman over on Chartres Street gave him some papers about it, then his overt enthusiasm faded. Meanwhile, in return, other nations sent diplomats to Texas. In Austin there still stands the French Legation. When Houston was the Republic’s capital, the U.S. had a legation on a small plot of land near the Rice Hotel, apparently right across Texas Avenue. We need a brass plaque there.
So, as we can see, there are a few other places that still mark where diplomats worked, but Washington presents a problem. According to the American-Statesman, there was not a single building or home that served the Texas diplomats. (Stephen F. Austin was one of them.) Instead, a series of boardinghouses were used by the Texas diplomats, some of which have been identified. A “memorial” there is a good idea, but I have a better one: At one of these locations, in a correct part of town, we create a bar and restaurant in Hill Country architecture called The Texas Embassy, with genuine Tex-Mex and barbeque (not the ersatz kind we usually have to endure while out of state), with Lone Star and Shiner beer, Willie Nelson for background music and non-stop Texas football games on the TVs. A place where both Texpatriates and Lone Star visitors can gather for a whiff of home. Until then, let’s start by converting that New Orleans barber shop.
Ashby is diplomatic at email@example.com