Origins of the Texas Revolution of 1835
Revolution in Spanish Texas
From 1690 to 1821, Texas was one of the provinces that belonged to the Spanish Colonial Empire called New Spain - which stretched from Panama in Central America to Oregon in the US. The capital of New Spain was Mexico City. Spain mostly ignored Texas, but when Mexico revolted against Spanish colonial rule in 1810, revolution swept across Texas.
In January, 1811, Juan Bautista Casas lead a revolt and captured the governor, Manuel María de Salcedo. Cassas declared himself governor, but in less then two months Spanish forces captured Cassas and most of his followers, who were executed.(1)(2) One of the survivors. Bernardo Gutiérrez began raising an army of Americans to free Texas from Spanish rule.
He managed to raise a force of 130 American frontiersmen - lead by Augustus Magee. This force, which became known as the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition crossed into Texas on Aug 8, 1812. Many Tejanos (Mexicans born in Texas), Indians and deserters from the Spanish Army all joined, raising the force to about 800 men. This Texian “army” defeated the Spanish Army in several engagements and captured Governor Salcedo again, along with hundreds of his soldiers. Gutierrez then ordered the execution of many Spanish prisoner and the governor. This brutality sickened the Americans, and about 100 went back to the US.(3)(4)
The Spanish Army soon reorganized, and in August, 1813, the Texian Army was crushed by the Spanish Army. Over the next two weeks, hundreds of additional Texians were killed.(3)(4) The chaos in Texas continued up to 1820, when less then 2,000 Tejanos remained in Texas.(5)
Spain allows Americans into Texas
In 1820 Moses Austin presented a plan to colonize Texas to the Spanish Governor. Austin had lost his fortune in the Panic of 1819, and this was his next business move. Spain accepted the plan, believing the legal immigrants would provide a buffer against attacks on their government by American and Tejano rebels. But Moses Austin died before he could bring settlers into Spanish Texas, turning the endeavor over to his son, Stephen.(6)
Mexico’s dysfunctional government
Mexico finally defeated Spain to become an independent nation in August, 1821. Mexico inherited huge amounts of land in the north, but had very little control over it. Only one percent of the population of Mexico lived north of the Rio Grande River in Texas and its other northern provinces of California and New Mexico. In the rush to claim land in the New World, often by several nations, possession meant ownership. Countries that claimed land without having enough people to settle the area made claims of ownership tenuous and your claims were open to challenge.
After becoming independent, most Mexicans believed they would become a prosperous nation as the US was becoming. This didn’t happen because very few people in leadership in Mexican society had the wisdom and intelligence of America’s Founding Fathers. A mere three years after independence, the Congress, in a solemn address to the nation, stated that without virtue liberal institutions would fail, revolution would follow revolution and anarchy would ensue.(7) As the years went by, politicians increasingly blamed all their problems on America.
Mexican society was harshly split by class and race. Most Mexicans had little education, the justice system was corrupt, civil liberties operated at the whim of whoever was in power at the time and corruption was rampant. In an address before the Mexican Congress in 1841, the President stated: “the root of the evil lies in the deplorable corruption which pervades all classes of society and in the absence of any corrective arising from the public opinion.”(8)
The new Mexican government recognized that it’s northern territory was sparsely settled. In 1825, Texas had a population of approximately 3,500, with most of Mexican descent. The people lived in mortal fear of Indian raids by the Apache and Comanche, who carried out large-scale raids deep into the country to steal livestock. The Mexican government didn’t have the military capability to protect its’ citizens so settlers were empowered to create their own militias to help control hostile Indian tribes - but there were not enough citizens to do the job.
Mexico knew they didn’t have the people to populate their northern territories and few people immigrated to Mexico because of constant uprisings and political instability. (See Rulers of Mexico) Mexico also knew that millions of immigrants were pouring into the US and many were headed west. The experiment to make good Spaniards/Mexicans out of the Indians had mostly failed. Now Mexico would try to get American immigrants to settle the area for Mexico and control the Indians.(10) The Mexican government - after first cancelling Austin’s colonization contract with the former Spanish government - liberalized its immigration policies to permit immigrants from outside Spain for the first time.
Five states seceded from Mexico in 1823
Because of the dysfunctional state of Mexican politics - and only 2 years after independence - five states in Central America declared themselves independent from Mexico - Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Central Americans chafed at Mexican rule, and there were several battles with Mexican forces. On July 1, 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formally established in Guatemala City. Constant infighting and wars resulted in the Union falling apart in 1838. The five states became independent nations without any interference from Mexico or threats of perpetual war. WHY??
Conditions that caused political separation
Stephen Austin began bringing Americans into Texas and by 1834, Texas had grown to approximately 37,800 people, with only 7,800 of Mexican descent.[12a] Another estimate had just under 40,000 anglos, 12,000 Indians, 3,500 Mexicans and 5,000 blacks in 1835.[12b]
Mexico expected the Americans to swear allegiance to Mexico and become Catholic. While a majority of settlers were content with being Mexican citizens, most didn’t convert to Catholic or just went through the motions. In Mexico, all religions were outlawed except the state religion - Catholic. In Austin's colony, the local priest formally inducted new arrivals into the Catholic faith, but then allowed them to worship as they pleased. A much more contentious issue was that some settlers brought slaves with them.
As the years went by, Mexico claimed immigrants wouldn’t assimilate with Mexicans. The fact was Mexicans and Americans had a difficult time adjusting to each other culturally and politically and this caused problems early on. American immigrants were used to the Rule of Law, Bill of Rights, religious freedom, due process, trial by jury and other basic premises of American Law - mostly lacking in Mexico. Americans came from a society of near total economic and personal freedom, intense individualism and dislike for government intrusiveness. The never ending chaos in the Mexican judicial and political system bewildered and alienated Texans. The Mexican Constitution of 1824 provided states with considerable local autonomy.
A high ranking Mexican official, Rafael Manchola, said in Oct. 1826 “. . .They do nothing more than practice their own laws which they have practiced since they were born, forgetting the ones they have sworn to obey, these being the laws of our Supreme Government.'"(14)
This was not exactly true. Up until the 1830s, American settlers worked within the system - petitioning the Mexican government many times for changes in the law.
American settlers sided with the Mexican government in 1825, when Haden Edwards, one of the men bringing settlers to Texas, threatened to confiscate the land of anyone already living in the area unless they could present written deeds to the property. After multiple confrontations with Mexican authorities, on December 16, 1826, Edwards, his brothers, and 30 settlers issued a declaration of independence calling themselves the Republic of Fredonia. Stephen Austin sent 250 Texas militiamen to help the Mexican forces put down the revolt.
As for the claim Americans did not obey some laws, it must be noted that revolutions and disobeying the government was a national pastime in Mexico. A few examples:
Vice President Nicolas Bravo lead a revolt in Dec. 1827. It was put down in Jan 1828. Bravo was expelled from the country while other mutineers were imprisoned.
Another revolt occurred over the results of the Presidential elections of Sep 1, 1828. The winner was Manuel Gomez Pedraza, who was supported by President Victoria. Vicente Guerrero rejected the results and organized a revolution with Santa Anna and others. After rebel forces bombarded the National Palace, Congress quickly annulled the election of 1828 and made Vicente Guerrero President.
Another action which alarmed Anglos in Texas occurred in 1829, when Spain invaded Mexico in an attempt to reclaim their former colony. The Mexican Congress granted President Guerrero complete control of the government, essentially making him a dictator.(16) The ease with which the Constitution could be nullified made Anglos more suspicious of living in this type of country.
Another factor in the political separation of Mexico from it’s northern territories - California, New Mexico and Texas - was over trade. Starting in the 1820s, trade between the US and Mexico's northern territories greatly expanded. Within 10 years, most trade was with the US. These strong commercial ties with the US was another reason local Mexicans felt less loyalty to a central government that was becoming increasingly irrelevant in their daily lives.
Santa Anna provokes Texas, Coahuila and Zacatecas to revolt
In May, 1833, Santa Anna was appointed President, but became increasingly dictatorial. He tried to legitimize his dictatorship with a new Constitution that abolished all state legislatures and centralized all power in Mexico City in 1835.(19a)(19b) This centralization of power by Santa Anna provoked rebellion, just as British abuses 50 years earlier had provoked the American revolution against the King of England. Texas and the Mexican states of Coahuila and Zacatecas went into rebellion. On May 11, 1835 Santa Anna’s Army crushed the revolt in Zacatecas.(20) He then rewarded his victorious soldiers by allowing them two days of rape and pillage, during which more than 2,000 noncombatants were killed.(21) Fearing a similar fate, the governor of Coahuila, Agustin Viesca, disbanded the legislature on May 21. On June 25, Viesca issued the following appeal: "Citizens of Texas, arise and take arms, or sleep forever! Your most cherished interests, your liberty, your properties, even more, your very existence depend on the changing whims of your most relentless foes."(22) Viesca tried to flee to Texas but was caught and arrested. Mexican forces, under General Martin Perfecto de Cós, had sealed the border to prevent sympathetic Mexicans from joining the revolt in Texas.(23) Later that year, Santa Anna began forming an Army to crush the Texas rebellion.
By 1833, both sides were losing patience with the other. Mexico was growing weary of demands for changes in the law and Texans were tired of the constant anarchy in Mexican politics. In Aug 1833, Stephen Austin traveled to Mexico City to negotiate on behalf of Texas. He left in December but was arrested and held in prison for a year without being charged. He was then allowed out of prison on bond but had to stay in Mexico City. He then was given amnesty and finally made it back to Texas in Aug. 1835. Austin, who had been the strongest voice of moderation, became a force for revolution.(18)
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