Nuestra Historia: The Texas Revolution

texas revolution

Our History: The Texas Revolution

Date: October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836 (6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)
Location: Texas
Result: Treaties of Velasco and the formation of the Republic of Texas
Territorial: De facto Texan independence from the centralist Republic of Mexico

The Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836) began when colonists (primarily from the United States) in the Mexican province of Texas rebelled against the increasingly centralist Mexican government. After a decade of political and cultural clashes between the Mexican government and the increasingly large population of American settlers in Texas, hostilities erupted in October 1835. Texians (English-speaking settlers) disagreed on whether the ultimate goal was independence or a return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824. While delegates at the Consultation (provisional government) debated the war’s motives, Texians and a flood of volunteers from the United States defeated the small garrisons of Mexican soldiers by mid-December 1835.

The Consultation declined to declare independence and installed an interim government, whose infighting led to political paralysis and a dearth of effective governance in Texas. An ill-conceived proposal to invade Matamoros siphoned much-needed volunteers and provisions from the fledgling Texas army. In March 1836, a second political convention declared independence and appointed leadership for the new Republic of Texas.

Determined to avenge Mexico’s honor, President Antonio López de Santa Anna vowed to personally retake Texas. His Army of Operations entered Texas in mid-February 1836 and found the Texians completely unprepared. Mexican General José de Urrea led a contingent of troops on the Goliad Campaign up the Texas coast, defeating all Texian troops in his path and executing most of those who surrendered. Santa Anna led a larger force to San Antonio de Béxar (or Béxar), where his troops defeated the Texian garrison in the Battle of the Alamo, killing almost all of the defenders.

For the next month, a newly created Texian army under the command of Sam Houston steadily retreated towards the border with Louisiana; terrified civilians fled with the army, in a melee known as the Runaway Scrape. On March 31, Houston paused his men at Groce’s Landing on the Brazos River, and for the next two weeks, the Texians received rigorous military training. Becoming complacent and underestimating the strength of his foes, Santa Anna further subdivided his troops. On April 21, Houston’s army staged a surprise assault on Santa Anna and his vanguard force at the Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican troops were quickly routed, and vengeful Texians executed many who tried to surrender. Santa Anna was taken hostage; in exchange for his life, he ordered the Mexican army to retreat south of the Rio Grande. Mexico refused to recognize the Republic of Texas, and intermittent conflicts between the two countries continued into the 1840s. The annexation of Texas as the 28th state of the United States, in 1845, led directly to the Mexican–American War.

Background

After a failed attempt by France to colonize Texas in the late 17th century, Spain developed a plan to settle the region. On its southern edge, along the Medina and Nueces Rivers, Spanish Texas was bordered by the province of Coahuila. On the east, Texas bordered Louisiana. Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States also claimed the land west of the Sabine River, all the way to the Rio Grande. Although the United States officially renounced that claim as part of the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain in 1819, many Americans continued to believe that Texas should belong to their nation, and over the next decade the United States made several offers to purchase the region.

Following the Mexican War of Independence, Texas became part of Mexico. Under the Constitution of 1824, which defined the country as a federal republic, the provinces of Texas and Coahuila were combined to become the state Coahuila y Tejas. Texas was granted only a single seat in the state legislature, which met in Saltillo, hundreds of miles away. After months of grumbling by Tejanos (Mexican-born residents of Texas) outraged at the loss of their political autonomy, state officials agreed to make Texas a department of the new state, with a de facto capital in San Antonio de Béxar.

Texas was very sparsely populated, with fewer than 3,500 residents, and only about 200 soldiers, which made it extremely vulnerable to attacks by native tribes and American filibusters. In the hopes that an influx of settlers could control the Indian raids, the bankrupt Mexican government liberalized immigration policies for the region. Finally able to settle legally in Texas, Anglos from the United States soon vastly outnumbered the Tejanos. Most of the immigrants came from the southern United States. Many were slave owners, and most brought with them significant prejudices against other races, attitudes often applied to the Tejanos. Mexico’s official religion was Roman Catholicism, yet the majority of the immigrants were Protestants who distrusted Catholics.

Mexican authorities became increasingly concerned about the stability of the region. The colonies teetered at the brink of revolt in 1829, after Mexico abolished slavery. In response, President Anastasio Bustamante implemented the Laws of April 6, 1830, which, among other things, prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States, increased taxes, and reiterated the ban on slavery. Settlers simply circumvented or ignored the laws. By 1834, an estimated 30,000 Anglos lived in Coahuila y Tejas, compared to only 7,800 Mexican-born residents.

In 1832, Antonio López de Santa Anna led a revolt to overthrow Bustamante. Texians, or English-speaking settlers, used the rebellion as an excuse to take up arms. By mid-August, all Mexican troops had been expelled from east Texas. Buoyed by their success, Texians held two political conventions to persuade Mexican authorities to weaken the Laws of April 6, 1830. In November 1833 the Mexican government attempted to address some of the concerns, repealing some sections of the law and granting the colonists further concessions, including increased representation in the state legislature. Stephen F. Austin, who had brought the first American settlers to Texas, wrote to a friend that “Every evil complained of has been remedied.” Mexican authorities were quietly watchful, concerned that the colonists were maneuvering towards secession.

Santa Anna soon revealed himself to be a centralist, transitioning the Mexican government to a centralized government. In 1835, the 1824 Constitution was overturned; state legislatures were dismissed, militias disbanded. Federalists throughout Mexico were appalled. Citizens in the states of Oaxaca and Zacatecas took up arms. After Santa Anna’s troops subdued the rebellion in Zacatecas in May, he gave his troops two days to pillage the city; over 2,000 noncombatants were killed. The governor of Coahuila y Tejas, Agustín Viesca, refused to dissolve the legislature, instead ordering that the session reconvene in Béxar, further from the influence of the Mexican army. Although prominent Tejano Juan Seguín raised a militia company to assist the governor, the Béxar ayuntamiento (city council) ordered him not to interfere, and Viesca was arrested before he reached Texas.

Public opinion in Texas was divided. Editorials in the United States began advocating complete independence for Texas. After several men staged a minor revolt against customs duties in Anahuac in June, local leaders began calling for a public meeting to determine whether a majority of settlers favored independence, a return to federalism, or the status quo.

Aftermath

Military

When Mexican authorities received word of Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, flags across the country were lowered to half staff and draped in mourning. Denouncing any agreements signed by a prisoner, Mexican authorities refused to recognize the Republic of Texas. Filisola was derided for leading the retreat and quickly replaced by Urrea. Within months, Urrea gathered 6,000 troops in Matamoros, poised to reconquer Texas. His army was redirected to address continued federalist rebellions in other regions.

Most in Texas assumed the Mexican army would return quickly. So many American volunteers flocked to the Texian army in the months after the victory at San Jacinto that the Texian government was unable to maintain an accurate list of enlistments. Out of caution, Béxar remained under martial law throughout 1836. Rusk ordered that all Tejanos in the area between the Guadalupe and Nueces Rivers migrate either to east Texas or to Mexico. Some residents who refused to comply were forcibly removed. New Anglo settlers moved in and used threats and legal maneuvering to take over the land once owned by Tejanos. Over the next several years, hundreds of Tejano families resettled in Mexico.

For years, Mexican authorities used the reconquering of Texas as an excuse for implementing new taxes and making the army the budgetary priority of the impoverished nation. Only sporadic skirmishes resulted. Larger expeditions were postponed as military funding was consistently diverted to other rebellions, out of fear that those regions would ally with Texas and further fragment the country. The northern Mexican states, the focus of the Matamoros Expedition, briefly launched an independent Republic of the Rio Grande in 1839. The same year, the Mexican Congress considered a law to declare it treasonous to speak positively of Texas. In June 1843, leaders of the two nations declared an armistice.

Republic of Texas

On June 1, Santa Anna boarded a ship to travel back to Mexico. For the next two days, crowds of soldiers, many of whom had arrived that week from the United States, gathered to demand his execution. Lamar, by now promoted to Secretary of War, gave a speech insisting that “Mobs must not intimidate the government. We want no French Revolution in Texas!”, but on June 4 soldiers seized Santa Anna and put him under military arrest. According to Lack, “the shock of having its foreign policy overturned by popular rebellion had weakened the interim government irrevocably”. A group of soldiers staged an unsuccessful coup in mid-July. In response, Burnet called for elections to ratify the constitution and elect a Congress, the sixth set of leaders for Texas in a twelve-month period. Voters overwhelmingly chose Houston the first president, ratified the constitution drawn up by the Convention of 1836, and approved a resolution to request annexation to the United States. Houston issued an executive order sending Santa Anna to Washington, D.C., and from there he was soon sent home.

During his absence, Santa Anna had been deposed. Upon his arrival, the Mexican press wasted no time in attacking him for his cruelty towards those executed at Goliad. In May 1837, Santa Anna requested an inquiry into the event. The judge determined the inquiry was only for fact-finding and took no action; press attacks in both Mexico and the United States continued. Santa Anna was disgraced until the following year, when he became a hero of the Pastry War.

The first Texas Legislature declined to ratify the treaty Houston had signed with the Cherokee, declaring he had no authority to make any promises. Although the Texian interim governments had vowed to eventually compensate citizens for goods that were impressed during the war efforts, for the most part livestock and horses were not returned. Veterans were guaranteed land bounties; in 1879, surviving Texian veterans who served more than three months from October 1, 1835 through January 1, 1837 were guaranteed an additional 1,280 acres in public lands. Over 1.3 million acres of land were granted; some of this was in Greer County, which was later determined to be part of Oklahoma.

Republic of Texas policies changed the status of many living in the region. The constitution forbade free blacks from living in Texas permanently. Individual slaves could only be freed by congressional order, and the newly emancipated person would then be forced to leave Texas. Women also lost significant legal rights under the new constitution, which substituted English common law practices for the traditional Spanish law system. Under common law, the idea of community property was eliminated, and women no longer had the ability to act for themselves legally – to sign contracts, own property, or sue. Some of these rights were restored in 1845, when Texas added them to the new state constitution. During the Republic of Texas years, Tejanos likewise faced much discrimination.

Foreign relations

Mexican authorities blamed the loss of Texas on United States intervention. Although the United States remained officially neutral, 40 percent of the men who enlisted in the Texian army from October 1 through April 21 arrived from the United States after hostilities began. More than 200 of the volunteers were members of the United States Army; none were punished when they returned to their posts. American individuals also provided supplies and money to the cause of Texian independence. For the next decade, Mexican politicians frequently denounced the United States for the involvement of its citizens.

The United States agreed to recognize the Republic of Texas in March 1837 but declined to annex the territory. The fledgling republic now attempted to persuade European nations to agree to recognition. In late 1839 France recognized the Republic of Texas after being convinced it would make a fine trading partner.

For several decades, official British policy was to maintain strong ties with Mexico in the hopes that the country could stop the United States from expanding further. When the Texas Revolution erupted, Great Britain had declined to become involved, officially expressing confidence that Mexico could handle its own affairs. In 1840, after years in which the Republic of Texas was neither annexed by the United States nor reabsorbed into Mexico, Britain signed a treaty to recognize the nation and act as a mediator to help Texas gain recognition from Mexico.

The United States voted to annex Texas as the 28th state in March 1845. Two months later, Mexico agreed to recognize the Republic of Texas as long as there was no annexation to the United States. On July 4, 1845, Texans voted for annexation. This prompted the Mexican–American War, in which Mexico lost almost 55 percent of its territory to the United States and formally relinquished its claim on Texas.

Legacy

Although no new fighting techniques were introduced during the Texas Revolution, casualty figures were quite unusual for the time. Generally in 19th-century warfare, the number of wounded outnumbered those killed by a factor of two or three. From October 1835 through April 1836, approximately 1,000 Mexican and 700 Texian soldiers died, while the wounded numbered 500 Mexican and 100 Texian. The deviation from the norm was due to Santa Anna’s decision to label Texian rebels as traitors and to the Texian desire for revenge.

During the Texas Revolution, Texian soldiers gained a reputation for courage and militance. Lack points out that fewer than five percent of the Texian population enrolled in the army during the war, a fairly low rate of participation. Texian soldiers recognized that the Mexican cavalry was far superior to their own. Over the next decade, the Texas Rangers borrowed Mexican cavalry tactics and adopted the Spanish saddle and spurs, the riata, and the bandana.

The Texas Veterans Association, composed solely of revolutionary veterans living in Texas, was active from 1873 through 1901 and played a key role in convincing the legislature to create a monument to honor the San Jacinto veterans. In the late 19th century, the Texas Legislature purchased the San Jacinto battlesite, which is now home to the San Jacinto Monument, the tallest stone column monument in the world. In the early 20th century, the Texas Legislature purchased the Alamo Mission, now an official state shrine. In front of the church, in the center of Alamo Plaza, stands a cenotaph designed by Pompeo Coppini which commemorates the defenders who died during the battle. More than 2.5 million people visit the Alamo every year.

The Texas Revolution has been the subject of poetry and of many books, plays and films. Most English-language treatments reflect the perspectives of the Anglos and are centered primarily on the battle of the Alamo. From the first novel depicting events of the revolution, 1838’s Mexico versus Texas, through the mid-20th century, most works contained themes of anticlericalism and racism, depicting the battle as a fight for freedom between good (Anglo Texian) and evil (Mexican). In both English- and Spanish-language literature, the Alamo is often compared to the battle of Thermopylae. The 1950s Disney miniseries Davy Crockett, which was largely based on myth, created a worldwide craze for everything Alamo-related. Within several years, John Wayne directed and starred in one of the best-known and perhaps least historically accurate film versions, The Alamo (1960). Notably, this version made the first attempt to leave behind racial stereotypes; it was still banned in Mexico. In the late 1970s, works about the Alamo began to explore Tejano perspectives, which had been all but extinguished even from textbooks about the revolution, and to explore the revolution’s links to slavery.

Reposted from Wikipedia
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