Mexican Independence & The Revolution in Tejas

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Mexican Independence


The Revolution in Tejas
Mexico gained its independence in the 1820s after a long and bloody revolution against Spain. The revolution was partly inspired by the successful American Revolution (1775-1783), which had created the United States, and also by the French Revolution of 1789. These political rebellions had been largely driven by the desire for popular sovereignty, that is, the people's right to govern themselves. By the early 1800’s, many of the inhabitants of Mexico, then known as New Spain, had become dissatisfied with Spanish rule and wanted to establish a democratic government with leaders elected by the people.
The Struggle for a Free Mexico
The first of several rebellions occurred in 1810 when a large group of poor Mexicans, led by a priest marched on Mexico City. The uprising was quickly crushed and the priest was executed, but the incident inspired many Mexicans to continue the struggle for freedom.

Despite these setbacks, the revolutionary movement continued to gain steam. Finally, in 1821 a group of priests and important wealthy land owners, who favored self-rule, joined forces with the rebels, and this proved to be the great turning point. Led by Agustin de Iturbide, a wealthy landowner, they convinced almost every powerful leader in the colony to join them. Under tremendous pressure, the viceroy (the king’s appointed ruler in Mexico) granted Mexican independence in August 1821.

The revolution was far from over, however. At first, only the members of the new legislature were elected by the people. Iturbide made himself president and later actually declared himself emperor. The country's military leaders soon decided that this was no better than being ruled by the Spanish king; so two years later they removed him from power and executed him. This paved the way for the establishment of the Republic of Mexico. Adopting a constitution similar to that of the United States, Mexican leaders divided the land into nineteen provinces (or states) and four territories. And the people elected a well-known military leader as their first president.

The newly established nation of Mexico inherited all of the lands of the former colony, a vast group of territories covering a total of more than a million square miles. The steaming jungles of Panama formed the southern border, while the northernmost reaches touched on the great, level plains of Kansas and the snowcapped peaks of Colorado. In between stretched all manner of terrains and climates, including the blistering deserts of New Mexico and Arizona; the lush, nearly impenetrable rain forests of the Yucatan Peninsula; and the fertile farmlands and fine natural harbors of California

Old-Inequities Not Erased
Though large and geographically diverse, Mexico was still a long way from being a strong and stable country. First, its relatively small population - only about 7 million in the 1820’s - offset its huge size. Most farmers and other settlers tended to cluster around a few fertile areas, leaving the bulk of the country almost uninhabited, except by widely scattered native Indian tribes. Moreover, Mexico did not have nearly enough well-trained soldiers and officials to administer and police its far-flung territories.

In fact, the new government had considerable difficulty controlling even the country's main populated areas. Mexico now had an elected president and legislature and a written constitution, so in theory it was a democracy like the United States.

An Ongoing Political and Social Revolution
Just as Mexico had sprung from Spanish society, with all its good and bad traits, the United States was the offspring of Great Britain. And there was a world of difference between Britain and Spain. Although Britain, like Spain, was a monarchy, by the late 1700’s the British king had very little actual power and the legislature – Parliament - ran the country and empire. Though roundly criticized by the American founders when they were fighting for their independence, Parliament and other democratic British institutions constituted a valuable democratic heritage that the United States subsequently expanded on.

By the 1830’s and 1840’s, the United States had come a long way since its separation from Britain. For the most part, Americans paid little attention to social class and status. And they enjoyed the benefits of the separation of church and state, ensuring the freedom to worship in any manner they saw fit with no fear of government influence. In those days, many Mexicans interpreted the American separation of church and state as an expression of contempt for religion. And the Mexicans developed a popular stereotype of Americans (most of whom were Protestants) as anti-Catholic ruffians bent on destroying the church. This stereotype would later fuel bitter anti-American feelings during the conflict between the two nations.

Tejas - An invitation too good to be turned down
The volatile situation in Texas, which ultimately led to the U.S. - Mexican war, can be traced back to 1821. In that year, a young American law student named Stephen Austin offered the Mexicans a deal that appeared to solve the problem posed by American settlers entering Texas. Austin had been drawn to Texas because of his father, Moses Austin, a frontier businessman and colonizer. In January 1821 the elder Austin convinced the viceroy of New Spain to grant two hundred thousand acres in Tejas (Texas) for colonization by Anglos (white Americans). He died only six months later, and Stephen, then attending law school in New Orleans, hurried to Texas to carry on his father's work.

For the next fourteen years, Austin successfully negotiated many land deals with the Mexican government. He argued that Texas was nearly uninhabited, undeveloped, and therefore useless to Mexico. He proposed that Anglo settlements would increase the value of the land and bring Mexico needed tax revenues, since the Anglos would become Mexican citizens and pay Mexican taxes. The Anglos would also become Catholic and obey Mexican laws, Austin promised.

For Mexico, it proved to be a deal too tempting to turn down. Gaining new Mexican citizens and increasing the population of Tejas were ideas that appealed to Mexican leaders at the time. These leaders wanted also to create a buffer zone, an area well populated by loyal Mexican citizens, between the main part of Mexico and the United States. This zone would, they hoped, help to contain U.S. expansion and maintain the integrity of Mexican borders.
Promises Broken, Laws Ignored
For Mexico, getting these benefits depended on the Anglos' keeping their end of the bargain, which they failed to do. Almost immediately after the Mexican government agreed to Austin's requests it seemed as if floodgates had opened in Tejas. Thousands of Americans felt an irre­sistible desire to pitch their tents in the sunset. From every section, from every class, pilgrims were drawn to Texas, the very seat of fortune in the American mind during the 1820’s. Its noble woods, its great prairies, the land that could be had for next to nothing - these were potent magnets.

The slave owners saw in Tejas a pos­sible new lease of life for slavery. The abolitionist (someone who wants to abolish, or end, slavery) saw in it the possibility of a new free state. Young and old, rich and poor, wise and foolish, a great host of Americans poured into Tejas in the 1820’s.

With so many and diverse personal motives the settlers quickly placed their obligations to Mexico on the back burner. Although Austin had dealt with the Mexicans in good faith, many of the Anglos illegal settlers failed to follow the terms of the agreement. Most refused to become Catholics, and more than a few openly broke Mexican laws, all of which led to increased tensions between the two peoples. Some Mexican officials blamed Austin and imprisoned him in 1833, but they released him two years later.

Slavery proved another sticky problem. Many of the settlers came from southern states and brought their slaves with them into Texas. Slavery did not exist in Mexico, and Mexican leaders naturally objected. When the settlers ignored these objections, Mexico responded by officially outlawing slavery in Texas in 1829; this did little to stop the slave owners, however, most of whom simply ignored the law. As more and more Americans entered Texas and ignored Mexican laws, leaders in Mexico City decided that the situation was nearly out of control. So the government tried establishing immigration laws to regulate the number of Anglos entering Texas. However, the Texans ignored these laws, too.

Mounting Tensions Lead to Violence

Mexican leaders became increasingly frustrated with the Americans in Tejas. For years they did little to enforce their laws in Tejas and hold the settlers to the deal Austin had made, in part due to the instability of the Mexican government. Leaders rose and fell frequently and those in authority often worried more about maintaining their power and influence in Mexico City than about troubles in the provinces.

The great distance between Tejas and the Mexican capital was another problem. Most of the Tejas settlements were located nearly eight hundred miles north of Mexico City; and the journey across rugged mountains, deserts, and more than a dozen rivers was both difficult and time-consuming for Mexican officials and soldiers.

By 1834, more than thirty thousand former Americans lived in Tejas (Texas). Native Mexicans in the province (Tejanos), mostly poor Mexicans tending small farms or cattle ranches, numbered only about seventy-five hundred. The two groups had very different attitudes about homesteading in the region and frequently disagreed. The local Mexicans resented the Anglos for bringing slaves into Tejas and for intentionally disregarding Mexican laws. For the most part, these Mexicans were content to follow the dictates of whatever leader happened to be in power in Mexico City. By contrast, the Tejos Anglos (Texans) tended to be fiercely independent. Many shunned local Mexican customs and felt no obligation to Mexico.

Hardships on the Mexican Frontier

"Although the land is most fertile, the inhabitants do not cultivate it because of the danger of Indians which they face as soon as they separate themselves any distance from their houses, to which these barbarians come often in the silence of the night to do damage without fear of the garrison, for when it becomes aware of this damage, which is irreparable, it is unable to apply any other remedy than the mounting of a continual watch, because of the sad fact of a total lack of equipment, especially military, that leaves no other recourse. These unfortunate troops have often gone for months, even for years, without pay, without clothes, and continually engaged in desert campaigning against the savages, maintaining themselves with the meat of buffalo, deer, etc., exhausting themselves in the hunt, with no alleviation from these hardships forthcoming from the government, in spite of the continuous appeals."
Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico, sent troops to take away the guns of the people living in Tejas and to put down the rowdy Tejas settlers. Many people in Tejas feared that, without guns to hunt for meat and to defend themselves against the frequent Indian attacks, this action was essentially a death sentence by Santa Anna and the Mexican Government. The Texans retaliated against Mexican troops. General Santa Anna then sent troops to reinforce several small Mexican military outposts near the mighty Rio Grande in southern Texas. He felt confident that this show of force would discourage the Texans from breaking any more laws.

But Santa Anna's strategy backfired. At the sight of the troops, Texan tempers flared. Gangs of angry Anglos fired on Mexican patrols, the. Mexicans fired back, and as hostilities quickly escalated, the Texans organized a formal resistance group. This armed militia boldly attacked and took control of the towns of Gonzales and San Antonio. The Texans hoped that this would send a signal to Santa Anna that they would not be intimidated.

When news of these events reached Mexico City, Santa Anna was furious. His high-ranking officers, as well as several top government officials, agreed that the Tejas Anglo attacks constituted armed rebellion and concluded that they needed to be taught a lesson once and for all. So early in 1836, Santa Anna assembled some 6,000 seasoned troops, along with dozens of heavy cannons, and hundreds of tons of supplies.

He had two goals. First, he would march the troops to Tejas and crush the Anglo resistance. More importantly, he would send a warning signal to the U.S. government, which he suspected was behind all the trouble. Shortly before departing, he boasted to the British Ambassador to Mexico that if the Yanquis dared to interfere while he was in Texas, he would cut them to pieces and plant the Mexican flag in Washington, D.C. To the sounds of flutes and drums, his soldiers, clad in neatly pressed uniforms of green and white, marched out of the city and headed north toward the distant Rio Grande and a date with destiny.

Questions Be prepared to discuss the following:

  1. By 1834, more than thirty thousand (30,000) former Americans lived in Tejas (Texas). Mexicans in the province, most of whom tended small farms or cattle ranches, numbered only about seventy-five hundred (7,500). Should the majority of people living in an area be able to vote to leave their “mother” country and become an independent nation? Why or why not?

  2. Why were the people in Tejas so independent?

On your Study Guide: Answer question 20

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