Mexican Texas, 1821-1836

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Chapter Three Overview

Mexican Texas, 1821–1836

Spain faces discontent

The execution of Padre Miguel Hidalgo in 1811 did not end New Spain’s resistance to Spanish autocracy. In 1821 Mexico freed itself from Spanish rule and began the process of creating its own government. Liberals desired a republic based on the precepts of the Enlightenment, but conservatives took the upper hand and Agustín de Iturbide established himself as emperor. A young military commander named Antonio López de Santa Anna entered Mexico’s political arena for the first time, denounced Iturbide and eventually removed him from power in March 1823. This was the beginning of endless problems for Mexico.

Empresarios and filibusters

Fillbuster Dr. James Long attempted to wrest Texas from Mexico in 1819, and Haden Edwards proclaimed his Fredonian Republic in 1826. Overall, though, it was Mexico’s decision to continue with Spain’s colonization program that spelled the beginning of the end of Mexican Texas. Anglo Americans in Texas soon outnumbered Tejanos due to several empresarios (immigration agents) who, along with Stephen F. Austin, received generous land allotments for locating set numbers of families in Texas. Between 1821 and 1835, a total of forty-one empresario contracts were signed, permitting some 13,500 families, mostly Anglo American, to come to Texas. Implementation of the Law of April 6, 1830 (based on Manuel de Mier y Teran’s observations) came too late to stem the floods of Anglo Americans who would resist assimilation into Mexican culture.

Anglos and the Mexican Government

Discontent was deeply rooted among liberal Anglos and Tejanos. The “peace party” headed by Stephen F. Austin preferred political solutions to the settlers’ grievances. He consistently reminded the colonists of the gratitude they owed Mexico. Eventually, however, the liberals won the upper hand as they expressed grievances toward the severe limits on immigration imposed by the Law of April 6, 1830, and the naming of Saltillo as capital for the joint state of Coahuila and Tejas. Lorenzo de Zavala, a former legislator from Yucatan, had always espoused strong sentiments toward federalism and sided with the liberals. Other Tejanos who sided with the liberals included José Antonio Navarro and his uncle, José Francisco Ruíz (both later became the only two Tejano signees to the Texas Declaration of Independence); Juan N. Seguín and his father, Erasmo Seguín; and José María Balmaceda ― all leading citizens of Béxar who saw the economic realities and sureties that Anglo Americans (and annexation to the United States) would give to the future development of Texas.

Law of April 6, 1830

To further complicate the situation, immigrants continued arriving illegally during the early 1830s. The Law of April 6, 1830, proved ineffective and Indian depredations continued unabated. The Mexican president, Vicente Guerrero, issued a directive abolishing slavery throughout the country prior to enactment of the Law of April 6, 1830, but rescinded the directive’s impact in regard to Texas. Anglo and even Tejano leaders (Jose Antonio Navarro) argued that development of the province of Texas depended on slave labor. By 1836 the number of slaves in Texas numbered about 5,000, most of whom were located in the productive river valleys adjacent to the Brazos, Colorado, and Trinity Rivers.

Creating a Multicultural Society in Texas

Anglos continued populating the region, and the number of towns in Texas increased from three in 1821 to twenty-one in 1835. Farmsteads and agricultural production grew, and more educational opportunities were provided in the 1820s and 1830s, mostly by religious groups such as Methodist Foreign Missions and Baptists. Neglected by the Catholic Church, Anglo settlers not only ignored the prohibition on slavery but their agreement to observe Catholic practices as well. They defended themselves by organizing local militias and other volunteer companies “authorized by the Mexican government as alternatives to standing armies” that it could ill afford.

In the 1820s and 1830s Tejano society continued to be divided between a small elite of government bureaucrats and prominent merchant and ranching families on one hand, and semi-subsistence farmers and peones (commoners) on the other. Most Tejanos lived in the older urban settlements established in the eighteenth century. Like their Anglo peers they displayed their independence from the Catholic Church by refusing to pay fees to support Texas Catholicism. The Tejano militia developed efficient cavalry units that, unlike the Anglo volunteer companies, pursued an offensive strategy against the Indians.

By 1820 the Indian people of Texas had been decimated by war and disease and displaced from their native lands. Tribal Coahuiletecans had melted into local populations during missionization. The Karankawas numbered less than 800 persons, while the Caddos ― weakened by alcoholism and loss of land to Anglo empresarios as well as other migrating Native American peoples like the Cherokees ― numbered fewer than 300 families.

Centralism in Mexico/Causes of the Texas Revolution

By 1834 Mexico was moving toward centralism. Santa Anna removed his acting president, Valentin Gomez Farias, from power. He abolished both the liberal Federalist Constitution of 1824 and the new congress composed of conservatives and others supportive of the military and the Catholic Church. He also dissolved all state legislatures, turning the former states into military departments. These developments further angered the liberal factions in Texas. Fifteen years after pledging their loyalty to Mexico (conforming to Mexican tradition by becoming Catholic and learning to speak Spanish), liberty-loving men (both Anglo and Tejano) revolted against Mexican autocratic rule. With the fall of the Alamo and Goliad, including the loss of many lives, Santa Anna was defeated at San Jacinto in an eighteen-minute battle that cost Mexico its hold on Texas.

Historians suggest additional factors that spurred the Texas Revolution including financial motivations (land speculation and protection of recently-achieved economic gains); Anglo-American contempt for Mexico’s rule; and viewing Mexicans as a politically and culturally inferior people living under an unstable and tumultuous government. Each interpretation, including a very recent argument for slavery as a cause of the conflict, has some validity.

Chapter Three Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of studying this chapter, you will be able to:

  • cite key reasons for the Texas Revolution,

  • comprehend the political and economic factors for growing Tejano and Anglo resentment against the tyranny of Santa Anna’s governance,

  • appreciate multiculturalism in early Texas,

  • anticipate the implications of the major migration of Anglo Americans into Texas.

Chapter Three Key Words and Terms

  • Manuel Mier y Teran

  • Law of April 6, 1830

  • Mexican Constitution of 1824

  • General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

  • General Perfecto de Cós

  • Baron de Bastrop

  • Old Three Hundred

  • Philip Nolan

  • Dr. James Long

  • National Colonization Law of 1824


  • David G. Burnet

  • Lorenzo de Zavala

  • Green DeWitt

  • Martín de León

  • John McMullen

  • James McGloin

  • Stephen F. Austin

Native Mexicans/Tejanos

  • José Antonio Navarro

  • José Francisco Ruíz

  • José María Balmaceda

  • Erasmo Seguín

  • Juan N. Seguín

  • Consultation of 1835

  • “Come and Take It”

  • Battle of Gonzales

  • Fall of the Alamo

  • James W. Fannin

  • Fall of Goliad

  • Battle of San Jacinto

Chapter Three Links

  • Sons of DeWitt Colony Website — Articles include “Causes of the Texas Revolution,” “Failure to Limit Anglo immigration,” “Juan Seguin,” and more. The site includes the opinions of Wallace L. McKeehan, primary sources, and documents.

  • The San Jacinto Museum of History includes Houston’s biography and that of many Mexican and Texian commanders.

  • A Battle of San Jacinto site by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission includes primary source documents (images and transcriptions).

  • The Avalon Project of Yale University — Texas From Independence to Annexation is an excellent source for primary source documents categorized by centuries.

  • The Hispanic Experience – Tejanos in the Texas Revolution — A Houston Institute for Culture special feature.

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