- Get Involved
MEXICAN TEXAS. The Mexican war of independence (1810–21), one of the rebellions that erupted throughout Latin America to overthrow Spanish colonial rule, left Mexico with an array of problems that touched upon events in the far northern Mexican province of Texas. Economically, the country faced devastation in 1821. It stood in marked contrast to the rich colony that had promised great potential towards the end of the colonial era. Money barely circulated. Once-rich mines struggled to regain their former efficiency. Ranches and farms were no longer productive. With the economy in shambles, thousands faced unemployment. Entire areas experienced depopulation as people sought out a livelihood elsewhere. Moreover, differences over class distinctions split the nation as the landed gentry, the military, and church officials sought the preservation of the antebellum order, wherein they ruled alongside government. Additionally, many of the country's new leaders had had little prior experience in governing.
An equally urgent concern for the young country was guarding its far northern possessions from United States expansion; Texas was especially vulnerable to encroachment from that country, and colonization offered the best deterrent. But Mexico lacked the strength of population numbers to settle the north. Consequently, it tried enticing European and American immigrants to the region to act as defense forces against Indians and foreign powers. The political issues raised by the new settlers became the dominant topic in Texas during this period. In January 1821 the Spanish government gave Moses Austin of Missouri a contract to establish a colony on the Brazos River with 300 Catholic families. When he died on June 10, 1821, his son, Stephen F. Austin, inherited the contract, and by the end of 1821 colonists began reaching Texas, some of them establishing themselves on the main settlement, christened San Felipe de Austin. The Mexican government confirmed Austin's contract via the Imperial Colonization Law of January 1823.
The National Colonization Law of August 18, 1824, which superseded the Imperial Colonization Law, determined how Texas would be peopled. It stipulated that those wishing colonization contracts should make arrangements with the legislatures of individual states and not the federal government. In the case of Texas, an empresario would have to negotiate with Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila since Texas was merged with that state. Government officials in Coahuila would thus define the course of immigration by determining whether those receiving contracts would be Anglos, Europeans, or Mexicans. The National Colonization Law of 1824 resulted from a Federalist political philosophy advanced by some of Mexico's post-independence statesmen who envisioned establishing a republic patterned after the United States. After asserting themselves over their Centralist rivals in the latter part of 1823, they wrote the Federal Constitution of the United States of Mexico on October 4, 1824 (see CONSTITUTION OF 1824). This republican document called for a constitutional arrangement by which the national government would grant powers to the states. The document resembled the United States Constitution in several ways, but also borrowed tenets from the Spanish Constitution of 1812.
In accordance with the National Colonization Law, the Federalist constituent legislature, meeting in Saltillo, passed the State Colonization Law of March 24, 1825. The legislature attempted to bring about the peopling of Coahuila and Texas, encourage the tilling of the soil and the growth of ranches, and facilitate commerce. It stated that Americans could settle in the state, though Mexicans were to have first choice of lands; that for a nominal payment a settler could receive as much as a league or sitio (4428.4 acres) of pastureland and a labor (177.1 acres) of land for cultivation; that immigrants were temporarily free of every kind of tax; and that newcomers had to take an oath promising to abide by the federal and state constitutions, to worship according to the Christian religion, and to display sound moral principles and good conduct. After accepting these terms and settling in Texas, immigrants earned the standing of naturalized Mexicans. The legislative provision addressing slavery was too ambiguous, and so the secretary of state at Saltillo declared that "What is not prohibited is to be understood as permitted." Foreigners seeking land in Texas could negotiate individually, but the more common method was to act through immigration agents (empresarios), who selected families, designated land where the newcomers could settle, and saw to the obedience of the laws. In compensation, the government would award these contracting parties five sitios and five labores for each 100 families brought and settled. Among the most prominent of these colonizers were Stephen F. Austin and Green DeWitt.
By the mid-1820s Mexico began reconsidering its lenient immigration policy. Officials expressed consternation that some Americans squatted on lands without any formality and that most did not make a serious commitment to conform to the laws and traditions of their adopted land. The Americans, who were settled in the eastern part of the province, violated colonization statutes when convenient and imposed their own practices on local affairs. In 1826 the empresario Haden Edwards went so far as to proclaim the Nacogdoches area an independent republic, the Republic of Fredonia (see FREDONIAN REBELLION). Though the episode was short-lived, as even fellow empresarios denounced Edwards, the Mexican government came to fear that continued immigration might well produce secessionist sentiments among Anglo-Texans.
In response to the troubles in Texas, the Centralists in Mexico City, who ousted the Federalists in late 1829 and espoused a strong central government patterned after the monarchist Spain of old, implemented the Law of April 6, 1830. The law voided those empresario contracts still not in compliance. It further curtailed immigration from the United States, although officials did permit continued settlement in the colonies of Austin and DeWitt because these two empresarios were ruled to have settled the required 100 families; in actuality, however, both had yet to fulfill their contracts. Military bases were to be established as a means of policing illegal immigration. Slaves, the law stipulated, were not to be imported from the United States, though blacks already in Texas would remain slaves.
Among those inveighing against the Law of April 6 were Anglos, political leaders in Coahuila, and Tejano oligarchs who thought that inexpensive settlement from the United States portended the wealth of Texas. Federalists in Coahuila and Texas had welcomed Anglos as a way of providing security from Indians, developing the cotton lands of Texas, and establishing prosperity through commerce. With more and more foreigners seeking to convert their land acquisitions into farmsteads, entrepreneurs in Texas and Coahuila foresaw the realization of their ambitious plan to develop the region. As commercial activity grew, they envisaged for themselves an economic network extending into Louisiana, Coahuila, and the far north of Mexico. But Anglo immigrants could be attracted only if they were permitted to use the Gulf ports, exempted from taxes, and offered other inducements. Coahuila's colonizing program of 1825 had offered such incentives.
The establishment of slavery would also attract immigrants. Since the mid-1820s, the three groups opposed to the Law of April 6 mentioned above had lobbied for the recognition of human bondage. They had succeeded in 1828 when the legislature, noting the scarcity of field laborers in the state of Coahuila and Texas, decreed that slaves could be brought to Texas under indenture contracts; in Texas, they would work to pay the slaveowner for their freedom. Thus was Mexico's own form of economic bondage-debt peonage-utilized to rationalize the existence of slavery. On September 15 of the next year President Vicente Ramón Guerrero issued the Guerrero Decree, which expressly prohibited enslavement in every form. This move revealed the president's humanitarianism, but might also have been designed to control the flow of immigration from the United States. Political leaders in Texas and Coahuila remonstrated, however, and Guerrero excluded Texas from slave manumission by a decree on December 2, 1829. Subsequently, in 1830, the Law of April 6 presented a more formidable obstacle.
Among those upset with the anti-immigration policy outlined in the Law of April 6 were Anglo-Americans who attacked the military post at Anahuac in the summer of 1832. Their pretext was the arrest for sedition of the lawyer William Barret Travis by the Anahuac commander Col. John Davis Bradburn, an Anglo-American adventurer who belonged to the Centralist faction in Mexico. Fortunately, ranking military figures defused the crisis by reassigning Bradburn and releasing Travis and other inmates (see ANAHUAC DISTURBANCES). On June 13, 1832, the attackers issued the Turtle Bayou Resolutions, wherein they explained the attack as an expression of dissatisfaction with Bradburn, not the government in the interior. But Anglo volunteers and Mexican troops skirmished again at the battle of Velasco on June 26. As of 1832, however, the "War party"-as the radicals came to be labeled-lacked popular support; in fact many Anglo-Texan colonists branded them as adventurers.
In early 1833 Antonio López de Santa Anna entered Mexico City and removed the Centralists. The Federalist government then revoked the article in the Law of April 6, 1830, that curtailed immigration from the United States, and the Anglo-American influx resumed. But in May 1834 Santa Anna pronounced against his vice president, Valentín Gómez Farías, who, in Santa Anna's absence, had passed legislation that infringed on the prerogatives of the clergy, army officers, and privileged classes. Now turned Centralist, Santa Anna abrogated the Constitution of 1824 and called for a new congress composed of officials faithful to Centralist doctrine. In October 1835 the new congress disbanded legislatures and converted the states into departments governed by appointees of the president. In effect, it established a Centralist state. The rise of the Centralists incited uprisings in such states as Zacatecas, though these were not independence movements. In Coahuila, meanwhile, the Federalists rejected Centralist orders, and in the spring of 1835 the legislature promulgated a law authorizing the governor to dispose of up to 400 leagues of land in order to raise the needed funds to meet the danger confronting federalism. Another decree permitted the distribution of 400 leagues to finance militia units to deal with threats from unfriendly Indian tribes. The Mexican commander in Bexar now feared that the Anglo-Texans would assemble an army against the government, and he called upon Santa Anna for reinforcements.
With reports spreading to Texas that Mexico had ordered troops into the north, a force of militant Texans under the leadership of William B. Travis headed for Anahuac on June 30, 1835, and captured the site to protect Texas from a Mexican military incursion. To Mexico, the attack on the military post was an indication of a rebellion, and the refusal of Texans to surrender the Anahuac ringleaders confirmed suspicions of widespread defiance. The initial conflict between Anglo-Americans and Mexican authorities occurred in the battle of Gonzales in October 1835. The insurgents overwhelmed military forces at Goliad a week later (see GOLIAD CAMPAIGN OF 1835). This victory gave them new sources of military supplies and inhibited the Mexican military from using the Gulf to resupply the army. Talk of Centralist forces coming to Texas, reversing the economic development of the province, and imposing repression brought the war and peace parties together. Towards the latter part of October, Texas volunteer soldiers laid siege to San Antonio, then defended by Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos with about 800 troops. On December 10, after putting up a stiff defense in the streets and buildings of the beleaguered town, the Mexican commander surrendered. The Texans made Cos and his army promise to withdraw into Mexico and not resist the Constitution of 1824.
At the time of the siege of Bexar, representatives from the several Texas settlements gathered at San Felipe de Austin and on November 7 committed themselves to defending the Constitution of 1824 (see DECLARATION OF NOVEMBER 7, 1835). But they also founded a provisional government and elected a general council-a parliament consisting of representatives from the different settlements. Then, in February 1836, Santa Anna crossed the Rio Grande at the head of several thousand troops to suppress the insurrection. On the first day of March, the general council reconvened, this time at Washington-on-the-Brazos, to draft a constitution and establish a new government separate from Coahuila under the Constitution of 1824. After some deliberation, however, on March 2 the delegates declared independence from the mother country. The Texas Declaration of Independence denounced Santa Anna for supplanting the Constitution of 1824 with tyranny, accused the Mexican government of diluting the voice of Texans by having merged the province with Coahuila, and charged that the Mexican government had dispossessed the people of numerous basic rights. Three of the fifty-nine men who signed the declaration were of Mexican descent: Lorenzo de Zavala, a liberal from Yucatán, and two Tejanos, José Antonio Navarro and José Francisco Ruiz, who since the 1820s had subscribed to the idea of rapid settlement and economic development of the province through immigration.
At the end of the Mexican war of Independence the population of Texas numbered approximately 2,500. Throughout the 1820s the size of the immigrant population increased, then stagnated following the adoption of the Law of April 6, 1830. Settlers arrived nonetheless; in any case the law was nullified in 1834. That year Juan N. Almonte, sent by Mexico on an inspection tour of Texas, estimated the Anglo population at about 20,000. One historian estimates that the figure probably reflected a doubling of the Anglo population from four years previous. From the three towns that existed in 1821, the number of urban sites increased to twenty-one by 1835; almost all owed their founding to Anglo immigrants. Principal towns established by Americans included San Felipe de Austin, Gonzales, Velasco, Matagorda, Brazoria, San Augustine, and Liberty.
Generally, settlers lived in isolation, for neighboring farms might be miles away. Immigrants thus struggled for survival by their own wits, living off the land by hunting and by planting small gardens. For their shelter, plain folks turned to the environment and used whatever materials they could-logs, for instance-to build their cabins. The primitive domiciles characteristically consisted of one or two rooms and lacked floors and windows.
Frontiersmen improvised in other ways. For the education of their children, Anglo settlers set up schools that they themselves subsidized, most of them amounting to little more than facilities that duplicated the academies then typical of the South. Or settlers would simply convert homes into teaching institutions, so that school buildings generally consisted of pine-log huts. Teachers, furthermore, were difficult to find. Residents of means, however, dispatched youngsters to the United States for school.
Printing in Texas originated during the years of the Mexican War of Independence, when Americans established newspaper presses on Texas soil to encourage Mexico's struggle for self-rule. Not until 1829, however, did G. B. M. Cotten establish the Texas Gazette at Austin's colony; this enterprise, the first newspaper to be published in the province on a regular basis, enabled Austin to explain laws and other policies to the colonists. After the Gazette discontinued production in 1832, Anglo-Texans got their news from other publications. Among these was the Telegraph and Texas Register, started in October 1835. It published such official documents as letters and reports written by leading Anglo-American figures.
Though Mexico required settlers to practice only the Catholic religion, the country could hardly enforce its own laws due to a shortage of priests and other problems. Anglo-Texan settlers therefore went their own way in practicing their faiths. Austin's settlers enacted their own ceremonies solemnizing births and deaths, for only briefly in 1831–32 did they have a priest among them, an Irishman named Michael Muldoon. Other colonists conducted worship services and camp meetings. The Mexican government seemed not to have been terribly concerned with the persistence of Protestantism, for in 1834 it even granted the Texans religious freedom on the condition that settlers abide by the laws they promised to observe.
For African Americans, slavery came to be a way of life in the eastern settlements, even as the Mexican government had strongly expressed disapproval of the system. The immediate future of the "peculiar institution" seemed uncertain during the early years of settlement, as the Mexican government persisted in its opposition to slavery but did not enforce edicts abolishing it. Once the Federalists in Coahuila and Texas succeeded in making slavery legal, the institution took root, even as the national government reversed its position on the matter several other times. It gained a foothold because Anglo-Texans generally perceived blacks as destined for servitude; most of the immigrants came from the lower South, where attitudes prescribed specific roles for both races. Furthermore, the immigrants considered slavery essential for the economic growth of Texas, a conviction with which Tejano oligarchs and their colleagues in Coahuila concurred. By 1836, 5,000 slaves resided in Texas, concentrated in the Anglo settlements.
Most Hispanic Texans remained situated in central and southern Texas, where they made their livelihood as bucolic workers, but others resided in the three urban settlements founded in the early eighteenth century-San Antonio, Goliad, and Nacogdoches. According to Almonte's report in 1834, Bexar and outlying ranches had a Hispanic population of 2,400, Goliad 700, and Nacogdoches 500. The new town of Victoria, colonized by Martín De León in 1824, had 300 residents in 1834. On the Rio Grande, Laredo had a population of about 2,000 in 1835.
Mexican Texas featured social divisions with origins in the colonial era that were now exacerbated by the new economics stimulated by the immigration of the 1820s and 1830s. A group of ricos occupied the upper crust of society; their standing rested on government position, family, racial background, business, and land possession. At the bottom lived peones and day laborers, usually mixed-bloods and Hispanicized Indians. The aristocrats sent their children to schools in Coahuila or had private tutors for them. Throughout the Mexican era, it was the ricos who voiced political opinions. Hispanic women lived in a society that stressed frontier ruggedness and masculinity. Even as Mexican law permitted women numerous freedoms-such as the right to have their own property while married and the right to judicial redress-they nonetheless encountered numerous political and legal restraints. Women could not be officeholders or exercise the franchise. Adulteresses could faced harsh penalties and risked the loss of their property. Divorces were difficult to obtain. In the tradition of other Western societies of that era, Tejanas ate only after having served their husbands, then ate apart from the men.
While the government committed itself to a program of public education, support to communities was often inadequate, so that citizens looked to municipal taxes and individual contributions to educate their children. Hispanic Texans established schools in each of the urban areas during the 1820s, though they functioned irregularly amid weak government support, political uncertainty, the threat of Indian raids, epidemics, and the difficulty of finding qualified teachers. In 1829, the legislature decreed the establishment of instruction based on the Lancastrian system of education, which used advanced students to teach those in lower grades. Through dictation, memorization, and recitation, young scholars learned the basics of arithmetic, grammar, religion, and civics.
Tejanos carried on religious practices grounded on Catholic tradition but adjusted to frontier existence. By the 1820s the Catholic Church had almost forsaken its commitment to the far north, and the two priests still assigned to Texas had interests other than spiritual: one was considered to be among the wealthiest men in Bexar, and both had questionable reputations. Dissatisfied Tejanos showed reluctance to contribute for the ministering of the sacraments. Pleading impoverishment, they explained their inability to make church donations (see CATHOLIC DIOCESAN CHURCH OF NEW SPAIN AND MEXICAN TEXAS).
Indians of Texas, whom the Spaniards had sought to convert, had either been reduced by diseases, conflict, or the adverse effects of mission life and white men's institutions, pushed west into the frontier, or integrated into Hispanic society. Only remnants of groups that the Spaniards had sought to Christianize-such as the Coahuiltecans and Karankawas-survived by the 1830s, and those Indians in the San Antonio and Goliad missions were ostensibly absorbed into the towns' populations after the missions were secularized in the 1820s. The more hostile Indians situated west of the settlements survived in their traditional ways. The Comanches and their allies from other groups hunted buffalo, then turned the animals over to the women, who cut and cured the meat and treated the hides before turning them into clothes, weapons, and an assortment of items for household use. Some Plains Indians also relied on such crops as corn, beans, and pumpkins, whose cultivation and preservation was also entrusted to the women. Raids on the Anglo and Tejano settlements remained a way of life as the Comanches and small tribes continued in their custom of stealing livestock. Some traded horses, mules, furs, and other stolen goods to unscrupulous Americans for weapons.
The more sedentary tribes of East Texas, meantime, struggled to earn subsistence as horticulturists. The Caddos, who numbered about 300 families in the late 1820s, planted corn, beans, and pumpkins, but they supplemented their livelihood by trading beaver, deer, and otter skins for weapons and tobacco in Louisiana. Cherokees, who had arrived in Texas from Georgia and Alabama in 1819–20 and settled on land now in Van Zandt, Cherokee, Rusk, and Smith counties, numbered about eighty families in the late 1820s and farmed, raised cattle, and traded skins, corn, pumpkins, beans, and fruits with the whites in Nacogdoches. During the 1820s and 1830s they sought vainly to persuade the Mexican government to grant them title to their lands, a commitment they only vaguely received. During the era of the Republic of Texas, the government expelled the Cherokees, a fate suffered by numerous other tribes that had inhabited the province for generations.
Frontier life determined the state of economic matters in Mexican Texas. Manufacturing of basic items was hardly known, so that Anglo settlers brought with them blankets, hats, clothing, and shoes; after they wore out their apparel, they replaced it with clothes made from animal skins. Where fiber or a spinning wheel was available, settlers produced new clothes from hand-made cloth. Weapons and implements for working the land were brought by settlers, as were such luxury items as coffee, cigars, and wines. The soil provided a minimum living with corn and various types of vegetables, but with slaves and imported technology, Anglos initiated commercial agriculture by raising and processing cotton for export. One historian estimates that commerce with New Orleans may have totaled 7,000 bales worth about $315,000 by 1834 (see COTTON CULTURE). Other items produced in quantities large enough to sell outside the province included corn, salted meats, and bear and deer skins. Lumbering and milling appeared in the timberlands of East Texas; though the lumber industry principally met only local needs, some lumber made its way to the Matamoros market. As in colonial days, smuggling was attractive to East Texans. The Mexican government excused immigrants from paying tariff duties, but since not all imports were exempted, the immigrants smuggled what they could of these. They found markets for such contraband in Mexico proper and even as far west as New Mexico. Bexareños also participated in the contraband market and apparently made hefty profits from the business. Trapping was pursued to some degree. The rivers along the coast abounded in otters and beavers, and Anglos sold the pelts at Nacogdoches yearly. Hispanic rancheros tapped the market in Coahuila and Louisiana by rounding up wild cattle and mustangs in the brush country, though stock raising may not have been as brisk as in Spanish Texas. Moreover, the rancheros were still harried by government restrictions and dangers from hostile Indians. Possibly, however, Tejanos found new markets for cattle and horses among the Anglo-Texan arrivals. Farming among the Hispanic population took a subordinate position to ranching. San Antonio residents irrigated small family-owned fields and orchards to raise a variety of vegetables, grains, and fruits, but did not produce them in exportable amounts. Wealthier landholders did cultivate produce to sell for a profit to the local military. Some landowners near San Antonio or Goliad experimented with cotton production, but their crops added up to only a small portion of the total amount of cotton harvested in the province. With hard cash practically unknown, barter was the popular way of conducting business. Transactions often involved payment with cows, swine, poultry, or even land. "Money is very scarce in Texas," reported Juan Almonte in 1834, "and one may say with certainty that out of every hundred transactions made not ten involve specie." Counterfeit paper money from both Mexico and the United States appeared regularly and was a constant problem.
Immigration from the United States to Texas produced new political directions for the province from 1821 to 1836. For one thing, it caused political disagreement over the immigration itself: Federalists generally encouraged the arrival of Anglo-Americans in hopes of advancing and modernizing Coahuila and Texas; but Centralists feared the Americanization of Texas and consistently clashed with the Federalists' policy and the fractious Anglo-Texans. Most significantly, of course, the new arrivals asserted themselves politically and finally usurped their hosts' authority. By the end of the Mexican period, therefore, great changes were apparent in Texas. Anglos had implemented a republican form of government, established a different language, introduced new Christian communions, created a social order wherein minorities, among them some Mexican Texans who assisted in the struggles of the 1830s, were subordinated, and, overall, given the region unique Anglo-American characteristics. However, the resulting life was not radically changed. The province remained an underdeveloped frontier region that taxed the perseverance of its settlers, still depended on an agrarian economy, and continued to face serious problems in such concerns as finances and education. The lot of slaves remained undisturbed. These issues affected the politics of the coming Texas Revolution and Republic of Texas. See also ANGLO-AMERICAN COLONIZATION.
Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989). Arnoldo De León, The Tejano Community, 1836–1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982). Margaret Swett Henson, "Hispanic Texas, 1519–1836," in Texas: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, ed. Donald W. Whisenhunt (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984). Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (19 vols., Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1974–76; Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1977–92). Andreas Reichstein, Der texanische Unabhängigkeitskrieg (Berlin: Reimer, 1984; trans. by Jeanne R. Willson as Rise of the Lone Star: The Making of Texas [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989]). Jaime E. Rodríguez-O, Down From Colonialism: Mexico's Nineteenth Century Crisis (University of California at Los Angeles, 1983). Andres A. Tijerina, Tejanos and Texas: The Native Mexicans of Texas, 1820–1850 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1977; published as Tejanos and Texas under the Mexican Flag, 1821–1836 [College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994]). David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982).
Image Use Disclaimer
All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Arnoldo De León, "MEXICAN TEXAS," accessed July 19, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npm01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 30, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.