Republic of Texas

2011-03-01 11:02:05

The Republic of Texas (1836–45) was a unique experiment in creating a multiethnic state in the New World. In the end, the cultural pull and political push of the United States proved irresistible to most Texans, who sought annexation to their larger neighbor almost from the time they became independent of Mexico.
In 1821, when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, expansionistic pressure from the United States was an urgent problem. The Mexican government decided on a policy of defensive immigration, encouraging Americans to settle its sparsely populated northern province of Texas. It had become clear to Mexican liberals that the Catholic Church was already too strong and should not be given the power of populating the north. Also, Mexico simply did not have a sufficient population to effectively control Texas. Its entire population, from Central America to Texas, New Mexico, and California in the north, was only 6 million. In January 1821, Moses Austin was contracted to bring 300 Catholic families to Texas in return for a large personal grant of land. Moses died in June, and his contract was assumed by his son, Stephen F. Austin. With the fall of the short-lived imperial government of Agustín de Iturbide in Mexico in 1823, a new National Colonization Law (1824) was passed, leaving immigration policy in the hands of individual states. The former provinces of Coahuila and Texas were combined into one state, and the land between the Nueces and Sabine Rivers, designated the Department of Texas. Under the state’s Colonization Law (1825), Mexicans were given priority in land acquisition and were temporarily exempted from paying certain taxes. Nevertheless, by the mid-1820s, there were more Anglos than Tejanos in Texas. Immigrants were allowed to become Mexican citizens on condition that they abide by the federal and state constitutions and practice the Christian religion. Individuals were allowed to purchase land, but most immigrants came with empresarios like Austin, who worked for the state governments, and were in turn entitled to about 23,000 acres of land for each 100 families they settled. Eventually 41 empresario contracts were signed, most by Anglo-Americans, though few of the terms were actually completed. By the late 1820s, there were perhaps 10,000 immigrants and their slaves, but few took the conditions of settlement seriously. Following a conservative coup in 1829 and the recommendation of Manuel de Mier y Terán, who observed that the Anglo-Texans were unlikely to be assimilated, the Mexican government passed the Law of April 6, 1830, in order to bring the flood of Anglo settlement under control. The measure voided all agreements except with those empresarios who had brought in at least 100 families already. The measure also stipulated that Americans could not colonize territory bordering on the United States. Finally, it prohibited the importation of slaves. When the Mexican general and political opportunist Antonio López de Santa Anna and the Centralists returned to power in 1834, they not only sought to enforce the 1830 treaty but also to curtail state liberties that had been earlier guaranteed. Clashes between Mexican Centralist forces and Texans began in October 1835. In November, a “Consultation” of 58 delegates from a dozen communities met to affirm the liberal Constitution of 1824. When Texas delegates met again in March 1836, they voted unanimously to declare independence (March 2) on the basis of Santa Anna’s imposition of a tyranny in place of a constitutional government. Among the 59 delegates were three Mexicans: Lorenzo de Zavala, José Antonio Navarro, and José Francisco Ruíz. Despite defeats at San Antonio de Bexar (at the Alamo) and Goliad, 900 Texans under General Sam Houston routed Santa Anna’s force of 1,500 at San Jacinto (April 21), forcing him to sue for peace in the Treaties of Velasco. By their terms, Santa Anna acknowledged Texas’s independence, removed his troops to Mexico, and accepted the Rio Grande as the southern boundary of the new Republic of Texas. Although the Mexican congress refused to ratify the agreement, Mexico no longer had the means of reconquering the land.
Immediately, Texas voters indicated their wish for annexation by the United States, favoring the establishment of economic, social, religious, and political institutions largely as they existed in the land from which most had come. Sam Houston, the republic’s first president, was a political veteran, having served as a U.S. congressman (1823–27) and as governor of Tennessee (1827–29). Despite economic woes and the potential danger of reconquest, the population of the new country grew dramatically, from about 30,000 at independence to more than 150,000 in 1845. Much of the growth came from reestablishment of the empresario system to encourage settlement. As a result of this policy, Irish, French, English, Scottish, Czech, Polish, Scandinavian, Canadian, and Swiss colonies were established. The most important of these were the 2,100 French speakers settled at Castroville near the Medina River west of San Antonio and the German settlement of New Braunfels. By 1844, sentiment in the United States was turning in favor of annexation, with a strong national sense of manifest destiny. When James K. Polk was elected president on an expansionist platform in November, outgoing president John Tyler proposed annexation of Texas through a joint resolution of Congress, which he signed on March 3, 1845. The U.S. government inherited the dispute over the Texas- Mexican border, which had not been settled in 1836, and this eventually led to the U.S.-MEXICANWAR (1846–48).
See also Mexican immigration.