Everyone has heard about Davy Crockett and the Tennessee Volunteers, whose valiant, but fatal stand at the Alamo changed the world. On April 21st, 180 years will have passed since the War for Texas Independence ended with an 18 minute routing of the Mexican army in the San Jacinto Valley in 1836. These are facts that are available in most history texts from high schools and colleges across the nation.
But what, exactly, did the Texans accomplish in their grand opposition to the President of Mexico? The answer might surprise you: it changed the course of your life.
Mexico decided to open its borders to immigration in the 1820’s following a costly war for independence from Spain. Texas was sparsely populated at that time, and Mexico wanted to encourage settlements in the area to help control the hostile Indian population. As a result, they created a very liberal immigration policy that encouraged settlement in the Texas hill country. The first settlers, the “Old Three Hundred”, arrived in 1822 from the United States to colonize the grant which had been given to Stephen F. Austin.
By the 1830’s, an estimated 30,000 Anglo had settled Texas, compared to an estimated 7,500 native Mexicans. The population imbalance concerned Mexican President Bustamante, who implemented measures which prohibited further immigration to Texas and heavily taxed imports from the United States. The Mexican government ordered the settlers to stop producing the highly profitable cotton crops, and begin demanding that the farmers grow corn, grain, and beef.
Things became even more difficult for the new settlers when the Mexican government demanded that the colonists convert to Catholicism, and required a mandatory tithe to the church. But the real indignations began when the Stephen Austin went to meet with the newly elected president, Santa Anna. Austin wanted Texas to become a separate and equal state within the Mexican Republic, in an effort to minimize corruption of local officials. Santa Anna had Austin promptly arrested and then abolished the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Next, he dissolved the current federalist government and suspended the legislative branch. He then imprisoned several cotton plantation owners with the intent of redistributing the cotton within Mexico rather than be exported to other countries. These actions triggered outrage—outrage that eventually led to war.
In 1835, as the new centralist government was taking power, the Texans formed a committee, which staged a minor revolt against the taxes which had been imposed on them in July. The Mexican President responded by sending 200 troops into Texas. Stephen Austin was released, having never been charged. Fearing that stronger measures were needed to quell the growing unrest, Santa Anna ordered his brother-in-law, General Martín Perfecto de Cos to "repress with strong arm all those who, forgetting their duties to the nation which has adopted them as her children, are pushing forward with a desire to live at their own option without subjection to the laws”. Cos landed at Copano Bay on September 20, 1835 with approximately 500 soldiers.
Austin saw little choice but to revolt against Mexico and form an independent nation. A meeting was scheduled for October to discuss formal plans for a revolution.
However, before the meetings occurred, Santa Anna learned of the talks of secession and ordered the state militias disarmed. In the weeks that followed, the colonists banned together and formally opposed Santa Anna and his army in several indecisive skirmishes.
General Santa Anna captured 300 Texas revolutionaries in Goliad when they were caught in the open; they chose to surrender rather than fight the overwhelming Mexican Army. He then ordered the combatants to be executed. Santa Anna began a “slash and burn” campaign across Texas and ordered any revolutionaries to be shot on sight—and take no prisoners. In February, 1836, Santa Anna surrounded a small garrison of 185 Texas soldiers at the Alamo in San Antonio and ordered their surrender. The Texans knew their fate if they surrendered, so they defied the 5,000 troops and fought to the death, taking as many as 600 of the Mexican Army with them into eternity. The Alamo was besieged for almost two weeks, which was the precious time the colonists needed to organize their resistance.
The sacrifice made at the Alamo gave the struggling Texas colonists enough time to form a government and establish an official revolution against the tyranny imposed by Santa Anna. The Texas Republic placed the newly formed Texas Army under the leadership of Sam Houston. General Houston knew his army wasn’t strong enough to take on the Mexican Army in a face to face confrontation, so he successfully retreated to the San Jacinto Valley, where the odds of successfully confronting Santa Anna’s Army were more favorable. On April 21st, 1836, Sam Houston’s 900 man army attacked the Mexican forces, and in 18 minutes they virtually annihilated their enemy. To evade capture, Santa Anna donned the uniform of an ordinary soldier and hid among the troops. Only when his own people began to point and say, “El Presidente” did he finally surrender.
Texas functioned as a Republic for nine years, proving it was a viable country and that it could survive on its own merits. President Sam Houston envisioned Texas joining the United States, a dream that was fulfilled in 1845. However, Texas and Mexico were still in conflict about the boundaries between the two countries. While Mexico was hot and cold about the surrender terms of President Santa Anna, and the boundary proposed between Texas and Mexico, they eventually fully recognized the Rio Grande River as the formal border between the two countries during the Mexican American War of 1846.
So, you might ask, how did these events change the course of my life? When Texas was a republic, it claimed an area that encompassed most of present day New Mexico, and large portions of Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming, almost reaching Canada. When Texas joined the Union in 1845, that land mass transferred to the United States. As a result of the Mexican American War (1846-1848), Mexico, via the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and the rest of New Mexico, Colorado, and more of Wyoming to the United States.
It is distinctly possible that had Texas never declared independence from Mexico, and never joined the United States, the world as we know it would be far different. Can you envision a world where Mexico owned all the territory from Louisiana to the west? Can you imagine a world where the California Gold Rush would have occurred on Mexican soil? Our lives would be completely different had the colonist of Texas not chosen to fight the oppression that was being pressed upon them by the corrupt Mexican government.
The United States is now standing on the precipice of socialism, and very nearly communism. The pundits and media elites are continually professing the virtues of our rapidly evolving government, praising the increasing power of the federal government. The power grab in Washington, DC is proving to be alarming, and is a distinct threat to the American way of life. We are now facing a government that is radically altering our culture and our laws, many of which are unconstitutional. What we are now facing is not dissimilar to what the Texas colonists faced in the 1800s.
The colonists of 1836 Texas recognized the injustice pressed upon them by Mexico and the instabilities produced by a President who had the temerity to suspend the existing government. Despite the odds against them, the Texans gave us a model to follow of standing up for what’s right, even if the world is standing against us.
Let us long remember the example of those who have gone before us, those who have given us an example of courage and duty.