The Mexican War of Independence and the Republic of Texas
In 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costillo and his followers seized the prison at Dolores, Mexico, beginning Mexico’s 11-year struggle with Spain for its independence. In the north, Tejanos found themselves struggling on two fronts. On the one hand, many favored throwing off the yoke of Spain and its peninsular representatives; on the other, they were plagued with anxieties regarding the U.S. encroachment. With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the United States acquired the continent’s Midwest, as well as Louisiana. Since the purchase based its land estimates on LaSalle’s initial explorations, northern and eastern Texas were included in the negotiations. With their territory threatened, Spain retaliated by sending more troops to Texas to protect the borders. The increase in troops coincided with the escalating tensions between the crown and Mexico. Tejanos found themselves precariously positioned between two great powers.
After Hidalgo’s proclamation, many Tejanos assumed a wait and see position, but others took decisive action and established an army devoted to Mexican independence. Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, appointed Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, sensed an opportunity to help the republican forces. He declared Texas free from Spain and issued a call to arms in East Texas. There he
recruited an army of Tejanos and U.S. citizens. Aided by Augustus McGee, a U.S. Army lieutenant, de Lara and his 130 men marched west. The forces seized La Bahia, south of Bexar, in 1812. After a decisive battle at Salado Creek in March of 1813, royalist forces surrendered to the Republican Army of the North.
The victory proved to be short-lived. Internal squabbling between Tejano and U.S. soldiers, as well as dissatisfaction with leadership, allowed the royalist forces to retake Bexar and La Bahia within five months. Although Lara’s achievement was temporary, it constituted the only well-orchestrated uprising against Spain’s forces during Mexico’s eleven-year struggle for liberty. For the next eight years, Texas would remain under royalist rule until Mexico’s independence under Augustin Iturbide in 1821.
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The intervening years found royalist rule less than benevolent. Authorities quickly punished those involved in Lara’s insurrection, pardoning only those deemed as nonthreatening and willing to make peace with royalist rule. Leaders continued efforts at curtailing Tejano illegal trade with the United States and France. In Bexar, the ayuntamiento (town council) had its powers reined in, and the representative numbers were severely reduced. Even Bexar’s elite families were subject to ridicule, their governmental influence diminished. Despite royalist antagonisms, Tejanos remained cautious a pragmatic decision based on the realization that they would have no control over their loca
After Mexico gained independence in 1821, the relationship between Mexico and Texas was an uneasy one. Part of this can be attributed to Mexico’s political instability as a new country, but much of it had to do with the differing political, economic, and social agendas between the two regions. Despite prohibitions by the royalist government before independence, Tejanos had maintained extralegal trade with the United States that they continued after independence. This was frowned upon by the Mexican government, which chose to perpetuate a colonial vision of Texas as a defensive frontier against foreign incursion. Culturally, Mexicans viewed Tejanos as different from mexicanos, owing to their dress, customs, and dialect. All of these were equated more with the United States than with Mexico. Tejanos, for their part, viewed the Mexican government as unresponsive to their needs, just as Spain had been before them.
After the Iturbide government’s fall in 1823, Mexico’s 1824 Constitution proclaimed the creation of a representative government and declared the state religion to be Roman Catholicism. Under the now geographically restructured Mexico, Texas was joined with Coalhuila as a single state, according to a rationale based on Texas’s sparse population. (Even during the colonial period, population estimates numbered only 4,000.) Independent-minded Tejanos immediately disliked this idea, especially when the regional governor’s office was
moved out of Texas. Only after great political pressure did Mexico acquiesce to give the Tejanos subgovernors.
Tensions escalated between Texas and Mexico as Tejanos made decisions enhancing the economic ties between Texas and the United States. Tejanos turned a blind eye to the Anglo-American establishment of the illegal trading port of Galveston. Further, to attract U.S. settlers, Tejanos had legislation passed in Saltillo, the Colonization Law for the State of Coahuila and Texas (1824), designed to attract U.S. cotton planters to Texas. The legislation allowed the migration of non-Catholics and possible marriage between foreigners and Tejanos the latter made attractive by the lure of one quarter league of land as a dowry. Slavery was accommodated under the euphemism of indentured servitude, despite the fact that slavery had been outlawed in Mexico for many years.
Although the situation created by the Tejanos was anathema to the Mexican central government, even their own political actions sometimes undermined their best interests. In 1821, U.S. citizen Moses Austin received permission from the Spanish government to establish an Anglo-American colony in the Brazos River region. Two years later, his son, Stephen F. Austin, formalized the agreement with the newly established Mexican government.
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