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"A Glimpse of Texas Past"

The Rising Tide
of Revolution

by Jeffery Robenalt
Jeffery Robenalt
Mexico’s independence from Spain and the Mexican Constitution of 1824 brought a new wave of American immigration to Texas. Not only did the new settlers have to cope with the usual hardships of beginning life in a new land, like building homes and planting crops, but they also had to adjust to living in a country with a set of customs and laws that were alien to their own.

Some colonists did their best to accept the conditions of settlement established by the original Spanish government and the more recent Mexican government, but many refused to make sincere efforts to become loyal citizens of Mexico. Instead, they kept their own religions, established their own schools, and even started their own newspapers. Mexican officials began to worry that the colonists from the United States were becoming too independent.

Constitution Of 1824

Constitution Of 1824
Wikimedia Commons

Tensions also began to arise within Mexico itself over the balance of power between the state and national governments. Like the United States, Mexico was organized into states, and the Constitution of 1824 was based on the concept of states’ rights, where the majority of power resided with the states. Prior to the Constitution, the central government in Mexico City had held most of the power, and many Mexican leaders felt that it should remain there. These Mexican nationalists feared that too many American settlers were moving to Texas, and that the combination of a growing population from the United States and a strong government in the state of Coahuila y Tejas, might encourage the colonists to seize the province of Texas and join the United States.

In 1825, problems arose in Texas over conflicting land claims when Empresario Haden Edwards received a grant of land near Nacogdoches. When the land was surveyed, Edwards found that many people were already living in the area, including Cherokees and descendents of Mexicans who had settled there many years before. All empresarios were required to honor existing land grants, but unfortunately for Edwards, his was the only grant that had an appreciable number of existing settlers.

Edwards posted notices that people would lose their land unless they came forward with proof of legal ownership. Most of the settlers had no such proof. Instead, they complained to Mexican officials in Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila y Tejas, and Governor Blanco sided with them. Haden Edwards’ brother, Benjamin, wrote angry letters to protest the decision.

Edwards’ problems escalated when he overturned the results of an election for the alcalde of Nacogdoches. Most long-time settlers voted for local resident, Samuel Norris, but Edwards handed the election to his son-in-law. In response, a now angry Governor Blanco reversed the election, cancelled Edwards’ land grant, and issued an order for Haden and Benjamin to leave Texas.

The Edwards brothers refused the order and signed an alliance with the Cherokees. Forming the Republic of Fredonia, they declared independence on December 16, 1826. Mexican authorities immediately dispatched soldiers to suppress the rebellion. Stephen F. Austin, worried that that the actions of the Edwards brothers would reflect poorly on all Texas colonists, joined his militia with the Mexican troops. The conflict ended peacefully in January 1827, when Haden and Benjamin Edwards fled Texas before the combined force reached Nacogdoches.

Statue of S.F. Austin Elizabet Ney at State Capitol in Austin Texas
Statue of Stephen .F. Austin by Elizabet Ney at the State Capitol in Austin
TE photo

Joel Poinsett

Joel Poinsett
Wikimedia Commons

Though the Fredonian Rebellion was quickly stamped out, Mexican nationalists remained concerned that the increasing number of American settlers pouring into Texas would lead to an attempted takeover by the United States. This concern was fueled when President John Quincy Adams sent Joel R. Poinsett to Mexico City with an ill-fated and unsuccessful offer to purchase Texas. Mexican officials, even those in favor of states’ rights, were offended by the American belief that Mexico would be willing to sell part of its territory.

As a result, in 1828, authorities sent General Mier y Teran to investigate conditions in Texas. The General spent nearly a year touring the province and filed a written report upon his return. In his report, Teran expressed concern over the growing influence of the United States in Texas affairs, stating that Anglo-American colonists now outnumbered Mexican settlers by a ratio of 10 to 1. He further stated that many of the Anglos ignored Mexican laws, especially the laws regulating trade with the United States, and he made it clear that he felt Mexico must regain control of Texas before it was too late. “I am warning you to take timely measures,” he reported. “Texas could throw the whole nation into rebellion.”

Manuel Miery Teran

Manuel Mier y Teran
Wikimedia Commons

Citing Teran’s report, nationalist officials persuaded President Vicente Guerrero to abolish slavery in Mexico. Since Anglos owned the majority of the slaves, it was hoped that this measure would tend to slow the flood of American immigration. However, the nationalists realized that simply abolishing slavery would not be enough to gain control of the situation.

Next they enacted the Law of April 6, 1830. The law banned all immigration from the United States, while encouraging Mexican and European immigrants by offering them free land and money for their passage. All empresarial grants not yet fulfilled were also canceled. Other provisions banned the importation of slaves, established new presidios manned in part by convict soldiers recently dredged from Mexico’s prisons, and placed customs duties on all goods entering Texas from the United States. In spite of their intent, these provisions only served to anger the Anglo colonists, and they felt ill-treated by the Mexican government.

The Law of April 6, 1830, also raised serious political questions within Mexico between the centralists who favored a strong national government and those who favored the states’ rights approach. Mexicans who believed in states’ rights felt that the central government had gone too far. Under the Mexican Constitution of 1824, the provisions of the new law should have been enforced by each separate state in its own way, not by the national government. This approach would have allowed the state of Coahuila y Tejas to administer the law in a more evenhanded manner, thus giving the Texas colonists more of a voice in their own affairs. Therefore, instead of resolving the growing crisis, the 1830 law actually caused the level of tension to increase.

Oleo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Wikimedia Commons

Anastasio Bustamante

President Anastasio Bustamante
Wikimedia Commons

Politician and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took advantage of the unstable environment within the Mexican government to pose as a proponent of states’ rights and launch a revolution against centralist President Anastasio Bustamante. During the revolutionary upheaval in Mexico, disturbances were also occurring in Texas, and General Santa Anna sent Colonel Jose Mexia to conduct an investigation. While he was in Texas, Stephen F. Austin met with Mexia and convinced the Colonel that the Texans supported Santa Anna’s efforts to preserve the Constitution of 1824. Unfortunately, the Texans would soon find out that Santa Anna was, in fact, a centralist who desired to become dictator of all Mexico.

George Fisher

George Fisher
Wikimedia Commons

Two foreign-born Mexican officials, George Fisher and Colonel John Davis Bradburn, also caused serious unrest among the Texas colonists. Fisher was appointed to collect customs duties and put a stop to the smuggling that was so common in Texas. He required that all ship captains had to receive clearance papers issued from the customs house at Anahuac on Galveston Bay, no matter which port of entry they used. This meant that many captains had to sail past their intended port, or make a long overland journey to secure the proper papers. Although most ship captains simply ignored the order, they still perceived Fisher’s actions as unnecessary harassment.

Until 1830, the enforcement of many Mexican laws in Texas had been overlooked by the government in order to promote the growth of settlement. Now Colonel Bradburn was given the unenviable task of enforcing all Mexican laws, including the provisions of the new April 6 law. His haughty manner and strict enforcement methods angered many settlers.

Bradburn even arrested Francisco Madero, a land commissioner sent by the government of Coahuila y Tejas to issue land titles to settlers living in Texas. This was a foolish mistake because the April 6 law only prohibited granting titles to new settlers coming in from the United States, not long-time residents of the province. Bradburn also forced settlers to provide free materials and labor for the construction of a new fort at Anahuac and used the colonists’ slaves for public works programs.

William Barrett Travis

William Barrett Travis
Wikimedia Commons

In May 1832, William Logan came to Anahuac from the United States seeking two runaway slaves, but Bradburn refused to release them without proof of ownership. Logan hired Attorney William Barrett Travis to represent him and returned to Louisiana for the necessary papers. After Logan’s departure, Travis attempted to trick Bradburn into releasing the slaves and was thrown into jail along with his law partner Patrick Jack, when Jack protested Travis’s arrest. More than 150 settlers gathered and demanded that Bradburn release the prisoners. He agreed, but only if the Texans would disperse. The settlers pulled back to Turtle Bayou, but Bradburn still refused to release Travis and Jack.

The settlers then sent John Austin to Brazoria to bring back a cannon. While they awaited his return, the colonists drafted a statement known as the Turtle Bayou resolutions. In the resolutions the colonists pledged their loyalty to Mexico and stated their support for Santa Anna, who they thought was in favor of the Constitution of 1824. Before Austin returned to Turtle Bayou with the cannon, Colonel Piedras, the commander of the Mexican troops at Nacogdoches, arrived in Anahuac. After a brief investigation, he released Travis and Jack and dismissed Bradburn from his command. Unfortunately, Colonel Piedras’s actions came too late to prevent bloodshed.

Austin and his men had already loaded the cannon onto a small ship at Brazoria and sailed down the Brazos River to Velasco. Not knowing that Travis and Jack had been released, the colonists demanded passage, but Colonel Ugartechea the Mexican Commander, refused. Fighting broke out, and for the first time Texans and Mexican soldiers shot at each other. The Mexicans soon ran out of ammunition and were forced to surrender, but ten Texans and five Mexicans were killed at the Battle of Velasco. Colonel Ugartechea and the remainder of the Mexican soldiers were ordered to return to Mexico. The Texans continued on to Anahuac where they learned that the crisis had already been resolved.

In October 1832, 56 delegates met in San Felipe to draft a set of resolutions. After electing Stephen F. Austin president of the convention and pledging support for the Mexican Constitution of 1824, the delegates asked for the repeal of the Law of April 6, 1830. In addition, they requested better protection from the Native Americans and the creation of a public school system. Finally, the delegates asked that the state of Coahuila y Tejas be divided, so that Texas would have its own government.

After the convention, Stephen F. Austin went to San Antonio, but the right to petition the government was not guaranteed under the Mexican system, and officials refused to send the resolutions to Mexico City. While Austin was in San Antonio, another convention was called on April 1, 1833, and William Wharton was elected to lead the meeting. The delegates adopted much the same resolutions as the earlier convention, but this time they also drafted a constitution for the new Mexican state of Texas.

Drafting a constitution was a serious step toward independence, and even some of the Mexicans who sympathized with the Texas cause felt that the action was in direct defiance of the government. This time Stephen F. Austin personally traveled to Mexico City to deliver the Texans’ resolutions. The trip took nearly three months, and when Austin reached the capital in July 1833, he found the city in turmoil after a successful revolution by Santa Anna and a widespread cholera epidemic.

Valentín Gómez Farías

Valentín Gómez Farías
Wikimedia Commons

Since Santa Anna was temporarily out of the capital successfully concluding his revolution, Austin presented the resolutions to Vice President Valentin Gomez Farias, who was in charge during Santa Anna’s absence. However, Farias was unwilling to accept responsibility for dealing with such an important issue, and he was slow to address the Texans’ problems. After several weeks, Austin grew impatient, and in October he wrote a letter to the Texas delegates, suggesting that they go forward and establish a new state government that would make Texas separate from Coahuila, but still remain loyal to Mexico.

The following month, Austin met with Santa Anna, who unexpectedly agreed to most of the Convention’s resolutions, although he rejected the request for separate Texas statehood. Austin left Mexico City on December 10, bound for home, but he was arrested when he reached Saltillo. Mexican agents had intercepted the letter he wrote to the Texas delegates, and Farias felt that it challenged the authority of the Mexican government. Accused of treason, he was either imprisoned or held under house arrest for much of the following two years.

Texas remained calm during Stephen F. Austin’s long confinement, though tensions between the Mexican Government and the Anglo-American settlers remained high. Then just before Austin’s release in the summer of 1835, new events fanned the flames of unrest. Finally showing his true colors, General Santa Anna dismissed the Mexican congress and had a new constitution written that made him the virtual dictator of Mexico. His first act was to send his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos, north with sufficient troops and orders to deal harshly with any sign of rebellion. The stage for total revolution was now set. All that was lacking was the spark to ignite the powder keg.

© Jeffery Robenalt, November 1, 2011 Column

More "A Glimpse of Texas Past"

References (The Rising Tide of Revolution)

  • Barker, Eugene Campbell (1985), The Life of Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Texas, 1793-1836, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-78421-x originally published 1926 by Lamar & Burton
  • Cantrell, Greg (1999), Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-1-0-7884-1657-6
  • Davis, William C. (2006), Lone Star Rising, College Station, TX: Texas A7M University Press, ISBN 9781585445325 originally published 2004 by New York: Free Press
  • Edmondson, J. R. (2000), The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 1-55622-678-0
  • Ericson, Joe E. (2000), The Nacogdoches Story: an informal history, Heritage Books, ISBN 978-0-7884- 1657-6
  • Fehrenbach, T. R. (1968), Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, Macmillan, ISBN 0-20- 032170-8
  • Fowler, Will (2009), Santa Anna of Mexico, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 9789803226388
  • Henderson, timothy J. (2007), A glorious defeat: Mexico and its war with the United States, Macmillan, ISBN 9780809061204
  • Henson, Margaret Swett (1982), Juan Davis Bradburn: A Reappraisal of the Mexican Commander of Anahuac, College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 9780890961353
  • Morton, Ohland (July 1943), "Life of General Don Manuel de Mier y Teran," Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Texas State Historical Association) 47 (1), retrieved 2009-01-29
  • Rowe, Edna (April 1903), "The Disturbances at Anahuac in 1832," Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Texas State Historical Association) 6 (4): 265-299
  • Weber, David J. (1982), The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico, University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 9780826306036

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