My writing interests are general, with expertise in science, history, biographies, and “how-to” topics. I have written over seventy books.
Texas in the Early Years
The Spanish had controlled Mexico since the days of the sixteenth-century Spanish Conquistadors. On the northern frontier of Mexico was Texas. This vast territory held few inhabitants and it wasn’t until the early 1700s that several missions and a presidio were established to maintain a buffer between Spanish territory and the French colonial Louisiana district of New France. The few Mexicans, known as Tejanos, who lived in Texas were mainly in the eastern part of the state near San Antonio. This northern province of Mexico, which was a great distance from the capitol city of Mexico City, had little government representation.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico opened its northern region to empresarios, men who agreed to bring 200 or more families to settle this open territory. One of these early empresarios was the bankrupt Moses Austin from Missouri, who was granted a large tract of land in Texas. Moses promised to persuade Anglo-American settlers from the United States to move to Texas. As part of the deal for virtually free land, the Mexican government required that the American settlers convert to Catholicism, learn the Spanish language, and become Mexican citizens–few complied. The Mexican government wanted settlers in the region to act as a buffer to keep marauding bands of Indians from transgressing into the southern provinces.
Moses Austin had a long history of working with the Spanish government, having helped settle parts of Spanish Missouri with the cooperation of the Spanish authorities. Austin promised to settle 300 American families on 18,000 square miles of land he was granted. Before Austin’s plans could materialize, however, his health began to fail. Before his death in 1821, he made his son Stephen promise to carry out the Texas venture. Stephen Austin was a very good land promoter and by 1835 there were around 30,000 mostly white Americans along with several thousand black slaves on the large plot of land allocated to Austin. The land in eastern and central Texas was well suited to raising cotton and grazing cattle.
The Texas Revolution Begins
The influx of mainly English-speaking Protestants raised alarms with the Mexican authorities, who realized they would have little loyalty to the Catholic Spanish-speaking body of the country. By 1830 Mexico terminated any further migration of Americans into Texas; however, this didn’t stop immigrants from coming into the region.
By 1835 the American population of Texas was around 30,000, which was ten times the Mexican population in the region. Further tension arose between the Mexican government and the Anglo-American settlers over slavery, which the Mexican government had abolished.
In 1832 and 1833 the Americans in the region organized conventions to demand a state of their own. Internal political turmoil in Mexico had grown acute when the Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna seized power and dissolved the national congress in 1834, making himself a dictator. The white Americans in Texas feared that Santa Anna intended to free “our slaves and to make slaves of us.” In November, delegates gathered from Texas towns and drafted a Declaration of Causes to explain their rebellion against the Mexican government.
On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Santa Anna reacted harshly to the call for an independent state and ordered all Americans expelled, all Texans to disarm, and rebels to be arrested. As fighting erupted between the Mexican soldiers trying to contain the rebels and the Texans, Americans from the southern states rushed to Texas to join their cause of revolution against Mexico.
Battle at the Alamo
The high stone walls that surrounded a large courtyard and several sturdy buildings made the hundred-year-old Spanish mission, called the Alamo, a logical choice for a military headquarters for the Texas rebels. Santa Anna gathered a large army and was intent on taking the Alamo from the Texans. When news of the impending attack reached General Sam Houston, he ordered the Alamo abandoned and destroyed. Rather than abandon the Alamo, a small band of Texans decided to stay and defend it.
In charge of the defenders were Colonels William Travis and Jim Bowie. The hot-blooded 26-year-old Mississippi lawyer Travis would take full command of the force once Bowie became very ill and was unable to fight. The most well-known defender of the Alamo was Davy Crockett, who had just arrived from Tennessee. Crockett, known for his braggadocios stories, told his men, “Pierce the heart of the enemy as you would a feller that spit in your face, knocked down your wife, burnt up your houses, and called your dog a skunk! Cram his pesky carcass full of thunder and lightning like a stuffed sausage…and bite his nose off into the bargain.”
Santa Anna’s army entered San Antonio on February 23, 1836, and demanded the immediate surrender of the Alamo. Travis answered simply with a cannon shot. The Mexicans responded by hoisting a red flag which signified “no quarter,” meaning this would be a fight to the death.
Travis realized his small band of men was no match for the much larger Mexican force and dispatched couriers seeking reinforcements. The response to Travis’s plea for help only added 32 men, which brought the defenders force to 184 (some say 189). Santa Anna’s force grew as Mexican troops continued to arrive, bringing his army to an estimated 6,000 troops. After several days of fighting, the Mexicans were unable to breach the high stone walls of the mission; Travis knew the cause would eventually be lost.
After nearly two weeks of fighting, the final battle came during the early morning hours of Sunday, March 6. In near-freezing conditions, Santa Anna’s men carried tall ladders up to the walls of the mission, attacking from all four sides. Although the Mexicans suffered a tremendous loss of life, they continued to scale the walls until they were able to overrun the north wall of the mission.
Once the Mexican troops were inside the walls, the siege broke down to hand-to-hand combat in the courtyard and buildings of the mission. At the end, 183 of the defenders were dead with only 15 noncombatants spared, which included the women, children, and servants. Santa Anna ordered the captured Americans put to death and their bodies piled and burnt. Though the battle was lost, the Texans had managed to kill 1,500 of the attackers. “Remember the Alamo” became the war cry of the Texans as they sought revenge against Santa Anna.
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"We view ourselves on the eve of battle. We are nerved for the contest, and must conquer or perish. It is vain to look for present aid: none is at hand. We must now act or abandon all hope! Rally to the standard, and be no longer the scoff of mercenary tongues! Be men, be free men, that your children may bless their father's name."
— Sam Houston before the Battle of San Jacinto
Few Texans Survived the Battle of the Alamo
One of the few survivors of the attack on the Alamo was an eight-year-old boy named Enrique Esparza. Enrique recalled the frightening last day of the siege some sixty years later in a newspaper article. He, along with his mother and siblings, was trapped in their quarters. As he told the story: “We could hear the Mexican officers shouting to the men to jump over and the men were fighting so close that we could hear them strike each other. It was so dark that we couldn’t see anything and the families that were in the quarters just huddled up in the corners. My mother’s children were near her. Finally, they began shooting through the dark into the room where we were. A boy who was wrapped in a blanket in one corner was hit and killed. The Mexicans fired into the room for at least fifteen minutes. It was a miracle, but no one of us children were touched.”
To further inflame the tensions between the Texans and Mexicans, at a battle near Goliad, Texas, the Texans suffered a loss greater than the defeat at the Alamo. Just three weeks after the disaster at the Alamo, over 400 volunteers under Colonel James Fannin were captured and, with orders from Santa Anna, were executed.
Birth of the Republic of Texas
While the battle at the Alamo raged, delegates from all fifty-nine towns in Texas met at the village Washington-on-the-Brazos to sign a declaration of independence. Additionally, out of the meeting came a draft constitution for the Republic of Texas. Sam Houston, a Tennessean who had served under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, was named the commander-in-chief of the Texas army. Once news of the defeat at the Alamo reached Houston, he marched his troops eastward, gathering new troops along the way.
The next month a force of Texans led by Sam Houston exacted their revenge on Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. The Texans surprised a Mexican encampment, yelling “Remember the Alamo,” as they charged. The panic-stricken Mexican troops fled or were killed, allowing Santa Anna to be captured. Before Santa Anna was released to return to Mexico City, he was forced to sign a treaty recognizing Texas as an independent republic with the Rio Grande River as its border with Mexico.
Growing Pains for the Republic of Texas
The victorious Sam Houston was elected president of the new republic, named the “Lone Star Republic,” in September 1836. The newly founded Lone Star Republic’s constitution legalized slavery and banned free blacks. Houston faced a series of daunting tasks, rebuilding the war-torn country, securing the borders against invasion from hostile Indians or re-invasion from Mexico, establishing diplomatic relationships from other nations, and putting the fledgling economy on a firm foundation.
The new republic was recognized by the United States, Great Britain, and France; however, it was invaded by Mexico twice in 1842 and San Antonio was held for a brief time. To the east, the Texans sought to exterminate the Cherokee Indians, driving the survivors into what is now Oklahoma.
In 1838, Mirabeau B. Lamar replaced Houston as president. Under Lamar the national debt rose from $1 million to $7 million, and the currency depreciated rapidly. To centralize the government Lamar moved the capital to the new village, named Austin, on the far western frontier. Though the new capital had suffered from attacks by Indians and Mexicans and was hard to reach, it was part of Lamar’s grandiose vision for the Republic of Texas.
The Republic was involved in a venture called the Santa Fe Expedition, which was intended to open a trade route between Texas and New Mexico. The venture failed and nearly 300 Texans were captured and imprisoned by Mexican troops.
As the financial condition of the Republic grew critical, Sam Houston once again became the president. It was becoming very apparent to all Texans that annexation by the United States was their best choice for long term prosperity and security.
The Annexation of Texas and the Political Arena
While the Republic of Texas struggled to gain its place in the world, the Congress of the United States took issue with admitting another slave state into the Union. Sam Houston’s old friend, Andrew Jackson, was the president of the United States when Texas approached the U.S. government seeking statehood. Jackson was very much in favor of adding Texas to the Union, but there were many in Congress opposed to the idea.
During the election of 1836, Jackson’s handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren, was seeking to replace his mentor in the White House. The admission of a new slave state would upset the delicate balance between free and slave states in Congress. There was also the threat of war with Mexico looming; they had made it very clear that if Texas was admitted to the Union it would be provocation for war. President Van Buren kept the issue of annexation of Texas at a distance during his term in office as it was just too politically divisive.
The Texans grew restless with the lack of movement over annexation in Congress and began to talk of expanding their territory west to the Pacific Ocean. Texas set up trade relationships with Great Britain and France as well as diplomatic relationships. Meanwhile, the low land prices in Texas were attracting thousands of Americans to Texas. When the mass migration began in 1836, the population of Texas was around 30,000 people. By 1845 it had nearly quadrupled. And with many of these new settlers came the hope that their new republic would one day join the Union.
John C. Calhoun, secretary of state under President John Tyler, began secret negotiations with Texas in the spring of 1843. Calhoun was a Democrat and a pro-slavery supporter who represented the interests of the slave holding states. With President Tyler’s blessing, Calhoun sent an annexation treaty to the Senate for ratification. Once the news of the possible annexation of Texas became public knowledge, the northern anti-slavery faction, which included many Whig Party members, came out in opposition to the annexation on the grounds that it would be a large new slave state. With the Whig opposition to the slavery issue and the fear of war with Mexico, the annexation treaty was soundly defeated in the Senate.
The Election of the Expansionist President James K. Polk in 1844
The annexation of Texas and dispute over the Oregon Territory’s boundary with Great Britain were major issues during the presidential election of 1844. The ideal of Manifest Destiny was so strong among the northwestern and southern Democrats that the party nominated the expansionist James K. Polk of Tennessee for president. Polk ran on a platform calling for the “re-annexation of Texas.” The veteran politician Henry Clay received the Whig Party nomination. Clay’s pro-slavery stance cost him valuable votes in the state of New York, which was enough to swing the state’s electoral votes to Polk, thus giving him the presidency.
The Founding of Texas Pt 1 of 2
Texas Becomes the 28th State
The annexation of Texas was already underway when Polk entered the White House. The outgoing president, John Tyler, took Polk’s election as a mandate for the annexation of Texas. Tyler, a skilled politician, asked Congress to accomplish annexation by a joint resolution, which only required a simple majority in each house, rather than admitting Texas through ratification of a treaty in the Senate, which would require a two-thirds vote for approval.
The joint bill passed in both houses of Congress and Texas entered the Union on December 29, 1845. Mexico was furious with the annexation and sent troops to the Rio Grande border.
The annexation bill that brought Texas into the Union only made a loose description of the boundary between Texas and Mexico. Texas claimed the Rio Grande River as the border, which was agreed upon between Santa Anna and the Republic of Texas after the battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Mexico maintained the boundary was the Nueces River, some 100 miles northeast of the Rio Grande, and did not recognize the Republic of Texas as a sovereign nation. To resolve the issue, President Polk sent a secret representative, John Slidell, to Mexico to negotiate the purchase of land. Slidell was authorized to pay up to $50 million in payment for land west of Texas and to settle the Mexico-American border as the Rio Grande.
Slidell was not received by the Mexican president and returned to Washington empty handed. President Polk was incensed with the Mexicans’ refusal to negotiate and ordered General Zachary Taylor and 3,500 troops to guard the southern border of Texas at the Rio Grande. The Mexican government viewed the presence of America troops in the disputed territory as an act war, and thus began the Mexican-American war.
- Boyer, Paul S. (Editor in Chief). The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press. 2001.
- Eisenhower, John S.D. So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico 1846-1848. University of Oklahoma Press. 2000.
- Kutler, Stanley I. (Editor in Chief). Dictionary of American History. Third Edition. Thomson Gale. 2003.
- Tindall, George Brown and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. Seventh Edition. W.W. Norton & Company. 2007.
- West, Doug. James K. Polk: A Short Biography: Eleventh President of the United States. Missouri: C&D Publications, 2019.
- Wood, Ethel. AP United States History: An Essential Coursebook. 2nd Edition. WoodYard Publications. 2014.
© 2019 Doug West
Doug West (author) from Missouri on December 06, 2019:
Thanks for the comment. The road to Texas becoming a state was rather long and complicated. There were many "back room" deals and maneuvers over two decades to bring Texas into the Union and when it did happen it started a war.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on December 06, 2019:
Superb, Doug. I really liked this article. I learned a lot about the turmoil to make Texas a state in your work. I knew much of it, but some of it was interesting. For instance, I never quite understood all of the details which led to the Mexican-American War. Great article. Always skillfully done from your hands, my friend.