1835-45: Development of a “Culture of War” (Anderson)

In retrospect, rather than a fight for liberty, the 1835 Anglo-led revolution was a poorly conceived southern land grab that nearpy failed. Texans had an overwhelming desire to expand slavery (an institution that Mexico had outlawed) and to use slave labor to increase profits made from cotton production.

Many American politicians, particularly those from the North, recognized the conspiratorial nature of the revolt and initially kept Texas from joining the American union. Texas formed a republic in 1836 that remained separate from the United States for nine years. During that time, Texas constantly feuded with Mexico, creating a “culture of war,” or a persisting belief that violence against people was necessary for nation building.

Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), 5.

Spanglish creole legal culture: Slave Law and Marriage Law in Anglo-Hispanic Texas

In the close of his chapter on antebellum Texas law, Campbell notes that race and slave law “drew its inspiration and precedents from practices in the southern United States, not from Hispanic America” (114). That might not seem like much of a surprise in Anglo governed antebellum Texas. If Texas lawmakers were predominantly Anglo white Southerners, then why wouldn’t the laws they made follow Anglo-American Southern models? But it wasn’t always the case in antebellum Texas, in areas of the law other than slavery. Texas laws often drew on Spanish colonial and Mexican precedents. In antebellum Texas, for example, community property marriage laws discarded Anglo-American traditions of coverture in favor of an existing Spanish model. Range law for livestock drew from English common law precedents, but innovated to adapt to open-range conditions. Anglo Texans preserved Mexican homestead exemptions in debt laws and Spanish law on water rights. Revolutionizing slave law according to the model of the Deep South U.S. was not a foregone conclusion but a political choice within the context of a Spanglish creole legal culture.

(As I wrote in a note to HOP # 5: “Republic of Texas lawmakers tended to be very emphatic about remaking Texas law along Anglo-American lines when it came to, for example, slave law, but Texas courts tended to be very flexible towards incorporating Spanish and Mexican precedent in the law of marriage; see for example Smith v. Smith, 1 Tex. 621 (1846), in which the judge’s opinion rejects an appeal based on Anglo-American law regarding bigamy and incorporates the Spanish Las siete partidas marriage code as binding.”)

 

“an iron bridge which has been furnished by the Gachupines in Mexico for the purpose of crossing the Rivers of Texas” (Seguín)

{40}

From Juan Seguín
To President Sam Houston
Camp Vigilance, River San Antonio, March 9, 1837

By a private of this corps (a Mexican by birth to whom I had given permission to go to the other side of the Nueces to catch mesteñas [mustangs]) I have learned the following information– He states that in his perambulations he went within six leagues of Matamoras and there remained some days at the Ranch of a Relative of his who is a person known to me and considered friendly to our cause. He left there on the 2d of this month and on the day previous to his departure the relative above alluded to returned to that Ranch from Matamoras and stated to my informant that there were then in that place six thousand troops under the command of Genl. Bravo with sixty pieces of artillery and an immense train of baggage including an iron bridge which has been furnished by the Gachupines in Mexico for the purpose of crossing the Rivers of Texas–[…]

Juan N. Seguín, A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguín, edited by Jesús F. de la Teja (Austin, Texas: State House Press, 1991), 157.

“Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated…” (Scraps of Newspaper, Olmsted)

Contemplated Servile Rising in Texas.

The Galveston News publishes the following in relation to the late contemplated negro insurrection in Colorado county:

Columbus, Colorado Co., Sept. 9, 1856

The object of this communication is to state to you all the facts of any importance connected with a recent intended insurrection.

Our suspicions were aroused about two weeks ago, when a meeting of the citizens of the county was called, and a committee of investigation appointed to ferret out the whole matter, and lay the facts before the people of the county for their consideration. The committee entered upon their duties, and in a short time, they were in full possession of the facts of a well-organized and systematized plan for the murder of our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies, who were to be taken captives, and made the wives of the diabolical murderers of their parents and friends. The committee found in their possession a number of pistols, bowie-knives, guns, and ammunition. Their passwords of organization were adopted, and their motto, “Leave not a shadow behind.”

Last Saturday, the 6th inst., was the time agreed upon for the execution of their damning designs. At a late hour at night, all were to make one simultaneous, desperate effort, with from two to ten apportioned to nearly every house in the county, kill all the whites, save the above exception, plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a “free State” (Mexico).

[504] Notwithstanding the intense excitement which moved every member of our community, and the desperate measures to which men are liable to be led on by such impending danger to which we have been exposed by our indulgence and lenity to our slaves, we must say the people acted with more caution and deliberation than ever before characterized the action of any people under similar circumstances.

More than two hundred negroes had violated the law, the penalty of which is death. But, by unanimous consent, the law was withheld, and their lives spared, with the exception of three of the ringleaders, who were, on last Friday, the 5th inst., at 2 o’clock P.M., hung, in compliance with the unanimous voice of the citizens of the county.

Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death. There is one, however, by the name of Frank, who is proven to be one of the prime movers of the affair, that was not arrested; but we hope that he may yet be, and have meted out to him such reward as his black deed demands.

We are satisfied that the lower class of the Mexican population are incendiaries in any country where slaves are held, and should be dealt with accordingly. And for the benefit of the Mexican population, we would here state, that a resolution was passed by the unanimous voice of the county, forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county.

Peace, quiet, and good order are again restored, and, by the watchful care of our Vigilance Committee, a well-organized patrol, and good discipline among our planters, we are persuaded that there will never again occur the necessity of a communication of the character of this.

Yours respectfully,

John H. Robson,
H.A. Tatum,
J.H. Hicks.
} Cor. Com.

The Galveston News, of the 11th nst. has also the following paragraph:

“We learn, from the Columbian Planter, of the 9th, that two of the negroes engaged in the insurrection at Columbus were whipped to death; three more were hung last Friday, and the Mexicans who were implicated were ordered to leave the country. There was no proof against these last beyond surmises. The band had a deposit of arms and ammunition in the bottom. They had quite a number of guns, and a large lot of knives, manufactured by one of their number. It was their intention to fight their way to Mexico.”

[From the True Issue, Sept. 5]

We noticed last week the rumor that a large number of slaves, of Colorado county, had combined and armed themselves for the purpose of fighting their way into Mexico. Developments have since been made of a much more serious nature than our information then indicated. It is ascertained that a secret combination had been formed, embracing most of the negroes of the county, for the purpose of not fleeing to Mexico, but of murdering the inhabitants–men, women, and children promiscuously. To carry out their hellish purposes, they had organized into companies of various sizes, had adopted secret signs and passwords, sworn never to divulge the plot under the penalty of death, and had elected captains and subordinate officers to command the respective companies. They had provided themselves with some fire-arms and home-made bowie-knives, and had appointed the time for a simultaneous movement. Some two hundred, we learn, have been severely punished under the lash, and several are now in jail awaiting the more serious punishment of death, which is to be inflicted to-day. One of the principal instigators of the movement is a free negro, or one who had been permitted to control his own time as a free man.

Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (New York: Dix, Edwards & Co, 1857), 503-504.

 

“Shall We Have Mexico!” (New York Times, December 26, 1860)

416. Shall We Have Mexico!

(New-York Times [Lincoln], December 26, 1860)

In view of the threatened dissolution of the Union, and the consequent derangement of commercial and business enterprises, we are gratified to learn from Washington that leading members of the Republican Party are already beginning to look forward to the acquisition or annexation of Mexico, as a ready means of at once indemnifying the North for the partial loss of Southern trade, and of marring the schemes of Slavery propagandism, which is one great incentive to disunion. This policy has been heretofore hinted at by the Press, but was formally foreshadowed in the recent speech of Mr. Wade in the Senate. We happen to know that this idea of acquiring Mexico, first under the forms of a protectorate, but eventually as a component part of the Confederacy, is no merely casual suggestion of an individual senator; but that it has been seriously and favorably considered by leading minds, which will exercise an important influence upon the incoming Administration.

There are many obstacles to the adoption of the policy of a protectorate over Mexico, which the dissolution of the Union would remove. Deeply as we should deplore the disruption of the Confederacy, as it now exists, it is a consolation to know that that sad event would remove the last obstruction to the consummation of the obvious policy of the American Republic. The whole question of Slavery will then be out of the way, and the Mexican people can receive a guaranty of a stable government at our hands, without incurring the risk of being overrun by Slavery. Ignorant and degraded as they are, the Mexicans cherish a wholesome prejudice against an institution which would reduce them to the level of slaves. It is on this account that a strong repugnance exists among the masses to the Southern portion of this Union. But they would regard the people of the free North as benefactors and deliverers from anarchy and revolution, as well as from invasion by a Slaveholding Confederacy. All classes and parties in that distracted country–or at any rate, the Liberal Party, which constitutes the great majority, would [958] fly to the free Northern Confederacy, for deliverance from the intolerable ills of the present, and the hateful subjugation of the Southern fillibusters [sic].

A protectorate would be the initiatory measure, accompanied with free trade, and a right of Colonization. But it is evident that the effect of this intimate intercourse with the free people of the North, accompanied by an infusion of a large element of Northern freemen, would be to Americanize Mexico in its ideas of Government and civil freedom; so that after a few years of pupilage the Mexican States would be incorporated into the Union on equal terms with the original States. The South would thus be surrounded by States and Territories in which the idea of civil liberty in its widest application will become the great bond of Union.

Mexico is about the size of the Slave States of this Union, and not a great way behind them in population. The trade of that most misgoverned country is even now valuable to the commercial nations of the world, and especially to England. We last year gave some interesting statistics on this subject, which demonstrate that the American Government has been singularly blind to the importance of cultivating more intimate relations with Mexico. But this trade, under the reign of anarchy which has lasted for forty years past, is as nothing when compared with what it may become when Anglo-Saxon energy, intelligence and freedom, shall have brought order out of chaos, and have converted the Guerilla bands–which now make war upon society because they have no protection in their homes–into industrious laborers.

When Mexico belonged to Spain, it was for three centuries an invaluable dependency, from which she derived fabulous wealth. The Mexican silver and gold mines for ages yielded millions to the hand of industry, while the manufactures and commerce of Spain reaped a perennial harvest in the markets of her transatlantic possession. It is useless to say that the resources of Mexico remain unexhausted. Her mines have ceased to turn out untold millions, because the hand of industry has been paralyzed by anarchy; and her soil has refused to yield rich harvests from the same cause. Under American auspices there can be no doubt that new life can be infused into Mexican industry–that treasures will again stream forth from her mines in greater profusion than ever; and that a commercial intercourse will spring up not inferior to that which we may lose by the secession of the Southern States. To doubt it, would be to doubt that the energies of American freedom are superior to those of Spanish despotism.

The secession of the Southern States would still leave the Federal [959] Government intact. It would retain every feature of its organization, and every resource for its preservation. The Army and Navy would remain in possession of the Government, and might be increased to any needful extent. There can, therefore, be no impediment to the consummation of this policy. No force which the seceding States could raise would interpose a serious obstacle. Without organization, without government, without money, without arms, without ships, without sailors, and at best, immeasurably the weaker party, the Slave States could do nothing to resist the Northern protectorate over Mexico. England and France, and all commercial nations owuld thank us for the service we should do the cause of civilization and commerce, and the Mexicans themselves will open their arms to receive us.

Here, then, is a policy which must enlist the ardent support of every Northern man, and especially those engaged in manufactures and commerce. It opens up a limitless field of enterprise, and cannot fail to restore any temporary loss we may sustain by the disruption of the Union. Should that dreaded event happen, it would undoubtedly damage and injure the commerce and trade of the North; but we have already shown that, whether in the Union or out of it, the South cannot dispense with Northern manufactures, Northern ships, Northern sailors and ship-builders, and Northern capital; and when we consider the facilities and inducements which Southern secession will give to the acquisition of Mexico by the North, we may console ourselves with the reflection that, much as disunion is to be deprecated on grounds of patriotism and national honor, it would not essentially and permanently injure the commercial and industrial prosperity of the North.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Vol. II (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 957-959.

Mexican plans for Texas revolution in 1835 and the Amphictyonic Council (Henson)

1835 Sep-Nov: Mexican federalists and Amphictyonic Council attempt to create a separate northern federation

While the Texans made plans to resist General Cós, Zavala’s federalist friends in New Orleans met on September 3 and 4 to plan the defeat of Santa Anna. Former Vice President Gómez Farías and his family had arrived in the Crescent City on August 29, four days after Austin left for Texas. Mexía and the others welcomed him and organized a meeting of the Amphictyonic Council for September 3. The name came from ancient Greece: amphictyons (deputies) represented their neighborhoods at meetings of a league of states at Delphi or Thermopylae. The New Orleans group included both Mexican federalists and Anglo Americans who were united by commercial interests and freemasonry. Mexía outlined a plan to attack Tampico and rally federalists to attack Santa Anna. He already had tentative financial backing from some Louisiana capitalists, provided he could guarantee the sale of Texas to the Louisiana interests. Texas would be made an independent state, temporarily under the guidance of the United States, until “a new republic of the South” could be organized that included the north Mexican states.”

[90] Gómez Farías thought the plan impractical and did not like the idea of severing Texas even temporarily, saying that the Mexican people would not understand. He recommended that Mexía’s proposed invasion be postponed. But the supporters of the scheme argued the invasion was in the interest of all lbierals, which brought Gómez Farías reluctantly into the fold.

The meeting on September 4 debated the issues of bringing “true liberty” to the United States of Mexico. A two-thirds majority approved seven articles: Gómez Farías, Mexía, and Zavala would lead the effort to return the federal system and liberalism to Mexico. Gómez Farías was the nominal head while Mexía, as head of the Federal army, was to recruit met in Louisiana and later the civic militias of Tamaulipas and other Mexican states. Zavala would direct the Texans in an uprising to draw attention and Santa Anna’s army away from Mexía’s landing at Tampico. Amnesty would be offered to all except Santa Anna and his ministers, who would be executed. Mexía would petition Congress to reform the 1824 Constitution by restricting the power of the clergy and the military, while freedom of religion would be established along with land reform. United States citizens, as a reward for their support, could enter Mexico without passports and be exempt from one-third of the import duties. Thirty-seven men signed the document, but their names did not appear in the December newspaper article published in Mexico City, the only known record of this meeting. Seemingly the Amphictyons had a spy in their midst.

Zavala and Mexía must have discussed the plan in July, because the wording used some of Zavala’s phrases. Moreover, his questions to the Columbus committee about support for independence fit the scheme. There was sufficient time for Zavala to tell Mexía about his cool reception, but perhaps Mexía and even Zavala believed that the Texans would rally in time.

Margaret Swett Henson, Lorenzo de Zavala: The Pragmatic Idealist (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996). 89-90.