“Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.” (Matovina and de la Teja)

1840-1850: Census documentation of declining Tejanx economic position

The 1840 census of the Republic of Texas recorded him as holding one town lot in San Antonio, presumably the location of his private residence, and two horses. He was also the agent of record for his widowed mother, who owned one town lot. After U.S. annexation of Texas, his level of prosperity remained relatively constant. In 1840, on the first U.S. census conducted in San Antonio, he was listed as a “merchant” who owned real estate valued at $2,000; a newspaper report from seven years later mentions Menchaca as one owner of transport carts loaded with goods that left San Antonio for the coast under armed guard during the infamous Cart War.[26]

[15] Still, in comparison to other San Antonio Tejanos, Menchaca’s retention of his homestead and mercantile interests placed him ahead of many contemporaries. Although incomplete, the census of 1840 showed that Tejanos owned 85.1 percent of the town lots in San Antonio, along with 63.8 percent of all land acreage titled to local residents. According to the 1850 census, they owned only 9.1 percent of real estate values claimed. Similarly, in 1830, when Tejanos comprised nearly all the population of San Antonio, the census showed that most residents were farmers and only 14.8 percent were laborers. No employment listings were given in the 1840 census, but in 1850, 61.4 percent of the Tejano population was in labor positions. Menchaca was comparatively well off, but only in relation to a San Antonio Tejano population undergoing a significant downward trend in economic status from landowners to a working underclass.[27]

Menchaca did not complacently accept the woes of his fellow Tejanos. He was a frequent witness for Tejano parties in court cases, particularly for veterans seeking the compensation due them by law for military service in the Texas Revolution. Convinced that the just claims of many Tejano veterans had been denied or unduly delayed as compared to the more prompt approvals their Anglo-American counterparts received, Menchaca was one of nineteen Tejano signers in 1875 of a letter to the Texas comptroller of [16] public accounts that sought to “disabuse [Comptroller Stephen H. Darden’s mind of any prejudice” against Tejano veterans and that demanded for themselves and their comrades “simply justice and nothing more.” His support of fellow Tejanos was so strong that apparently he did not even hold grudges against those who supported the Mexican side in the Texas Revolution. For example, he provided a deposition to support the legal claims of Francisco Esparza, a San Antonio native who, unlike his Alamo-defender brother Gregorio, had opted to fight in the Mexican army during the December 1835 Texan siege of San Antonio and was on reserve with the Mexican forces during Santa Anna’s Texas campaign. James Newcomb summed up Menchaca’s leading role as a legal advocate when he quipped that “in later years, when the titles to almost every foot of ground in the old city and county of Bexar were litigated in the courts, Captain Menchaca became a standing witness to prove up the genealogy of the old families.”[28]

Matovina and de la Teja, “Introduction: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History,” in Antonio Menchaca, Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History, edited by Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, with the collaboration of Justin Poché (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013)., 14-16.

  1. [26][…] Gifford White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 15; V. K. Carpenter, comp. The State of Texas Federal Population Schedules Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, entry no. 179, 1:121; San Antonio Herald, 25 September 1857, p. 2. For a brief overview of the Cart War, see John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas, 352-354; J. Fred Rippy, “Border Troubles along the Rio Grande, 1848-1860,” 103-104; Larry Knight, “The Cart War: Defining American in San Antonio in the 1850s,” 319-336.
  2. [27]White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas, 12-18; Carpenter, comp., State of Texas Seventh Census, 1:111-189; White, 1830 Citizens of Texas, 79-112. The downward trend in socioeconomic fortunes of Bexareños was not unique, either to Texas or to the Southwest generally. Arnoldo De León, in The Tejano Community, 1836-1900, was the first to explore this theme in a major work, not from the perspective of victimization, but from that of resistance and self-assertion. David Montejano, in confirming De León’s findings, expanded the focus to include the legalistic dynamics of Tejano marginalization in the nineteenth century in Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986. Beyond Texas, Richard Griswold del Castillo, in The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890: A Social History, and Albert Camarillo, in Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848-1930, trace the very similar processes at work in southern California during the nineteenth century. Even in New Mexico, where they remained such a large percentage of the population, Laura E. Gómez demonstrates in Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race that Mexican Americans faced socioeconomic decline. In all these cases, the result was the formation and reinforcement of a distinctly Mexican-based identity.
  3. [28]Antonio Menchaca, deposition, 1 January 1856, Antonio Fuentes file, and deposition, 28 July 1856, Carlos Espalier file, both in Memorials and Petitions, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin; Juan N. Seguín, “Application for Pension,” 2 October 1874, in Seguín, Revolution Remembered, ed. De la Teja, 2nd ed., 187-188; Tejano citizens to Stephen H. Darden, 12 January 1875, in James M. Day, ed., “Texas Letters and Documents,” 84; Menchaca, deposition, 24 August 1860, Court of Claims voucher file no. 2557 (Francisco Esparza), Texas General Land Office, Austin; Newcomb, introduction to Memoirs, by Antonio Menchaca, ed. Chabot, 11.

“Burleson … told me that my family might cross but not me, that the men were needed in the army … I also met up with fourteen Tejanos from San Antonio, and we united and remained there until a company could be formed” (Menchaca)

1836: Menchaca conscripted by Burleson, Mexican company organized. / RTL 66ff

I continued my journey to Gonzales and arrived at the house of Green DeWitt, where I met up with General Edward Burleson, who had just arrived with seventy-three men. I slept there and on the next day attempted [67] to pass to the other side of the river with my family but was prevented by Burleson, who told me that my family might cross but not me, that the men were needed in the army.

Arrival of Seguín with Message from Travis: Organization of Company of Mexicans

At Gonzales I also met up with fourteen Tejanos from San Antonio, and we united and remained there until a company could be formed. The Texans were gradually being strengthened by the addition of from three to fifteen daily. Six days after being there Captain Seguín, who was sent as a courier by Travis, arrived there and presented himself to General Burleson, who upon receipt of the message forwarded it to the Convention assembled at Washington, Texas. On the following day, the Mexican company was organized with twenty-two men, having for captain Seguín, for first lieutenant Manuel Flores, and me for second lieutenant.

On 4 March news reached us that Texas had declared her independence. The few who were there, 350 men, swore allegiance to it, and two days later General Sam Houston arrived and took command of the forces.

Antonio Menchaca, Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History, edited by Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, with the collaboration of Justin Poché (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013)., 66-67.

 

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.”)

 

“All the parties of volunteers en route to San Antonio declared they wanted to kill Seguín … coming down by the river, burning the ranchos on their way” (Seguín)

parties of volunteers aim to kill Seguín; burn Tejanx ranches

I remained, hiding from rancho to rancho for over fifteen days. All the parties of volunteers en route to San Antonio declared “they wanted to kill Seguín.” I could no longer go from rancho to rancho, and determined to go to my own rancho and fortify it. Several of my relatives and friends joined me. Hardly a day elapsed without receiving notice that a party was preparing to attack me; we were constantly kept under arms. Several parties came in sight but, probably seeing that we were prepared to receive them, refrained from attacking. [96]

On the 30th of April, a friend from San Antonio sent me word that Captain James W. Scott and his company were coming down by the river, burning the ranchos on their way. The inhabitants of the lower ranchos called on us for aid against Scott. With those in my house, and others to the number of about one hundred, I started to lend them aid. I proceeded, observing Scott’s movements from the junction of the Medina to Pajaritos. At that place we dispersed and I returned to my wretched life. In those days I could not go to San Antonio without peril for my life.

Matters being in this state, I saw that it was necessary to take some step which would place me in security and save my family from constant wretchedness. I had to leave Texas, abandon all for which I had fought and spent my fortune, to become a wanderer. The ingratitude of those who had assumed onto themselves the right of convicting me, their credulity in declaring me a traitor on the basis of mere rumors, the necessity to defend myself for the loyal patriotism with which I had always served Texas, wounded me deeply.

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), 95-96.

“five or six other Mexicans joined me … some Americans were murdering Curbier” (Seguín)

accused of treason; extralegal violence; refers to self, compas as “Mexicans” vs. “Americans”

Having observed that Vásquez gained ground on us, we fell back [94] on the Nueces River. When we came back to San Antonio, reports about my implausible treason were spreading widely. Captain Manuel Flores, Lieutenant Ambrosio Rodriguez, Matías Curbier and five or six other Mexicans joined me to find out the origin of the false rumors. I went out with several friends, leaving Curbier in my house. I had reached the Main Plaza when several persons came running to inform me that some Americans were murdering Curbier. We ran back to the house where we found poor Curbier covered with blood. On being asked who assaulted him he answered that the gunsmith Goodman, in company with several Americans, had struck him with a rifle.

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), 94-95.

“they have no American officer” (Huston, qtd. in Seguin)

Huston, 1836-37, “they have no American officer”

29 Huston had already made his position regarding Seguín known to President Houston in November 1836: “I do not believe thta Col. Seguin or that Major Western can command the men and they have no American officer but a smart litle [Lt.?] named Miller.” (Huston to Houston, November 10, 1836, Houston Collection, Catholic Archives of Texas, Austin.) [87] for Houston’s letter to Seguín countermanding General Huston’s order see appendix 36.

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), 86ff n. 29.

 

“the straggling American adventurers… their dark intrigues against the native families” (Seguín)

The tokens of esteem and evidences of trust and confidence repeatedly bestowed upon me by the supreme magistrate, General Rusk, and other dignitaries of the Republic, could not fail to arouse a great deal of invidious and malignant feeling against me. The jealousy evinced against me by several officers of the companies recently arrived at San Antonio from the United States soon spread among the straggling American adventurers, who were already beginning to work their dark intrigues against the native families, whose only crime was that they owned large tracts of land and desirable property.

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), 89.

“what laws have been translated, and where do they exist? … the dearest rights of my constituents as Mexico-Texians are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Laws of the Republic of Texas” (Seguín)

{56}

Juan Seguín’s Address in Senate

[February 1840]

Mr. President: With the permission of the honorable Senate, I beg leave to make a few remarks in regard to the last estimate of the honorable Secretary of the Treasury, originated in the Second Auditor’s office. I wish, sir, to know upon what data the Second Auditor founded his estimate of the cost of translating and printing the Laws to be enacted by the present Congress, to the amount of $15,000. I wish to know, Mr. President, what the cost of translating the laws, encacted [sic] by the former Legislative bodies of Texas is, laws which in virtue of the existing laws upon that subject, ought to have been translated and printed; also, what laws have been translated, and where do they exist? My constituents have, as yet, not seen a single law translated and printed; neither do we know when we shall receive them: Mr. President, the dearest rights of my constituents as Mexico-Texians are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Laws of the Republic of Texas; and at the formation of the social compact between the Mexicans and the Texians, they had rights guaranteed to them; they also contracted certain legal obligations–of all of which they are ignorant, and in consequence of their ignorance of the language in which the Laws and the Constitution of the land are written. The Mexico-Texians were among the first who sacrificed their all in our glorious Revolution, and the disasters of war weighed heavy upon them, to achieve those blessings which, it appears, are destined to be the last to enjoy, and as a representative from Bexar, I never shall cease to raise my voice in effecting this object. But, in order not to detain this honorable body, at this time, any longer, I will conclude these cursory remarks, leaving my detailed observations upon the subject to a more proper occasion.

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), 174.

“What, then, was the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution? … The institution was always there, never too far in the background, as … a ‘dull, organic ache.'” (Campbell)

What, then, was the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution? Circumstantial evidence supports the abolitionists’ contention that slavery was the primary cause of the conflict. Anglo-American settlers wanted their Peculiar Institution, and Mexico opposed it, at least in principle. Once they were independent, Texans made no pretense of hiding their determination to guarantee slavery in their new republic. They outlawed the African trade, but that was primarily a response to world opinion rather than an action against slavery.[22] The introduction of slaves from the United States was guaranteed. Given these results, slavery appears to have been a major cause of the revolution.

The difficulty with this interpretation, however, is the lack of direct supporting evidence. Slavery did not play a major role in the developments from the passage of the anti-immigration Law of April 6, 1830, until the outbreak of fighting in the fall of 1835. The institution was not a primary issue in the disturbances of 1832 or the events of late 1835, and Mexico took no action threatening it directly or immediately during these years. Instead, the immediate cause of conflict was the political instability of Mexico and the implications of Santa Anna’s centralist regime for Texas. Mexico forced the issue in 1835, not over slavery, but over customs duties and the generally defiant attitude of Anglo-Americans in Texas.

This, of course, is not to say that slavery was unimportant in the Texas Revolution. In the broadest sense, the conflict resulted from a clash of cultural traditions. Anglo-Americans were simply too different from Hispanic-Americans to accept Mexican government indefinitely. One of those differences was slavery. The institution was always there, never too far in the background, as what the noted Texas historian Eugene C. Barker called a “dull, organic ache.” It was, therefore, an underlying cause of the struggle that began in 1835. Once the revolution came, slavery was an immediate concern. Texans worried constantly about the servile insurrection they accused the Mexicans of trying to foment, and Mexican leaders indicated that slavery would be one of the casualties in their conquest of the rebels. The war did disturb slavery and give some bondsmen the opportunity to escape. After San Jacinto, however, the institution became more secure than it had ever been in Texas. Protecting slavery was [49] not the primary cause of the Texas Revolution, but it certainly was a major result.[23]Samuel Harmon Lowrie, Culture Conflict in Texas, 1821-1835 (New York, 1932), 59-60, 179-81; Barker, Mexico and Texas, 86. On Texans’ fears concerning slavery, see Eugene C. Barker, “Public Opinion in Texas Preceding the Revolution,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911 (Washington, D.C., 1913), 219. Mexico did indeed end slavery in 1837. See Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, “The Texas Question in Mexican Politics, 1836-1845,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, LXXXXIX (1986), 317. Paul D. Lack, “Slavery and the Texas Revolution,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly LXXXXIX (1985), 181-202, is the most recent review of the subject of this chapter. Lack places somewhat greater emphasis on slavery as a cause of the revolution and on the efforts of slaves to use the crisis to obtain freedom, but there is no fundamental difference between his article and the views presented here.

Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press., 48ff.

 

  1. [22]J. Pinckney Henderson as minister to Great Britain and France from the Republic of Texas pointed to the outlawing of the African trade as proof that Texas had “abolished the most offensive features of slavery.” George P. Garrison (ed.), Diplomatic Correspondence of the Republic of Texas (3 vols.; Washington, 1908-11), I, 827-28.
  2. [23]