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]

“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.

“exposed to the assaults of foreigners who, on the pretext that they were Mexicans, treated them worse than brutes?” (Seguín)

I will also point out the origin of another enmity which, on several occasions, endangered my life. In those evil days, San Antonio swarmed with adventurers from every quarter of the globe. Many a noble heart grasped the sword in the defense of the liberty of Texas, cheerfully pouring out their blood for our cause, and to them everlasting public gratitude is due. But there were also many bad men, fugitives from their own country who found in this land an opportunity for their criminal designs.

San Antonio claimed then, as it claims now, to be the first city of Texas. It was also the receptacle of the scum of society. My political and social situation brought me into continual contact with that class of people. At every hour of the day and night my countrymen ran to me for protection against the assaults or exactions of those adventurers. Sometimes, by persuasion, I prevailed on them to desist; sometimes, also, force had to be resorted to. How could I have done otherwise? Were not the victims my own countrymen, friends and associates? Could I leave them defenseless, exposed to the assaults of foreigners who, on the pretext that they were Mexicans, treated them worse than brutes? Sound reason and the dictates of humanity precluded any different conduct on my part.

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), 90.