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.

“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.

“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, 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]

“there is a force at this place, which … has no other object than to gather the slaves and other property of these citizens” (Seguín)

{22}

From General Pedro de Ampudia
To Juan Seguín [incorrectly addressed to Erasmo Seguín, Juan’s father]
Contraband Marsh, Quarter until eight in the Evening, May 2, 1836

By way of a report received from the officer charged with assisting the sick, I am informed that there is a large force in those woods, which, according to you, has as its sole objective the recovery of black slaves and such [property] as may belong to the citizens of this country. In regard to the former, I say to you that there are no slaves at this place and, with regard to the latter, I have no knowledge of any property belonging to the individuals who accompany you.

[…][138]

{23}

From Juan Seguín
To General Pedro de Ampudia
Headquarters, Vanguard of the Army of Texas, May 3, 1836

By your communication dated a quarter before eight in the evening yesterday, I am informed that from the report given to you by the officer in charge of assisting the sick, you learned there is a force at this place, which, as I stated to the said officer, has no other object than to gather the slaves and other property of these citizens. [To which] purpose my commanding general, upon ordering me and the vanguard to observe the enemy’s movements in its retreat, instructed me to communicate with its leader in order to let him know that the slaves who were to be returned as a result of the negotiations (which, upon my departure from General Headquarters, were being celebrated with the President of Mexico), were to be turned over to me and not left loose in the fields, and that in the future the President of Mexico’s troops were not to avail themselves of Texas 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), 137-138.

“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.

“the germ of discontent that the people of Texas harbored. For this reason they adhere to the new order of things that is offered to us by the institutions of a great, appreciative republic. Such is the beginning that brought about the Independence of Texas” (Navarro)

After the arrival of Arredondo, San Antonio remained quiet and subject to the dominion of the king of Spain. He confiscated and sold the property of the patriots–known as rebels–who never recovered their belongings, not even after the consummation of Mexican independence in the year of 1821.

The noble citizens of Béxar sacrificed their lives and property, performing heroic deeds of valor in the year 1813. Yet they left to their descendants no other inheritance than the indifference and ingratitude of the Mexican Republic.

They never received any compensation or indemnity, not even the due respect and gratitude from their fellow citizens of Mexico. Our courage and heroism were cast into oblivion by the government of that ancient and renowned land. For that reason, I do not believe that anyone will be surprised by the germ of discontent that the people of Texas harbored. For this reason they adhere to the new order of things that is offered to us by the institutions of a great, appreciative republic. Such is the beginning that brought [59] about the Independence of Texas, which separated itself from that government forever.

José Antonio Navarro, Defending Mexican Valor in Texas: José Antonio Navarro’s Historical Writings, 1853-1857, ed. David R. McDonald and Timothy M. Matovina (Austin: State House Press, 1995), 58-59.

Tejanos and Mexicans at the 1836 Convention; Zavala becomes Vice President (Henson)

[101] Zavala saw many familiar faces from the Consultation, but most were new men. Among them were José Antonio Navarro and Francisco Ruíz from San Antonio, and as neither spoke much English, they relied on Zavala to translate for them. By the end of the first week, the three Mexican delegates joined William Fairfax Gray in a rented carpenter shop where they had more privacy. Gray, a Virginia lawyer visiting Texas as agent for some land speculators, found the three fascinating and wanted to learn Spanish.

[…]

[103] After midnight the constitution was finished and adopted and an ordinance organizing a provisional government read and approved. The election of officers followed in the early hours of March 17.

Zavala supported the selection of cabinet members Samuel B. Carson, Bailey Hardeman, Thomas Jefferson Rusk, Robert Potter, and David Thomas for seccretaries of state, treasury, war, navy, and attorney general. But tired as he was, he was not pleased by his own unanimous election as vice president nor that of David G. Burnet as president. The latter had won by seven votes over the better qualified Carson, a former United States congressman from North Carolina.

After initially refusing, Zavala reluctantly accepted his post when the members persuaded him that it would create a favorable impression among Mexican federalists. His confidence in Burnet to unite the Texans was less.

[…]

[104] The new officers took their oaths at 4:00 A.M. Thursday, March 17. […] Zavala, Ruíz, and Navarro, with their servants, horses, and Zavala’s mule, crossed the ferry to the east bank of the Brazos on Friday, March 18, and that night camped alongside the road. Zavala was unwell the next morning, so the entire group remained in camp. Sunday they reached Jared E. Groce’s [105] Retreat, a recently developed plantation where Zavala parted from his new friends. The two San Antonio men were headed downriver to San Felipe, where they expected to hear news about their refugee families.

Margaret Swett Henson, Lorenzo de Zavala: The Pragmatic Idealist (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), 101, 103-105.

Burnet urges Texians to “keep our wives and children … secure from pollution” (Henson)

[104] The new officers took their oaths at 4:00 A.M. Thursday, March 17. Before the session reassembled later that morning, Burnet composed a verbose inaugural address that he delivered to the impatient delegates. After signing their names to the new constitution, most left for home. Burnet remained one more day, issuing bombastic directives. He called on the residents of eastern Texas to “deafen your ears against all rumours,”and instead rally “to the field then, my countrymen, to the standard of liberty, and defend your rights in a manner worthy of your sires and yourselves.” A second proclamation the same day implored Texans to join the army to “keep our wives and children … secure from pollution.” Burnet explained that while the government was moving immediately to Harrisburg, it was not because the enemy was near — it was for “the common good.” His final exhortation rivaled playwright Richard B. Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop for peculiar syntax: Citizens should “gird up the loins of our minds” and turn back “this impotent invader.”

Margaret Swett Henson, Lorenzo de Zavala: The Pragmatic Idealist (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), 104.