How Slavery Led to Texas's Independence

How Slavery Led to Texas's Independence


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Learn how slavery influenced the fight for Texas independence. See how the Mexican government tried to stop American immigration and the practice of slavery, leading to the Texas revolution and the battle of the Alamo.


Slavery

The enslavement of African Americans was the curse of early American life, and Texas was no exception. The Mexican government was opposed to slavery, but even so, there were 5000 slaves in Texas by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1836. By the time of annexation a decade later, there were 30,000 by 1860, the census found 182,566 slaves -- over 30% of the total population of the state.

Most slaves came to Texas with their owners, and the vast majority lived on large cotton plantations in East Texas. The life of a Texas slave differed little from other places in the South. Most slaves had the basics -- food, clothing, and a crude log cabin for shelter -- but they were kept poor and worked hard. Most were field hands who worked from sunup to sundown. And, while Texas law prohibited an owner from killing or maiming a slave, whippings were considered acceptable and were a common form of punishment. Historians estimate that at least 70% of the slaves received whippings at some point in their lives.

Slaves were extremely valuable assets to their owners. During the late 1850s, a young male field hand cost about $800, while a skilled blacksmith would go for over $2000 -- the equivalent today of $16,000 to $40,000. By contrast, prime cotton growing land sold for six dollars an acre. The forced labor of the slaves made plantation farming very profitable for the slaveholders. By the time of the Civil War, slaveholders controlled most of the wealth in Texas and dominated politics at all levels. They were pushing slavery westward into Central Texas at the time that the war halted the growth of the slave system.

The slave system in Texas, as elsewhere, was held in place by brute force. Some slaves managed to run away to Mexico, but most recognized that an unsuccessful escape would mean a severe beating or being sold away from their families. For most slaves, no matter what they did or how hard they worked, there was simply no way out of slavery for themselves or for their children. In many important areas of life, they were robbed of their basic human rights. They could not plan for the future or even decide for themselves what to do in the course of a day.

In spite of their oppression, the slaves did not behave like a defeated people. Instead, they tried to make the best of their lives and to carve out what independence they could. Most slaves were allowed to be on their own in the evenings and during time off on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. They took full advantage of their time -- to enjoy their families and try to keep them together to build a remarkable religious community and to create a rich and influential cultural heritage, especially in the area of music.

When the Civil War came, Texas was not invaded, and the slaves continued to live and work as they had before. They realized that a Union victory would mean their liberation, and they listened for news as best they could and passed the word of any developments. It was not until June 19, 1865, that Union forces occupied Texas and officially freed the slaves. The day would be celebrated in the years to come as "Juneteenth."

Click on image for larger image and transcript.
Petition for emancipation of Liley, 1847

Click on image for larger image and transcript.
Sale of 10-year-old Loise for owner's back taxes, 1849


Explore Texas by Historical Eras Early Statehood 1845-1861 by Katie Whitehurst

In December of 1845, Texas became the 28 th state of the United States of America. It was a change welcomed by many. As early as 1836, Texan voters had chosen overwhelmingly to support annexation. But opposition in the U.S. was strong, and the annexation of Texas came only after years of heavy debate.

Some of that debate came from Texan nationalists. But the main opposition was found in the US. The issue of slavery was central to their concerns – as it was with so many political issues in the US at the time. There had been little question that if Texas joined the U.S., it would join as a slave state. Slavery was widespread in the Republic of Texas. Although no formal census was taken in Texas until 1850, it’s estimated that in 1845 the new state had a population of about 125,000 people. Some 30,000 lived as slaves. Abolitionists in the U.S. worried that adding another slave-holding state would upset the political balance in Congress and in the country.

Mexico was a second source of concern. The memory of Texas’ revolt against Mexico remained fresh, and some dispute about the Texas-Mexico border remained. The United States was concerned that the annexation of Texas would spur trouble with Mexico, something the US sought to avoid. Despite these worries, after James Polk became President in 1844 the United States decided the benefit of adding Texas outweighed the concerns. The country would bring an abundance of land, and would help further Polk’s dream of a country that spanned the continent.

With the annexation, Texans formed a new state government with a new state constitution. It was modeled after the constitution of the United States. And, like that document, it restricted suffrage to white males over the age of 21, limiting the power of women and minorities.

The vast majority of Tejanos, Mexicans, Native Americans and African-Americans living in Texas did not benefit from annexation. Many had deep roots in the state, with families that reached back generations. But in most parts of the state, discrimination ran rampant against Tejanos and Mexicans – especially during the Mexican-American War. As settlement expanded, the U.S. government forced Native Americans off their lands and onto reservations. Early statehood also saw a rapid expansion of the African-American population in Texas. The vast majority continued to live as slaves. That status was bolstered by the state’s new constitution. Like the Republic’s, the state’s constitution prohibited free blacks from living in Texas without special permission, and it denied citizenship rights to the few free blacks who lived in the state.

Life was better for large groups of immigrants from Europe who arrived soon after statehood, drawn here by the promise of land. People from many European regions came to Texas, immigrating mostly through the port of Galveston. Many settled in close-knit communities, where traces of their cultures can still be found today. They joined a wave of immigrants from the Southern U.S., who came for land and for the ability to own slaves.

As some had feared, annexation inflamed tensions with Mexico. In 1846, the Mexican-American War erupted, as the nations battled over the location of their border and over territories far to the west. After a year and a half of fighting, Mexico conceded defeat. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed in 1848, formally ending the war. Mexico agreed to recognize Texas as part of the United States and also formalized the Rio Grande as the southern border of Texas. The treaty also outlined the terms of the Mexican Cession, which allowed the United States to gain a huge amount of land that would later become present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado.

The issue of slavery in the newly annexed territories added to the concerns of many Americans. The solution was the Compromise of 1850, which allowed California to be admitted as a free state, gave power to the other western territories to decide the question of slavery, and created the western border of Texas where it is today, which ended a dispute between Texas and present-day New Mexico.

The agreement did not end the controversy over slavery. And that controversy played out within the state of Texas, as well. While not every Texan was in favor of slavery, the majority of Texas voters believed that the United States government should not interfere with their ability to keep slaves. Despite the urging of many settlers, and then Governor of Texas and Revolution hero Sam Houston, Texas joined other slave-holding states and seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. By joining the Confederate States of America, the young state of Texas helped to set the stage for an American civil war.


Written and researched by Elizabeth Garner Masarik, MA, PhD Candidate

Produced and Recorded by Elizabeth Garner Masarik, MA, PhD Candidate and Sarah Handley-Cousins, PhD

Elizabeth: How do we remember our past? Or more accurately, how do we reconstruct our past? Historical memory is selective. We choose what we will remember, what we will honor, what we will teach our children, and what we will selectively forget. The retelling of the past is never an exact replication of what “happened.” To think that it is- is a mistake, a gross form of naivete, a confusion between sentimentality and realism.

Sarah: Instead, as historians, we take the documents, the words, the stories, the pictures, – everything we can get our hands on that was produced during the time we are studying – and combine them with the context of the day- with the events both big and small going on in the world in which our historical subjects lived, worked, and loved. We analyze this with secondary sources, with the historiography and knowledge that has come before us. Then, as historians, we weave a rich, fuller picture of the life and times of our historical subjects – sometimes richer than what they were aware of even at the time.

Elizabeth: Forces stronger and even perhaps unknown to our historical subjects shaped and manipulated the choices and decisions that they made everyday. Sometimes those forces aren’t even visible until many years later. That is why history is never dead. It is constantly being re-evaluated, reinterpreted, and reexamined. Why? Because history is not a static monolith . It is not a dry set of “facts” and dates – of great white men and silent masses. Instead, history colors our everyday, and is also colored by our present. Let me read you a great quote by American author James Baldwin, “history… does not refer merely to the past… history is literally present in all that we do.”


Sarah: So when we break that down a little bit, what he’s saying, what we’re saying, is that history is alive and breathing and gets interpreted within current contexts.
When we are discussing history, especially about national or foundational myths that explain who we are (or wish we were) as a culture or a nation – these myths or origin stories that we internalize as truth, or somehow elemental to who we are – we MUST be aware that these historical stories were created during a particular period in time. The context, the social, political and cultural context of the period these stories were created, colored the formation of those myths or origin stories.

Elizabeth: So today’s podcast is going to be a little different than what we normally do. Instead of giving you a lot of backstory on an event or period in history, we are instead going to talk about the creation of historical memory and how one war in particular, The Texas War of Independence, is remembered. But also how historical memory of that war is profoundly colored by the memory of the Civil War through what is known as the Lost Cause.

And I’m Elizabeth Garner Masarik

Sarah: And WE are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Elizabeth: Make sure to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts so that you never miss an episode.

Sarah: And leave us a review! It really helps us reach a larger audience.

Elizabeth: This episode is a bit more personal than some of our other Dig History episodes that you are used to. Sarah and I -this is Elizabeth speaking- come to this story through a unique perspective- we both found our love and passion for the history profession through a childhood fascination with the Civil War.

First edition cover of North and South, 1982 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sarah: Yeah, I fell in love with the Civil War when I was a little girl – my dad actually gave me his copy of a book called North and South, which is a sort of schlocky 1970s epic, romantic novel about two families during the Civil War. It’s was huge, and I carried it around on the playground in a Winnie the Pooh backpack and read it while all my peers were playing. Later, he and I both read the book The Killer Angels, which is a novel about Gettysburg. It’s funny because as much as I was drawn to the war, I never ever thought about studying it professionally until I found myself in kind of a quandry about where my life was going – I thought I wanted to be a lawyer for years until I did an internship that was mind-numbingly boring. I did some googling for internships and programs about the Civil War purely on a whim, and ended up studying at Gettysburg College for a semester, doing nothing but studying the Civil War. And now here I am!

Gone with the Wind Flm Poster, 1938 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: Yes and I come to this story through a classroom indoctrination in the Lost Cause, a weird childhood obsession with Gone With The Wind, (and the novel North and South and was reading those novels in elementary school like you. I also grew up in the shadow of the tall tales of the Lone Star State. Like many southerners, I was fascinated with the Civil War and the valour and chivalry that I thought represented the Southern way of life. Regrettably, slavery and the racial repercussions of the war never entered my world view until much later.

Sarah: That seems to be a pretty common theme among white people who grew up in the South, but in the United States in general. The erasure of Black people, slavery, and the violence of Redemption after the Civil War in our collective understanding of the war are pretty common.

And we want to argue that the selective forgetting we experience in regards to the Civil War has also happened within our historical memory of a war that happened even earlier, The Texas War of Independence.

Elizabeth: Right – a little backstory of why this episode is personal for me. I am a sixth generation Texan. My great, great, great grandfather Bradley Garner started the line that moved to Mexican Texas and wound up with me. My line of the Garner family originally lived in Spanish Louisiana, which then turned into French Louisiana, then into American Louisiana after the Louisiana purchase in 1804. Their oldest son, David went to Texas in 1825 and received a land grant from Mexico to settle near the Sabine river in Southeast Texas. He was my great great grandfather. David’s siblings and parents followed shortly after. One of his sisters married Claiborne West who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Texas Independance.

In 1835 during the Texas War of Independence, my great great grandfather Garner mustered nineteen militiamen and participated in one of the earliest skirmishes in the war, the “Grass Fight” and later in the Battle of San Antonio with Col. Ben Milam. The Battle of San Antonio is not the fight at the Alamo- otherwise he would have died and I wouldn’t be here, but the skirmish in which the Texans took the Alamo from the Mexicans in the first place. Which is what prompted Santa Ana to recapture it in 1836, proving deadly for the overwhelmed Texans.

My family went on to live in Texas and became cattle ranchers. They were slave owners and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Sarah: So you may be wondering, what does the Texas War for Independence and the Lost Cause have to do with one another? The Texas War for Independence was in 1836 and Texas became a state in 1845. The Civil War ended in 1864 and the Lost Cause didn’t become a “thing” until the 20th century. Hear us out:

Historians talk about the Lost Cause a lot – but I’m not sure a lot of people really know what we mean. The Lost Cause, or in its complete form, The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, was a sort of shared myth created after the Civil War ended – and the Confederacy was defeated – that refashions the Civil War as the honorable and heroic struggle of a knightly, Christian South against an immoral invader (the North) with vastly greater resources and troop strength. This is why the Lost Cause uses the moniker, The War of Northern Aggression, or even The War for Southern Independence, instead of the Civil War or the War Between the States. This mythology was actively created by writers, who wrote nostalgic essays and books about beauty and honor of the Old South, by women’s groups, who helped to direct public events and celebrations of Confederate martyrs, and, of course, by the creation of monuments to Confederate heroes. They also had to create the idea that the war had *nothing* to do with slavery, and instead was about state’s rights and protecting the homeland from invaders, especially protecting their vulnerable women.

Elizabeth: And we want to argue that the history of Texas Independence is greatly influenced by the same type of historical memory creation of the Lost Cause.

So- this episode is very personal for me. I am a Texan through and through, I mean hell, I grew up with a giant Longhorn skull – like HUGE- with a Texas flag under it as a focal point of my childhood living room. My daddy is none too happy that I went and married a “Yankee.” And yet – since becoming a student of history -since seeing how the Lost Cause has colored the history of Texas and the South in general- and since gaining a deeper understanding of American history- I find myself adrift, even angry sometimes. Angry that I was taught one thing, that elements of my land and people were systematically “forgotten” and the story that was perpetuated was only a half-truth. I learned Texas history as the white Texans (and the occasional Tejano sympathizer) were fighting for freedom from evil and debased Mexicans, and Black people were nowhere to be found. That’s pretty much the same way I learned about the Civil War. The southern states seceded because the evil North was trampling on their states rights. It was all white men, not a woman or a Black person in site.

So I think I can at least understand WHY some people get reaaaalllly offended when historians or social justice proponents point out that monuments, history books, and collective memory do not tell the full story. Because it’s hard to be told that everything you’ve been taught since you were a child, may not be the whole truth. That can be severely disarming for some people. And a lot of people’s reaction is to double-down, to denounce those that try to bring a broader understanding of history, because frankly it’s easier- and unfortunately I think it’s a pretty normal human reaction for many. To be clear, I’m not giving them a pass- because at this point it’s willful ignorance. But what I am saying is I think I understand why they do it.

I’m not angry that the fuller history makes my ancestors, both Texas and Confederate, have motives, wants and needs that make them less heroic- No, I’m angry because that history, that FULL history was kept from me and my classmates. A child of the south shouldn’t have to go to grad school in order to get a fuller, more unbiased understanding of their own history! Now I admit, it’s been awhile since I was in grade school, so some things may have changed as far as the curriculum goes. But as a whole, it really hasn’t.

Sarah: Also, Texas is the largest purchaser of school textbooks in the country- so if they don’t like what’s in a book, whether it’s history or science, then that book doesn’t get published, bought, and used throughout the rest of the country.

Elizabeth: Right.
So to get back to this idea of the Lost Cause- the creation of an intellectual and literary understanding that the Civil War war had *nothing* to do with slavery, and instead was about state’s rights and protecting the homeland from invaders. To come to this conclusion, one must completely ignore the actual writings and speeches of Confederate leaders.

Sarah: Exactly, these documents make it clear that slavery was central to the motivation for secession and war by Confederate leaders and their supporters. When southern whites spoke of the “southern way of life,” they referred a society founded on white supremacy that built on the institution of black chattel slavery. I mean, just read any of the Confederate states secession statements, called Declarations of Causes, to see this in black and white.

Elizabeth: For example, here is Texas’ Declaration of Causes:

“Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.”

Sarah: And here is Mississippi’s:

“In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

Elizabeth: And just in case you still aren’t convinced, here’s is the Cornerstone Speech, delivered by Alexander Stephens- the vice president of the Confederate States:

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Elizabeth: I didn’t see that speech until I moved up North and was in grad school, BTW.

Sarah: Supporters of the Lost Cause often stress the idea that secession was a reaction to Northern aggression against their way of life, that the South was more Christian and moral than the North, that the Confederacy leadership were prime examples of chivalry and honor, and that slavery was a benevolent institution that “helped” African-Americans. In explaining the Confederate loss, it wasn’t because the South as a region was vastly behind in industrializing because they had relied so much on cotton production and slavery, or due to a lack of civilian support but instead only because of the quantitative advantage of the Union Army. The Lost Cause also demonizes Reconstruction – Reconstruction was a continuation of that invasion, with Yankee carpetbaggers coming in, stripping Southerners of their manhood by subjugating them to federal power, and of course, giving the formerly enslaved new rights – and protecting those rights with the presence of the US military. I mean, something that is sometimes lost when we teach Reconstruction is that it was a military occupation – so this was demoralizing and emasculating on top of the bitterness of defeat.

Elizabeth: Historian David Blight argues that there were two competing visions of how the Civil War should be remembered during the 20th century. Some embraced an “emancipationist” vision in which the Nation would be reborn in a more egalitarian Republic that upheld the tenets of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. The second was a “reconciliationist” vision in which harmony and the mending together of the North and the South were more important that the actual causes of the war and the unfinished business of Reconstruction and racial equality. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1800s, the subordination of Black people in both the North and the south were so ingrained into white people’s understanding of social order that “the forces of reconciliation” completely “overwhelmed the emancipist vision.” Put another way by historian Eric Foner, “The Confederacy lost the war on the battlefield but won the war over memory.”

Sarah: Right – I just want to point out here that *all the time* students or other people will say to me, “History is written by the victors.” But this is a really, really important example where that is not true at all – the losers totally won the battle for Civil War memory.
Bringing this back around to Texas, specifically, this type of reconciliation “remembering” colors the way many people “remember” the Texas War for Independence. In most retellings of this war, slavery is just a small, insignificant aspect of the story. – nobody wanted it, it was brought begrudgingly, etc.

Elizabeth: One of the reasons for this “selective” memory is taught to our school children and regurgitated in popular memory is because of HOW that memory was created. And in order to understand that, we need to look to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) and the Daughters of the Confederacy (DRC).

Sarah: Both of these organizations formed at about the same time. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1891 and the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1894.
The Daughters of the Confederacy was overly concerned with a desire to educate the young in “proper” histories of the South. Historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner writes:

“Mary Hunt Affleck, chairwoman of the textbook committee for the Texas Division of the UDC (Unt daught confed), exhorted her audience to concern itself with the selection of books for schools and town libraries. “Southern schools should use such books bearing on literature that give proper emphasis to Southern productions on civics, that discuss the deeper constitutional questions, as did the ante-bellum statesmen and jurists on history that recognizes the great war of the sixties as a civil war, in which both sides were equally patriotic and both honest defenders of unsolved national questions, and in which neither was in rebellion.” Histories that did not make the grade were “condemned,”…the UDC was encouraged to use its influence “as a body to have books teaching Southern authors and their words” in public schools.

Elizabeth: And this isn’t a hypothetical- I’ve seen this in action when doing research on the Texas School for the Blind. I can’t remember the date off the top of my head but it was between 1915 and 1920 and I found a letter from one of the school officials writing to his book distributor about a set of history books he had received in Braille. He was complaining that he couldn’t use them because they were too biased towards the North- they didn’t teach “proper” Southern history, and was lamenting that he couldn’t get Braille books with proper southern history because mostly all books in braille produced during the time were made in the North!

Sarah: In researching the founding of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Turner recounted how Betty Ballinger, one of the founders of the DRT, argued that the future of Texas belonged to the men, the “holy past” would be taken care of by the women and went on to say “let us love to study Texas history and teach it to her children until they have learned that Goliad is as glorious as Marathon and San Jacinto as sacred as Bunker Hill…. Let us seek out the graves of our heroes and having found them, let us care for them with grateful reverence. Be ours the duty to visit it and mark the spots where Texas was won for us, Gonzales, the Alamo, Goliad, San Jacinto – milestones along the bloodstained path to freedom.”

Map of the the Battle of San Jacinto | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: Membership in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas was much more limited just because one had to be a direct descendant of an original settler of Texas, or fought in the war for independence, and so there just weren’t as many women who could claim that as could claim membership into the daughters of the Confederacy. (I can actually claim both- won’t! But could). But these women ran in the same circles. A few could belong to both groups. They were part of the middle class elite. They were the wives of prominent men in town. They had the money and the leisure time to volunteer for these organizations as well as the YWCA, local church organizations, and other voluntary organizations. And both groups had similar founding beliefs, to take care of the graves of fallen heroes from the war, to erect commemorative monuments, and to teach future generations their version of history which offered their ancestors as heroic figures fighting on the side of liberty and justness. Slavery was NOT a part of this picture.

Sarah: The Daughters of the Republic of Texas raised the funds to rescue and restore the Alamo from decrepitude. They were the sole operators of the site, which they named “the shrine,” from 1905 until 2015 when Texas took control of it and put it under direction of the Texas General Land Office. Disputes over the DRT’s ability to financially support the upkeep of the Alamo finally caused the split, but for many years previous, bills were routinely filed in the Legislature to remove the DRT as custodian on the grounds that its interpretation of the Alamo’s history was racist. The story of the Alamo, both in Texas history books and at the Alamo itself (at least prior to 2015) was one that pitted Anglo Texans against Mexicans. That’s it. Mexicans were bad, the Texans good and they were fighting for freedom.

Elizabeth: One San Antonio native and advocate for a more inclusive and historically accurate interpretation of the Alamo and of the Texas war in general is quoted as saying that like most people she believed the John Wayne version of the Alamo’s story for most of her life. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that Susanna Dickinson wasn’t the only woman who survived the battle,” “Eleven Tejano women and eight children also survived. Their history has been erased.”

Sarah: And this historical misinterpretation is all due to efforts in the 20th century by groups like the DRT and the UDC to sentimentally reinterpret the past and guarantee that a heroic, Anglo-centric interpretation of history is disseminated through elementary schools and public monuments.

Elizabeth: The Republic of Texas, meaning the years between Independence in 1836 and statehood in 1845, is celebrated in Texas schools. We went on field trips to the building that housed the French Legation in Austin- and marveled that a country that loomed so large in our childhood minds, would have their own embassy in the Republic of Texas. We learn why the Texas flag can be flown at the same level as the American flag- because Texas was its own country (Hawaii can do the same). The period of the Republic is celebrated and admired and sometimes seen as a “good ‘ole days” that Texas could secede back to if it really wanted. I mean, even “liberals” in Texas joke about seceding, bc that’s just what we do. You will never meet a bunch of people more proud of their state or involved in a more exceptionalist outlook on their state than Texas. Maaaybe New Yorkers come close? Especially if you’re from the city- but I think you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of widespread exceptionalism in other states. I dunno- maybe that’s just my exceptionalism. LOL

Sarah: But in reality the years of the Republic of Texas were confusing and dangerous. Mexico still claimed most of Texas as its own. In the power vacuum that Texas Independence created, Comanches, Creek and other indigenous peoples vied for control of land and resources once unavailable to them. And the U.S. spurned Texas’ request for statehood- staving off the questions over slavery that rocked the late 1830s and 40s, that Texas annexation brought with it.
So let’s dive a little deeper into Texas slavery and its erasure in the myths of Texas Independence.

Elizabeth: Slavery in Texas is usually not seriously considered when talking about the chattel slave system of the South. What generally comes to mind are the vast slave plantations of the deep south, like Mississippi or Georgia. In fact, some people, historians included, discount slavery in Texas because “it only lasted 20 years.” Meaning chattel slavery in Texas only lasted from 1845, when Texas became a state, to 1865 – June 19th, 1865 to be exact, when the Emancipation Proclamation was read in the state of Texas, then part of the Confederate States, and the formal institution of slavery ended.

Sarah: And we’ll sidetrack a little her just so you know this history, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19th in Texas was actually two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. Before General Robert E Lee’s surrender in 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texas because there was a minimal number of Union troops there able to enforce the Executive Order. It was only after surrender and the arrival of General Granger that Union forces were able to overcome resistance in Texas.

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
*sidenote about Juneteenth celebrations

An Emancipation Day Celebration in Texas, June 19, 1900 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: But slavery in Texas did NOT only last for 20 years, but operated in some capacity or another since European contact in the 16th century and most likely before that among indigenous peoples living in the region prior to contact. However the type of slavery that we will be discussing today is chattel slavery. This type of slavery is very different than older forms of slavery. Chattel slavery is a type of slavery in which people are actual property who could be bought, sold, traded or inherited, much like livestock or inanimate objects. A person was born into slavery and their offspring would become slaves too. This was the type of slavery practiced in the Southern United States and the one we will be concentrating on today.

Sarah: Slavery in Texas is unique because it involves Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States.

During the Spanish Colonial period, roughly 1690-1821, Spain settled the region by establishing presidios, or fortified bases to maintain control of an area. And they established missions to convert the indigenous populations to Christianity.

Elizabeth: so story, I began my undergrad career as an archaeology major and did a dig at a presidio site in Mission, TX with the Texas Archaeology Research Laboratory. It’s super far south on the TX border with Mexico. It was super cool- found some small arrowheads and pottery shards but that trip made me realize I did NOT want to be an archaeologist. It was flipping 120 degrees and I was camping in a tent. I guess I was about 18 or 19 years old and I remember there was a lady who, well she was probably only in her 30s but she was a, like real “grown-up” in my eyes, and she asked me how I slept and I said I didn’t cause you know, I was hot and alone and freaked out and she was like oh, I just had a Tylenol PM and a glass of wine and I slept like a baby. And that my friends was when I first learned that was a thing-

ANYWAY….
Sarah: Slavery was allowed in New Spain, meaning land that includes present-day Central America north of Panama Mexico the U.S. Southwest and parts of the Philippines and Caribbean Islands that were controlled by colonial Spain. In 1813 the viceroyalty of New Spain held about 6.1 million people. It’s capital was Mexico City, the city formally known as Tenochtitlan before Spanish conquest. The region that would become Texas was sparsely populated. Chattel slavery however, did not operate in Texas until White American settlers began to migrate into the region during the 19th century.

Elizabeth: The Mexican National period that lasted from 1821- until Texas Independence in 1836 represents the greatest shift in the early history of slavery in Texas. Mexico, like many other South American colonies during the 19th century, fought it’s own war of independence against Spain and won. Mexico attempted to develop the region of northern Mexico that we now know as central and south Texas by offering land grants to Americans in exchange for bringing settlers to bolster the population in the area.

In 1821, the same year of Mexican independence, Mexico granted a Connecticut farmer named Moses Austin, and later his son Stephen F. Austin, permission to colonize the Texas region of Mexico with American farmers. The Austin’s received a large land grant and then re-sold smaller tracts of land to American settlers. Settlers had to be of good moral character, become Mexican citizens and practice Catholicism.

Sarah: Land incentives and many other conditions, like soil exhaustion encouraged settlement and fueled slaveholders from parts of the Deep South to move to Texas. Most of the people who Austin recruited came from southern states and brought their slave laborers with them.

Elizabeth: Most White Americans willing to emigrate to Texas did so because of the opportunity to get cheap land and to begin making money by producing cotton. And unfortunately, the only way to grow cotton profitably required slaves. Stephen F. Austin made this clear in 1824: “The principal product that will elevate us from poverty is cotton,” he wrote, “and we cannot do this without the help of slaves.”

Sarah: This isn’t to say that cotton can’t be grown WITHOUT slaves. That’s ridiculous. We are just saying that during the time, people did not believe they could grow cotton profitably without slaves. And they had a point. Large plantations in the southeastern United States relied on slave labor, and competing against those cotton producers with wage labor would have been futile.

Cotton ready for harvest | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth: This emigration into Texas was part of a larger phenomenon historians call the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom, or Mississippi fever. Essentially- get fertile land as cheap as possible (usually land newly acquired from Native Americans), buy as many slaves as possible, and grow cotton for profit.

Sarah: So Stephen F. Austin negotiated a policy with officials in Mexico in regards to slavery. For each slave that an emigrant brought with them, they would be allowed to purchase an additional 50 acres of land. This later increased to 80 acres of land. Because Austin knew that the only way he could attract settlers, would be if they could also bring slaves.

Elizabeth: At the same time however, free Blacks in Texas were granted full Mexican citizenship and property rights. Many free Blacks and escaped slaves went to Texas where they received some semblance of equality. In fact, historian Andrew Torget begins his monograph, Seeds of Empire, with this super interesting convergence of peoples and complicates a popular narrative of Texas history. The story written in most histories about Texas’ first American settlers begins like this: on Moses Austin’s first trip to Texas, where he asked for- and received – permission to bring settlers to Texas, he crossed paths with a planter from Louisiana named James Kirkham. This part of Austin’s journey is retold in histories about the beginnings of Texas Independence and the Austin’s because Kirkham stole Austin’s horses and provisions in the middle of the night. Austin was traveling with his son’s slave name Richmond, so Richmond and Austin had to travel by foot in January – which by the way is really nasty in Texas because it’s just wet and mushy and cold. Austin ended up getting pneumonia and although he made it back home, he never really recovered and died a few weeks later. So that’s why his son, Stephen F. Austin took over the settlement of Texas and later became one of the major players in Texas Independence. But, what’s missing from this story, and I’d never known this until I read Torget’s book, was that Kirkham was in Texas because he was chasing three of his slaves named Marian, Richard, and Tivi, who had escaped and run to New Spain for their freedom. They ended up living out their lives as Mexican citizens by the way. So this story of the founder of what we now know as Texas began on this journey with two slave holders and four slaves-there’s just so much to unpack here. The fact that Richmond, Marian, Richard and Tivi are usually left out of this story, Kirkham chasing after his chattel, right, his slaves- who are doing something that hundreds of slaves in the lower states did- they ran to Spanish territory for freedom- so that one little microcosm right there, encapsulates, or sets the stage for a war, the Texas War of Independence, that will happen fourteen years later for “freedom,” and “independence.”

Sarah: As more and more Americans emigrated to Texas and became majorities in some areas, the treatment of Blacks in those areas, changed drastically.

Plus, Mexico was very inconsistent in the laws it enacted regarding slavery. In 1823, Mexico forbade the sale or purchase of slaves, and required that the children of slaves be freed when they reached age fourteen.

Elizabeth: But this law wasn’t strictly enforced. An 1825 census of Austin’s Colony revealed that out of 443 Black people living in the colony, only a small fraction of them were free. The rest were enslaved by the 1,347 White Austin colonists.

Sarah: In 1824 Stephen F. Austin devised a set of regulations for his colony that set harsh rules for slaves who attempted to escape and punished free people who helped runaway slaves. These rules, articles 10 through 14 of Austin’s Criminal Regulations, established what were essentially Texas’ first “slave codes.”

Elizabeth: In 1827, Mexico outlawed the introduction of additional slaves and granted freedom at birth to all children born to a slave. Within a year however, the State Congress of Coahuila [koaˈwila] and Texas passed a law that allowed slave owners to bring in indentured servants to the region. So, slaveowners simply had their slaves sign contracts of long-term indenture to their masters.

Sarah: Yes, and here is an example of how that worked. Americans emmigrating to Texas would go to someone in America, in this example a notary public named William Lewis in New Orleans. Lewis would write and notarize a contract that theoretically freed the slave and subsequently indenturing them to their master, as a servant for sixty to ninety years. A man named John Miller emigrated from Alabama in 1831. The indenture “agreement” he had with his slaves bound George (40), Charlotte (38), and her seven children- Mary (17), Sambo (13), Peter (9), Sally (8), Anna (5), Fanny (3) and David (1)- to serve Miller for 90 years.

Elizabeth: Mexico fully abolished slavery in 1829 as well as additional immigration to Texas from the United States. Mexico made an exception for the Austin colony however, and more White Americans came into the state accompanied by their slave laborers.

So essentially, from 1821 to 1836 the Mexican government threatened to restrict or end slavery but always allowed some sort of out, or loophole, for Texas settlers.

Even though Austin was a slave owner, his feelings about it were mixed. He didn’t fully support slavery, at least he wasn’t a Bible thumper about it. This wasn’t because he was an abolitionist in any way. He owned slaves, so that couldn’t be it. Austin was apathetic regarding slavery because he didn’t want Black people to populate his beloved Texas.

And in all seriousness, many slaveowners felt similar mixed feelings about slavery. Take for example Thomas Jefferson who wrote in 1820 in regards to slavery, “ But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear [meaning slavery], and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

Sarah: So all of these men, who were making money and survived on the institution of slavery were hinky about it, and moralized about it, but they never did anything to stop it. They didn’t even have the strength to stop using it within their own lives.

Stephen F Austin for example wrote in 1833 that
“The idea of seeing such a country as this [meaning Texas] overrun by a slave population almost makes me weep. It is vain to tell a North American that the white population will be destroyed some fifty or eighty years hence by the negroes, and that his daughters will be violated and butchered by them.”

And just for you listeners who may not be aware, “violated” in this quote means raped. So he’s saying, hey white people, the Black guys are gonna rape your daughters- an idea that has been a fundamental trope of white supremacy for hundreds of years.

Elizabeth: Austin went on to write, “To say anything to them [White Americans] as to the justice of slavery, or its demoralizing effects on society, is only to draw down ridicule upon the person who attempts it.” He explained that when he began the colony, he had to get the Mexican government to tolerate slavery because, Austin argued, it was the only way he could get emigrants to come. He had to go to Mississippi and Louisiana for his first recruits, and so he had to have slavery be allowed if he expected to get Americans to come and settle in Texan Mexico.

But Austin’s views were fluid, and the economic and social pressures that slavery exerted weighed on his mind. He went on later to state that “I have been adverse to the principle of slavery in Texas. I have now, and for the last six months, changed my views of that matter …. Texas must be a slave country. Circumstances and unavoidable necessity compels it. It is the wish of the people there, and it is my duty to do all I can, prudently, in favor of it. I will do so.“

Sarah: So although the Mexican government continually made exceptions for Texas in regards to slavery, many slaveholders in Texas worried that Mexico might at some time attempt to actually uphold the laws of the land and abolish slavery for good in the region. American immigrants in Texas had a lot of money invested in cotton production, and thus slavery and they did not want to see those investments put at stake.

Slave numbers in Texas in 1836 were fairly low. Most likely due to Mexico’s ambiguous attitude towards slavery. For example, in 1835 there were 5,000 enslaved people among a total population of 38,000. But the fear that Mexico would crack-down on slavery in Texas became an increasingly alarming concern to slaveholding Texans.

Elizabeth: Right before the fall of the Alamo in March 1836, the Texas government assembled in a city called Washington on the Brazos and were writing the Texas constitution. In Section 9 of the General Provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, it is stated how the new republic would resolve their greatest problem under Mexican rule: “All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude … Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from bringing their slaves into the republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States nor shall congress have power to emancipate slaves nor shall any slaveholder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave without the consent of congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the republic.”

Eugene C. Barker,n. d. Eugene C. Barker papers, di_02310, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Sarah: The argument that slavery was NOT a large part of Texas Independence, but instead a constant “dull, organic ache” was postulated by the Texas historian Eugene C. Barker in 1911. From “Public Opinion in Texas Preceding the Revolution” By Eugene Barker (From Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1911). He wrote:

“Earnest patriots like Benjamin Lundy, William Ellery Channing, and John Quincy Adams saw in the Texas revolution a disgraceful affair promoted by sordid slaveholders and land speculators. Even to the critical ear of the modern historian [modern in 1911] their arguments sound plausible, and it is not strange that in a period distinguished by sectionalism they were accepted by partisans at full value. The fundamental defect of these arguments lay in the fact that their authors knew too little of contemporary opinion in Texas. The truth is, so far as one may judge from the absence of discussion of the subject in Texas, that slavery played no part in precipitating the revolution while it is certain that land speculation, of which there was unquestionably a great deal, tended rather to retard than to hasten the outbreak.”

Elizabeth: So let’s break that down a little bit. Barker is explicitly saying that the Texas fight had nothing to do with slavery and that people who were saying, at the time- in the 1830s, that it did had no idea what Texans were really thinking. So first off, this was written in 1911. This is big time of the Lost Cause. Birth of a Nation, a movie that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction Era and sparked it’s renewal in the 20th century, came out the following year in 1912. Blue and Grey reconciliation gatherings were happening at major Civil War battlefields. The Daughters of the Confederacy were erecting monuments all over the place as were the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The Lost Cause of the Civil War was being taught to schoolchildren and written into history books, by historians like Barker.

So even though people are saying AT THE TIME, in the 1830s and 1840s that the war in Texas had everything to do with slavery, Barker for some reason, feels the need to refute that when writing his history book in 1911. Hmmmm… why?

Also, Barker says that he can only find three instances of ppl talking about slavery, which is kind of ridiculous because the memoirs of Texan, Mexican and American participants were littered with references to slavery and the fears that Texans had that Mexico would completely curtail the use of Black slaves in Texas.

Sarah: But Barker is regurgitated over and over and over again in numerous history books, some even from the past decade! He is cited as a source in the majority of books written about the Texas War of Independence when the book is arguing that the war had nothing to do with slavery.

So what we’re getting at here, is that the master historical narrative on whether Texas Independence and statehood had anything to do with slavery was written by a historian that clearly subscribed to the Lost Cause!

Elizabeth: Slavery isn’t discussed in most schools when discussing the Texas War of Independence, unless one has a really exceptional teacher.
For me? Slavery was never mentioned. NOT ONCE. Or at least, not enough for me to remember. It was a war for “freedom”, a war to break free of the despotism of Mexico, and quite frankly the Mexicans were painted as evil. Nevermind that contemporaneously John Quincy Adams, and others- particularly abolitionists – were saying that Americans were pushing slavery in Texas and that if the U.S. intervened, the U.S. would be on the wrong side!

Sarah: Right, Adams said to members of the House in 1836, “Your war, sir, is to be a war of races- the Anglo-Saxon American pitted against the Moorish-Spanish-Mexican American, a war between the northern and southern halves of North America, from Passamaquoddy to Panama. Are you prepared for such a war?…Aggression, conquest, and the re-establishment of slavery where it has been abolished. In that war, sir, the banners of freedom will be the banners of Mexico and your banners, I blush to speak the word, will be the banners of slavery.”

Elizabeth: And once Texas claimed its independence in 1836, slavery was officially and firmly protected in the state. And when they wrote the constitution for their new republic, one of those signers being Claiborne West, my distant relative by marriage, they “removed all doubt and uneasiness among the citizens of Texas in regard to the tenure by which they held dominion over their slaves,” according to a later Texas Supreme Court Justice.

Sarah: And once Mexico was out of the way, the slave population in Texas went from 5,000 in 1836 to 182,566 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War. That was 30% of Texas’ population. So it is CLEAR that once free of Mexican rule, Texans and American emigrants into Texas increased the slave population by like a thousand percent. ? I don’t know, what percent is an increase from 5k to almost 200k?

Elizabeth: Now we are not arguing that slavery was the ONLY reason that the Texas War of Independence was fought. What we ARE saying is that is was a MAJOR factor, and a larger factor than most Texans, and most Americans in general, ever realized or were taught in school. And the argument is- that is purposeful. That is because the shadow of the Lost Cause also casts a shadow over the Texas War of Independence.

Sarah: But this makes sense, because this is how America likes to remember it’s “great” wars, it’s great victories. It’s the same way that the Civil War is remembered. Or at least was.
We see that changing, slowly. But there are still people who are fully educated within the Lost Cause.

Elizabeth: Sure, I’m one of them. It took going to graduate school in a Northern city to have my eyes opened to the fallacy of my primary and undergraduate education. (I’m sure I would have discovered these things in grad school down south too. And hopefully on my own by reading books, but who knows?)

Sarah: At the same time however, old myths die hard. Take for example a popular children’s book series, called the “Dear America Series.” They are kind of like American Girl books? They have a central protagonist that is writing in their fictional diary during a major American history event. And let me just read you the back of this book, “In the journal she receives for her twelfth birthday in 1835, Lucinda Lawrence describes the hardships her family and other residents of the “Texas colonies” endure when they decide to face the Mexicans in a fight for their freedom.” So it seems fairly innocuous on the surface right? But reading between the lines, what this says is that the Mexicans are bad, the Texans were fighting for “freedom” and there wasn’t a Black person to be found.

Elizabeth: And seriously, that’s how I was taught about this war! That the Mexicans were super evil, and I even went to a majority Latinx school! And it was still taught that way!
But things are changing and there is a growing movement to “reconceptualize the Alamo as a space for celebrating the confluences of cultures—Native American, African, Mexican, and Anglo—rather than a shrine to Anglo dominance.” San Antonio activist Rolando Castro is quoted as saying. They mythologizing of Anglo heros and the disparaging of Mexicans has to stop.

Sarah: To be clear, during the war the Mexican army committed some serious travesties under directions from Santa Ana. They killed almost every single person at the Alamo and they executed almost 400 Texan soldiers during the Goliad Massacre- so I don’t want to excuse ANYTHING. But those atrocities also happened during a time of war and what the Mexican army considered acts of treason or piracy.

Elizabeth: Yes, if we’re talking about war, we are talking about people dying. But, as we’ve hopefully conveyed today – the ramifications of war have so many effects. Some that the people living through the war would probably never even imagine! If you’d like to learn more about the events we’ve spoken about here, as well as the construction of historical memory, please read our show notes at digpodcast.org where we have links to books and articles you may find interesting.

Sarah: Thanks for listening. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.


Section Summary

The establishment of the Lone Star Republic formed a new chapter in the history of U.S. westward expansion. In contrast to the addition of the Louisiana Territory through diplomacy with France, Americans in Texas employed violence against Mexico to achieve their goals. Orchestrated largely by slaveholders, the acquisition of Texas appeared the next logical step in creating an American empire that included slavery. Nonetheless, with the Missouri Crisis in mind, the United States refused the Texans’ request to enter the United States as a slave state in 1836. Instead, Texas formed an independent republic where slavery was legal. But American settlers there continued to press for more land. The strained relationship between expansionists in Texas and Mexico in the early 1840s hinted of things to come.

Review Question

  1. How did Texas settlers’ view of Mexico and its people contribute to the history of Texas in the 1830s?

Answer to Review Question

  1. American slaveholders in Texas distrusted the Mexican government’s reluctant tolerance of slavery and wanted Texas to be a new U.S. slave state. Most also disliked Mexicans’ Roman Catholicism and regarded them as dishonest, ignorant, and backward. Belief in their own superiority inspired some Texans to try to undermine the power of the Mexican government.

Glossary

alcalde a Mexican official who often served as combined civil administrator, judge, and law enforcement officer

empresario a person who brought new settlers to Texas in exchange for a grant of land


Slavery

Texas was the last frontier of chattel slavery in the United States. In the fewer than fifty years between 1821 and 1865, the "Peculiar Institution," as Southerners called it, spread over the eastern two-fifths of the state, an area nearly as large as Alabama and Mississippi combined. Slavery thus linked Texas inextricably with the Old South.

There were a few slaves in Texas while it was a Spanish province, but slavery did not really become an institution of significance in the region until the arrival of Anglo‑American settlers. The original empresario commission given Moses Austin by Spanish authorities in 1821 did not mention slaves, but when Stephen F. Austin was recognized as heir to his father's contract later that year, it was agreed that settlers could receive eighty acres of land for each enslaved person they brought to the colony. The motivation for bringing slaves to Texas was primarily economic &ndash using their labor to grow cotton, which was by 1820 the most valuable commodity in the Atlantic world. To Anglo-American slave owners slavery was a practical necessity in Texas &ndash the only way to grow cotton profitably on its vast areas of fertile land. Stephen F. Austin made this clear in 1824: &ldquoThe principal product that will elevate us from poverty is cotton,&rdquo he wrote, &ldquoand we cannot do this without the help of slaves.&rdquo (see BLACKS IN COLONIAL SPANISH TEXAS and ANGLO-AMERICAN COLONIZATION)

Most of the early slaveholders owned only a few enslaved people, but a few brought enough to build plantations immediately. For example, Jared Groce arrived from Alabama in 1822 with ninety slaves and set up a cotton plantation on the Brazos River. The first census in Austin's colony in 1825 showed 443 slaves in a total population of 1,800.

Even as Austin&rsquos colonists began to establish slavery on the lower Brazos and Colorado rivers, the independence of Mexico cast doubt on the future of the institution in Texas. Leaders of the Mexican nation tended to oppose slavery, in part from revolutionary idealism and in part because slavery was not essential to the new nation&rsquos economy, and therefore regularly threatened to limit or abolish the institution. The Federal Constitution of 1824 did not mention slavery, but the 1827 Constitution of the State of Coahuila and Texas prohibited the further introduction of slaves and declared all children born thereafter to slaves already in the state to be free at birth. Anglo‑American settlers were very alarmed, but within a year the State Congress of Coahuila and Texas, some of its Tejano leaders impressed by the pleas of Austin's colonists concerning the need for labor and others distracted by debates over different issues, passed a law that used the familiar practice of indentured servitude to permit the bringing in of slaves under a different name. Before being brought to Texas, enslaved persons signed contracts with their masters by which they technically became free but, in return for their "freedom," agreed that they and their children would, in effect, be indentured to the master for life. In 1829, President Vicente Guerrero issued a decree abolishing slavery in all of Mexico, but within months he exempted Texas from that order. In short, from 1821 to 1836, the national government in Mexico City and the state government of Coahuila and Texas often threatened to restrict or destroy African American servitude, but always allowed settlers in Texas a loophole or an exemption.

Although Mexican governments did not adopt any consistent or effective policy to prevent slavery in Texas, their threats worried slaveholders and possibly retarded the immigration of planters from the Old South. In 1836 Texas had approximately 5,000 enslaved persons in a total population estimated at 38,470. The number likely would have been larger but for the attitude of the Mexican federal and state governments.

Disputes over slavery did not constitute an immediate cause of the Texas Revolution, but the institution was always in the background as what the noted Texas historian Eugene C. Barker called a "dull, organic ache." In other words, it was an underlying cause of the struggle in 1835‑1836. Moreover, once the revolution came, slavery was very much on the minds of those involved. Texans worried constantly that the Mexicans were going to free their slaves or at least cause servile insurrection. And when they declared independence and wrote a constitution for their new republic, they made every effort, in the words of a later Texas Supreme Court justice, to "remove all doubt and uneasiness among the citizens of Texas in regard to the tenure by which they held dominion over their slaves." Section 9 of Constitution of the Republic of Texas read in part as follows:

All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude. Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from bringing their slaves into the republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States nor shall congress have the power to emancipate slaves nor shall any slave holder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave without the consent of congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the republic.

Thus, slavery was not the immediate cause of the revolution, but the institution was always there as an issue, and the revolution made it more secure than ever in Texas.

Slavery expanded rapidly during the period of the republic. By the end of 1845, when Texas joined the United States, the state was home to at least 30,000 enslaved people. After statehood, in antebellum Texas, slavery grew even more rapidly. The census of 1850 reported 58,161 slaves, 27.4 percent of the 212,592 people in Texas, and the census of 1860 enumerated 182,566 slaves, 30.2 percent of the total population. Slaves were increasing faster than the population as a whole.

The great majority of slaves in Texas came with their owners from the older slave states. Sizable numbers, however, came through the domestic slave trade. New Orleans was the center of this trade in the Deep South, but there were slave dealers in Galveston and Houston, too. A relatively few slaves, perhaps as many as 2,000 between 1835 and 1865, came through the illegal African trade.

Slave prices inflated rapidly as the institution expanded in Texas. The average price of a slave, regardless of age, sex, or condition, rose from approximately $400 in 1850 to nearly $800 by 1860. During the late 1850s, prime male field hands aged eighteen to thirty cost on the average $1,200, and skilled slaves such as blacksmiths often were valued at more than $2,000. In comparison, good Texas cotton land could be bought for as little as six dollars an acre. Slavery spread over the eastern two-fifths of Texas by 1860 but flourished most vigorously along the rivers that provided rich soil and relatively inexpensive transportation. The greatest concentration of large slave plantations was along the lower Brazos and Colorado rivers in Brazoria, Matagorda, Fort Bend, and Wharton counties. Truly giant slaveholders such as Robert and D. G. Mills, who owned more than 300 slaves in 1860 (the largest holding in Texas), had plantations in this area, and the population resembled that of the Old South's famed Black Belt. Brazoria County, for example, was 72 percent slave in 1860, while north central Texas, the area from Hunt County west to Jack and Palo Pinto counties and south to McLennan County, had fewer slaves than any other settled part of the state, except for Hispanic areas such as Cameron County. However, the north central region held much excellent cotton land, and slavery would probably have developed rapidly there once rail transportation was built. The last frontier of slavery was by no means closed on the eve of the Civil War.

American slavery was preeminently an economic institution&mdasha system of unfree labor used to produce cash crops for profit. Questions concerning its profitability are complex and always open to debate. The evidence is strong, however, that in Texas slaves were generally profitable as a business investment for individual slaveholders. Slave labor produced cotton (and sugar on the lower Brazos River) for profit and also cultivated the foodstuffs necessary for self-sufficiency. The effect of the institution on the state's general economic development is less clear. Slavery certainly promoted development of the agricultural economy it provided the labor for a 600 percent increase in cotton production during the 1850s. On the other hand, the institution may well have contributed in several ways to retarding commercialization and industrialization. Planters, for example, being generally satisfied with their lives as slaveholders, were largely unwilling to involve themselves in commerce and industry, even if there was a chance for greater profits. Slavery may have thus hindered economic modernization in Texas. Once established as an economic institution, slavery became a key social institution as well. Only one in every four families in antebellum Texas owned slaves, but these slaveholders, especially the planters who held twenty or more slaves, generally constituted the state's wealthiest class. Because of their economic success, these planters represented the social ideal for many other Texans. Slavery was also vital socially because it reflected basic racial views. Most Whites thought that Blacks were inferior and wanted to be sure that they remained in an inferior social position. Slavery guaranteed that.

Although the law contained some recognition of their humanity, slaves in Texas had the legal status of personal property. They could be bought and sold, mortgaged, and hired out. They had no legally prescribed way to gain freedom. They had no property rights themselves and no legal rights of marriage and family. Slave owners had broad powers of discipline subject only to constitutional provisions that slaves be treated "with humanity" and that punishment not extend to the taking of life and limb. A slave had a right to trial by jury and a court-appointed attorney when charged with a crime greater than petty larceny. Blacks, however, could not testify against Whites in court, a prohibition that largely negated their constitutional protection. Slaves who did not work satisfactorily or otherwise displeased their owners were commonly punished by whipping. Many slaves may have escaped such punishment, but every slave lived with the knowledge that he or she could be whipped at his owner's discretion.

The majority of adult slaves were field hands, but a sizable minority worked as skilled craftsmen, house servants, and livestock handlers. Field hands generally labored "from sun to sun" five days a week and half a day on Saturday. House servants and craftsmen worked long hours, too, but their labor was not so burdensome physically. Theirs was apparently a favored position, at least in this regard. A small minority (about 6 percent) of the slaves in Texas did not belong to farmers or planters but lived instead in the state's towns, working as domestic servants, day laborers, and mechanics (see SLAVERY, URBAN).

The material conditions of slave life in Texas could probably best be described as subsistence, in that most slaves had the food, shelter, and clothing necessary to live and work effectively. On the other hand, there was little comfort and no luxury. Slaves ate primarily corn and pork, foods that contained enough calories to provide adequate energy but were limited in essential vitamins and minerals. Most slaves, however, supplemented their basic diet with sweet potatoes, garden vegetables, wild game, and fish and were thus adequately fed. Slave houses were usually small log cabins with fireplaces for cooking. Dirt floors were common, and beds attached to the walls were the only standard furnishings. Slave clothing was made of cheap, coarse materials shoes were stiff and rarely fitted. Medical care in antebellum Texas was woefully inadequate for Whites and Blacks alike, but slaves had a harder daily life and were therefore more likely to be injured or develop diseases that doctors could not treat (see HEALTH AND MEDICINE).

Texas slaves had a family-centered social life and culture that flourished in the slave quarters, where slaves were largely on their own, at least from sundown to sunup. Although slave marriages and families had no legal protections, the majority of slaves were reared and lived day to day in a family setting. This was in the slave owners' self-interest, for marriage encouraged reproduction under socially acceptable conditions, and slave children were valuable. Moreover, individuals with family ties were probably more easily controlled than those who had none. The slaves themselves, however, also insisted on family ties. They often made matches with slaves on neighboring farms and spent as much time as possible together, even if one owner or the other could not be persuaded to arrange for husband and wife to live on the same place. They fought bitterly against the disruption of their families by sale or migration and at times virtually forced masters to respect family ties. Many slave families, however, were disrupted. All slaves had to live with the knowledge that their families could be broken up, and yet the basic social unit survived. Family ties were a source of strength for people enduring bondage and a mark of their humanity, too. Religion and music were also key elements of slave culture. Many owners encouraged worship, primarily on the grounds that it would teach proper subjection and good behavior. Slaves, however, tended to hear the message of individual equality before God and salvation for all. The promise of ultimate deliverance helped many to resist the psychological assault of slavery. Music and song served to set a pace for work and to express sorrow and hope (see AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHURCHES).

Slaves adjusted their behavior to the conditions of servitude in a variety of ways. Some felt well-treated by their owners and generally behaved as loyal servants. Others hated their masters and their situation and rebelled by running away or using violence. Texas had many runaways and thousands escaped to Mexico. Although no major rebellions occurred, individual acts of violence against owners were carried out. Most slaves, however, were neither loyal servants nor rebels. Instead, the majority recognized all the controls such as slave patrols that existed to keep them in bondage and saw also that runaways and rebels generally paid heavy prices for overt resistance. They therefore followed a basic human instinct and sought to survive on the best terms possible. This did not mean that the majority of slaves were content with their status. They were not, and even the best-treated slaves dreamed of freedom.

Slavery in Texas was not a matter of content, well-cared for servants as idealized in some views of the Old South. Slavery was a complex institution that varied according to time and place. In Texas, like other southern states, the treatment of slaves varied from plantation to plantation, from master to master. Legally slaves were categorized as chattel (moveable property), but they were men, women and children who clearly despised their condition of servitude. Yet, they did not live every day in helpless rage. Instead, slaves exercised a degree of agency in their lives by maximizing the time available within the system to maintain physical, psychological and spiritual strength. In part this limited autonomy was given by the masters, and was taken by slaves in the slave quarters which provided them resilience to assert self-determination within the confine of bondage. Slaves increased their minimal self-determination by taking what they could get from their owners and then pressing for additional latitude. For example, slaves worked hard, sometimes at their own pace, and offered many forms of nonviolent resistance if pushed too hard. Slaves in general did not lash out constantly against all the limits placed on them &ndash that would have brought intolerable punishment &ndash but they did not surrender totally to the system, either. One way or another they had to endure. This fact is not a tribute to the benevolence of slavery, but a testimony to the human spirit of the enslaved African Americans.

Slavery was a labor system and although slaves obviously freed their owners from the drudgery of manual labor and daily chores, they were a troublesome property in many ways. Masters disciplined their slaves to get the labor they wanted, and yet had to avoid many problems of resistance such as running away and feigning illness. Many owners wished to appear as benevolent &ldquofathers,&rdquo and yet most knew that there would be times when they would treat members of their &ldquofamilies&rdquo as property pure and simple. Most lived with a certain amount of fear of their supposedly happy servants, for the slightest threat of a slave rebellion could touch off a violent reaction. Slavery was thus a constant source of tension in the lives of slaveholders.

White society as a whole in antebellum Texas was dominated by its slaveholding minority. Economically, slave owners had a disproportionately large share of the state's wealth and produced virtually all of the cash crops. Politically, slaveholders dominated public office holding at all levels. Socially, slaveholders, at least the large planters, embodied an ideal to most Texans.

The progress of the Civil War did not drastically affect slavery in Texas because no major slaveholding area was invaded. In general, Texas slaves continued to work and live as they had before the war. Almost certainly, however, many came to believe that they would be free if the South lost. They listened as best they could for any war news and passed it around among themselves, and no doubt many heard of Abraham Lincoln&rsquos Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that all slaves behind Confederate lines on January 1, 1863, would be freed. Of course, because Texas did not consider itself part of the United States, Lincoln&rsquos proclamation could have no effect until federal troops gained control of the state.

Slavery formally ended in Texas after June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), when Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with occupying federal forces and announced emancipation. As news of emancipation spread across the state, a few owners angrily told their slaves to leave immediately, but most asked the freedmen, as they soon became known, to stay and work for wages. The emancipated slaves celebrated joyously (if Whites allowed it), but then they had to find out just what freedom meant. They knew that they controlled their own bodies and therefore were free to move about as they chose and not be forced to labor for others. But how would they make their way in the world after 1865? Enslaved African Americans had maintained human strength and dignity even in bondage, and Texas could not have grown as it had before 1865 without the slaves' contributions. Nevertheless, slavery was a curse to Texans, Black and White alike, until 1865 and beyond.


Texas’ 1836 Project aims to promote “patriotic education,” but critics worry it will gloss over state’s history of racism

The project is essentially an advisory committee designed to promote the state’s history to Texas residents, largely through pamphlets given to people receiving driver’s licenses.

by Heidi Pérez-Moreno June 9, 2021 5 AM Central

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When Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill this week creating what’s called the “1836 Project,” he touted it as a way to promote the state’s exceptionalism. The name mirrors the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which examines U.S. history from the date when enslaved people first arrived on American soil.

But House Bill 2497 centers on the year Texas won independence from Mexico and is meant to promote a “patriotic education” to the state’s residents.

“To keep Texas the best state in the United States of America, we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place,” Abbott said in a video on Twitter before passing the law.

Under HB 2497, the 1836 Project is essentially just the name of an advisory committee designed to promote the state’s history to Texas residents, largely through pamphlets given to people receiving driver’s licenses. It will also award students on their knowledge of the state’s history and values.

But critics are concerned the new project is a part of Republicans’ nationwide push to limit the discussion of critical race theory in schools. House Bill 3979, now awaiting Abbott’s approval, will limit how Texas educators can discuss current events and racism in the U.S. The 1836 Project also requires the promotion of “the Christian heritage of this state.” Another piece of legislation awaiting Abbott’s signature, Senate Bill 797, requires Texas schools to display the term “In God We Trust” across campus buildings if such signage is donated to them.

One controversial aspect of the 1836 Project is its name. Some critics have pointed out that Texas’ independence didn’t apply to all of those living in the state at the time, such as slaves and indigenous groups. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, passed in 1836, legalized slavery and excluded indigenous groups from gaining independence.

“1836 marked independence for some, but for others marks a period of slavery and pain and exploitation for many, many people who live there,” said Maggie Stern, a youth civic education and engagement coordinator at the Children’s Defense Fund in Texas.

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist for The New York Times who spearheaded The 1619 Project, said on Twitter that Texas’ new law is another attempt to hide the nation’s history of racism.

“We’ve been here before,” Hannah-Jones said. “When it comes to slavery, some people have never wanted open debate and honesty. They seek to bury and prohibit instead.”

The law does detail specific historical topics that should be part of the project, including indigenous people, the state’s Spanish and Mexican heritage, Tejanos and Juneteenth. But the legislation doesn’t explain how these specific topics will be contextualized.

The law will take effect Sept. 1 and expire in 2036. The nine-member advisory committee will be charged with promoting the state’s “history of prosperity and democratic freedom.”

Members will be appointed by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, and committee members must be appointed shortly after that date.

The committee also will advise the state’s governor on the state’s core principles and work with state agencies to ensure “patriotic education” is available at state parks, battlefields, monuments, landmarks and other locations deemed crucial to the state’s history.

In addition, the committee will enact the Gubernatorial 1836 Award, which is meant to recognize students for their knowledge of Texas history and independence.

The project will be funded by the Texas Education Agency, which oversees public primary and secondary education across the state. A report compiling the 1836 Project’s recommendations, plans and proposals will be published on the TEA’s website.

Brian Franklin, associate director for the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, said that while it is important to teach history, the bill’s use of patriotic education is designed to illustrate only a positive portrayal of the state’s history.

“Patriotic education presumes that the point of studying history is to make you prouder of a particular place or is to make you a particular kind of citizen,” Franklin said. “It presumes that all of those things that you’ll look back to find are positive and good principles.”

Stern said this follows a similar pattern to HB 3979.

“I think they’re both part of the same attempt to whitewash history to create a national mythology that doesn’t address the hard questions of slavery, displacement of indigenous folks, of all these things that have happened,” Stern said.

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University and New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Correction, June 10, 2021: A previous version of this story misstated a word Maggie Stern used to describe the period Texas’ independence from Mexico began for some people. She said it marked a period of “exploitation” for many, not a period of “expectoration.”


In Texas, history of slavery unique - but not 'brief'

1 of 5 Richard Steen, a member of the Bexar County Buffalo Soldiers, plays taps during a ceremony to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nueces at the Treue der Union monument in Comfort, Texas on Saturday, August 11, 2012. The monument and the anniversary commemorates the German Texans who supported the Union, opposed slavery and died after objecting to being drafted into the Confederate Army. 34 German Texans, while fleeing, were killed in a clash with Confederate soldiers near the Nueces River. Kin Man Hui / Kin Man Hui / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS Show More Show Less

2 of 5 A TV news crew member takes close-up video of a protest sign at a “Don't White-Out Our History” Rally outside the building where the State Board of Education was meeting in May 2010 in Austin to debate new social studies curricullum standards. The protestors were among numerous critics who said the board’s conservative majority was watering down teaching of the civil rights movement and slavery Larry Kolvoord /AP Show More Show Less

4 of 5 Long before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery had a home in Texas. Alexander Gardner / Alexander Gardner / Getty Images Show More Show Less

When most Americans think about slavery, they imagine large cotton plantations filled with hundreds of slaves working from sunup to sundown.

People talk about the Deep South and the enslaved being traded to large markets in places such as Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina &mdash with Texas often excluded.

In fact, some of my professors suggested Texas slavery was not significant because it &ldquoonly lasted 20 years.&rdquo

At the time, I was writing a dissertation on Georgia. After all, Georgia was the only American Colony that had a ban on slavery for nearly two decades.

However, when I moved to Texas a few years ago, I thought about the nearly complete dismissal of slavery in Texas. I began studying the history of slavery in the Lone Star State.

Texas&rsquo slave history stands out because it involves Spain, Mexico and the United States. Depending on who was in charge, there was always a mix of pro-slavery and anti-slavery activists in Texas, leading to a contentious and confusing struggle for land acquisition, labor practices and race relations.

Looking at Texas through selected historical periods and from the voices of the enslaved, we see the contours of Anglo-American chattel slavery evolve.

Age of Contact (1528-1690): This period marks contact between indigenous people who lived in this region well before European explorers arrived in 1528. As cultures clashed, certain groups became servants to others, but there was no official policy on slavery.

Spanish Colonial (1690-1821): Spain settled the region by establishing missions and presidios. The Spanish viceroyalty allowed slavery in New Spain, which includes present-day Central America north of Panama Mexico the U.S. Southwest and parts of the Philippines and Caribbean Islands.

However, the institution did not grow to the level of plantation slavery, as we know it. By the late 18th century, Spanish Texas&rsquo enslaved population represented less than 1 percent.

Mexican National (1821-1836): This represents the greatest shift in the early history of slavery in Texas as Mexico claimed the territory from Spain. This and a host of other conditions, such as soil exhaustion elsewhere and land incentives encouraging settlement, fueled slaveholders from other parts of the Deep South to move to Texas, bringing captive laborers.

Stephen F. Austin, the first Anglo-American settler, worked with officials in Mexico City to create a policy regarding slavery that initially offered Anglo settlers 50 acres, and later 80, for each enslaved person brought to the region.

Most settled in East Texas between Nacogdoches and the Louisiana state line. During these years, Anglo Texans battled with Mexican authorities over slavery because there was a strong anti-slavery sentiment in Mexico.

This was evident in 1829 when Mexico outlawed slavery. However, historian Randolph Campbell explains, &ldquoMexican leaders showed disapproval of slavery but did nothing effective to abolish it.&rdquo

Republic (1836-1845): Slavery remained controversial even after Texas won independence from Mexico. Southern slaveholders continued to populate the region. The removal of Native Americans and the devastation wrought by the Trail of Tears meant the arrival of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and indigenous groups. It also meant cultural clashes that involved slaves who were sometimes enslaved by, married to or had run away with Native Americans.

Texas had about 5,000 slaves at the time of its revolution in 1836, but by 1845, when the state was annexed to the United States, this grew to 30,000.

Statehood and Slavery (1845-1865): Texas applied for statehood just 16 years before the Civil War and was admitted to the Union in 1845 as a slave state. The period of statehood and Anglo-American slavery lasted 20 years and reflects the reason why people identify Texas as having a short slave history.

By 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, the enslaved population was 30 percent of the state&rsquos population &mdash 182,566.

Although many enslaved people migrated to Texas with their enslavers, some were born here, such as Willis Easter, born near Nacogdoches about 10 years before the Civil War. His mother was &ldquode bes&rsquo cook in de county and a master hand at spinnin&rsquo and weavin,&rsquo&rdquo according to &ldquoSlave Narratives: a Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves. Texas Narratives, Part 2.&rdquo

Most women like Easter&rsquos mother worked in the fields or homes of their slaveholders. A large group of bondwomen served as cooks. Their days began at 3 a.m. when they gathered wood and boiled water to make coffee. Field hands ate before dawn, and the planter family had a large breakfast when they rose. Enslaved laborers ate beans, cornmeal, and salt pork and peas.

Field workers produced cotton, and those along the Brazos River, sugar. Enslaved men also worked in the fields on cotton and sugar plantations, and on ranches and small farms raising cattle and corn.

To keep pace with the demands of the crop, they sang songs, such as this one remembered by Pauline Grace nearly 50 years after slavery ended.

&ldquoOld cotton, old corn, see you every morn. Old cotton, old corn, see you since I&rsquos born. Old cotton, old corn, hoe you till dawn. Old cotton, old corn, what for you born?&rdquo

One in four Texas families owned slaves slaveholdings were typically small as most enslavers owned fewer than 10 people. The largest slaveholder in 1860 was Robert Mills, who, along with his brother D.G. Mills, had more than 300 slaves. Large cotton plantations populated Fort Bend, Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda counties.

It is my hope the teaching of U.S. history and slavery includes Texas. Our story differs starkly from other Southern regions because of the Spanish and Mexican influence.

To simplify it would ignore the movement to prohibit slavery and limit importation during the Colonial era, overlook the battles during the Mexican National period and assume enslavement in Texas lasted only a few years.

After all, enslaved people recall being &ldquobrung to Texas&rdquo and working in communities that had a presence of Anglo-Americans, Spanish, Native Americans and Mexican people.

They established relationships that make Texas&rsquo slave story unique.


How Slavery Led to Texas's Independence - HISTORY

"Many a Cause, Many a Conflict: The Texas Revolution"

Volumes sufficient to fill multiple warehouses have been written about the Texas Revolution of 1836 in the century and a half since it culminated in the seventeen minute Battle of San Jacinto. Few topics have inspired such polarized feelings. Many blame Mexico's loss of her northernmost regions on a conscious premeditated conspiracy of Anglo-Americans in the United States to steal Texas by whatever means possible. This conspiracy, supported by the American government in Washington, D.C., first bore fruit in 1835-36 with the Texas Revolution and culminated ten years later with the Mexican War which resulted in the loss of the present-day states of New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California. At the other end of the continuum are those who blame the Mexican people for the misrule of Texas and the ruthless dictatorship of Santa Anna for provoking a fully justified rebellion by Anglo-Americans and Tejanos. While such extreme positions are far too simplistic to explain the events of 1835-36, they continue to be voiced today - a century and a half after the fact.

In truth, there were a multiplicity of factors which led to the revolution.

The Expansionist History of the United States

Certainly one of the most important reasons for Mexico's loss of Texas was the historic expansionism of the United States, which had been growing by leaps and bounds even prior to the American war of independence. British colonists had occupied and developed the Tidewater and Piedmont areas of the Atlantic Seaboard and were occupying the Appalachians when revolution broke out. Americans now, they conquered and peopled the Ohio River Valley, the Transmississippi West of Kentucky and Tennessee, then Florida, and portions of the massive Louisiana Purchase territory. By the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Americans were already on the border of the new nation - and in some cases were already over the border.

Whether it was because they wanted new virgin farmland, or they wanted to make the United States a transcontinental nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or they wanted to fulfill what they saw as America's divine mission to bring Christianity and civilization to all of North America - "they wanted" is the key phrase. Because the United States had been expanding for its entire history, many Americans were determined to see that trend continue - either through purchase, or negotiations, or militarily. They looked upon American acquisition of vast areas of Northern Mexico as an inevitability.

The policy of the American government for the sale of unoccupied land within its borders to settlers also, unwittingly, encouraged many Americans to migrate to Mexican Texas after 1821. In the decade and a half before the revolution in Texas, the United States government offered unoccupied land within its borders to settlers at the price of $1.25 an acre with an 80 acre minimum tract purchase. This worked well as long as credit was readily available. However, a financial panic swept the United States beginning in 1819. This made money incredibly tight. The government sold land on a cash-only basis and with money now scarce, many Americans found the Republic of Mexico's giveaway of large tracts of land to settlers willing to becoming law-abiding citizens of the Republic an irresistable offer.

This however is a far cry from proving a premeditated conspiracy by American government officials to "steal" Texas from Mexico. While such allegations were made in both the United States and Mexico during and after the revolution, such a conspiracy - much less that it was responsible for events in Texas - has never been proven.

Nonetheless, without a multitude of Anglo-Americans in Texas (who missed their old country, its governmental system and methods) a revolutionary war would not have broken out in Texas in 1835.

The Special Circumstances of Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Another irrefutable factor leading to Mexico's loss of Texas was her preoccupation with internal conflicts and disputes in the immediate aftermath of her own struggle for independence. Texas drifted away between 1821 and 1835 while Mexican citizens were deciding how to solidify their newly-won independence and create a government that all of her citizens could live with.

Such disruptions, turbulence, and internal preoccupation were not unique to Mexico in the period from 1821 to 1836. Consider if you will the severe difficulties faced by Americans under the Articles of Confederation from 1776 to 1788 when the Constitution was adopted and put into effect. State battled state in terms of trade. Currency transactions were almost impossible as each state circulated its own form of money. Americans couldn't get rid of lingering British troops even after the peace settlement. The economy was in shambles. Rumors of intrigue and possible counterrevolutions and coup d'etats were rife. Citizens squabbled over what kind of government they needed and what that government should do. Imagine what might have happened if Americans, having just won their own independence, would have had to defend an exposed and vulnerable territory on its periphery from a powerful foe under these circumstances. Mexico had to do just that.

The Mexican people were certainly preoccupied with internal matters in the aftermath of their revolutionary war of independence against Spain. It was one thing to agree on independence it was quite another to agree upon what should replace Spanish rule. Monarchists who wanted a king battled republicans who wanted elected representative leaders. They fought over what the proper roles of the military and the Roman Catholic church should be. Centralists fought to vest all power in a national government, federalists to distribute it evenly between state and national governments, and confederalists wanted all power at the state and local levels.

During this period of internal preoccupation in Central Mexico with citizens struggling to settle these inevitable questions, Anglo-American Texans and Tejanos learned to proceed more or less independently of Mexico City. In short, Texans - so remote from Mexico City - got used to doing pretty much what they wanted to do any way they wanted to do it. When Mexico focused on Texas once again and clamped on restraints to control what it saw as a rapidly-deteriorating situation, Texans' resentment and resistance helped lead to revolution.

One of the factors that complicated and soured the relations between Mexican citizens and the Anglo settlers they allowed to emigrate to Texas from the United States was racial prejudice. Both sides of the relationship felt racially superior to the other. When the Mexican government took action that angered Anglos or Anglo Texans got into conflict with an official of that government, American colonists were likely to respond with such repulsive terms as "greaser" or "bean eater". When Anglos resisted orders or decisions, Mexicans were just as likely to use the term "gringo".

Racial prejudice led both sides of this relationship to expect the worst of one another, to misread and misinterpret the actions and attitudes of the other race, and to respond in a haughty manner. When both sides of such a quarrel feel they are "God's Chosen People" (ethnocentrism), troubles are certain to develop.

To overlook racism as a cause of the Texas Revolution is simply naive - but it was only one of many causes, not the only cause.

Perhaps the most vexing factor in the Anglo-Mexican relationship was the cultural conflict between these two very different peoples. When the Republic of Mexico authorized the empressario program, it realized that its chances of success were not good - the Anglos from the United States would have to make tremendous cultural changes if they were to fit in permanently in their new home. That the Anglos did not make such dramatic changes in a short time period under such troubled circumstances was not surprising.

Anglos, who had agreed to learn and use the Spanish language as part of the admittance arrangement, groused about the use of Spanish for all official business in Texas once they had settled in. Shortly they began pressing for an exception for Anglos Texans whereby the "official language" could be dumped in favor of English.

The Anglos had also agreed to become practicing Roman Catholics as the church was the officially recognized religion for all of the Republic of Mexico. Even if most Anglos had made the promise in good faith fully intending to convert, they found it difficult after arriving in Texas. Remember that most Anglos had come from the Deep South and, if affiliated with any church, were Southern Baptists or Methodists. Relations between such fundamentalist Protestant groups and Roman Catholicism were strained to say the very least - each thought the others were infidels. Therefore, many Anglos continued to practice their Protestant faiths long after they settled in Texas. Even those who did convert found it difficult to practice their adopted faith given the scarcity in Texas of Catholic churches and priests.

Another complicating cultural difference involved judicial systems. Mexicans operated under the Napoleanic Code while Anglos from the United States had always functioned under a judicial system based upon English common law. The former presumed the guilt of an individual charged with an offense until they could prove their innocence. The latter presumed an individual innocent until proven guilty by the government. Needless to say, bitter disputes involving allegations of disloyalty and tyranny arose often in judicial proceedings.

The Hispanic culture also accepted a very active role by the military, far more active than anything Anglos had ever seen or were willing to accept. The military in Mexican Texas, for instance, was used on occasion to collect both taxes and the tithe to the church. This was foreign to Anglos from the United States. Remember that the American revolution of independence had begun when British military forces attempted to collect and force the payment of tariff duties and taxes.

Perhaps no other factor surpassed these cultural conflicts in straining relations day in and day out between these two very different peoples which would culminate in the revolution.

The most immediate cause of the Texas Revolution was the refusal of many Texas, both Anglo and Mexican, to accept the governmental changes mandated by "Siete Leyes" which placed almost total power in the hands of the Mexican national government and Santa Anna.

Most of the Anglos who moved to Texas came from the Deep South. During the 1820s and 1830s, this region was swept by Jacksonian Democracy - a governmental philosophy that held that all government was bad, the best government was the least government, government grew more tyrannical the fewer people held power, the executive branch was the most dangerous and the one to be given the least power, etc. Perhaps most importantly, Jacksonian Democrats and the vast majority of Anglos who emigrated to Mexican Texas felt that governmental power should be vested primarily in local and state governments which, being closer to the people, were more representative and more easily controlled.

Many Mexicans felt exactly the same way. Remember that one of the internal disputes in post-revolutionary Mexico involved the best way to distribute power between local, state, and national levels of government. Centralists, who wished to allot the overwhelming majority of power to the central/national government in Mexico City, were fought tooth and nail by those all across Mexico who felt this would amount to an uncontrollable and tyrannical dictatorship.

Until 1835 these groups fought one another for control. In October, 1835 the centralists and Santa Anna won out with the enactment of "Siete Leyes". This move: (1) did away with the federalist Constitution of 1824, (2) abolished all state legislatures including that of Coahuila y Tejas, and (3) replaced states with "departments" headed up by governors and appointed councils selected by and serving at the pleasure of Santa Anna.

The reaction in many sections of Mexico, including Texas, was military resistance to the creation of what many citizens saw as an all-powerful government in the hands of a tyrannical Santa Anna. In Texas, war was originally waged in an attempt to restore the Constitution of 1824 and federalism. Only later would it become a war of independence.

When Anglo settlers were originally admitted to Mexican Texas, they were permitted to bring their black slaves from the Deep South with them. Indeed, had Mexican Texas been closed to slavery from the beginning, far fewer Southerners would have emigrated either because they could not bring their expensive property and manpower source with them or because of their political/racial views.

Over the years, Mexico took repeated steps to limit or abolish slavery in Texas. Each step prompted a vociferous reaction from Anglos followed by a Mexican retreat in which the threatening change was repealed. Given the amount of capital many Anglos had invested in black slaves, Mexico's mercurial actions with respect to slavery were at the very least threatening. There were those by 1836 who felt an independent Republic of Texas in which slavery was firmly and for all time recognized and respected was preferable to Mexico with an uncertain future for slavery. Two and one half decades later Texans still felt so strongly about black slavery and attached to it for both economic and social reasons that they would secede from the United States and wage a civil war rather than see the institution imperiled.

The Physical Isolation of Texas

The Texas Revolution was also the product of the physical isolation of Texas from both the American and Mexican governments. The situation in Texas, in which Anglo colonists became increasingly estranged from their host nation with the passage of time, developed in part because Mexico City was so far away. Even without its post-revolutionary struggles and inner focus, Mexico (like Spain before it) would have had tremendous difficulty trying to station enough troops and officials so far from Mexico City to control the situation. Similarly, the United States (had it had the desire to do so) would have found in equally impossible to control Anglo-Americans who had moved to Texas or Southerners who were preparing to move. Anglo-Texans got used to doing whatever they wanted in part because neither government could effectively control the isolated region.


How Leaders of the Texas Revolution Fought to Preserve Slavery

The version of Texas history taught in school is often anglicized and sanitized. We examine how one textbook falls short.

Last week, I started investigating how one fourth-grade Texas history textbook, Pearson&rsquos 2016 edition of We Are Texas, present s the origin story of our state. Having taken fourth-grade Texas history myself, I suspected that our state-sanctioned literature was not presenting the complete story. More specifically, I wondered if kids were learning that the ins t itution of slavery was but an unfortunate phenomenon that existed at the same time as Texas&rsquos settlement, revolution, and nationhood, rather than a driving force in all of those events. The version of Texas history that I learned in school was extremely anglicized, and as a lover of both history and the Lone Star State, it was disappointing to learn the truth as an adult.

So I looked at a textbook, consulted historians, and discovered that yes, we&rsquore still not teaching children the full story . Last week, we looked at what We Are Texas said about the period of Anglo exploration and settlement. This week, we move on to the next era of Texas history that has been heavily mytholog ized : the revolution, and the role that slavery played in Texas&rsquos decision to break free of Mexican control.

Revolutionary Texas, Under Mexican Rule

This section has, as journalists say, egregiously buried the lede of the story . Slavery was a much more pressing issue to Texian settlers than was religious freedom or the language barrier. Though only a quarter of the original three hundred settling families brought enslaved persons with them, the Texas economy was incredibly dependent on cotton, and cotton was only really profitable when picked by the enslaved. In 1829, when Vicente Guerrero, then president of the Republic of Mexico, issued a decree that all enslaved people were henceforth emancipated, Anglo settlers were aghast. &ldquoWe are ruined forever should this measure be adopted,&rdquo wrote John Durst , a prominent landowner and politician. Stephen F. Austin replied, &ldquoI am the owner of one slave only, an old decrepit woman, not worth much, but in this matter I should feel that my constitutional rights as a Mexican were just as much infringed, as they would be if I had a thousand.&rdquo

Texians developed a scheme with which new settlers could evade Mexico&rsquos ban on slavery. According to historical records, before leaving the United States and crossing into Mexican Texas, slave owners would meet with a notary public and draft a document in which slave s w ere given a specific value. The contract stipulated that though they would gain their freedom when they stepped on Texas soil, the y would enter into a period of internment, in which they would work to pay off the debt of their value that they now owed to their previous master. Any costs for clothing or food or housing would be deducted from their &ldquowages,&rdquo which were around $20 a year. Any sum not paid off by the time they died would be assumed by their children. Any of the former slaves&rsquo children who were born after their parents pass ed into Texas would begin paying off their debt s when they reached adulthood, presumably being considered property of the master until that point. Cheap labor from enslaved Black people was so central to the success of the early Texian colonies that settlers worked very hard to maintain it.

The Republic of Texas, After Winning Independence From Mexico

The 1836 Texas constitution was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, but it was also, according to University of North Texas historian Andrew Torget, very much a precursor for what the Confederate states would try to do when they seceded from the Union in 1861. &ldquoNinety-five percent of the entire Republic of Texas economy was cotton, so what they&rsquore building is a cotton nation,&rdquo Torget says. To do that, they &ldquobelieved they needed slavery to be legal and protected, because that&rsquos what makes it profitable.&rdquo As the Confederacy would do later, the Republic drafted a constitution that &ldquoprotected slavery in no uncertain terms, much beyond what the U.S. Constitution did,&rdquo says Torget. The Texas constitution of 1836 stripped the Republic&rsquos c ongress of the ability to pass any legislation affecting the slave trade, let alone emancipating anybody. No slave owner in the Republic of Texas could free his slaves without the consent of the Republic&rsquos c ongress. Any free Black person living in Texas could continue living there only with the approval of the c ongress. The prospect of any free Black people in Texas was considered a threat to the institution of slavery, because it could embolden slaves to run away.

Also, the description of Greenbury Logan&rsquos participation in the so-called democratic process is laughable. As the text itself indicates, the democratic process was barely available to any Black man in 1830s Texas.


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Comments:

  1. Hakeem

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  2. Duman

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  3. Celdtun

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  4. Orham

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  5. Zuhn

    I agree, this is a funny thing.

  6. Tibault

    This to you science.



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