Prelude to the Revolution
Most of the early Anglo-American colonists in Texas intended to fulfill their pledge to become good Mexican citizens. But the political turmoil following the 1828 presidential election in Mexico raised doubts in the Americans minds about the ability of Mexico to make representative government function properly.
On a tour of Texas in 1827 and 1828, Gen. Manuel Mier y Terán noted that the Texans carried their constitutions in their pockets. And he feared the Americans desire for more rights and liberties than the government was prepared to offer would lead to rebellion. Unrest increased in Texas when Gen. Mier y Terán began reinforcing existing garrisons and establishing new ones.
But a major factor in the discontent of Americans came with the decree of April 6, 1830, when the Mexican government in essence banned further American immigration into Texas and tried to abolish slavery. (For an account of how Texans opposed this decree at Fort Anahuac, click here.)
Austin protested that the prohibition against American immigration would not stop the flow of Anglos into Texas; it would stop only stable, prosperous Americans from coming.
Austin's predictions were fulfilled. Illegal immigrants continued to come. By 1836, the estimated number of people in Texas had reached 35,000.
In the midst of all the turmoil, Texas was prospering. By 1834, some 7,000 bales of cotton with a value of $315,000 were shipped to New Orleans. In the middle of the decade, Texas exports, including cotton and beaver, otter and deer skins, amounted to $500,000.
Trade ratios were out of balance, however, because $630,000 in manufactured goods were imported. And, there was little currency in Texas. Ninety percent of the business transactions were conducted with barter or credit.
In 1833 and 1834, the Coahuila y Texas legislature was diligently trying to respond to the complaints of the Texas colonists. The English language was recognized for official purposes. Religious toleration was approved. The court system was revised, providing Texas with an appellate court and trial by jury.
In Mexico City, however, a different scenario was developing. Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna assumed supreme authority in April 1834 and began dismantling the federalist government. Among the most offensive changes dictated by Santa Anna was the reduction of the state militias to one man per each 500 population. The intent was to eliminate possible armed opposition to the emerging centralist government.
But liberals in the state of Zacatecas in central Mexico rebelled. Santa Anna's response was particularly brutal, as he tried to make an example of the rebels. Troops were allowed to sack the state capital after the victory over the insurgents.
Trouble also was brewing closer to the Texans. In March 1833, the Coahuila y Texas legislature moved the state capital from Saltillo to Monclova. The Monclova legislature in 1834 gave the governor authority to sell 400 sitios — or 1.77 million acres of land — to finance the government and to provide for protection. A year later the lawmakers criticized Santa Annas reputation on federalism. Seeing a chance to regain lost prestige, Saltillo declared for Santa Anna and set up an opposition government. In the spring of 1835, Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, Martín Perfecto de Cos, to break up the state government at Monclova.
Texans were appalled by the breakdown in state government, coming on the heels of so many assurances that the political situation was to improve.
Texas politics were polarizing. A war party advocated breaking away from Mexico altogether, while a peace party urged calm and riding out the political storm. Most of the settlers, however, aligned with neither group.
In January 1835, Santa Anna sent a detachment of soldiers to Anahuac to reinforce the customs office, but duties were being charged irregularly at various ports on the coast. William B. Travis, in an act not supported by all colonists, led a contingent of armed colonists against the Mexican soldiers, who withdrew without a fight.
Although some members of the peace party wrote Mexican Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, stationed at Matamoros, apologizing for the action, he was not compromising. Cos demanded that the group be arrested and turned over to him. The Texans refused.
The committees of correspondence, organized at the Convention of 1832 (which had asked that Texas be separated from Coahuila), began organizing another meeting. Because the term convention aroused visions of revolution in the eyes of Mexican officials, the gathering at Washington-on-the-Brazos in October 1835 was called a consultation. But with the breakdown of the state government and with Santa Annas repeal of the Constitution of 1824, the American settlers felt well within their rights to provide a new framework with which to govern Texas.
Fresh from brutally putting down the rebellion in Zacatecas, Santa Anna turned his attention to Texas. Gen. Cos was determined to regarrison the state, and the settlers were equally determined to keep soldiers out.
Col. Domingo de Ugartechea, headquartered at San Antonio, became concerned about armed rebellion when he heard of the incident at Anahuac. He recalled a six-pound cannon that had been given DeWitt colonists to fight Indians.
Ugartechea ordered Cpl. Casimira de León with five men to Gonzales to retrieve the weapon. No problems were expected, but officials at Gonzales refused to surrender the weapon. When the Mexicans reinforced Cpl. León's men, a call was sent out for volunteers to help the Gonzales officials. Dozens responded.
Oct. 2, 1835, the Texans challenged the Mexicans with a come-and-take-it flag over the cannon. After a brief skirmish, the Mexicans withdrew, but the first rounds in the Texas Revolution had been fired.
— This multi-part narrative of Texas' past, from prehistoric times to 1980, is based on "A Concise History of Texas" by former Texas Almanac editor Mike Kingston. Mr. Kingston's history was published in the 1986–1987 edition of the Texas Almanac, which marked Texas' sesquicentennial. Robert Plocheck, associate editor of the Texas Almanac, edited and expanded Mr. Kingston's history.