The Republic of Texas and the Mexican-American War


The history of Texas, America's second largest state, is unique, as are the inhabitants of what was once the lone Star Republic, an independent nation existing on the southern border of the United States. To fully understand the history of Texas, one would need to understand the history of the Spanish colonization of Central and South America, and in particular the history of the Spanish colony of Mexico. For our purposes it will suffice to note that the province of Tejas—Texas—along with the other Southwestern territories, was a sparsely populated area in northern Mexico bordering on the southern boundary of the United States as defined by the Louisiana Purchase and the Adams-Onis or Transcontinental Treaty of 1819.

President John Quincy Adams tried in 1825 to purchase Texas from Mexico, without success. Henry Clay also worked on the issue, and President Jackson continued negotiations with Mexico in 1829.  Jackson's minister, Anthony Butler, tried to bribe the Mexican government. Jackson called Butler a “scamp” but left him there.  Mexico was insulted, and the negotiations went nowhere.

Around 1819 Mexico had been struggling to become independent from Spain, and America's relations with Spain and Mexico were complicated by the fact that the United States was at that time trying to acquire Florida. When the Mexican government finally achieved independence from Spain, it was acutely aware that its neighbor to the north, the United States, was unabashedly expansionist. The notion of “Manifest Destiny,” though not a formal policy, was implanted deep in the American soul. Since the province of Texas was very sparsely populated with Mexicans, Indians, and a small number of Anglos, it seemed ripe for the picking. The Mexican government decided to fight fire with fire.

The Mexican government made a deal with the American Moses Austin. They set about building a buffer zone in Texas by offering free land to Americans who would migrate to Texas, become Mexican citizens and landowners, and build a Mexican-American civilization that was intended to prevent America from attempting to take over Texas. By attempting to instill legal if not an emotional loyalty to the Mexican government in the Texas population, they hope to avoid that development.

After the death of Moses Austin his son Stephen F. Austin took up the cause, and during the 1820s the “impresario” Stephen Austin built a thriving society in the northeastern part of the huge territory. Hundreds of Americans migrated into Texas, and claimed land and officially agreed to abide by Mexico's conditions: They would adopt the Catholic faith, which was the Mexican state region according to the Mexican Constitution of 1824; they would become Mexican citizens, pay taxes to the Mexican government, and not practice slavery. the 1824 constitution was seen as liberal a guarantee of freedom to the Americans who settled in Texas.

The conditions theoretically imposed on the Americans who became Mexican citizens were loosely enforced, if at all. As there were almost no Catholic priests in the Mexican territory, observance of the Catholic sacraments was overlooked. Most Texans were were Protestant, but went along with the obligation to obtain land. Although the Texans were obligated to pay taxes, none were imposed. And although slavery was officially outlawed, the Texans who came from the slave-holding parts of the United States found a loophole in “lifetime indentured servitude.” The land grants were generous, the basic amount being 640 acres; if an American immigrant married a Mexican citizen, the amount could be doubled. If an American woman married a Mexican citizen, she also had the right to obtain land.

More History of Texas

Stephen F. Austin: A true statesman

Under Stephen Austin the community thrived, Austin spoke fluent Spanish, play by the rules, and developed good relations with the central government in Mexico City. He insisted that the Americans who came to Mexico understand and abide by the rules under which they were granted land. Between 1824 and 1835 the Texas population grew from 2,000 to 35,000 settlers. Some of the immigrants were renegades, "one step ahead of the sheriff." Some were men like Sam Houston, Jim Bowie, and others who fled the U.S. because of various legal difficulties, both major and minor. The Mexican government eventually came to consider them “a horde of infamous bandits.”

The trouble began in 1830. the Mexican government, apparently afraid that the situation in Texas was getting out of control, passed a new law is severely restricted immigration from the United States and began to tighten down the rules under which the province was governed. it also apparently intended to suspend the contracts under which the impresarios had functioned. Stephen Austin protested the changes to Mexican President Bustamante and was able to gain temporary exemption from some of the more restrictive provisions. the establishment of custom houses for the collection of revenue had an effect in the Texans very similar to the British Stamp Act of 1765.

When President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who had deposed President Bustmante in a rebellion, attempted to tighten controls over Texas, a revolt occurred which led to the Texas Independence movement. In 1836 a large force under Santa Anna invaded Texas.  At the Alamo in San Antonio 200 Texans under William Travis held off thousands of Mexicans for 12 days. All died, including Travis, Bowie, Davy Crockett.  Weeks later, at Goliad 400 Texans surrendered, 300 were murdered.  War cry became "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!"

The rise of Sam Houston: Houston was a protégé of Andrew Jackson, with a career much like Jackson’s.  Houston left his wife and the governorship of Tennessee under strange circumstances, lived with the Cherokees (had earlier been adopted) then went to Texas, where he made a new marriage; his leadership abilities put him in middle of revolution. As President of Republic of Texas he continued to work for admission of Texas to the Union.

At San Jacinto Sam Houston and 740 men routed 1,600 Mexicans, captured hiding Santa Anna, who signed treaties under duress.  (Houston had kept him alive.)  After he was released Santa Anna repudiated the agreements, as did the Mexican government.

Americans naturally sympathized with Texas because of their love of freedom and and their love of land.  Jackson recognized Texas independence, which caused resentment in Mexico.  But both Jackson and Van Buren rejected annexation because of Mexico and slavery.

Jackson’s message to Congress of December 1836 sought to avoid "premature recognition"; if recognition was tantamount to a declaration of war, then shouldn’t Congress decide? Jackson finally recognized Texas on March 3, 1837.

Texas proceeds on independent route into 1840s, but has trouble. Mexico continues to harass Texans (who were outnumbered 70,000 to 7,000,000). Defense costs were high. Texans send agents to Europe to pursue diplomatic arrangements. The British saw many advantages to independent Texas, however, as a barrier against American expansion, as a good source of cotton, etc. But they sought ways to use diplomacy to end slavery in Texas, which irritated American Southerners.

France was also interested. Both nations recognized independence. Houston warned U.S. (Jackson) that if the "bride" is offered and repeatedly rejected, "she would seek some other friend."

Annexation of Texas

President Tyler had nothing to lose on Texas. John C. Calhoun, who became Secretary of State when the previous Secretary Upshur was killed, drafted an annexation treaty, which caused an uproar in the North. The situation was made worse because Calhoun was obviously friendly to slavery. Many Northerners feared war with Mexico (correctly) as well as the expansion of slavery. The treaty was rejected by the Senate 35 to 16.

President Polk then sent General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande—into disputed territory—to defend the Texas boundary. Taylor built a fort near Matamoros and blockaded the Rio Grande. The abolitionists claimed that this was an act of war.

President Polk's War Message to Congress

The antiwar movement grew—from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" to J. Q. Adams’s objections to Lincoln’s "Spot Resolutions." This was a very unpopular war ("Mr. Polk’s War") because of the fear of extension of slavery. The vote for war was 174-14 (House) and 40-2 (Senate), but sentiment against the war soon developed.

In 1846 Congressman David Wilmot introduced the "Wilmot Proviso," which said that slavery must be prohibited in any territory won from Mexico; it passed in the House but failed in the Senate; it arose again often over the next few years.

Fighting Against Mexico: The Superiority of American Arms.

The Capture of Mexico City.

The Trist Mission.



Most important secondary result is slavery in the new territories. The Mexican War was a step on road to secession. Wilmot Proviso continues to be argued during war and after until 1850 Compromise.