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Was Texas Stolen From Mexico?

Updated on July 8, 2013
Detail from a monument to Texas heroes located on the Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas
Detail from a monument to Texas heroes located on the Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas

The allegation has been made in some circles that Texas was stolen from Mexico. Such allegations have been made since 1836, which were proven false then as they are in modern times. Historically, the government of Mexico has used such rhetoric when matters were unsettled along the border with Texas. This ploy is similar to the strategy used in China of ‘talk, talk,fight, fight, talk, talk’ in keeping old arguments alive for years. Although making claims that Texas was ‘stolen’ may garner the attention of the media, historically, it is inaccurate.

Many of the original settlers in Texas were on government approved land grants. Some of the land grants pre-dated the establishment of the government of Mexico. When Mexico came into existence, the government recognized the legitimacy of those original land grants. Since it is hard to steal what is legally yours, the allegations of theft are unfounded.

The government of Mexico was often unstable. The changing laws and constitutions created an unstable legal environment. Many of the colonists in Texas considered themselves loyal citizens of Mexico and swore allegiance to the Constitution of 1826. The Constitution of 1826 contained laws favorable to the colonists and the settling of Texas. Part of the agreements surrounding the Constitution included the eventual self-governing of the region of Tejas by those early colonists. The colonists assumed that the agreements made could be counted on and the laws established by the Constitution would be stable. Since many of them had come from the American colonies, especially those of the Southern nations, they assumed that the Constitution of Mexico would be considered a foundational law. They also assumed that the government of Mexico would abide by its own Constitution.

The colonists were often disappointed in expecting stability in the Mexican government. The Constitution and laws of Mexico proved to be subject to whim and political instability. As strong personalities came into and fell out of power, and stability in law or policy was a fantasy. The colonists often sent representatives to the regional and national political bodies to present their issues. These representatives were never sure of what would happen to them. Sometimes they were listened to, other times ignored and other times, they were thrown into prison. There were no guarantees of safe passage for those representatives.

At one point, the military commander, known as Santa Anna took over the central government of Mexico and replaced the Constitution with his own laws (the Siete Leyes).A colonist in Texas wrote at that time (1834)

“A new revolution occurred in Mexico in June 1834, the influence of which, if it should
become general and lasting, would doubtless be unfavorable to the settlement of North
Americans in the country. General Santa Anna, after appearing to favor the very liberal plan
of general reformation proposed by the [Mexican] Congress, prorogued it, and finally prevented its
reassembling by stationing troops at the doors of their chambers. He has the priests and
monarchists in his favor, and will probably involve the country in another protracted civil
war”

Santa Anna also nationalized the churches, and seized their properties. He viewed the colonists in Texas a threat to his government, since they wanted a voice in the government. In response to the threat, he shut down the regional seat of government. He also imprisoned Stephen F. Austin when he presented his request that the Mexican government honor its agreement with Texas. Not content with his initial actions, Santa Anna went on to proclaim any “North American” colonist as a potential pirate. He considered those immigrating to Texas as pirates. By designating them pirates, he could justify killing them and taking their properties.

The Texas colonists were concerned about the changes in policy at the national level of the Mexican government. They had also seen racial biases in how the government often gave preferential treatment to colonists from the interior of Mexico, even to the point of taking land away from legitimate land owners and giving them to the ‘preferred colonists’. This was often a major point of contention between those who settled the area around Victoria, which were primarily from the interior and those settling in the Gonzales area which came from the American colonies.

The dissolution of the regional government, the seizure of the churches, the lack of freedom of religion and failure of the Mexican government to honor its agreements were some of the issues leading to the uprising of the Texas colonists. They were also bothered by the gun control laws and weapon confiscation by the Mexican government. When Santa Anna went from talking about ‘piracy’ to letting his army murder, rape and pillage the local Mexican population in the State of Zacatecas, when they had an uprising, the Texans were alarmed. Some had already seen this same Santa Anna murder, rape and pillage his way through parts of Texas when he fought for the Spanish. They were not willing to see a repeat of those actions again.

The Texas colonists rose up against what they considered oppressive government policies being enacted like a king by Santa Anna. Santa Anna had taken on the role of an imperial ruler, where his decisions and choices were considered ‘law’. The Texians submitted their list of grievances and seceded from the Mexican union. The Mexican army under Santa Anna invaded Texas in an effort to shut down the uprising. As part of putting down the uprising, firing squads and a no tolerance policy were enacted. This meant that his armies killed all the colonists they encountered.

Stephen F. Austin of Texas stated:

To this we reply, that our object is freedom-civil and religious freedom-emancipation from that government, and that people, who, after fifteen years experiment, since they have been separated from Spain, have shown that they are incapable of self-government, and that all hopes of any thing like stability or rational liberty in their political institutions, at least for many years, are vain and fallacious

Many of the men in Mexico did not want to be a part of such an army of invasion being assembled by Santa Anna which attacked its own people. This is one of the reasons that Santa Anna was forced to gather recruits for his army from the jails of Mexico. Another reason is that the soldiers wanted to be paid. Besides being unstable, the Mexican government was not dependable in paying its soldiers either.

Santa Anna invaded the State of Texas, as he had the State of Zacatecas. In Zacatecas, he allowed his army to pillage, rape and murder to their heart's content. With his invasion of Texas, he planned a two-pronged attack against the people living there. General Cos was to invade along the coastal plain, separating the colonists from escape by sea, while Santa Anna's main force would attack the cities and settlements inland.

During the course of the invasion, any prisoners captured were later executed. These executions often occurred after Mexican officers made promises of freedom to their prisoners. The invasion finally came to an end at the Battle of San Jacinto. In that battle, Santa Anna was captured.

Since Santa Anna had proclaimed himself a dictator, when he was captured, in 1836, his word was considered law. The agreements he made to give Texas its independence, was as binding as an agreement between Texas and Mexico. For legal purposes, his decisions were the official voice of Mexico. Although he was soon ousted from his position in Mexico, his agreements and treaties were considered binding, including the one giving independence to Texas.

Many in the Mexican government did not like what Santa Anna decided. They considered Texas to have been stolen, even though the legitimate power to make such decisions lay with Santa Anna. The government of Mexico had also not abided by the previous agreements they had made with the Texas colonists. Although some in power did not want to acknowledge the ‘right by conquest’ by which Texas seceded, that same Mexican government had conquered the State of Yucatan after they had declared their independence. The government of Mexico wanted to have the Yucatan by right of conquest, yet deny the same rights to Texas, even though the colonists had all the legal rights to the land which they settled.

Although it bothered many Texans that Santa Anna had butchered and murdered so many people, they were astounded that he was welcomed as a hero in Washington D.C. The political establishment at that time was more interested in policy against slavery than they were about his ordering the murder of so many American citizens at the Alamo, Goliad and Tampico. The Washington politicians did not care how many people had been killed in cold blood, how many properties he stole or how many wounded soldiers had been killed in their hospital beds, they wanted to welcome Santa Anna due to his social policies. He was considered ‘politically correct’ in the Washington social circles. They were willing to believe his stories and claims.

What do you think?

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  • Admiral Murrah profile image
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    Admiral Murrah 4 years ago from Texas

    Mr Facts,

    The Treaty of Guadalupe was not a good one for Mexico. It was more of a forced concession, not a treaty of goodwill between nations. It was 'highway robbery' in terms of what occurred. I do not see the Treaty of Velasco the same way.With Santa Anna 'pardoned', doesn't that essentially condone his actions? Prior to Texas being admitted to the Union a treaty was negotiated recognizing the secession of Texas. In all the annexation activity, the treaty was overlooked.

    Perhaps my understanding of re-elected is the wrong term. What is clear is that Santa Anna was returned to power at least two times after Texas independence. If he had been abused his 'power', and did not have authority, why would the Mexican people allow him to return to power? By returning him to power, they give consent to his previous actions.

    I agree that the Treaty of Guadalupe was organized theft. I can not say the same thing about the Treaty of Velasco. By returning Santa Anna to power, the Mexican people gave tacit approval to Santa Anna's previous actions (which include the Treaty of Velasco).

    In terms of my finding it odd that US politicians adored Santa Anna. Being a Texan, I look at the events from a unique perspective. Santa Anna entered Texas with the intent of ethnic cleansing. He had not honored agreements that he had made with the colonists, and they took action. In the ensuing struggle, people were killed. Some were Mexican citizens, some were Americans. The way they were killed was often brutal and against the rules of organized war that existed at that time. It astounds me that American politicians welcomed a man who butchered their kinsmen. It astounds me that American banks bankrolled a man who was killing the family members of bank customers. Those same banks should have been supporting the Texians in their struggle rather than the Mexican government. The American politicians and banks were only interested in money and returns on investment rather than the lives of the people of Texas. By welcoming him with open arms, they were also approving of his butchery and actions. The American politicians and bankers did not want a free and independent Texas. They instead wanted expansion of the American empire and the salvation wrought through manifest destiny. When Texas went independent, it interfered with their plans. They wanted access to California and in turn, trade with China.

    As a Texan, it sickens me that even back then, politicians would sell their own family to improve their status. You were right when you said, "they could care less about Texans or Mexico". Santa Anna was the embodiment of many modern pragmatic politicians, who are willing to kill their own, if it helps them get ahead in the polls. Perhaps that is why the American politicians welcomed him as a hero.

    The bankers in New Orleans did finance and invest in Santa Anna. It was not the US government, but rather the US bankers. Those US bankers were pitching a fit when the Texas Navy captured their ships. The court documents makes it clear that the bankers were indeed underwriting the supplying and arming of the Mexican forces. You may call it a blatant lie, but the court documents indicate otherwise.

    I do not find much evidence that the US government funded the war. If anything the Texans were desperate for money and had trouble finding funding for their new government. If you can "show me the money" and records of the money they supposedly received from the US government, then I may change my view. If the US funded the revolution at that time, I have found no record of those monies. The US government did turn a blind eye to some of their troops who wanted to help the Texans, allowing some to go AWOL and assist the Texians.

  • profile image

    MrFacts 4 years ago

    I still don't understand why you find it odd that the US politicians adored him.mhow could they not!? He gave them what they wanted. They could care less about texans or Mexico. That's why he was a hero to them. It's not odd at all.

  • profile image

    MrFacts 4 years ago

    I really wished you researched the treaty of Velasco before even mentioning it. You would see that it only strengthens my point that Santa Anna was in no condition to authorize such treaties or negotiate any concessions of lands. The Mexican Gvt under President Jose Justo Corro never ratified the treaties signed by Santa Anna and also dissacoiated themselves from any and all negotiations entered into by Santa Anna. Your statement that he was re-elected was also gravely wrong. He was in exile in the US for years until the Pastry War with the French and at that point he was "pardoned" and sent into battle where he lost part of a leg(forget which one) and one of his hands. After successfully defeating the French he used the army he led to once again take control of a weakened Mexico (hardly voted into office as you stated) at the end when he was taking out of office again by force he escaped and stayed in exile in Cuba. I could go on but long story short this guy was in it for himself making back door deals with the US to sell them land at a "reasonably" price and always held bent on conquering and controlling Mexico. Leaving that alone for now. Your statement that Santa Anna was being funded by the US Gvt is the the most blatant lie you have put on here. When it was in fact the US government that instigated, helped and funded the texans to initiate the war. US had everything to gain from helping the texans and not much to lose. Do a little more research on the Treaty of Guadalupe and also on manifest destiny doctrine. You'll see the US ambitions to conquer and expand its territories.

  • Admiral Murrah profile image
    Author

    Admiral Murrah 4 years ago from Texas

    MrFacts,

    Thank you for your comments. I continue to stand by what I wrote.

    At the time that Santa Anna made the Treaty of Velasco, he was the official voice of Mexico. His Seite Leyes made him the official head of Mexico. You can say that he did not speak for the people, yet he was never tried for treason by Mexico, not taken to trial. He was re-elected to office after giving up Texas. Had he been operating outside of the law, the people of Mexico would not have elected him to office. Had he truly been a traitor to Mexico, the other branches of government would have taken action. Their choice of no action makes it a default approval of what Santa Anna did. By choosing not to condemn his acts, they approved it.

    In terms of finding odd that he was welcomed as a hero, Santa Anna had just butchered many people and conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the citizens of Mexico in Texas. This was also not the first time he engaged in ethnic cleansing either. I found it odd that the American politicians adored him, when the politicians of Texas knew the true nature of Santa Anna. The interests of America and Texas were very different. The Americans were financing Santa Anna, while the Texans were doing all they could to scrape the funds to fight him.

    I stand by my answer that Texas was NOT stolen from Mexico. Santa Anna gave the people of Texas their independence. Even though they had proclaimed independence in 1812, and again in 1836 it took them a little while to make it stick.

  • profile image

    MrFacts 4 years ago

    It's odd that you seem to find it strange that Santa Anna was welcomed as a hero in D.C . Because regardless of his crimes he single handedly handed over hundreds of square miles that he had no right to do whatsoever. Regardless of wether he considered himself a dictator or was in fact. In the history of Mexico there has not been a single constitution written that authorizes any one man to "sell" or give away land the way Santa Anna did. Let alone under the duress of capture. It wasn't "sold" and your short answer to was Mexico stolen is wrong. The answer is yes, it was. Santa Anna was a traitor to Mexico, a criminal to texans, and a hero to the US. Seems that his title of hero was part of the deal to rip Mexico off and save his own neck. Have you not heard the saying "history is written by the victors"? However, there will always be people that remember the truth. Don't let your hate cloud your judgment. It is very appropriate that the Universities teach this and also what you were taught. If we just taught our youth to believe everything was done right as apples or the vicotors verision of the truth then they'd be looked at as ignorant and brainwashed. Theres obviously two versions of this history and we should know both. People can decide which to believe on their own.

  • Admiral Murrah profile image
    Author

    Admiral Murrah 4 years ago from Texas

    Old Emprassario,

    It is good to hear from you. You make some very good points in the settlers not holding up their end of the bargain. The Mexican government certainly did not hold up theirs. The disarming of many Texicans, nationalization of the churches, violating the 1824 Constitution, criminalizing the preaching of the Gospel and arbitrary rules did not help the Mexican cause either.

    As a Texan, I am troubled at how the concept of Texas being stolen from Mexico is presented at places like the University of Texas. It is not that they are saying the New Mexican land or the Nueces strip, they present that the whole thing was stolen. I find that line of logic unacceptable. They would have a stronger case had they limited their claim to the New Mexico territory and the Nueces, but that is not the case. Even with the Nueces strip, there were Texian settlements and attempts to colonize some of that area. The men who settled Texas were generally not saints, as few in that time were.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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    Old Empresario 4 years ago

    Admiral, I completely support the Anglo-Texan's fight for independence simply because that is the nature of things sometimes. I don't think there has to be an apology for it toward the Mexican Government, especially as the Mexican government was constantly in a state of political turmoil as you laid out so well in your essay. While it is true that the legality of the Texas Revolution is irrelevant (no Revolution is ever legal) and there were many justifications due to the mindless tyranny and slaughter, it would be fair to state that the settlers in Texas never upheld the their end of the contract upon receiving land in Texas: 1) converting to Roman Catholicism, 2) Learning Spanish, 3) Freeing their slaves. Many of the Anglos who took part in the Revolution were no longer Americans, but were now Mexican citizens who had broken many laws of their new land. Also, (with the exception of Stephen Austin, Power, and DeWitt) the Americans who received the large tracts of land for bringing in settlers utterly failed in their tasks, and themselves did not uphold their end of the bargain. Basically, the Texas immigration plan proved a disastrous failure for Mexico, which wanted nothing more than a heterogeneous and militarized buffer state against the expansive US.

    I think where Mexicans take exception today is when the 1836 Republic of Texas arbitrarily claimed the land between the Nueces and Rio Grande, as well as the land halfway into New Mexico, as part of Texas. Never in its history prior to 1836 (Spanish rule or Mexican rule) was any of the territory south of the Nueces River considered to be part of the State of Texas. Those lands were Mexican territory that comprised parts of 4 different Mexican states, aside from Texas. After the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War, Americans who wanted to get into the ranching business moved into that region and stole cattle and land from conquered Mexicans. That’s what most of them are complaining about today.