Was Texas Stolen From Mexico?
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
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.