Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tejas por los Tejanos

Brandon remembers the Texas Revolution, which, as he describes it, was a revolt by Mexicans against a despotic ruler. Fair enough. But let's not forget: it was led by many people who refused to learn the language of the country, for the sake of people who illegally crossed into Mexican territory from the United States, and not all who revolted wanted to join the United States.


At 1:10 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

Well, I'm not sure who was refusing to learn the language of the country -- I don't know quite how that issue would translate into 19th century Mexico; and most of those who came from the United States were Mexican citizens who by any standard had legally immigrated -- for instance, the initial core of the revolt on the Anglo-Mexican side was the group gathered around Stephen Austin, whose father had obtained permission from the Mexican government to start a colony in the Brazos River region. First Spain, and then to an even greater extent Mexico, had badly wanted the region colonized, and had found that it was easier to do if they pulled in colonists from the United States as well as from the Mexican states. This is the primary reason why Texas overall was largely Anglo-Mexican rather than Hispano-Mexican by the time the revolt rolled around. And part of the reason so many came after 1824 was that the Mexican Constitution was so similar to the U.S. Constitution; so they had little difficulty settling in as citizens of another country. It's also one reason they reacted so strongly to the change of constitutions under Santa Anna.

It's true, though, that many natives in the region opposed independence (joining the U.S. only became later -- you have to keep in mind the one governing fact that has always dominated the Texan state of mind, which is that Texas was its own republic for just short of a decade). The initial moves of the revolt had all been geared to making Texas a state on its own (it was at the time part of another state) and restoring the 1824 Constitution; it only tilted toward the Anglo-Mexican preference of independence after the war had already begun. When independence was declared, a number of Hispano-Mexicans who had already been involved in fighting Santa Anna's army left the Texas army and became noncombatants. Still others, of course, had been centralistas from the beginning.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Of course, I am trying to point out some ironic dimensions of Texas history and the revolution. The conditions on which "Norteamericanos" were allowed to settled were that they, one, learn Spanish and, two, convert to Catholicism, neither of which happened. Furthermore, the Mexican government thought that it could limit the immigration of Anglos by sanctioning a small number to settle in the province, based upon agreements with Anglo 'empresarios.' Incursions had occurred as early as the Louisiana Purchase, but Spain could do little to stop it. Mexico encouraged settlement for development and security, but with limited success. Anglo settlement was meant to be limited and one time, not open. Unfortunately, many more Anglos settled than Mexico was willing to take on. Finally, a huge swath of the eventual republic and state, below the Nueces River, was neither part of the province nor did it revolt.

The Texas Revolution, like many revolutions, was more complex than normally portrayed. Hispanicized Mexicans fought against centralization, in Texas and elsewhere. Fighting the regime, though, did not always evolve into secessionism. More often it was a limited struggle with 'federal' bureaucrats sent from Mexico City who, in the end, had little sway over the ranchers on the periphery. Californios, for instance, strongly desired a US-style state structure, but as part of Mexican system, and ignored federal power when they felt it was arbitrary and attempted to constitute more local authority. Certainly, the Texas struggle took on many of the same issues, but its primary objective appears to have been separation from, not reform of, the Mexican political system.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I had forgotten about the condition to learn Spanish and convert to Catholicism. It's certainly true that the latter often didn't happen, although most of Austin's colonists, for instance, were in technical compliance on that point; I don't know enough about the linguistic demographics of the time to know how many became at least minimally bilingual.

On the primary objective, I think you might be understimating how complicated the revolution was. While it's clear that the secessionist impulse developed early among some groups, the early declarations put forward were for secession from Cuahuila y Tejas, not from Mexico. This is clear even from the Anglo-Mexican-dominated Conventions of 1832 and 1833. The Declaration of Independence in 1836, which was adopted after almost a year of fighting, was an about-face on whatever official policy Texas had up to that time; e.g., the declaration of 1835, when the Provisional Government was set up, explicitly stated that Texas would be loyal to a Mexican government abiding by the Constitution of 1824. In other words, there was only any clear official move to independence less than two months before the end of the war. For most of the first year of the war, the revolt was largely a matter of local landholders organizing militias in revolt against local garrisons, not of a clear independence movement. Of course, it might be possible to argue that there was a generally prevailing spirit of secession not showing up in the official declarations of the conventions and provision government, so that in this sense the primary objective was independence; but in that case I think we would need to break the matter down, and ask whose primary objective was independence.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger johnny two-cents said...

Ummm, ahhh...

I like tortillas de masa.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Quite to the contrary: I am fully aware of the variety and complexity of secessionist tendencies from my own studies of the Rhineland, how they can be manifested as disputes within states, between regions and national centers, or between ethnic groups. Secessionism can be a means of addressing issues that are ripe for reform, and the reconsideration of the territorial order of any nation is a manner of reforming the balance of power and redefining authority within the state. (One of the strangest secessionist movements may have been the small civil war that raged in the Canton of Basel in the 1830s, which separated the city from the surrounding country.) Rhenish Separatists were known to the world only as people who wanted their own nation, separate from Germany, when in truth the dominating sentiment among Rhinelanders was to achieve statehood, separately from Prussia but within Germany. The French government, seeing only those people who wanted to be separate from Germany, made tremendous miscalculations about the enthusiasm for separatism and the extent to which Rhinelanders would support (or resist) armed revolt.

And I have not been simplifying the Texas Revolution. Much of the impetus for secession was something imported by the settlers, many of them "Westerners" (settlers of the Ohio Valley), who were annoyed that the American government was slow to secure and develop inland infrastructure in order to open up trade in the continental interior. (Although to be fair, the first secessionists were New Englanders, who disagreed with expansionist projects of other states.) Secessionism was not, however, only imported, but native, as the speed of government was greatly limited by the dual state-province in a Mexico that would suffer from the destruction wrought by its war of independence throughout the 19th century.

The problems with the historiography of the Texas Revolution run deep. Fifteen years ago, David Weber complained that the revolution has been portrayed only within two narrow veins. Mexican historians obsess on the betrayal of Anglos as part of a long history of American aggression into Mexican territory. American historians have been "ethnocentric": even when the participation of native/Hispanic Mexicans has been considered, the interests and ambitions of Anglo-Mexicans have been grafted onto them. Yet the peculiar ethnic/immigrant imbalance is one of the most salient features of the Texas Revolution. Many of the people who would be effected by it--mostly poor Hispanic Mexicans--may not have understood that their future would be determined by its outcome (certainly true of those who did not live in the province.) The question goes to the heart of the social history of the revolution: exactly how transformative was it? Was there an active participation at the lowest levels, or an elite phenomena? Peasants in France acted as agents of their revolution. Despite the grumbling of the Hispanic Mexicans, it is difficult to label them a revolutionary force (perhaps more reactionary to the intrusion of federal authority.) Moreover, the events should be seen through Mexican history itself: a nation, ravaged by its war of independence, that could barely project its own power. Santa Anna promoted strong centralization, but he hadn't the means to enforce it. The fact that few (if any) Anglos were punished for not converting suggests that Anglo Texans enjoyed an effective autonomy that they should be jealous of today (state legislation that said no one would be prosecuted for not assimilating should be seen as a reflection of realities, not benevolence.) The state could not project power.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

My difficulty was primarily with saying that the primary objective of the revolution was secession when clearly a lot of what was done, particularly at the beginning of the world, seems to have been entirely in the other direction, as federalist protest against centralization. While I agree that secession came up a lot, both imported and homegrown, I don't understand what the basis is for treating it as having quite such significance, when there was so much explicit effort not to secede. If the explicit effort covered a secret agenda, for instance, I could understand it; but the whole war effort against Santa Anna was plagued by too much lack of unity for that to seem plausible. And I don't know what other factor would make that explicit effort reduce so much in significance that we could say it was primarily about secession.

I agree with almost all of your last paragraph, though.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

Whoops; that should be 'beginning of the war' rather than 'beginning of the world'. Despite my Texas upbringing, I don't quite believe that the world began with the Texas Revolution!

At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



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