Claiming Independence for Texas - dummies

By Steve Wiegand

Everyone wanted Texas in the 1800s. Pres. John Quincy Adams offered $1 million for it; Andrew Jackson upped the offer to $5 million. But the newly independent country of Mexico wasn’t interested in selling, even though it was sparsely settled and Mexico had no firm plans for the area. But for some unexplained reason, Mexico did allow Americans to settle there.

Growing the American base

In 1821, a Connecticut man named Moses Austin contracted with Mexico to bring 300 American families to an area near San Antonio. Austin died shortly afterwards, but his son Stephen took over and led settlers to the area in 1823.

By 1834, Austin’s colony had 20,000 white colonists and 2,000 slaves. That was four times the number of Mexicans in Texas. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1831, but Austin ignored the law, as well as the one requiring the settlers to convert to Roman Catholicism. The settlers began thinking of themselves less as Mexican subjects and more as a cross between Mexicans and Texans — or Texians, as they called themselves.

The area began to attract restless and sometimes lawless Americans who weren’t as peaceful as the Austin bunch. These folks included Sam Houston, a soldier and good friend of Andrew Jackson’s; the Bowie brothers, Louisiana slave smugglers who had designed an impressive long knife that bore their name; and Davy Crockett, a Tennessee ex-congressman and daredevil backwoodsman with a flair for self-promotion.

Remembering the Alamo

In 1835, Mexican Pres. Antonio López de Santa Anna proclaimed a new constitution that eliminated any special privileges for Texas, and the Texians declared their independence. They kicked the Mexican soldiers out of the garrison at San Antonio, and a motley force of 187 Texians and American volunteers set up a fort in an old mission called the Alamo.

On March 6, 1836, after a 13-day siege and a brief predawn battle, Santa Anna’s army of about 5,000 overran the Alamo, despite heavy Mexican losses, and killed all its defenders. The victory accomplished little for Santa Anna, but “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry for Texians. Six weeks after the Alamo fell, an army led by Sam Houston surprised, defeated, and captured Santa Anna at the San Jacinto River.

[Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS]
Credit: © Bettmann/CORBIS

Becoming a state

Texas ratified a constitution that included slavery and waited to be annexed to the United States. But Jackson was in no hurry. He didn’t want a war with Mexico that could ruin the election chances of his handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren. And the fact that Texas was proslavery would upset the delicate balance between free and slave states.

Jackson did formally recognize Texas on his last day in office in March 1841, after Van Buren had been elected. But it wasn’t until December 1845 that the Lone Star Republic became the Lone Star State.