Texas Independence Day
March 2, 1836
When I was a mere lad, Texas Independence Day was celebrated in schools with patriotic songs, readings of the Declaration by schoolkids and grave lectures on our role as Texans by our teachers. Even the Mexican kids participated, because anyone who’d read the hallowed rolls of the Alamo and Goliad dead knew that there were plenty of martyrs with Spanish surnames. We also knew of Lorenzo de Zavala and Juan Seguin, both Texian heroes of the Revolution.
It was understood by the youngest of us that Texas went from being just the mostly empty northern part of the Mexican state of Cohuila-Texas to the independent Republic of Texas with the signing of this document. Like the beloved United States, from whence the spirit -and some would say impetus – of revolution had come, we won our right to be free through the force of arms, wielded by brave and bold men. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the despot which our Texas Forefathers overthrew was ever bit as evil and prone to predations as Britain’s George III. His one saving grace, that he invented that most American of oral fixations, chewing gum, was more than off-set by his cruelty and duplicitous nature. The self-proclaimed Napoleon of the North, he boasted an army well-officered and well-equipped that had spent the past couple of years putting down rebellions in Mexico. It wasn’t just the Texians who longed for the return to a government who respected the liberal Constitution of 1824.
However, Santa Anna was particularly piqued that it was the damned Nortiamericanos who had risen against him. After all, he and many native-born Mexicans reasoned, the gringos had petitioned the then-Spanish government to settle the open spaces of Tejas. They’d even renounced their American citizenship and converted to the state religion, Catholicism. Now, they dared to rebel against the authority of the State and assert rights which simply did not exist in Mexico. Tejas had been in rebellion since October 1835.
Another irony was that many of the rebels were from the ranks of illegal settlers drawn to Texas by the rich land and wide-open spaces. Since the outbreak of hostilities, there were even Yanqui freebooters and adventurers coming to fight against the lawful government of Mexico, all the while spouting ideas of American expansion and defending of “American lives” in Tejas!
One of the late-comers to Tejas was Sam Houston. And in one of history’s great mysteries, while on his way to Tejas, ol’ Sam stopped off and visited his mentor and friend, Andrew Jackson, at the Hermitage in Tennessee. There is no record of what they discussed, but many think that the two old men hatched a conspiracy to pluck the prized lands of Tejas – or Texas – as they were known east of the Sabine River from Mexico.
As Travis and his men crouched behind the pounded and crumbling walls of the old Alamo mission in San Antonio de Bexar waiting for relief or death, serious and determined men were coming together in a convention to decide the question of independence or redress of grievances. In other words, they were deciding whether to split with Mexico or force a return to the earlier, freer Mexico, established by the 1824 Constitution. To settle the issue, a convention was called for March 1836, and it convened on March 1st in Washington-on-the-Brazos.
This convention was different from earlier such convocations in that many of the men who met were relative newcomers to Texas, having never sworn allegiance to Mexico. Many who had, considered that oath to be nullified by the actions of the present government. Most of the delegates were members of the War Party and were insisted that Texas declare its independence from Mexico. Forty-one delegates arrived in Washington-on-the-Brazos on February 28.
Richard Ellis was voted president of the convention. The delegates selected a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence. It was lead by George Childress and also included Edward Conrad, James Gaines, Bailey Hardeman, and Collin McKinney. In just 24 hours, the committee submitted its draft, leading historians to speculate that Childress had pre-written much of it before his arrival.
The Declaration of Independence from Mexico was approved on March 2 without debate and formally signed the following day after errors were noted in the text. The document was based primarily on the writings of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. It proclaimed that the Mexican government “ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived” and complained of “arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny”. The document duly established the Republic of Texas, “among the nations of the world”.
Also mentioned as reasons of separation:
- The 1824 Constitution of Mexico, which established a Federal Republic had been usurped and replaced by a centralist military dictatorship by Genalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
- The Mexican government invited settlers to Texas, assuring them constitutional liberty and a republican government, but reneged on these guarantees.
- Texas was in union with the Mexican state of Coahuila as Coahuila y Tejas, with the capital in distant Saltillo, and thus the affairs of Texas were decided at a great distance and in Spanish.
- Political rights to which the settlers had previously been accustomed, such as the right to keep and bear arms and the right to trial by jury, were denied.
- No system of public education was established.
- The settlers were not allowed freedom of religion.
Based upon the United States Declaration of Independence, the Texas Declaration also contains many memorable expressions of American political principles:
- “the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.”
- “our arms … are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.”
Like the U.S. Declaration of Independence, it was just a worthless document until backed up by the force of arms. The prospect of that independence becoming a reality dimmed almost to the point of being extinguished with the fall of the Alamo on March 6th. Subsequently, Texians fled the Mexican Army in a scorched earth panic, known as the Runaway Scrape. A number of the faithful – many of them the bellicose freebooters and adventurers – fled back into the United States, convinced that Texas was a lost cause. Many of the men who marched with Sam Houston as his army marched, or as some alleged, retreated, towards the Sabine River grumbled, deserted and groused. Meanwhile, Santa Anna, against the advice of Sun Tzu, divided his forces, determined to run down the nascent Texian Army with one of his powerful columns.
However, all that came to a head, when on April 21st, Sam Houston camped on the lower San Jacinto River, near the Lynchburg Ferry. Santa Anna, convinced that the gringos were at last trapped, took a siesta, because everyone knew that it was too late in the day to fight. But someone forget to tell General Sam and his Texians. In 18 minutes of battle, followed by another hour of retribuitive slaughter, Santa Anna’s army was broken and the Generalissimo was captured.
But that’s a whole ‘nuther story.
Happy Texas Independence Day!!