GOVT 2306 The Texas Declaration of Independence
As with the United States, the nation of Texas, started with a Declaration of Independence. Oh ok, there had to be a war with Mexico to make it really happen, but the Declaration got the ball rolling.
The document stated the rationale behind the effort to become an independent nation. It also articulated governing principles, so its worth a look.
Note that this overview will not be as comprehensive historically as the overview of the US Declaration of Independence covered in GOVT 2305.
Before specifics, here are a few resources that might give you detailed information on the document and the circumstances surrounding its drafting.
The Texas Declaration of Independence was written in early March of 1836 during the Convention of 1836 which met at Washington-on-the-Brazos.
I’ll provide a few details regarding the political issues leading to the declaration. This is will be very brief, superficial look at them.Click here for a detailed timeline of the Texas Revolution.
The conflict begins, in many ways, when Mexico achieves its independence from Spain in 1821 and, because it was close to bankruptcy, invites settlers to come to Mexican Texas. Some has already settled illegally.The settlers were allowed to have their own militias and were expected to help protect Mexico from the raids from the Plains Indians. They were also expected to be a source of food – crops – for the rest of the nation.
Its worth pointing out that Mexico had problems with separatist movements in many places, not just Texas. It’s also worth pointing out that Anglo expeditions into Texas preceded Austin’s Colony. Click here to read up on the Filibusters.
The settlers to Mexican Texas came primarily from Southern States in the US, and were used to different cultural environment than what they entered into in Mexico. The most famous of these settlers were the Old Three Hundred who came with Stephen F. Austin.Here are two principle differences:
1 - Mexico did not allow slavery, or more accurately banned it in 1829.2 - Mexico had an established religion, the Catholic Church.
The settlers considered the right to own slaves a natural right (their slaves disagreed, but they had no legal status and could not make that claim in a court of law) and religious conscience to be an individual matter, separate form the coercion of the state.
The settlers had agreed to raise corn and beef, but opted instead to grow cotton – a labor intensive crop – instead.
Exceptions were granted the settlers because Mexico saw an initial advantage in having them in northern Mexico. They were permitted to start militias in order to protect themselves from the Comanche Indians.There would be later attempts to remove these exception.
Click here for a history of the Texas – Indian Wars, and here for Comancheria.
Being from America – though they had given up their American citizenship in order to emigrate to Mexico – the settlers were used to self rule. Initially, distance allowed them to do so, but changes in Mexico were making self rule more difficult. Here are a few factors making self government difficult:
The Mexican Constitution of 1824 combined the state of Texas with Coahuila and the capital was Saltillo which was – is – deep in Mexico. This made it more difficult for Texas to seek redress.
Texans made efforts to have Texas made a separate state so they would be better able to control their affairs. This was rebuffed by Mexico, but Texans continued to try to set up their own government.
Anglo Texans would soon outnumber and over power native born – Latino – Texans.Ethnic tension was common. Anglo Texas tended to live apart from Mexican Texans.
The 1824 Constitution – which established a federal system – was altered to allow for a centralized governing system, which of course limited state autonomy. This led the Texans to form committees to discuss how to move forward against the Mexican government.
The Mexican government feared these groups since they had been authorized to act as militias. This authorization was rescinded and efforts were made to disarm the militias, as well as dissolve legislatures and other state institutions. The resulting conflict, in a nutshell, sparked the war.
The Mexican Government also passed laws in 1830 to expand their power over all Mexican states, especially Texas. Mexico, which had always been suspicious of the intentions of the Texans, was concerned about their separatism and refusal to follow contractual agreements.These laws were attempts to reign in the Texans. Exemptions to the payment of property taxes were removed, as well as limitations on further American settlements. This was especially controversial.
Simply put, the Mexican government was undergoing internal struggles that ended up with a greater concentration of power on the national level.
The first military conflict happens on June 26, 1832 with the Battle of Velasco.Click here, and here for a timeline of the revolution, here for the Wikipedia page on the Texas Revolution, and here for a list of Texas Revolution Battles.
As a consequence, two conventions were held to discuss grievances with the Mexican government.Convention of 1832Convention of 1833
The Convention of 1832 was noteworthy because it was the first time Texans had gathered (see list of delegates), but it was attended only by Anglo Texans which fueled the notion that they wanted independence from Mexico. The meeting was declared unlawful because it did not follow standard procedure for such meetings. Grievances were to be taken to local authorities first, before being sent up to higher level officials.
Also important during this time: The Turtle Bayou Resolutions (1832)
The Convention of 1833 was called because requests – grievances – that had been sent to the Mexican government has not been addressed.
In the convention a constitution was proposed, but not passed.Click here for various documents related to the Conventions of 1832 and 1833.
Though war had broken out, Texas was not ready to fully declare independence and issued a Declaration on November 7, 1835 that stated a desire to return to the federal form established in the 1824 Constitution.
The result of the Battle of the Alamo coincided with the Convention of 1836 and the decision to fully declare independence and write a document stating so.
All this happened in early March 1836.And as all Texas school kids learn, the whole affair was over by late April with victory by the Texas in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Now a quick look through the Texas Declaration of Independence itself:
The structure of the document is similar to that of the US Declaration of Independence.It reads more like a proclamation, which start with several “whereas” clauses and then conclude with a “therefore,” which states what is intended to be done in a particular matter.
1 - It begins by stating the nature of government.2 - The provides a list of grievances meant to prove that Mexico was violating basic governing principles.3 - The concludes by stating that Texas is now an independent state.
Let’s run through it.Click here for the text from the Avalon Project.
It begins with four “whereas” statements (they use the word “when”) which contain statements regarding the purpose of government. Note: the actual text is italicized. Commentary is not.
1 - When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.
2 - When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the ever ready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.
3 - When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.
4 - When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.
Each of these relates to a specific event, some covered in the previous slides. Note the themes are similar to those in the US document. The importance of individual rights and the objection to tyrannical forms of government.Next comes the claim that they appeal to an impartial world:
Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.
This is followed by a series of grievances.It is in many ways a review of the history of Anglo settlement in the north of Mexico.