The Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas

Flags, Texas State Capitol building, Austin
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The Texas Revolution (1835–1836) was a political and military insurrection by settlers and inhabitants of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas against the Mexican government. Mexican forces under General Santa Anna attempted to crush the rebellion and had victories at the legendary Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of Coleto Creek, but in the end, they were defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto and forced to leave Texas. The revolution was successful, as the present-day US state of Texas broke off from Mexico and Coahuila and formed the Republic of Texas.

The Settlement of Texas

In the 1820s, Mexico wished to attract settlers to the vast, sparsely populated State of Coahuila y Texas, which consisted of the present-day Mexican State of Coahuila as well as the US State of Texas. American settlers were eager to go, as the land was plentiful and good for farming and ranching, but Mexican citizens were reluctant to relocate to a backwater province. Mexico reluctantly allowed Americans to settle there, provided they became Mexican citizens and converted to Catholicism. Many took advantage of colonization projects, such as the one led by Stephen F. Austin, while others simply came to Texas and squatted on vacant land.

Unrest and Discontent

The settlers soon chafed under Mexican rule. Mexico had just won its independence from Spain in 1821, and there was much chaos and infighting in Mexico City as liberals and conservatives struggled for power. Most Texas settlers approved of the Mexican constitution of 1824, which granted many freedoms to states (as opposed to federal control). This constitution was later rescinded, angering the Texans (and many Mexicans as well). The settlers also wanted to split from Coahuila and form a state in Texas. The Texan settlers were initially offered tax breaks which were later taken away, causing further discontent.

Texas Breaks from Mexico

By 1835, troubles in Texas had reached a boiling point. Tensions were always high between Mexicans and American settlers, and the unstable government in Mexico City made things that much worse. Stephen F. Austin, long a believer in staying loyal to Mexico, was jailed without charges for a year and a half: when he was finally released, even he was in favor of independence. Many Tejanos (Texan-born Mexicans) were in favor of independence: some would go on to fight valiantly at the Alamo and other battles.

The Battle of Gonzales

The first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired on October 2, 1835, in the town of Gonzales. The Mexican authorities in Texas, nervous about the increased hostility with the Texans, decided to disarm them. A small squad of Mexican soldiers was sent to Gonzales to retrieve a cannon stationed there to fight off Indian attacks. The Texans in the town did not allow the Mexicans entry: after a tense standoff, the Texans fired on the Mexicans. The Mexicans swiftly retreated, and in the whole battle there was but one casualty on the Mexican side. But the war had begun and there was no going back for the Texans.

The Siege of San Antonio

With the outbreak of hostilities, Mexico began making preparations for a massive punitive expedition north, to be led by President/General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Texans knew they had to move quickly to consolidate their gains. The rebels, led by Austin, marched on San Antonio (then more commonly referred to as Béxar). They laid siege for two months, during which time they fought off a Mexican sally at the Battle of Concepción. In early December, the Texans attacked the city. Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cos conceded defeat and surrendered: by December 12 all Mexican forces had left the city.

The Alamo and Goliad

The Mexican army arrived in Texas, and in late February laid siege to the Alamo, a fortified old mission in San Antonio. Some 200 defenders, among them William Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett, held out to the last: the Alamo was overrun on March 6, 1836, and all within were slain. Less than a month later, about 350 rebellious Texans were captured in battle and then executed days later: this was known as the ​Goliad Massacre. These twin setbacks seemed to spell doom for the nascent rebellion. Meanwhile, on March 2, a congress of elected Texans officially declared Texas independent from Mexico.

The Battle of San Jacinto

After the Alamo and Goliad, Santa Anna assumed he had beaten the Texans and divided his army. Texan General Sam Houston caught up to Santa Anna on the banks of the San Jacinto River. On the afternoon of April 21, 1836, Houston attacked. Surprise was complete and the attack turned first into a rout, then into a massacre. Half of Santa Anna's men were killed and most of the others were taken prisoner, including Santa Anna himself. Santa Anna signed papers ordering all Mexican forces out of Texas and recognizing the independence of Texas.

The Republic of Texas

Mexico would make several half-hearted attempts to re-take Texas, but after all Mexican forces left Texas following San Jacinto, they never had a realistic chance of re-conquering their former territory. Sam Houston became the first President of Texas: he would serve as Governor and Senator later when Texas accepted statehood. Texas was a republic for almost ten years, a time which was marked by many troubles, including tension with Mexico and the US and difficult relations with local Indian tribes. Nevertheless, this period of independence is looked back upon with great pride by modern Texans.

Texas Statehood

Even before Texas split from Mexico in 1835, there were those in Texas and the USA that were in favor of statehood in the USA. Once Texas became independent, there were repeated calls for annexation. It wasn't so simple, however. Mexico had made it clear that while it was forced to tolerate an independent Texas, annexation would likely lead to war (in fact, the US annexation was a factor in the outbreak of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War). Other sticking points included whether enslavement would be legal in Texas and the federal assumptions of Texas' debts, which were considerable. These difficulties were overcome and Texas became the 28th state on December 29, 1845.

Resources and Further Reading

  • Brands, H.W. Lone Star Nation: the Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.
  • Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the United States.New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.
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Minster, Christopher. "The Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). The Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "The Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).