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Texas' Secession From Mexico

Texas' Secession From Mexico
AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter
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The secession of Texas from Mexico on March 2, 1836 has much in common with the secession of 13 colonies from the British Empire on July 4, 1776. For one thing, the victors of both wars styled their secessions as “revolutions” rather than separatist movements.

There are other similarities, too, starting with the fact that Texas was not the only state in Mexico to try and secede from Mexico City. The self-declared republics of Rio Grande, Zacatecas, and Yucután also asserted their independence from Mexico, though Texas was the only state to actually succeed in its rebellion. Unlike the 13 North American states attempting to secede from the British Empire, the Mexican provinces did not band together to form a united front against a common enemy.

Texas itself was the northern part of a larger state called Coahuila y Tejas. When Mexico originally seceded from Spain, Coahuila y Tejas joined the new republic as its poorest, most sparsely populated member state. In addition to economic and demographic problems, Coahuila y Tejas shared a border with the Comanche and Apache Indians, who in the 1820s were still powerful players in regional geopolitics. Life in Coahuila y Tejas was nasty, brutal, and short.

The new republic of Mexico was preoccupied elsewhere and gave Coahuila y Tejas a free hand when it came to governance, a policy that would come back to bite Mexico City in the rear. Mexico City also liberalized its immigration laws so that English-speaking settlers from the United States could establish themselves in Coahuila y Tejas. The settlers came mostly from slaveholding American states, and this clashed deeply with Mexican views on race and slavery. To make matters more complicated, the 1830s saw an increase in tensions between federalists and centralists in Mexico City, much in the same way that Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans clashed with John Adams’ Federalists (culminating in the Alien and Sedition Acts).

While the clash between centralists and decentralists subsided in the United States, it exploded with open warfare in Mexico. The rebellious states, including Coahuila y Tejas, asked General Santa Anna to lead them, and he obliged. The rebellion of 1833 gave Texans a taste of blood though, and at the state level, there was much more of an emphasis for Coahuila and Texas to go their separate ways and become independent states within the Mexican republic. Nothing came of this proposed divorce until 1835, when Santa Anna, who was a decentralist just two years prior, abolished the Mexican constitution of 1824 and began centralizing power. The states that had originally joined the Mexican republic were disbanded and replaced with “departments” that were created by Santa Anna, and Coahuila y Tejas revolted.

On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico and announced its intention to divorcing Coahuila, which joined up with Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to form the short-lived Republic of Rio Grande.

Major fighting between the Texan and Mexican armies came to an end in April of 1836, just one month after an official declaration of independence was proclaimed, but a sophisticated game of geopolitics continued to play out until the United States annexed Texas in 1845. The Republic of Rio Grande, for example, was never officially recognized by Texas despite a common enemy because Texas sought Mexico’s blessing of independence (it never happened). Texas still armed Rio Grande and volunteers from Texas flooded Rio Grande’s military. On the Mexican end, refusing to recognize Texas made it nearly impossible for Texas to find diplomatic support for its sovereignty outside of the United States.

France and the United Kingdom, for example, had vast empires that constantly quelled secessionist tendencies, and blessing a successful secession was the last thing London and Paris wanted to do. The fact that Mexico, a new republic rich with natural resources and viewed as a potential counterweight to American ambitions, refused to recognize Texan independence was icing on the cake for France the U.K.

With Texas isolated from the global stage, it had no recourse but to turn completely to the United States, which it did. The U.S., of course, resisted annexation for nearly a decade before ceding to annexationist factions. Texas wiped out the Comanche and pushed the Apache into the southwest, where they continued to fight the United States and Mexican republics into the 1930s.

Today, Texas is one of the two most influential states in the American imperium. It is powerful. It is beautiful. And it still harbors an independent streak.

Just for fun, here is an article from the Smithsonian about allowing Texas to split up into five different states.

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