Convention, Washington-On-Brazos, 1836

"Many a Cause, Many a Conflict: The Texas Revolution"


Volumes sufficient to fill multiple warehouses have been written about the Texas Revolution of 1836 in the century and a half since it culminated in the seventeen minute Battle of San Jacinto. Few topics have inspired such polarized feelings. Many blame Mexico's loss of her northernmost regions on a conscious premeditated conspiracy of Anglo-Americans in the United States to steal Texas by whatever means possible. This conspiracy, supported by the American government in Washington, D.C., first bore fruit in 1835-36 with the Texas Revolution and culminated ten years later with the Mexican War which resulted in the loss of the present-day states of New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California. At the other end of the continuum are those who blame the Mexican people for the misrule of Texas and the ruthless dictatorship of Santa Anna for provoking a fully justified rebellion by Anglo-Americans and Tejanos. While such extreme positions are far too simplistic to explain the events of 1835-36, they continue to be voiced today - a century and a half after the fact.

In truth, there were a multiplicity of factors which led to the revolution.

The Expansionist History of the United States

Certainly one of the most important reasons for Mexico's loss of Texas was the historic expansionism of the United States, which had been growing by leaps and bounds even prior to the American war of independence. British colonists had occupied and developed the Tidewater and Piedmont areas of the Atlantic Seaboard and were occupying the Appalachians when revolution broke out. Americans now, they conquered and peopled the Ohio River Valley, the Transmississippi West of Kentucky and Tennessee, then Florida, and portions of the massive Louisiana Purchase territory. By the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain, Americans were already on the border of the new nation - and in some cases were already over the border.

Whether it was because they wanted new virgin farmland, or they wanted to make the United States a transcontinental nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or they wanted to fulfill what they saw as America's divine mission to bring Christianity and civilization to all of North America - "they wanted" is the key phrase. Because the United States had been expanding for its entire history, many Americans were determined to see that trend continue - either through purchase, or negotiations, or militarily. They looked upon American acquisition of vast areas of Northern Mexico as an inevitability.

The policy of the American government for the sale of unoccupied land within its borders to settlers also, unwittingly, encouraged many Americans to migrate to Mexican Texas after 1821. In the decade and a half before the revolution in Texas, the United States government offered unoccupied land within its borders to settlers at the price of $1.25 an acre with an 80 acre minimum tract purchase. This worked well as long as credit was readily available. However, a financial panic swept the United States beginning in 1819. This made money incredibly tight. The government sold land on a cash-only basis and with money now scarce, many Americans found the Republic of Mexico's giveaway of large tracts of land to settlers willing to becoming law-abiding citizens of the Republic an irresistable offer.

This however is a far cry from proving a premeditated conspiracy by American government officials to "steal" Texas from Mexico. While such allegations were made in both the United States and Mexico during and after the revolution, such a conspiracy - much less that it was responsible for events in Texas - has never been proven.

Nonetheless, without a multitude of Anglo-Americans in Texas (who missed their old country, its governmental system and methods) a revolutionary war would not have broken out in Texas in 1835.

The Special Circumstances of Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Another irrefutable factor leading to Mexico's loss of Texas was her preoccupation with internal conflicts and disputes in the immediate aftermath of her own struggle for independence. Texas drifted away between 1821 and 1835 while Mexican citizens were deciding how to solidify their newly-won independence and create a government that all of her citizens could live with.

Such disruptions, turbulence, and internal preoccupation were not unique to Mexico in the period from 1821 to 1836. Consider if you will the severe difficulties faced by Americans under the Articles of Confederation from 1776 to 1788 when the Constitution was adopted and put into effect. State battled state in terms of trade. Currency transactions were almost impossible as each state circulated its own form of money. Americans couldn't get rid of lingering British troops even after the peace settlement. The economy was in shambles. Rumors of intrigue and possible counterrevolutions and coup d'etats were rife. Citizens squabbled over what kind of government they needed and what that government should do. Imagine what might have happened if Americans, having just won their own independence, would have had to defend an exposed and vulnerable territory on its periphery from a powerful foe under these circumstances. Mexico had to do just that.

The Mexican people were certainly preoccupied with internal matters in the aftermath of their revolutionary war of independence against Spain. It was one thing to agree on independence; it was quite another to agree upon what should replace Spanish rule. Monarchists who wanted a king battled republicans who wanted elected representative leaders. They fought over what the proper roles of the military and the Roman Catholic church should be. Centralists fought to vest all power in a national government, federalists to distribute it evenly between state and national governments, and confederalists wanted all power at the state and local levels.

During this period of internal preoccupation in Central Mexico with citizens struggling to settle these inevitable questions, Anglo-American Texans and Tejanos learned to proceed more or less independently of Mexico City. In short, Texans - so remote from Mexico City - got used to doing pretty much what they wanted to do any way they wanted to do it. When Mexico focused on Texas once again and clamped on restraints to control what it saw as a rapidly-deteriorating situation, Texans' resentment and resistance helped lead to revolution.


One of the factors that complicated and soured the relations between Mexican citizens and the Anglo settlers they allowed to emigrate to Texas from the United States was racial prejudice. Both sides of the relationship felt racially superior to the other. When the Mexican government took action that angered Anglos or Anglo Texans got into conflict with an official of that government, American colonists were likely to respond with such repulsive terms as "greaser" or "bean eater". When Anglos resisted orders or decisions, Mexicans were just as likely to use the term "gringo".

Racial prejudice led both sides of this relationship to expect the worst of one another, to misread and misinterpret the actions and attitudes of the other race, and to respond in a haughty manner. When both sides of such a quarrel feel they are "God's Chosen People" (ethnocentrism), troubles are certain to develop.

To overlook racism as a cause of the Texas Revolution is simply naive - but it was only one of many causes, not the only cause.

Cultural Differences

Perhaps the most vexing factor in the Anglo-Mexican relationship was the cultural conflict between these two very different peoples. When the Republic of Mexico authorized the empressario program, it realized that its chances of success were not good - the Anglos from the United States would have to make tremendous cultural changes if they were to fit in permanently in their new home. That the Anglos did not make such dramatic changes in a short time period under such troubled circumstances was not surprising.

Anglos, who had agreed to learn and use the Spanish language as part of the admittance arrangement, groused about the use of Spanish for all official business in Texas once they had settled in. Shortly they began pressing for an exception for Anglos Texans whereby the "official language" could be dumped in favor of English.

The Anglos had also agreed to become practicing Roman Catholics as the church was the officially recognized religion for all of the Republic of Mexico. Even if most Anglos had made the promise in good faith fully intending to convert, they found it difficult after arriving in Texas. Remember that most Anglos had come from the Deep South and, if affiliated with any church, were Southern Baptists or Methodists. Relations between such fundamentalist Protestant groups and Roman Catholicism were strained to say the very least - each thought the others were infidels. Therefore, many Anglos continued to practice their Protestant faiths long after they settled in Texas. Even those who did convert found it difficult to practice their adopted faith given the scarcity in Texas of Catholic churches and priests.

Another complicating cultural difference involved judicial systems. Mexicans operated under the Napoleanic Code while Anglos from the United States had always functioned under a judicial system based upon English common law. The former presumed the guilt of an individual charged with an offense until they could prove their innocence. The latter presumed an individual innocent until proven guilty by the government. Needless to say, bitter disputes involving allegations of disloyalty and tyranny arose often in judicial proceedings.

The Hispanic culture also accepted a very active role by the military, far more active than anything Anglos had ever seen or were willing to accept. The military in Mexican Texas, for instance, was used on occasion to collect both taxes and the tithe to the church. This was foreign to Anglos from the United States. Remember that the American revolution of independence had begun when British military forces attempted to collect and force the payment of tariff duties and taxes.

Perhaps no other factor surpassed these cultural conflicts in straining relations day in and day out between these two very different peoples which would culminate in the revolution.

Governmental Differences

The most immediate cause of the Texas Revolution was the refusal of many Texas, both Anglo and Mexican, to accept the governmental changes mandated by "Siete Leyes" which placed almost total power in the hands of the Mexican national government and Santa Anna.

Most of the Anglos who moved to Texas came from the Deep South. During the 1820s and 1830s, this region was swept by Jacksonian Democracy - a governmental philosophy that held that all government was bad, the best government was the least government, government grew more tyrannical the fewer people held power, the executive branch was the most dangerous and the one to be given the least power, etc. Perhaps most importantly, Jacksonian Democrats and the vast majority of Anglos who emigrated to Mexican Texas felt that governmental power should be vested primarily in local and state governments which, being closer to the people, were more representative and more easily controlled.

Many Mexicans felt exactly the same way. Remember that one of the internal disputes in post-revolutionary Mexico involved the best way to distribute power between local, state, and national levels of government. Centralists, who wished to allot the overwhelming majority of power to the central/national government in Mexico City, were fought tooth and nail by those all across Mexico who felt this would amount to an uncontrollable and tyrannical dictatorship.

Until 1835 these groups fought one another for control. In October, 1835 the centralists and Santa Anna won out with the enactment of "Siete Leyes". This move: (1) did away with the federalist Constitution of 1824, (2) abolished all state legislatures including that of Coahuila y Tejas, and (3) replaced states with "departments" headed up by governors and appointed councils selected by and serving at the pleasure of Santa Anna.

The reaction in many sections of Mexico, including Texas, was military resistance to the creation of what many citizens saw as an all-powerful government in the hands of a tyrannical Santa Anna. In Texas, war was originally waged in an attempt to restore the Constitution of 1824 and federalism. Only later would it become a war of independence.


When Anglo settlers were originally admitted to Mexican Texas, they were permitted to bring their black slaves from the Deep South with them. Indeed, had Mexican Texas been closed to slavery from the beginning, far fewer Southerners would have emigrated either because they could not bring their expensive property and manpower source with them or because of their political/racial views.

Over the years, Mexico took repeated steps to limit or abolish slavery in Texas. Each step prompted a vociferous reaction from Anglos followed by a Mexican retreat in which the threatening change was repealed. Given the amount of capital many Anglos had invested in black slaves, Mexico's mercurial actions with respect to slavery were at the very least threatening. There were those by 1836 who felt an independent Republic of Texas in which slavery was firmly and for all time recognized and respected was preferable to Mexico with an uncertain future for slavery. Two and one half decades later Texans still felt so strongly about black slavery and attached to it for both economic and social reasons that they would secede from the United States and wage a civil war rather than see the institution imperiled.

The Physical Isolation of Texas

The Texas Revolution was also the product of the physical isolation of Texas from both the American and Mexican governments. The situation in Texas, in which Anglo colonists became increasingly estranged from their host nation with the passage of time, developed in part because Mexico City was so far away. Even without its post-revolutionary struggles and inner focus, Mexico (like Spain before it) would have had tremendous difficulty trying to station enough troops and officials so far from Mexico City to control the situation. Similarly, the United States (had it had the desire to do so) would have found in equally impossible to control Anglo-Americans who had moved to Texas or Southerners who were preparing to move. Anglo-Texans got used to doing whatever they wanted in part because neither government could effectively control the isolated region.