SAN ANTONIO, March 8 - March 2nd is celebrated as a state holiday honoring Texas Independence Day (March 2, 1836).
On that date, newly arrived Anglo immigrants from the U.S. severed ties with the Republic of Mexico and declared independence. However, today, more than ever, many Texans question its significance for two main reasons: (l) Texas was independent for only nine years, since in 1845 the Anglos traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state; and (2) Texas previously had declared independence years before. What’s going on here?
The answer is that sometimes when you rinse the exterior of a celebrated event, pesky details that weaken it quickly bubble up to the surface. In chronological order, the March 2, 1836 incident was indeed the second time Texas declared independence. Factually, on April 6, 1813 José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara Uribe, first Texas President, wrote and signed the first Texas Declaration of Independence; then read its contents to jubilant Texans outside the Spanish Governors Palace.
To be sure, the year 2013 had very special significance. First, in April, State Representative Eddie Rodriguez sponsored a Proclamation (approved by the State Legislature) honoring the 200th Anniversary of the first Texas Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Then, on August 18, we honored the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Medina.
As an 8th-generation Texan, it’s rewarding to me that many non-Tejanos are embracing long ignored early Texas history. They are learning the truth -- Texas Independence was already well in motion before Sam Houston arrived in Texas seeking to start life afresh in Mexico. Honestly, the newcomer Sam Houston first joined Tejanos in their on-going federalist movement.
What exactly was the federalist movement in Mexico? In brief, the first citizens of Texas, as other communities were doing elsewhere in Mexico, were asking for more independence. In particular, the 1810-1813 patriots longed for equality with the aristocracy and wished to keep more of what they produced. Details below summarize the true events.
(l)The drive for Texas independence began with Gutiérrez de Lara answering Father Miguel Hidalgo’s call (Grito). After organizing the Mexican Army of the North (1st Texas Army) from scratch, Don Bernardo led his men in five decisive battles (1812-1813) against the far superior Spanish Army. In 1813, Don Bernardo became the first President of Texas. He wrote and signed a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution, both signaling to the world that native-born residents of the independent Provincia de Tejas had credentials to seek autonomy.
(2) Alas, the Army of the North, under another commander, was defeated on August 18, 1813. Over 800 Tejano patriots died for freedom that day. The Texas State Historical Association honors the Battle of Medina as the largest, bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil.
(3) In 1821, Mexico gained its independence. Soon after, civil war spread across the Republic of Mexico (from Sonora to Texas to Yucatán) demanding relaxed management from Mexico City. As such, the old 1810-1813 struggle for self-rule in Texas reignited. It was in reaction to this part of the civil war raging in Mexico that General Santa Anna came to Texas in 1836.
So, Sam Houston in union with recent slave-owning U.S. expatriates walked into a very volatile political situation when they arrived in Texas. All was fine with the Anglos joining the federalists until it came to the issue of slaves. Mexico was the first country in America to abolish slavery (1829). Slave-owning whites, unwilling to free their slaves, betrayed their Tejano allies and pointed the federalist cause in a different direction. As immigrants in Mexico, they could not legally claim independence. None of the Anglos were native-born Texans.
As President of Mexico, General Santa Anna had every legal right to take military action. He was not the intruder in Texas, the Anglos were. As he had done as a lieutenant at the 1813 Battle of Medina, he came to fight the federalists. Plus, he wished to rid his country of armed men from the U.S. Regardless, Texas independence lasted for only nine years. In 1845 the Anglos traded their independence to join the U.S. as a slave state; causing U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-48.
Because it doesn’t fit the Sam Houston model, Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara’s full-fledged First Texas Revolution has long been diminished by mainstream historians who call it an expedition. That is unfair. Hopefully, present and future generations of Texans will learn about a whole slate of new heroic and true Texas independence founders, such as Father Miguel Hidalgo, Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, Juan Aldama, Ignacio Allende, José Mariano Jimenez, Captain Juan Bautista de las Casas, Col. Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, Col. José Menchaca, and many others.
In closing, because they are unaware of their rich history, many Mexican-descent Texans avoid the Texas history topic altogether and accept the Anglicized version without question. The only tool we can use to learn more is knowledge. Don’t wait another day. If your family originated in Texas or Northern Mexico, start your inspirational journey in search of the Spanish Mexican roots of Texas. Visit the Tejano Monument in Austin. I guarantee it will uplift you!
Learn how our ancestors set up the first towns “deep in the heart of Texas”. Find out about the centralists versus federalists (Tejanos) struggle in pre-1836 Texas. Truly, our Spanish Mexican ancestors’ love of freedom and independence is second to none. There’s much more. Indeed, revitalizing early Texas history will prove once and for all that after more than 150 years, it’s time to give credit where credit is due in the founding of this great place we call Texas.
José Antonio (Joe) López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.