delanceypl? 6/28/11 - the alamo was about slavery

In today's excerpt - as David Crockett entered into sparsely-populated Texas from Tennessee in 1836 hoping for riches from new land grants but unwittingly headed for martyrdom at the Alamo, white settlers there were chafing at the Mexican laws that prohibited slavery. While the causes of the Texas War for Independence were many, the principal cause was this prohibition of slavery. And of the "holy trinity" of heroes at the Alamo—William Barrett Travis, James Bowie, and "Davy" Crockett—both Travis and Bowie were land speculators and slave traders:

"Like many others making the same journey at the time, Crockett understood what he faced once he crossed the Red River into Texas and left the United States. He had to have been aware that, in the weeks before he departed, the animosity had increased between the government of Mexico and the American settlers, called Texians, in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas, The white colonists were becoming increasingly tired of living under Mexican rule, and they headed for war with hopes of forming their own separate republic. Many of these Anglos were illegal immigrants and did not abide by Mexican law. All citizens were required to join the Catholic Church, accept the language and laws of the governing country, and, by the late 1820s, observe the ban on the enslavement of human beings.

"To the Anglos' way of thinking, slaves were too important to give up, particularly for the wealthier southerners who were accustomed to the plantation system style of farming. 'The discussion of slavery in the West begins in Texas, the heart of the region's slave regime,' writes Quintard Taylor Jr., African American history scholar. 'Slaveholders unapologetically proclaimed both the agricultural need for black labor and their right to own their fellow human beings.'

"Slavery had been a volatile issue in Texas ever since the early 1820s, when Stephen Fuller Austin convinced the Mexican government, which had just won its independence from Spain, that Anglo settlers would provide a buffer on the northern frontier between the settlements to the south and the raiding Comanches. The original three hundred families that Austin led to what was promised as the land of milk and honey soon multiplied. Prospects of free land lured thousands of whites across the Sabine and Red rivers. By 1823 at least 3,000 U.S. citizens had entered Texas illegally, along with 700 legitimate settlers. About the same time, the Austin Colony had established an unofficial capital at San Felipe de Austin, on the west bank of the Brazos River. Two years earlier, Austin was already expressing concern over what he perceived would become a major problem with the Mexican government and the colonists.

" 'The principal difficulty is slavery, this they will not admit—as the law is all slaves are to be free in ten years, but I am trying to have it amended so as to make them slaves for life and their children free at 21 years—but do not think I shall succeed in this point, and that the law will pass as it is now, that the slaves introduced by the settlers shall be free after 10 years,' Austin wrote in a dispatch from Mexico City in 1822. ...

"Noah Smithwick described wealthy landowners who established cotton plantations [in Texas] and imported large numbers of slaves. 'Over on the Brazos ... a planter from South Carolina ... had over 100 slaves, with which force he set to work clearing ground and planting cotton and corn. He hired two men to kill game to feed them on, and the mustangs [wild horses] being the largest and easiest to kill ... the negroes lived on horse meat till corn came in.'

"Slavery was indeed an important issue in the Texas war of rebellion, just as it would be a decade later in the Mexican-American War. Yet because slavery is antithetical to hero worship, often the subject has been noticeably absent in discussions of early Texas settlement by Anglo immigrants. The fact remains that by the late 1820s Mexico had a politically active and strong abolitionist movement. In 1829 a new Mexican constitution prohibited slavery, which so outraged the big landowners and speculators in Texas that a provision was drafted that permitted slavery under certain conditions. That was soon rescinded and a new policy put into place. It allowed all slaves currently residing in Texas to remain but banned the importation of additional slaves. It also decreed that children born to slaves in the territory would be free. At the same time, the Mexican government passed a law blocking any further American immigration into Texas. By 1830 there were more than 20,000 settlers and 2,000 slaves living in Texas, making Anglos more numerous than Mexicans. ...

"The mostly southern-born white settlers of Texas were on a collision course with the Mexican government. 'The two sides could no longer avoid the slavery issue. Mexico now fully supported equality for its entire population, while many of the white immigrants wanted Texas to become an empire for slavery.

"Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de Lebron, president of Mexico and commander of the Mexican army, puzzled as to why a province in his republic still allowed slaves, asked: 'Shall we permit those wretches to moan in chains any longer in a country whose kind laws protect the liberty of man without distinction of cast or color?' Santa Anna posed the rhetorical question in early 1836, just as Crockett was making his way to Texas."


Michael Wallis


David Crockett: Lion of the West


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2011 by Michael Wallis


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