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The Mexican-American War

James A. Watkins is an entrepreneur, musician, and a writer with four non-fiction books and hundreds of magazine articles read by millions.



Republic of Texas

American President John Quincy Adams tried to buy Texas from Spain for one million dollars in 1819. Texas is as large as France but was only inhabited by 4,000 Spanish subjects.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it claimed Texas as part of its new empire. Since Texas was nearly devoid of people, and decades of efforts to entice people from Spain or Mexico to settle there had failed, Mexico invited Yankees (Anglo-Americans) to buy land and reside in Texas, with the condition that they agree to embrace Mexican citizenship, and convert to Roman Catholicism.

By 1831, there were 30,000 Yankees living in Texas along with 1,000 African slaves. The family of Stephen Austin alone had purchased 15,000 acres of Texas land from the Mexican government. The population of Mexicans in Texas totaled 5,000—they called themselves Tejanos.

The people of Texas were allowed to govern themselves until 1834, when the new government of Mexico revoked their autonomy. Stephen Austin went to Mexico City to plead the case of Texans to direct their own affairs, but instead he was imprisoned for a year. He came home a rebel who favored independence for Texas.

American President Andrew Jackson attempted to buy Texas from Mexico for five million dollars, and might have succeeded had he not sent the arrogant, Mexican-hating Anthony Butler to make the offer, who offended everybody in Mexico City.

Texas declared its independence in 1836, after the President of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, had become a dictator.

Texas was not alone: eleven Mexican states rebelled against Santa Anna. Texas was one of three Mexican states that declared independence, but the only state that was successful at winning independence from Mexico. Texas was far different from the other Mexican states in that 20,000 Anglo-Americans owned ranches there.

President Santa Anna led an army north to punish Texas. He arrived at San Antonio with perhaps 4,000 soldiers, and surrounded 200 or so Yankee settlers inside a mission called the Alamo. In the fighting, all but one of the Texans was slain. The Mexicans counted 1,544 dead.

Word circulated around Texas that Santa Anna had executed prisoners at the Alamo. It is doubtful there were any prisoners, as the men inside the Alamo fought to the death. Santa Anna did execute 350 Texan prisoners three weeks later, who had surrendered after the Battle of Goliad, and the two events may have been confused. In any event, "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry of Texas. The United States remained neutral in this conflict, and even refused to loan money to Texas for armaments.

One month later, the Texans defeated the army of Santa Anna in the fifteen minute Battle of San Jacinto, and captured him. In exchange for his freedom, Santa Anna acknowledged Texas as an independent republic, and skulked back to Mexico City in disgrace. Sam Houston was elected the first president of the Republic of Texas.

In the meantime, Anastasio Bustamante was elected president of Mexico (again) and his new government refused to accept the independence of Texas. Texas would remain an independent nation for the next nine years.

In 1850, a census of Texas revealed a population of 212,000 Americans; 58,000 African slaves; and 11,000 people of Mexican descent. 90 percent of the Americans had come to Texas from the southern United States. They put on aristocratic airs, but they were proud and violent men who loved to gamble, drink, duel, and race horses. Many of them were Scots-Irish.

Texans were the loneliest people in America. Few of them had access to schools, churches, or courts. Their education came from the family Bible; their justice from the Colt 45. In legend Texas is western; in reality it is southern.

In 1861, Texas voted to secede from the United States. By 1865, King Cotton had become King Cattle.









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Santa Anna

After his disgrace, General Santa Anna redeemed himself in 1838, when he defeated French troops that had invaded Mexico. He lost his leg to a French cannon during the battle, and he once again became the national hero of Mexico.

Santa Anna was installed as dictator of Mexico for the fifth time, and put down a rebellion led by two Mexican generals. In 1842, he attacked Texas again, which gained him nothing but intense anti-Mexican feelings by Texans, who from then on sought to become part of the United States for protection. In 1844, Santa Anna was deposed, and went into exile in Cuba.

The United States did not think highly of Mexico. In its view, Mexico started out with an equal land mass and 2/3 of the population of the United States, as well as incredible natural resources, when it became a nation. But it was not a success story, as was the United States.

Mexico was a basket case that was full of impoverished people in a stagnant economy, and rife with banditos. The only commodity of Mexico was silver. Mexico did not encourage foreign investment and in fact was known to declare "Death to foreigners!"

Liberal Mexicans wanted war against the Yankees, thinking this would help forge a national identity. In 1844, Mexican President Jose Joaquin Herrera accepted that Texas was lost, and declared Mexico's intention to make peace with Texas as long as it remained an independent country.

In 1845, Mexico severed diplomatic relations with the United States because the people of Texas had made it known they now wanted to join the United States.

The United States annexed Texas in 1845, because Texans begged it to do so. Texas sought to join the United States because Santa Anna—back from exile and presidente yet again—had publicly sworn to drown Texans in their own blood. The terms of the annexation included five million dollars of American money given to Texas, which it needed to defend itself against the feared coming onslaught by Mexico. But the annexation outraged Mexico.

In 1846, upon rumors that Mexico was planning an attack to retake Texas, the United States declared war on Mexico. The Mexican government soon returned the favor.

Indeed the Mexican government was under pressure to stand up to the hated Yankees. 63 American soldiers were ambushed and killed by Mexicans on the north side of the Rio Grande prior to the declaration of war.

Many Americans opposed the war. Those in favor viewed the territories of New Mexico and California as only nominally Mexican possessions with very tenuous ties to Mexico, and as actually unsettled, ungoverned, and unprotected frontier lands.