Santa Anna's Tyranny or Property Rights?
| As a former state representative and self acclaimed historian, I have sought answers to the old question, "What was the main reason settlers went to war with Santa Anna?" Depending on what university you attend, there are many speculations taught by distinguished Texas History professors at UT, A&M, Baylor, SFA, and Rice. Some believe it was over slavery because Mexico did not permit owning slaves. Some believe it was over freedom of religion because Mexico required settlers to adopt Roman Catholicism and speak in Spanish only. Others believe it was because Santa Anna abolished the new republic and declared himself dictator.
Since the capitol building was completed in 1888, all Texas' historical documents were stored in the basement Archives until 2001 when they were moved to the new Bob Bullock Historical Museum. Becoming a state legislator in 1980 gave me a lot of privileges not given to most historians. I spent every bit of spare time possible rummaging through old and priceless documents. There were originals of early grants Moses Austin received from Spain and written agreements by Mexican Governor Martinez with Stephen F. Austin in 1821.
My favorite find in the Archives were several binders of original minutes from meetings conducted by pre-war revolutionists, sometimes referred to as Texan's for Revolution or the Texas Provisional Government. The minutes cover meetings from September 1835 through October of 1836. Most of the meetings were presided over by Governor Henry Smith. In the minutes you discover the resignation of then, General Austin, to be succeeded by Edward Burleson. You also find the appointment of Sam Houston and instructions for him to form and train a reliable army. Several meetings covered the outrage of the defeat at the Alamo and plans for retribution towards Santa Anna and the generals who followed him.
The most revealing and untold story found in the minutes was the main reason settlers went to war with Santa Anna. Keep in mind, up to 1834, most settlers supported Santa Anna's dictatorship. What could have swayed so many to become disillusioned enough to go to war with the mighty Mexican army? Before giving that answer, you must first know some history prior to the disillusionment.
The Spanish/Mexican government making the deal with Stephen F. Austin in 1821 was overthrown by Agustin de Iturbide and Santa Anna just as the first settlers were moving in to San Felipe. The new government refused to honor the contract Austin made with Spain and it took three years for Austin to convince the new government to honor the Spanish grants. To get this accomplished he had to agree to several unpopular demands. Under the rules of the grant, each new settler had to convert to Roman Catholicism, meet high standards of moral character, become a Mexican citizen, change their names to Spanish equivalents, and offer all products to Mexico before other markets.
All went fairly well for the settlers over the next twelve years. Cotton was in high demand all over Europe. Most plantations stopped raising corn and other crops and went for what sold best. Mexico needed more corn, wheat, and beef. By 1832 Mexico had enough resistance by settlers refusal to stop growing cotton and demanded that Stephen F. Austin make the settlers be more versatile in crop production or they would hold them in contempt of the provisions of the agreement. Austin was a bit disturbed at this demand and wrote an angry letter to a friend calling for revolution. Unfortunately the letter was intercepted by authorities and Austin spent the next year and a half in prison for treason.
In 1833 Santa Anna declared himself dictator and began a move to force settlers to produce selected items on each plantation. Cotton was an outlawed crop. Owners caught producing cotton without authorization from Santa Anna himself were imprisoned until the next planting season. It was for this that settlers revolted.
The minutes, now located in the Bob Bullock Historical Museum in Austin, Texas, constantly refer to the discontent of settlers being told what to do with their properties. There is little mention of slavery issues or of the lack of religious freedom. Money was to be made in producing cotton and less in other ventures. Also, the Mexico market was not as profitable as the US or European markets. The corn they were forced to harvest brought more cash in other markets; however, they were forced to sell to Mexico first.
I challenge historians to read the hundreds of pages of minutes our forefathers left us. These documents clear up many other questions, including Davy Crocket's part in the revolution. Of course, that's another story altogether.