One of the most significant events of the early- to mid-nineteenth century was the Texas Revolution from Mexico. The timeline and dates of the Texas Revolution show that the fighting itself was over a very short period, though the causes were decades in the making.
When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 its boundary with the United States was defined at the Sabine River as a result of the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819. The province of Coahuila y Tejas was the easternmost Mexican province.
At the time Texas was sparsely populated. Spanish and then Mexican officials actively encouraged foreigners, primarily from the United States, to settle the region. Eager for available land, Americans immigrated by the thousands, many bringing their slaves with them.
Mexico ultimately hoped that Texas could serve as a buffer state to the growing expansionist ambitions of the United States as well as eventually become the primary agricultural state that could help feed the nation.1
Mexico’s Constitution of 1824 established a federal government that was loosely modeled on the US Constitution and federal principles. This early federal government was notoriously unstable and laws were loosely enforced throughout the Mexican states.
When General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna rose to power in 1833 he opted for a more centralized government, which drew protests from various states favoring the federal system.
The citizens of Texas ultimately rebelled from Mexico in 1835, kicking off what is known as the Texas Revolution.
Causes and Reasons for the Texas Revolution
One of the primary causes of and reasons for the Texas Revolution was the fight over the institution of slavery. There were certainly other causes of the revolution, like the fight over a centralized vs federal government, the petition for separate statehood, and the distance from the provincial capital, but slavery took center stage.
Stephen F. Austin, known as “Father of Texas” due to his early pioneering efforts, virtually confirmed this fact. He wrote in the summer of 1835 just prior to the revolution:
“Texas must be a slave country. It is no longer a matter of doubt.”2
An 1829 federal Mexican law abolished slavery in the nation and granted emancipation to all slaves. Texas did not revolt at the time as Mexico’s central government was fairly weak and could not enforce the law in far away provinces such as Texas.
Slavery could continue in Texas unabated given the preponderance of sympathetic local officials. In fact, there are several instances of an active slave trade in Texas where smugglers imported free blacks and enslaved them to plantation owners.
These instances in the 1830s occurred long after Mexico outlawed the practice and even longer after the US banned the international slave trade in 1808.2
Many Texans simply believed that Texas could not exist and grow without forced labor to tend their cash crops such as cotton. The cotton gin’s impact on slavery in 1794 had great repercussions on the spread of the institution to faraway places like Texas.
When the Mexican central government eventually stabilized in 1832 under the self-styled “Napoleon of the West” Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Texans increasingly grew agitated over stricter enforcement of emancipation.3
While Santa Anna relented on most demands stemming from the Texan Convention of 1833, he refused to allow Texas to become a separate state and reverse course on slavery.
The lingering tensions turned into a spark in early 1835 and eventually into a full-blown revolution by the end of the year.
Timeline of the 1836 Texas Revolution
1824: The Mexican Constitution establishes a federal republic. Due to low populations, Texas is combined with the nearby province of Coahuila to form Coahuila y Tejas.
1829: Mexico abolishes slavery in the country leading to mass evasion from Texians who did not wish to lose their slaves.
1830: Fearing the increasing numbers of American settlers in Texas, Mexico passes a series of laws restricting immigration from the United States.
1832: The Anahuac Disturbances led to the departure of all Mexican garrisons in East Texas. The lack of Mexican presence increases Texan political activity and support for a revolt.
1833: Texas holds the Convention of 1833 where it demands to annul the immigration ban from the United States and the formation of Texas as its own state. New President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna agrees to end the immigration ban, but refuses Texas’ request for separate statehood.
May 1835: Santa Anna brutally suppresses a rebellion in the state of Zacatecas leading to fears in Texas that Santa Anna would march upon them next.
October 1835: First shots of the Texas Revolution are fired at the Battle of Gonzales where Texans emerge victorious. Eight days later the Texans win again at the Battle of Goliad. Santa Anna rescinds the Mexican Constitution in a move towards centralizing the government. Proponents of the federal system in Texas and other states oppose the move.
December 1835: Texans emerge victorious after the month-long Siege of Bexar gaining access to the famed Alamo fort.
February 1836: Santa Anna arrives at Bexar with over 6,000 troops to quell the Texas rebellion. The famous 1836 Battle of the Alamo begins.
March 1836: Texas declares its independence from Mexico just days before the Alamo falls with all defenders killed in the process. The defeat begins the “Runaway Scrape” where desperate Texans fled east to escape Santa Anna’s army. The massacre at Goliad occurs after Santa Anna orders the executions of surrendered Texan troops from the Battle of Coleto Creek.
April 1836: At the important Battle of San Jacinto, Texan General Sam Houston surprises and defeats Santa Anna’s numerically superior forces. The next day Texan forces capture Santa Anna as he fled the battle. His capture effectively ends the Texas Revolution.
May 1836: Santa Anna signs the Treaties of Velasco where he ordered Mexican troops to depart Texas and promised to try and persuade the Mexican government to accept Texan independence. Though Mexico refused to accept Texan independence, it was too weak to reconcur and thus Texas remained a de facto independent nation.
Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War
The Texas Revolution had distinct militaristic, political, and social outcomes, all of which coalesced to lead directly to the Mexican-American War in 1846.
From a military and tacitcal standpoint, the Texas Revolution was fought in a transitional phase. Weapons from the Napoleonic wars and War of 1812 some twenty years earlier like cheap and inaccurate muskets were still in use, though more accurate and faster-loading rifles were becoming increasingly common.3
The shift in technology and increased firepower almost certainly required a shift in tactics. Well-armed light infantry became much more valuable in the Texas Revolution and would eventually feature in the Mexican-American war ten years later
From a social and political standpoint, the new Constitution of the Republic of Texas specifically reinstated the legality of slavery. Despite the “revolution” very little changed from a social order standpoint.
The ruling class merely shifted from the Mexican aristocracy to the vocal Anglo-Americans who were already among the high end of the social pecking order pre-revolution. Because of the lack of change in social order and hierarchy, some historians find it tough to justify the term “revolution” for the episode.4
Mexico refused to recognize Texan independence, instead considering it a territory in rebellion. The United States under President Andrew Jackson recognized Texan independence in 1837 while France, Great Britain, and other nations like Belgium later did the same.
Mexico long had fears that the United States would try to annex Texas, even before the revolution. Some southern states openly called for the US to acquire Texas by diplomatic means or force.1
Mexico twice refused US offers to purchase Texas pre-revolution, and Texan independence only further led to worries that the US would greedily add the territory to the nation in its ever-growing desire for Manifest Destiny.
The eventual annexation of Texas in 1845 was a direct cause of the Mexican-American War in 1846. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that ended the war in 1848 confirmed the worst fears of Mexico as huge swaths of the nation were taken in the Mexican Cession.
Significance of the Texas Revolution
The Texas Revolution and resulting independent Republic of Texas holds great significance in United States history for its effects on reigniting the incendiary debates around the institution of slavery and war with Mexico.
It took nearly ten years for Texas’ annexation into the United States following its independence in 1836. This came despite many calls from Texans and Americans for it to happen sooner.
Slavery and avoiding war with Mexico were the two biggest issues. Ever since the important 1820 Missouri Compromise, northern and southern states had a largely-unspoken agreement to avoid the topic of slavery, particularly the Jacksonian Democrats that included prominent members across the nation.
Instead, the United States primarily admitted new states in pairs, one free state and one slave state, to help keep the balance of power in the Senate. Northern states were keen on avoiding the spread of slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line.
The Texas situation added to the complexity as the republic had the potential to be split into multiple states. Upwards of five additional slave states could significantly alter the balance of power between North and South.
The slavery question as well as the fear of war with Mexico over annexation (since Mexico still considered Texas Mexican territory) delayed Texas’ admission to the Union. Though it happened just afterwards in 1845 with James K. Polk’s presidency, the question of what to do with Texas featured prominently throughout the Jacksonian Era.
The loss of Texas was a severe blow to the national honor of Mexico. The annexation ignited the Mexican-American war where the United States further humiliated and forced Mexico into ceding huge swathes of land on its northern frontier.1
Though the timeline of the Texas Revolution was only for a short duration, its impact could be felt many years later.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Brack, Gene. “Mexican Opinion and the Texas Revolution.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 72, no. 2, 1968, pp. 170–82, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30238012
2) Lack, Paul D. “Slavery and the Texas Revolution.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 89, no. 2, 1985, pp. 181–202, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30239908
3) Pohl, James W., and Stephen L. Hardin. “The Military History of the Texas Revolution: An Overview.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 89, no. 3, 1986, pp. 269–308, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30241121
4) Reichstein, Andreas. “Was There a Revolution in Texas in 1835-36?” American Studies International, vol. 27, no. 2, 1989, pp. 66–86, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41280729