The first part of Mexico to be settled by significant numbers of Americans was Texas, whose non-Indian population of Spanish origin (called Tejanos) numbered only about 2,000 when Mexico became independent. In order to develop the region, the Mexican government accepted an offer by Moses Austin, a Connecticut-born farmer, to colonize it with Americans. In 1820, Austin received a large land grant. He died soon afterward and his son Stephen continued the plan, reselling land in smaller plots to American settlers at twelve cents per acre. By 1830, the population of American origin had reached around 7,000, considerably exceeding the number of Tejanos.
Alarmed that its grip on the area was weakening, the Mexican government in 1830 annulled existing land contracts and barred future emigration from the United States. Led by Stephen Austin, American settlers demanded greater autonomy within Mexico. Part of the area’s tiny Tejano elite joined them. Mostly ranchers and large farmers, they had welcomed the economic boom that accompanied the settlers and had formed economic alliances with American traders. The issue of slavery further exacerbated matters. Mexico had abolished slavery, but local authorities allowed American settlers to bring slaves with them. When Mexico’s ruler, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, sent an army in 1835 to impose central authority, a local committee charged that his purpose was “to give liberty to our slaves and make slaves of ourselves.”
A flag carried at the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas revolt of 1836 portrays a female figure displaying the rallying cry “Liberty or Death.”
The plaza in San Antonio not long after the United States annexed Texas in 1845.
The appearance of Santa Anna’s army sparked a chaotic revolt in Texas. The rebels formed a provisional government that soon called for Texan independence. On March 13, 1836, Santa Anna’s army stormed the Alamo, a mission compound in San Antonio, killing its 187 American and Tejano defenders. “Remember the Alamo” became the Texans’ rallying cry. In April, forces under Sam Houston, a former governor of Tennessee, routed Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto and forced him to recognize Texan independence. Houston was soon elected the first president of the Republic of Texas. In 1837, the Texas Congress called for union with the United States. But fearing the political disputes certain to result from an attempt to add another slave state to the Union, Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren shelved the question. Settlers from the United States nonetheless poured into the region, many of them slaveowners taking up fertile cotton land. By 1845, the population of Texas had reached nearly 150,000.