The struggle for the independence of Texas took place over many years, although the actual war that achieved independence from Mexico was relatively brief. In the 1820s, Stephen Austin won the Mexican government's approval to bring American families into the sparsely settled Tejas (Texas) region. Vast land grants would be awarded to the settlers if Austin could sponsor 300 families and assure the officials that the newcomers would:
Only the earliest Texans paid much attention to these requirements and the vast distance from the Mexican central government left the settlers free to follow their own inclinations. This area's great attraction was the fertile soil, ideal for cotton production. By the early 1830s, transplanted Americans, many of them slave owners, outnumbered the Tejanos; the Mexican government soon understood that it had committed a great error by encouraging the migration of U.S. citizens with a hankering for independence.
At first, the settlers were content to live under Mexican rule, but several events helped to incline Texan minds toward independence:
In 1831, Mexico abolished slavery, following the lead of most western nations. This loss of unpaid labor, if actually enforced in Tejas, would have been a severe blow to the region's emerging cotton economy. It also reminded many transplanted citizens of the tolerant official view of slavery held by the United States.
The Mexican government, recognizing its diminished control in Tejas, abolished immigration. The residents there, who had friends and relatives in the United States, were outraged.
As a further means to loosen the ties between the U.S. and Tejas, Mexico enacted heavy duties on the importation of foreign goods.
In 1833, General Antonio López de Santa Anna came to power in Mexico, pledging to consolidate power and strengthen national unity. The rise of a Mexican nationalist was viewed with alarm in the north, where the Texans preferred to continue their near autonomy, and perhaps eventual independence.
Unrest became rebellion on October 2, 1835 when Mexican forces tried to take possession of the town cannon in Gonzales, east of San Antonio. The locals prevailed in this incident and, in other early encounters, the rebels pushed the paltry Mexican forces out of the area.
In December 1835, a group of disgruntled settlers took control of the Alamo, an old mission in San Antonio. Santa Anna moved his army of several thousand men into the area and decided to make an example of the insurgents. Only a few dozen fellow settlers arrived from other areas in Texas to reinforce their compatriots in the Alamo.
The defenders, hoping to be rescued by Samuel Houstons forces, refused to surrender. The siege of the Alamo lasted two weeks and ended in hand-to-hand fighting on March 6, 1836. More than 180 defenders lost their lives, including such notables as William Travis, James Bowie, and Davy Crockett. Losses among the Mexican forces were estimated at 600.
On Santa Annas orders, all prisoners were executed; the only survivors were a woman, her infant child, and a slave, who were directed to take word of the Mexican victory to other Texan rebels.
Later in March, a second momentous event occurred. Santa Anna's army managed to force the surrender of 342 Texans near Goliad. After some initial wavering, Santa Anna ordered the execution of all of the prisoners.
The two massacres, the Alamo and Goliad, served to bring bickering Texans together in opposition to Santa Anna. On April 21, 1836, the Mexicans were surprised by an inferior Texan force and completely routed in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Many Mexican prisoners were executed in retaliation for previous Mexican acts. Santa Anna was captured, but released when he agreed to Texan independence and the establishment of the border at the Rio Grande. Santa Anna quickly repudiated his concessions.
During the course of the Mexican revolt, the United States was far from neutral. Public opinion openly favored Texan independence and the government actually sent a military force onto Texan soil, weakly explaining that the soldiers were needed to restrain local Indians from raiding American settlements across the border.
In the fall of 1836, Samuel Houston was inaugurated as president of the independent Republic of Texas. The new administration promptly sent a representative to Washington, and repealed the prohibition on slavery. Andrew Jackson believed that Texas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state, but withheld action out of fear of the political consequences. On his final day in office, Jackson extended official diplomatic recognition to independent Texas.
Incoming president Martin Van Buren was opposed to annexation. The Panic of 1837 and the resulting depression tended to mute the issue of admitting Texas to the Union. Disappointed Texans, anxious to join the Union, began conversations with other nations. Britain was particularly attracted to the cotton supply Texas offered, but was repelled by the existence of slavery.
The short history of the independent Texan Republic was troubled. Financing the new government proved to be difficult foreign investors were leery about loaning money and Texas residents showed little interest in paying taxes.
Perhaps the prime need of the time was to create a highly mobile armed force to protect the populace against attacks from raiding Indian parties. The Texas Rangers developed during this time to answer the need. To a lesser extent, the relationship with Mexico also was a problem because of conflicting boundary claims. Occasional skirmishes occurred between the citizens of the two nations.
A growing body of Texans came to favor annexation by the United States, as preferable to maintaining independence.