Part 2: On Our Own
Santa Anna Strikes Back
|Why was Santa Anna still important in the Republic of Texas?|
Santa Anna's military expeditions into the Republic terrified Texans, but ultimately drove Texas closer to the United States. Prints and Photographs Collection 1/102-500.
When Sam Houston returned to the Texas presidency in late 1841, he took over a country teetering on the edge of total disintegration. Texas was bankrupt, without either money or credit. Both the army and the navy had all but ceased to exist. Efforts to attract new immigrants had stalled; the entire population was a mere 75,000. Joseph Eve, the United States chargé d’affaires in Texas, wrote home with the blunt prediction that Texas would soon lose her independence.
No one knew the dire situation better than Sam Houston. The border was defenseless against a resurgent Mexico; the only major seaport, Galveston, was just a collection of shacks without so much as a battery to mount a defense against sea attack. Houston sent James Reily and Isaac Van Zandt to Washington to try to obtain a treaty of friendship with the United States. Houston told the envoys to canvas Congress for any possibility of reopening the annexation issue or obtaining military aid from the United States.
James Reily served three countries as a diplomat, but there were limits to what he could endure. After Texas became a state, President James Buchanan appointed Reily U.S. consul to Russia. When Reily arrived in St. Petersburg, he was horrified by the winter, resigned immediately, and headed for home. Reily later represented the Confederacy in Mexico. Prints and Photographs Collection, 1914/2-1.
In March 1842, Santa Anna made the first move. Mexican troops invaded Texas, occupying Goliad, Refugio, and Victoria and sacking San Antonio before beating a hasty retreat back across the border. Mexico issued a warning to Texans that it was hopeless to continue their struggle for independence. More raids were promised, and word soon reached Texas that Santa Anna had ordered the construction of two warships, which he planned to use to seize Galveston and cut off Texas from the outside world.
Texans were both panicked and angry. Most people couldn’t understand the effect that bankruptcy had on the country and the Texas armed forces. All they knew was that they were being asked once again to take up arms to defend their homes, leaving farms unattended and their families at the mercy of Indians. Not a few settlers just packed up and left.
Those who remained were susceptible to the most paranoid rumors. In June, Houston dismissed a force that had assembled in Corpus Christi to strike back at Mexico and vetoed a bill from the Texas Congress to sell off 10 million acres of land to finance an invasion of Mexico. Houston knew that Texas could not possibly survive a war in its current condition. But some people said that the president was really in league with the Mexicans to make himself a dictator. Others believed that the British were behind the Mexican raids so they could swoop in to take over Texas, abolish slavery, and set up a cotton-growing empire to rival the American South.
It is impossible for any honest man to wish success to Texas. All who sympathize with that pseudo republic hate liberty and would dethrone God.
—abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator
In the United States, Van Zandt and Reily encountered sympathy but also deep hostility. One of the most opposed to aiding Texas was former president John Quincy Adams, now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts and the most outspoken abolitionist in the country. Adams had made it his life’s work to oppose what he called the tragic follies of his era. For the honest, overbearing Adams, Texas was clearly in that category. Adams began a campaign to stop any renewed talk of annexing Texas, saying that Texas was nothing but the “misbegotten and illegitimate progeny” of the slaveholding South. Texas still legally belonged to Mexico, Adams said, and he would fight any attempts to put the United States in the position of stealing part of another country. Moreover, according to Adams and the abolitionists, Texas was the “Botany Bay of the United States,” a dumping ground for the dregs and castoffs of American society.
As president, John Quincy Adams had tried to purchase Texas from Mexico. But as a Congressman, he fought Texas annexation to the last, convinced that annexation would lead to an unjust war with Mexico and the spread of slavery in the United States. Courtesy Library of Congress.
With Adams determined to stand in the way, U.S. aid to Texas was a dead issue. Texas turned instead to Great Britain. In July, Texas concluded treaties with the British for commerce, navigation, and ending the slave trade. Another treaty authorized the British to begin negotiations for a peace treaty between Texas and Mexico.
In the fall, a Mexican force once again crossed the Rio Grande and seized San Antonio, holding the city for two days before retreating again to the border. Somewhat against his better judgment, Houston authorized a retaliatory strike, which eventually evolved into the Somervell Expedition and the disastrous Mier Expedition. These failed military expeditions cost Texas dearly both in fighting strength and in respect for the government of the republic.
By the end of the horrible year of 1842, Houston had privately concluded that an alliance with Britain was the best bet to save Texas. He’d turned to the United States for help only to have his frightened and besieged people maligned and their future treated as nothing but a pawn in the endless game between North and South. Even American businessmen were willing only to speculate in Texas land, not to develop commerce that would build the Texas economy.
Britain was different. Britain was the richest and most powerful trading nation on earth, and British merchants and traders were already on the ground doing business in Texas. In November 1842, Houston made a direct appeal to Britain for immediate help in obtaining peace with Mexico. In the year that followed, he would do everything he could to steer Texas away from its old ties of blood and sentiment to the United States and into a new future in Britain’s orbit.