Stephen F. Austin's Trip to Mexico in 1833


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The History of Texas: Stephen F. Austin Visits Mexico

(Previous Section: Santa Anna Elected President of Mexico: 1833)

Stephen F. Austin's Trip to Mexico City

For various causes, Austin was the only one of the commissioners that went to Mexico. He set out shortly after the adjournment of the convention, and reached the capitol in time to see it the scene of confusion and intrigue. As his stay in Mexico was lengthy, and greatly prolonged by political events, it will be proper to refer to them in this place.

On the first of June next following the installation of Santa Anna, General Duran pronounced in favor of the church and the army—that is, a strong government—at the same time nominating Santa Anna as dictator. It has been suggested that Santa Anna was at the bottom of this movement, though without any other evidence than that of his subsequent conduct. He sent out a strong force, under the command of Arista, for its suppression, accompanying the expedition in person. On the march, Arista himself declared for the plan of Duran, and secured the person of the president, at the same time proclaiming him dictator. This declaration was echoed back from the army in the city. But Gomez Farias, a civilian, and an honest supporter of the constitution of 1824 —the vice-president, and acting as president in the absence of Santa Anna—suspecting that the latter had some hand in this matter, proceeded, with the aid of Lorenzo de Zavala, then governor of Mexico, to raise a force of republicans, and in a short time put down this attempt upon the constitution. Santa Anna appears to have remained a willing captive in the hands of Arista. It was only when he found that the movement was abortive, that he pretended to escape from his captors, and returned to the capitol. Arista was pardoned, and Duran banished. This little farce is an epitome of the life of Santa Anna, and coordinate with the Mexican mind.

Upon these new laurels Santa Anna retired to his estates, leaving the government in the hands of Farias and a republican Congress. The country was deeply in debt, the revenues were exhausted; the active means and resources of the nation had fallen into the possession of the clergy. To lighten the public burden, the army was reduced; and, to raise further means to meet the public wants, a part of the revenues of the church were appropriated. These admirable decrees of the Congress were duly approved by Farias. The church was thereupon aroused, and, uniting with those opposed to the federal form of government, poured in their petitions for the repeal of these laws. Santa Anna, while in his retirement, meditating on his ambitious projects, had determined in his mind to abandon the republican party, overturn the constitution, and establish an absolute government. His instruments to be used for the accomplishment of these ends were the church and the army—acting at once on the superstitions and fears of the people. Hence he gave countenance and encouragement to these petitions, and openly expressed his dislike for Farias and his administration.

Stephen F. Austin Arrested in Mexico

While Santa Anna was thus fanning the flame of a civil war, in which he expected to reap the principal harvest, Austin, the faithful representative of Texas, was endeavoring in vain to obtain the action of the government upon the matters by him laid before it. His petitions were referred to a committee of Congress, where they slept, while a revolutionary contest was raging in many parts of the republic, and especially about the capitol. To add to the confusion, the cholera broke out with great virulence, and in a few weeks carried off ten thousand of the inhabitants in the metropolis alone. The epidemic had deranged the meetings of Congress; and so desponding were the hopes of Austin, that, in his letter of the 2d of October, 1833, to the municipality of Bexar, he recommended that all the municipalities of Texas should unite in organizing a state, under the provisions of the Acta Constitutiva of May 7, 1824, and, by union and harmony, prepare for a refusal of their application by the supreme government. He further advised them that, if they did not take matters into their own hands, Texas was ruined forever. While this letter was on its way, Austin succeeded in procuring the repeal of the law of April 6, 1830, prohibiting natives of the United States from immigrating hither as colonists, and set out for home on the 10th of December, 1833. But his letter of the 2d of October was transmitted by the municipality of Bexar to Vice-President Farias, who, finding in it what he believed to be treasonable matter, dispatched an express for Austin, had him arrested at Saltillo, and taken back to Mexico and imprisoned.

Farias, though in principle a republican, was not accustomed to the freedom of speech natural to the Texans. In the October previous, Austin had told him very plainly that the Texans had determined, if the federal government did not remedy the evils which threatened them, "to remedy them themselves, without waiting any longer on the ground that self-preservation rendered such a step necessary, and would justify it." Farias construed this into a threat and personal insult; and, though he had become partially reconciled to Austin before he departed on the 10th of December, the letter to the corporation of Bexar renewed and increased his exasperation.

Austin was shut up in prison on the 13th of February, 1834, where he remained in close confinement for three months, excluded from the use of books or writing-materials, or even the light of day.

We will now turn our attention to the state legislature and its proceedings. This body, having met on the first of January, 1833, reaffirmed its recognition of Pedraza as president of the republic; at the same time it declared that the state would not support any agreement (convenio) tending directly or indirectly to attack the federal form of government and the state sovereignty. It further declared that it recognized as the will of the nation only what was approved by a majority of the legislatures. It shortly after proceeded to attack the right of petition, and declared that any person or corporation, who assumed the voice of the people by making any petition, usurped the rights of society, and excited disorder. More than three persons were forbidden to join in a petition! The entire law is an attack upon the liberties of freemen; but we must see and know the people of Coahuila before we pronounce too strongly against the legislature.

On the 9th of March following, the legislature carried into effect its previously-expressed determination to remove the seat of government to Monclova, and ordered the state officers to appear at the latter place by the first of April. This exasperated the people of Saltillo, and they were found ready to join any party that might rise in opposition to the legislature. This feeling was increased, on the meeting of that body, by the enactment of a decree disbanding the civic force of thirty men at Saltillo which had been supported by the state.

Among other things, the legislative body repealed the law of the 9th of April, 1832, prohibiting persons not born in the republic of Mexico from retailing goods in the state. This law had given just cause of offence to the people of Texas, and its repeal was due to their growing influence. To this influence may likewise be assigned the law granting to Madero (a favorite with the Texans) the exclusive right to navigate the Trinity.

Settlement of the Beales and Grant Colony in Texas

During the latter part of the year 1833 began the settlement of the colony of Beales and Grant. They had obtained a con-cession for eight hundred families, to be located between the Rio Grande and the Neuces. In the last days of December, about sixty colonists, under Mr. Beales, reached the new settlement, and laid off the town of Dolores, on Las Moras, a small stream about ten feet wide and two feet deep. They remained there about a year, when they dispersed. They were Europeans, and but poorly qualified for such an enterprise. Kennedy—himself an Englishman—speaking of the failure of this colony, says it supplied "further evidence of the superiority of the Anglo-Americans in forming colonies. The North Americans are the only people who, in defiance of all obstacles, have struck the roots of civilization deep in the soil of Texas. Even as I trace these lines, I reflect upon their progress with renewed wonder and admiration. They are indeed the organized conquerors of the wild, uniting in themselves the threefold attributes of husbandmen, lawgivers, and soldiers.

Santa Anna Becomes Dictator of Mexico: 1834

The year 1834 was occupied in Mexico in changing the form of government from that of a republican confederation of states to a purely national government, controlled by a single man, without any other restraint than he might chose to place upon his own actions. Farias met the complaints and petitions of the clergy and the monarchists by banishment and the prison. Santa Anna, who had been watching the progress of things, now discovered that the combined influence of the clergy, the army, and the monarchists, would be sufficient to answer his purpose. He accordingly came out from his retreat, and resumed his seat as president of the nation. It was very soon ascertained that the Congress would not repeal the obnoxious laws lately enacted; and that body, in consequence, became very odious to the centralists. By the constitution of the republic, Congress was required to close its sessions annually on the 15th day of April, with liberty to continue its sittings thirty days longer (Sundays and solemn festivals excepted), should they deem it necessary, or if the president should require it. At the close of its regular session in 1834, Congress declared it necessary to sit thirty days longer. This period would expire on the 14th of May following. It appears that, on the day preceding, Santa Anna notified the members that, if they did not disperse, he would use a military force to turn them out of their hall. The Congress adjourned on the 14th, declaring that its rights had been invaded by Santa Anna. The latter, however, immediately appealed, by a proclamation, to the people, setting forth the alleged tyranny of the vice-president Farias and the majority of the Congress.

The popularity of Santa Anna gave weight to his address; and the consequence was a pronunciamento and plan, drawn up at Cuernavaca, on the 25th of May. It proposed—first, that the late laws against the church, and those for the banishment of the monarchists, who had taken an active part against the federalists, should be declared void; second, that the Congress should be dismissed, and another convened with power to form a new constitution; and, third, that Santa Anna should be sustained in carrying into execution the views he had published. This plan was almost universally adopted; but, as it required some time to go through a decent formality, and to elect a new Congress, we will return to other events.

[Next Section of Texas History: Texas Legislative Actions: 1834]




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