From 1521 to 1821, Mexico was ruled by Spain. In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. A revolution, led by Simon Bolivar, ended in independence for:
- Colombia (which included Panama)
- northern Peru
- western Guyana
- northwest Brazil
In Mexico, a revolt against Spain began in 1810, led by a priest name Hidalgo. Instead of independence, though, the people just got a Mexican emperor, Agustín de Iturbide, who began to reign in 1822. Iturbide fell from favor and was executed, being followed by a Mexican Republic established in 1824, with a federal constitution.
The government suffered numerous upheavals til Santa Anna was elected president of Mexico in 1833. He began to demand more control and higher taxes, leading to resistance. Santa Anna decided the people were not capable of ruling themselves, so he ignored the Constitution, dissolved the Congress, and declared himself dictator.
Santa Anna wrote to the U.S. minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett: “A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty … a despotism is the proper government for them, but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one.”
A “despotism” is where one person has absolute and arbitrary power. Santa Anma demanded citizens surrender their guns, incited killings, and used the military to defeat his opponents. He punished Mexican States not submitting to his centralized government, such as:
- San Luis Potosí
- Coahuila y Tejas
In Zacatecas, Santa Anna defeated Francisco Garcia, took 3,000 prisoners and let his army ransack the city for two days. When Federal General José Antonio Mexía marched from New Orleans to Tampico, Santa Anna defeated him and executed every prisoner. General Santa Anna arrived at the Old Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar. His troops, eventually numbering 1,800, flew the blood-red flag of no quarter, signifying that all those captured would be killed.
Texan and Tejano defenders, numbering between 182 to 257, responded by firing their cannon. The first fatality of the Battle of the Alamo was the next day, Feb. 24, 1836.
In the “13 days of glory at the Alamo,” Santa Anna’s take-no-prisoner policy had all defenders killed, including: William Travis, Jim Bowie, and former Congressman Davy Crockett.
Santa Anna ordered those who surrendered to be executed and have their corpses burned. The few survivors included Susanna Dickinson, her baby, and Travis’ servant.
The only Texas army left in the field was Col. James Fannin’s. It departed Goliad to rescue the Alamo but was surrounded in open ground and 350 were captured. Santa Anna ordered the prisoners executed. When the Mexican officer hesitated carrying out the executions, Santa Anna sent another officer who proceeded to execute nearly all of them in the Goliad Massacre, March 27, 1836. Bodies were stripped, piled, burned and left exposed to vultures and coyotes.
A few dozen of the Texans were spared execution through the courageous intervention of Francita Alavez, the “Angel of Goliad,” and Mexican Colonel Francisco Garay. Had Fannin’s troops been left in prison, Texas would have been disheartened, but instead, Santa Anna’s Goliad Massacre aroused world outrage.
The New York Post editorialized that if Santa Anna: “… had treated the vanquished with moderation and generosity, it would have been difficult if not impossible to awaken that general sympathy for the people of Texas which now impels so many adventurous and ardent spirits to throng to the aid of their brethren.”
“Remember Goliad” and “Remember the Alamo” were battle cries of Sam Houston’s forces that defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836.
The people of Texas had agreed upon a Declaration of Independence, March 2, 1836, which stated:
Unanimous Declaration of Independence by the delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the town of Washington, on the second day of March, 1836.
When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty, and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted; and so far from being a guarantee for their inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression…
In such a crisis … the inherent and inalienable right of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves and a sacred obligation to their posterity to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their welfare and happiness. …
The late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers, as the cruel alternative, either abandon our homes acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood. …
It denies us the right of worshiping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a National Religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.
It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defense – the rightful property of freemen – and formidable only to tyrannical governments …
It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers …
We, therefore, the delegates, with plenary powers, of the people of Texas … declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas, do now constitute a free, sovereign, and independent Republic. …
Conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme Arbiter of the destinies of nations.
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