The Republic of Texas
In autumn 1835, simmering political tensions in Texas came to a boil. A series of bloody skirmishes over a short span of months would decide the region's future. By the following May, Texans would defeat the Mexican army and declare their territory an independent nation. And by 1845, Texans and the U.S. would agree to make Texas the 28th state in the union.
An Anglo Part of Mexico
In the 14 years since Mexico had won independence from Spain, Anglo-American immigration to the Mexican state of Texas had skyrocketed. The new settlers brought with them the experience of life under a democratic constitution -- and dreams of the money to be made using slave labor on Texas farmlands. Tejanos, Spanish-speaking Texans who had lived in the area for generations, were quickly outnumbered, but they mostly welcomed the newcomers and supported the region's economic development. Like the settlers, Tejanos such as José Antonio Navarro resented the Mexican government's imposition of taxes and the limited amount of self-rule possible under the increasingly centralized Mexican system. When the national military hero-turned-politician Antonio López de Santa Anna grabbed the Mexican presidency in 1834 and ripped up the constitution, the stage was set for rebellion.
The Moment of Independence
Texans had been holding political meetings for years, to express their grievances against the Mexican government. But a convention at the town of Washington on the Brazos River in early 1836 would make history. At that meeting, Texans declared their independence from Mexico. Just four days later, on March 6, a bloody Mexican attack on the Alamo in San Antonio would leave few survivors. Texan losses at the Alamo would solidify Texan resolve against Mexico and provide a rallying cry in the fight for independence.
Democracy on the American Plan
When the Washington convention opened, lawyer George C. Childress had called for independence. Childress, a Tennessee native and brother-in-law of James K. Polk, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and future president, was assigned to head a resolution-drafting committee. He produced a declaration of independence similar to the famous American document. His fellow delegates unanimously approved Childress's declaration, and the Republic of Texas was born. Representatives including Navarro and his uncle, Francisco Ruiz, stayed on to draft a constitution for the new nation, but worked in haste, knowing the Mexican army was close by.
Checks and Balances
The new Texas government was partially modeled on the American system. Government was split into a legislative branch, a judiciary branch and an executive branch, overseen by presidents with three-year terms. The legislature had two deliberating bodies: a House of Representatives and a Senate. The constitution allowed slavery, but banned the foreign slave trade; American settlers could only bring or buy slaves from the United States. The constitution also included a bill of rights. When news of the Alamo tragedy reached the convention, the delegates hurriedly ratified their constitution and elected an interim government. New Jersey native David G. Burnet became president and the bilingual diplomat Lorenzo de Zavala, who had been born in Mexico's Yúcatan region, was vice president.
Defending the New Nation
Sam Houston -- a former United States congressman and Tennessee governor-- led a small but growing Texan revolutionary army, and by early 1836 Texans were forced to choose sides. The independence movement called to military service every able-bodied man between the ages of 17 and 50. In return, each person received a significant grant of land. Anyone who left Texas or refused to serve, and anyone who sided with Mexico, gave up their right to land or citizenship in the republic.
Victory -- and True Independence
The Texas Revolution ended quickly -- in victory. By April 21, 1836, Houston's army defeated the Mexicans and captured Santa Anna at San Jacinto. On May 14, the Mexican leader signed the Treaty of Velasco and withdrew his troops south of the Rio Grande. By October, Sam Houston had been elected president and the new nation had convened its first legislative congress -- flying the republic's first official flag of azure blue with a central golden star (the familiar red, white, and blue Lone Star Flag wouldn't come along until 1839).
The 28th U.S. State
Though its sovereignty was recognized by other nations, the Republic of Texas was short-lived. Many Texans had always wanted to join the United States, and the U.S. government had been attempting to purchase Texas from Mexico on and off since 1826. On December 29, 1845, Texas statehood became official. Texas was admitted as a slave state, and became the largest state in America, in total area. It would hold that distinction until Alaska joined the union over a century later.