Tony Vagneur: We are seeing history of Texas-Mexico border turned around
If you’ve been keeping up with the political news out of Washington, D.C., you likely know that one of the latest political squabbles is over funding for a wall or other impediment to keep those from south of the U.S. border entering our country illegally.
Just like in D.C., we could toss this one back and forth all day without furthering traction in either direction, but it might be good to take a look back at some of the history between Mexico and Texas before we take a definitive stand. Was there really a time when Mexico forbade Americans to move to Mexico?
In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain but its quest for self-governance was not an easy one, nor was it entirely successful. Establishing a stable government was difficult, and between 1821 and 1857 there were at least 50 changes in the presidency. With the government centralized in Mexico City, control of northern areas, hundreds of miles away, was challenging and inconsistent. At the time, Texas, known as Tejas, was part of Mexico and was largely unsettled.
Mexico wanted to populate its northern provinces, providing a buffer against the supposed (and realistic) idea that the U.S. coveted Texas and other Mexican land to the north. Trade restrictions with the U.S. and its territories were relaxed and American traders were able to move freely through New Mexico and Texas, although in 1821, the population of Texas was estimated to be about 3,500.
Moses Austin, father of Stephen Austin, was given a land grant to establish a town of 300 families, the desire being that “responsible” Americans would populate the town. It was required by the Mexican government that citizens of the town must become naturalized Mexican citizens and members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Other events conspired to work against the wishes of the Mexican government. For one thing, Texas had great allure for those wanting to “go West.” Texas offered a way to go West without having to cross brutal mountain ranges, unending miles of desert and hostile Native American land. And, without doubt, was the idea to many that if things didn’t work out in Texas, the return home would be much easier than, say, from California or other far-flung spots.
“The Panic of 1825,” brewed by unsettled world-wide economic forces, caused a huge drop in U.S. cotton prices and put many banks out of business when European banks called in their loans to U.S. banks, fostering a huge distrust of banks. Additionally, even if one wanted to deal with a bank, there wasn’t much money to loan to the smaller farmers, and many wealthy agricultural landowners and cotton ranchers saw the advantage of moving to Texas.
Land prices were practically nonexistent (a 4,000-acre allotment could be gained for payment of a small fee), the cost of enslaved labor in the U.S. was relatively low at the time and a shrewd businessman could make handsome profits working from Mexico. Besides being well-known for cattle grazing, Texas had millions of acres of fertile land.
By 1829, it was apparent that Texas was becoming, in reality, an American province and Mexico tried to put some measures in place to stem the flow. Americans had come from Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri, many of them bringing their own enslaved group of laborers with them. The Mexicans formally outlawed slavery, which they had never condoned, hoping to slow the flood of immigrants who seemed to be more interested in economic success than in absorbing the culture of Mexico.
By 1830, it was clear to the Mexican government that their desire to populate northern provinces had been more than successful. At that time, there were 20,000 Americans in Texas compared with 5,000 Mexicans. Clearly, Texas was being overtaken by the Americans and drastic action was needed to put the population more in favor of Mexico.
The Mexican government closed its northern border in Texas to all immigrants from the U.S. In addition, part of the Mexican army was sent north to enforce the ban, but still thousands of additional migrants gained a foothold in Texas. This was but a harbinger of more troubled times ahead.
There are those who say if you don’t remember history, you are bound to repeat it. In the simplest of terms, we are now seeing shades of deja vu all over again, but in opposite directions.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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