After Columbus’s discovery of the new continent in 1492, every country in Europe aspired to colonize the New World. Why? Because Europe’s population was increasing and resources were inadequate to support the growing masses. Therefore, the countries wanted and needed new land.
Spain was in the heyday of its power, with strong armed forces – especially its navy – and there was no match for them. The Spanish leaders wanted the material and mineral wealth from their colonies. But as a devoutly Catholic country – remember that Ferdinand and Isabella were known as the Catholic Monarchs – Spain also felt obligated to spread Christianity to the natives.
At that time, any discoverer of a new territory was the keeper/ruler of that land. Spanish adventurers, led by Hernán Cortés and supported by the Tlaxcalan tribes, conquered the Aztecs, and from that time forward Mexico was a colony of Spain.
But what brought the Spaniards to Texas? Initially, they came by accident. Then they came to explore for gold or silver. Later, they focused on settling East Texas to shore up the northern border of New Spain against French encroachment from what was then the Lousiana colony. Why did they need such a buffer? To protect Spain’s interest in the rich mines in Mexico and New Mexico.
From East Texas, Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers established new missions and presidios along the Rio Grande and in West Texas, with the first Spanish-speaking settlers grouped around the San Antonio River in 1718.
In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred much of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. No longer a dominant European power, Spain did little to develop Louisiana during the next three decades. However, after the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Spain began to reinforce Texas in order to protect its Mexican colony from its new neighbor – the United States.
The Mexican War of Independence, which began in 1810 and lasted until 1820, was a lengthy struggle as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain. The revolutionary war weakened Spanish control in Texas, which saw major battles fought between royalists and insurgents. In the process, Texas came to the attention of the Americans, some of whom claimed that Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase. On September 27, 1821, the Spanish finally signed a treaty recognizing Mexico’s independence, thereby ending the uninterrupted Spanish occupation of Texas that had lasted for 105 years (1716 to 1821).
Prior to Mexico’s winning its independence, the Spanish government had encouraged Anglo-American settlement of Texas. In 1820, Moses Austin, a bankrupt, fifty-nine-year-old Missourian, asked the Spanish authorities for a large tract of Texas land to sell to Anglo-American pioneers. Spain welcomed the idea because Austin’s Anglos would provide a buffer against the approximately 3,000 illegal settlers from the United States who had settled in east Texas prior to Austin’s land grant. Not long after making his request, Austin died, leaving his son, Stephen F. Austin, to carry out his father’s dream of colonizing Texas.
The younger Austin persuaded the new government of Mexico that the best way to develop the region was immigration from the north, so Mexico agreed to give land agents 67,000 acres for every two hundred families they brought to Texas. To obtain the land grants, the immigrants had to agree to become Mexican citizens, obey Mexican laws, learn Spanish, and become Catholics. By 1834, over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas compared to 7,800 Mexicans. But while these immigrants legally became Mexican citizens, they continued to speak English, formed their own schools, and had closer trading ties to the United States than to Mexico.
In 1835, the president of Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna, overthrew the constitution and appointed himself dictator. Recognizing that the “American” Texans were likely to use his rise to power as an excuse to secede, Santa Anna ordered the Mexican military to begin disarming the Texans. On October 2, 1835, the growing tensions between Mexico and Texas erupted into violence when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales, sparking the Texan war for independence and the enduring catchphrase—“Come and Take It.” (Read more at https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gonzales-come-and-take-it-cannon)
December 1835, Texians (Anglo-American settlers) and Tejanos (Texans of mixed Mexican and Indian descent) captured the town of San Antonio. Two months later, on February 23, 1836, Mexican troops under General Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio to retake the city. Although Sam Houston ordered Texans to abandon San Antonio, a group of rebels decided to defend the town and make their stand at an abandoned Spanish mission, the Alamo. One hundred and eighty-three defenders were killed, including several Mexicans who had fought for Texas independence, and their oil-soaked bodies were set on fire outside the Alamo.
It was March 2, 1836, Texas Independence Day, when historians believe the original and five copies of the declaration were made and signed by 59 men at Washington-on-the-Brazos. With the creation of the revolutionary document, settlers broke away from Mexico to create the Republic of Texas. “Here a Nation was born.”
On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston some 800 Texans defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican force of approximately 1,500 men at the Battle of San Jacinto, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” The victory ensured the success of Texan independence and formation of the so-called Lone Star Republic.
The Republic of Texas was a sovereign state in North America from 1836 to 1846, but the Mexican Congress refused to recognize the Republic since the agreement was signed by Mexican President General Santa Anna under duress while he was a prisoner of the Texians. And although the United States recognized the Republic of Texas in March 1837, they declined to annex the territory until December 29, 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. The transfer of power from the Republic to the new state of Texas formally took place on February 19, 1846.
With the admittance of Texas, the US inherited the southern and western border disputes with Mexico, who had refused to recognize Texas’s independence or to accept the US offers to purchase the territory. Thus, the annexation led to the Mexican-American War.
On May 12, 1846, the United States Senate voted 40 to 2 to go to war with Mexico. President James K. Polk had accused Mexican troops of having attacked Americans on US soil, north of the Rio Grande. But Mexico claimed this land as its own territory and accused the American military of having invaded.
On February 2, 1848, the Mexican-American war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. According to the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded fifty-five percent of its territory, including all or portions of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah, to the United States. These events brought within the control of the United States the future states of Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Oregon, as well as portions of what would later become Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. The Mexican government was paid $15 million – the same sum paid to France for the Louisiana Territory.