A Separate State: The Convention of 1833

By: Amelia White, Alamo Program Development Specialist

With the Anahuac Disturbances and the Turtle Bayou Resolutions of 1832, the Texan colonists had firmly cast their lot with Mexico’s federalist party. At the head of that party was none other than Antonio López de Santa Anna. In the early years of the 1830s, however, Texans were reluctant to become involved in the national civil war between Mexico’s federalists and centralists other than how it affected Texas. Instead, Texans focused on their most pressing concerns, which were the resumption of immigration from the United States and statehood for Texas independent of Coahuila.

The passage of the Law of April 6, 1830 by centralist president Anastacio Bustamante had drastically changed Texas colonization policies. The colonists’ support of Santa Anna and the federalist party in 1832 was based on the hope that the federalists would restore “rights” that had been revoked by the centralists. Among the most objectionable articles of the Law of April 6th were articles three, nine, ten and eleven. Article three stated that the central government would appoint commissioners to Texas who would “supervise the introduction of new colonists and the fulfilling of their contract for settlement.” Article nine decreed that “the introduction of foreigners across the northern frontier is prohibited under any pretext whatsoever, unless the said foreigners are provided with a passport,” while article eleven prohibited foreign immigrants from nations bordering Mexico to settle in states or territory adjacent to their nation (in other words immigrants from the United States could not settle in Texas) and that any empresario contracts not already completed were to be suspended. Article ten addressed the issue of slavery. This article stated that “No change shall be made with respect to the slaves now in the states, but the Federal government and the government of each state shall most strictly enforce the colonization laws, and prevent the further introduction of slaves.” So while the Law of April 6, 1830 did not make slavery illegal in Texas, it made it illegal to bring new slaves into Texas. (Note: The Department of Texas previously had been granted an exemption from Mexico’s general emancipation decree.) Further articles of the law made changes to the taxes and tariffs the colonists had to pay, which was at the heart of the Anahuac Disturbances of 1832.

Texans and Tejanos increasingly voiced their opinions that the political arrangement that tied Texas to Coahuila hampered progress in Texas. In October 1832, a convention met in San Felipe de Austin to discuss the issue of separate statehood. Béxar chose not to participate as they viewed the convention illegal since it was not sanctioned by the political chiefs of Texas. Béxar’s ayuntamiento (town council) did, however, begin proceedings to hold a legal meeting to discuss the issue of statehood, indicating that the Tejano residents in that part of Texas also favored separating from Coahuila. Not much progress was made and the convention disbanded after agreeing on the need for three reforms; repeal of the articles of the Law of April 6, 1830 that banned immigration from the United States, separate statehood for Texas, and an extension of the exemption from tariffs for Texas colonists.

In March 1833 the Texan colonists revisited the topic and elected delegates to a second convention, which gathered on April 1, 1833 in San Felipe de Austin. This time delegates actually drafted a state constitution and prepared several memorials, or petitions, for the Mexican government. Included in this draft constitution was a bill of rights, a document the Mexican constitution of 1824 lacked. The bill of rights included most of the same rights as that of the United States, including the right to trial by jury, habeas corpus and freedom of the press. Stephen F. Austin, William H. Wharton and J.B. Miller were elected by the convention to present the draft constitution and memorials to the Mexican government. Ultimately, Stephen F. Austin was the only one of the three to make the trip to Mexico City.

San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. Photo Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

When Austin arrived in Mexico City he found the government embroiled in the on-going conflict between the federalists and centralists. As such, he was delayed for several months and began to believe that the otherwise occupied legislators might never act on the memorials drafted by the convention. On October 2, 1833, Austin wrote an uncharacteristically strident letter to the ayuntamiento of Béxar urging the government there to begin the process of organizing a separate state government even though the national congress had not yet approved the action. In November 1833, Austin was finally able to present the petitions of Texas at a special assembly called by President Santa Anna, the man with whom Texans placed their hopes. Santa Anna and his advisors informed the empresario that separate statehood would not be granted, but that actions should be taken to improve local administration and government in Texas. While not successful on the issue of statehood, Austin was able to successfully petition for the repeal of the portions of the law of April 6, 1830 that prohibited immigration from the United States and the importation of slaves.

Austin left Mexico City on December 10, 1833, satisfied with the progress made during his visit and hopeful that Santa Anna’s federalist government was sympathetic to the interests of Texas. He was unaware that the authorities in Béxar had turned over his letter from October 2nd to state authorities due to his radical call to form a state government without the national government’s approval. When Austin arrived in Saltillo in January 1834, he was summarily arrested for treason and returned to Mexico City and imprisoned. As long as Austin remained captive in the interior, the more militant of the Texas colonists remained muted, but this silence would not last long after Austin was released.

The Alamo Messenger

Official newsletter for the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

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The Alamo Messenger

Official newsletter for the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas