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Collin Lindo
HI 498
9/29/09
#5 The Loss of Mexico’s Northern Frontier

David J. Weber’s The Mexican Frontier 1821-1846: The American Southwest

Under Mexico outlines the various lands which constituted Mexico’s northern frontier,

and what led to their eventual rebellion and/or acquisition by the United States

Government. Of particular interest in Weber’s work are the states of Texas, California,

and New Mexico. Arizona is covered briefly but not to a sufficient degree in comparison.

While Mexico would eventually lose these states in rapid succession, must not be quick

to group them together as a single entity. Each entered into the United States as a result

of drastically different histories and numerous factors many of which are still hotly

debated to this very day. Weber attempts to provide a conclusive study of the cultural,

socio-economical, racial and political make-up of each state as well as the many events

that occurred in shaping their histories in an attempt to provide the reader with a better

understanding of what led to their secession, and what exactly it meant for the nations

and peoples involved.

Of great interest in Weber’s work is the state of Texas. Texas led the way in

establishing large Anglo settlements as well as being the first to successfully secede and

form an independent republic. As vast numbers of colonists crossed the Louisiana border

into Texas, many Mexican officials feared the eventual results from the onset. While they

were considered illegal residents, Mexico lacked the manpower and oversight too see to it

that they were expelled. Many thought the potential benefits of populating Mexico with

settlers who could fight of intrusion from Indians and the United States
2

Government far outweighed their fears of losing Texas. Still others feared what may

become of Texas as Anglo immigrants poured in with their own unique cultural and

political customs and ideals.

As empresario grants were issued, many thought that Texas should counterbalance

the Anglo immigration by offering incentive for Mexican families to relocate to Texas.

The incentive seemed irrelevant to many who had no desire to leave behind their homes

and way of life to live the harsh frontier life. Also convicts and their families would be

sent to Texas as was the practice in California. This plan was never practiced for reasons

unknown.1 Many in California had resented its status as a Mexican penal colony, this

might have played some role in Texas not acquiring significant amounts of convicts and

their families.

As a result of the barrage of immigration Texas’ Anglo population vastly

outnumbered that of the Mexican and Tejano. Eventually a revolt would occur that had

been years in the making. Weber make the point that “if ‘to govern is to populate,’ it also

seems true in the case of Texas that ‘to populate is to govern.’”2 The point being that

Texas could no longer be governed by Mexico, it was a land filled with Americans who

had brought with them their own distinct notions of land and government. Mexico had

lost authority by sheer numbers, and their attempts to combat this reality backfired into

an all out revolt.

As Texas had gained independence many talked of other states such as New

1 David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier:1821-1846, (University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque,
1982), 172.
2 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 178.
Mexico and California playing the “Texas Game.” While New Mexico and California

boasted growing Anglo populations, they were not comparable to Texas prior to the

secession. Many hoped after Texas’ Independence that Anglo settlers would pour into

these states and repeat what Texas had done. However, as Weber points out, “That

American settlers did not flow into California and New Mexico and repeat the “Texas

Game” prior to the 1840’s owed more to happenstance than it did to a concerted Mexican

effort to keep the colonists out.”3

A major factor that made settlement less likely west of Texas was that of the

foreign geography and dangers present in encountering militant Indian groups along the

way.4 Even without these concerns the land itself posed great threats with its dreadfully

hot and rough barren terrain for miles on end. Very few settlements existed to aid the

traveler along the way. Those who did make it to California were aided by the local

government in acquiring lands, while simultaneously being outlawed by the Mexican

Government.

Many colonists were successful in trades and businesses and attempted to interest

fellow Americans to join them, while the Mexican government simultaneously attempted

to dissuade them. Early on California had more of a diverse cultural background and

intermarriage was quite common, but it did not last. Cheap land became a major factor

for Anglo immigration in the 1840’s. The new settlers came with no intention of

assimilating into Mexican culture or cooperating under Mexican rule. As these new

immigrants arrived they had a sufficient enough population to play their own “Texas

3 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 179.


4 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 180.
game.”5 They were unaware at the time of the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846 that the United

States had a plan of its own and had entered into war with Mexico, its fate would be out

of its hands for the most part.

New Mexico differed greatly from Texas and California. It’s makeup consisted of

large numbers of poor mixed-race peoples, many of whom had little to no stake in

matters of the state such as politics. Fewer numbers of Anglo settlers stayed in New

Mexico, and those who did had minimal effect in its governing. Mexico attempted to

control Mexico through a series of governors, many of whom advocated strict rule over

its peoples mandated by the central government. Federalists and centralists alike found

New Mexico extremely difficult to govern and often fled if they were not pushed out or

executed. Rebellion was constant, however secession was threatened. New Mexico was

in a state of perpetual bloodshed, peaceful political intervention often seemed impossible.

Even the United States experienced uprisings when the attempt was made to annex the

state.

Common among The Mexican frontier was a shift in society and culture under

Mexican rule. Weber notes the various changes that took place following the demise of

Spanish rule. Of importance was the differing racial and class distinctions which

emerged after Mexican rule. Under Spanish rule these distinctions had carried much less

weight. As the economy changed and industry and trade prospered wealth began to form

a distinction.6 Those with material wealth were now seen as superior to those without.

5 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 206.


6 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 208.
This also melded into racial inequalities. As wealthier individuals tended to be those of

lighter skin, racism and separatism began to experience a resurgence during Mexican

rule. Weber accounts for this change in strengthening the system of debt peonage in

which lower classes would share a similar status to that of slaves.7 Similar to today,

modes of dress and housing began to display class distinctions as well. A person’s worth

and place in society was becoming tied to outward appearances. Nowhere was this more

visible than the attire of upper class women. They too had seen great changes come with

the changing times.

In fact, the only upside Weber mentions is the growing power of women under

Mexican rule. They had rights to land and property ownership, and were allowed to bring

cases to court. Many widows enjoyed great wealth and prominence which had not been a

possibility under Spanish rule. Many worked trades or in the fields in order to turn a

profit. “It seems likely, therefore, that frontier conditions mitigated against female

subordination and sexual divisions of labor that characterized traditional Hispanic

societies.”8

Weber attempts to outline the catalysts for the rebellions of the separate states. In

Texas the groundwork for a revolution had already been laid, all it took was a legitimate

threat to rally the Texans to arms, and it came after the massacre in Zacatecas. “Reports

of the impending “invasion” by the centralist forces, fueled by rumors that they would

free black slaves, enslave Texans, and lay waste to Texas as they had to Zacatecas, united

the war and peace parties as nothing had before.”9 As had so often been the case with the

7 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 211.


8 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 216.
9 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 249.
Mexican government, threats could only increase the resolve of those determined to

rebel. Many had nurtured a belief that war was still avoidable, but this was, in effect, the

straw that broke the camel’s back for Mexico. The colonists would fight, and indeed win

their independence from Mexico.

In California a more peaceful means of independent governing was sought.

Similar to Texans, Californios were heavily opposed to the centralist government that had

been tightening its grip over California and sought a return to the federalist form of

government but differed in the north and south to a degree. Eventually Mexico

recognized much of California’s demands and chose not send in troops as they feared a

repeat of the events in Texas. California gained greater autonomy but remained a part of

Mexico until the United States invaded and annexed the state. Some rebellion was met

with force by the US military.

New Mexico revolt was strikingly different from either Texas or California. “The

New Mexico Revolt was apparently a spontaneous uprising of lower class New

Mexicans, including Pueblo Indians. Class antagonism set New Mexico’s revolt apart

from contemporary rebellions along the northern front.”10 They opposed similar issues

such as taxing and outside enforcement, but remained less clear regarding their reasons

for revolting. Many would revolt against the US as well when it invaded in 1846.

Weber theorizes that much of the rebellion resulted due to the oppressive and

neglectful role of the Mexican government upon the northern frontier.11 He is quick to

dispel the notion of a frontier as a geographic boundary and prefers to attribute it as being

10Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 261.


11 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 276.
a “social phenomenon” man made in nature as mans’ interactions with one another

override the surrounding wilderness. It is distinctly cultural in character.12 Weber sees

these two distinct cultures as Hispanic and Anglo. Their differing views of cultural

assimilation and political rights differed to such a degree that it is reasonable to assume

that a rebellion was looming.

Weber does an excellent job of providing all the different factors that led to

rebellion among the different states. The reader gets a very broad idea of the area by

learning all of the specifics. It is well written, relevant, and comprehensive. My only

criticism was that the book purports to see the frontier from the perspectives of the

Americans and Mexicans, while I think more so it gives the perspectives of the differing

colonists through a contemporary American perspective. I still don’t really get a very

good idea of what was going on behind closed doors in the Mexican government or the

American government for that matter. These people are making important decisions that

affect these states, the actions of the colonists can be seen as more reactionary than

anything else in my opinion. I am fully aware though that may be entirely too much to

ask of this book, and I did enjoy it for what it was.

Winders’ Setting the Stage for Crisis: Colonization and Revolution examines the

events leading up to the Texas Revolution and more importantly the differing ideals

behind it. He poses the idea that Mexicans and Americans disagreed fundamentally on

land ownership, a factor in the rebellious mindset of the Anglos. To Mexicans land was

granted for use, to the Americans land was bought for consumption. This land was tied to

12 Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 277.


the very livelihood of the individual who settled it.13 Leading up to the war were the

events surrounding Viesca’s capture, escape, and flight towards Texas as a revolt began to

unfold. Austin’s aid and confrontation of Cos at Bexar show a determined Anglo

presence, but where do they go from here?

Eventually the Texans are able to unite their ideals with their actions. They

Authorize Sam Houston to lead a Texas army which will be mobilized in order to

legitimize their presence as a threat, they issue a declaration of Causes in order to get the

support of all the anti centralists and increase manpower, and appoint commissioners to

head north to the US to get funding and supplies to support a costly impending war.14

Winders does not offer much more to the table with this writing which is fairly

general in nature. It flows well though and gets to the point, but other writings have

already covered this more in depth. I felt it might have benefited the reader if he tied his

assertions of land ideals into the actions of the revolutionary Texans. Instead it is briefly

mentioned followed by key timeline events in the Texas Revolution.

Paula Mitchell Marks’ Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary

Maverick outlines Samuel Maverick’s upbringing and departure into Texas in the initial

two chapters. Samuel a South Carolina native and Yale graduate was raised in a family

that prided itself on the ideals of liberty for mankind but also on the great benefits of an

entrepreneurial spirit and sound mind. After achieving little success in his business

ventures he is lured to Texas with notions of starting a new and profitable life for himself.

Upon his arrival it becomes apparent that business will have to wait as he has stepped

13Richard Bruce Winders, Crisis in the Southwest: The United States, Mexico, and the Struggle over Texas
(Scholarly Resources, 2002), 5.
14Winders, Crisis in the Southwest, 19.
into a state on the verge of a Revolution.

These two chapters did not give me any information about Maverick’s role in

Texas, or any new information regarding the revolution itself. However it was interesting

to me how much he mirrored Austin in his demeanor. Very skilled and powerful, but

caught up in his families wishes and demands, failed business ventures, ability to garner

favor and attack issues from both sides, a public figure who despises ordering people

around, and the list goes on and on. The only difference being that he arrived at the

culmination of the revolution that Austin had in effect pushed into motion. Maverick

seems like Austin’s incarnation arriving to Texas to take over after his death (which is

soon to come).

The last article by Campbell entitled Slavery in the Texas Revolution, questions

the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution. Campbell offers that while many opposed

African slave trade at the conventions at San Felipe de Austin, all were in favor of

modifying Texas into a slave state like those of the American South upon independence.15

Similar to the Weber Campbell points out that Texans fought for the institution of slavery

as much as avoiding their own enslavement as the Mexican Army marched to meet them.

Ultimately he asserts that slavery was no cause for revolution but merely a factor of it,

and that “Anglo Americans were simply too different from Hispanic Americans to accept

Mexican government indefinetly.”16 Slavery was one of the many issues they planned to

resolve upon gaining their freedom of autonomy. Mexico’s offer of freedom to those

slaves that joined centralist forces is a common occurrence in history, not specific just to

15Randolph B. Campbell "Slavery in the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836.." An Empire for Slavery: The
Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 (1989): ncsu electronic e reserve. 39.
16Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire, 48.
this instance.

Campbell’s article is brief, but makes a good point that slavery can hardly be

considered a causal factor of the revolution, nor can it be ignored as it remained heavily

upon the minds of the many Texans who sought to prosper from the institution. A good

read, brief and to the point. Interesting in that the Revolution lead to more oppression,

although many already had slaves just under the indentured servant moniker. In my

opinion, either way Texas was going to have slaves, the laws they would produce seem

mute in that they outwardly disobeyed the opposite laws prior to Independence.

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Bibliography

Campbell, Randolph B. “Slavery in the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836.” IN An Empire for

Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865. (1989). Available from:

https://reserves.lib.ncsu.edu/reservesViewer.php?reserve=139976 (Accessed 28

September 2009)

Marks, Paula Mitchell. Turn Your Eyes Towards Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary

Maverick. United States of America: Texas A&M University Press,1989.


Weber, David J. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846. Albuquerque, NM: University of

New Mexico Press, 1982.

Winders, Richard Bruce. Crisis in the Southwest: The United States, Mexico and the

Struggle over Texas. (2002). Available from:

https://reserves.lib.ncsu.edu/reservesViewer.php?reserve=139969 (Accessed 28

September 2009).