The following is a contribution by outside blogger Gregory Sokoloff. Opinions expressed are solely those of Mr. Sokoloff.
At first, they were just 300. A puny number for a territory larger than France. And they tried to be as compliant and subservient to the land’s legal authorities as possible. They swore allegiance to Mexico City, they provided evidence of their good character and standing, they renounced their religions and adopted Catholicism, and tried to master at least some Spanish to be able to read government rescripts.
Neither then, nor now, did Mexico City really cotton to bilingualism.
Why did they come to Tejas, as the territory was then called, in 1822, following their leader Stephen F. Austin, who had inherited a hefty land grant on the banks of the Brazos River from his father? “To work,” was the reply. “To take care of families. To give a better future to the children.” There is absolutely no evidence that the settlers were anything but sincere.
“This is the most liberal and munificent Govt. on earth to emigrants – after being here one year you will oppose a change even to Uncle Sam,” Mr. Austin wrote to his sister about Mexican authorities in 1829. And when in 1824 Mexico adopted a new federalist constitution, under which all of its provinces were being transformed – at least on paper – into “sovereign” states, Mr. Austin traveled to Mexico City to petition the government on behalf of Tejas, which to Mr. Austin’s chagrin had been lumped together with the state of Coahuila.
The U.S. government in Washington was hardly in any expansionist mode either. In 1819, then-secretary of state John Quincy Adams and his Spanish counterpart, Luis de Onis, signed the so-called Adams-Onis Treaty, under which the United States received control of Florida but formally renounced all claims to Texas, establishing the border along the Sabine River. To be sure, there were plenty of Mexicans who viewed this flow of non-Spanish-speaking immigrants into their northern province with a jaundiced eye. But they were rebuffed by a pro-immigrant lobby, whose argument could be summed up like this: “And who’s going to plant corn and cotton, and raise cattle over there? No Mexican wants to live in this distant and inhospitable land.”
In a way, this was true. When Mr. Austin first moved in into Tejas with his 300 followers, the province’s population numbered not even 3,500 residents. But then, 300 turned into 600 and later into 3,000. New English-speaking immigrants were streaming across the border every day, and by 1834, the Tejas Anglo population had reached about 30,000 people, compared to only 7,800 residents of Mexican descent.
A new demographic — and political — reality has formed. And what seemed to be unthinkable suddenly became a distinct possibility. A possibility that was enhanced by a string of wars, coups and plots in Mexico City, which has resulted in gridlock and the government’s inability to control a faraway province. The grand paper bargain of the century, the Adams-Onis Treaty, did not make it even to its 30th anniversary, crushed by the inexorable forces of realpolitik of the time.
And Mr. Austin, come 1934, made no bones about what the determinant factor of the future of Tejas will be. “A great immigration will settle the question,” he wrote to his cousin. And it did. In 1936, Tejas became the independent Republic of Texas, which joined the American Union in 1945.
Just a trip down history lane that may, or may not, give some politicians pause — and fodder for thinking about the future.