03. March 2011 · Comments Off on A Man of Convienient and Elastic Virtue · Categories: Uncategorized

For the writing of Daughter of Texas – which followed the life of an Anglo-German settler’s family in Texas, beginning in the mid 1820’s – I needed to delve into the deep and murky political waters of early 19th century Mexico, as they touched on the matter of Texas. In doing this, I made the not-entirely-unexpected-discovery that  . . .  well, it was an extremely complicated situation. Byzantine, even.  A horrific situation like – say, the siege of the Alamo – did just not appear out of the clear blue, just because Davy Crockett and a couple of hundred Texians and a Mexican strong-man general and his thousands decided one spring day in 1836 to start bashing away at each other. There was about twenty years of back-story there, some of it terribly convoluted, but no less interesting for all of that, and simply crammed with dramatic potential. Curious characters, dramatic incidents, marvelous coincidences, and accounts of political dirty-dealing and quietly heroic sacrifice abound, most of which is barely hinted at, in books and movies about the Texas War for Independence.  Becoming familiar with the circumstances was absolutely necessary: in order to fill out the background, and to explain in a natural fashion how it all came to pass, through the lives and words and experiences of my characters – some of whom were historical characters.

A historical character who does not make an actual appearance, but remains a baleful off-stage motivator is the stock villain of that time and place, one Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, political slippery operator par excellence. He was all at once and by turns a Mexican patriot, a leader in the fight for independence from Spain, a heroic and fairly able soldier, and a key leader in establishing a republic in Mexico, with a constitution modeled after the American Constitution. He also played a small part in introducing chewing gum to the American public. For a brief space of ten years – the very same decade in which American settlers were invited to come to that part of Mexico called Coahuila y Tejas to take up lands and establish settlements – Mexico had a fair old go at being a federally organized national establishment: nineteen more or less autonomous states and five territories. During this period, and boiling it down to essentials, there were two major competing tendencies among the Mexican political leaders: the vaguely liberal, or Federalists – who favored fairly autonomous states, on the American model, and the more traditionally minded Centralists – conservatives, who looked more towards a top-down authority.

Sympathies among the American settlers rather naturally tended towards the Federalists. For most of those years, Lopez de Santa Anna was actually considered by many, including Joel Poinsett, the American Minister in Mexico, to be a strong advocate of political liberty. For he was an up and coming man – and in 1833 he found himself at the top of the heap, elected president of Mexico; he appointed a liberal politician, Valintin Gomez Farias as his vice president, and left him a pretty free hand. Farias promptly put through a series of reforms, some of which directly and adversely impacted the established Catholic Church. Lopez de Santa Anna – not for the first time in his life, and most definitely not the last – turned his coat. Without missing a beat, he denounced his own vice president and his liberal allies, formed a new government on Centralist principles with himself as dictator and invalidated the 1824 Constitution. Eleven of the Mexican states promptly rebelled, fielding their own armies against the central government. Coahuila y Tejas was just one, and probably not even the best organized and equipped. Lopez de Santa Anna set about extinguishing armed resistance to his authority with brutal efficiency. Upon defeating the well-armed and well organized militia of Zacatecas, he turned his attention next to Coahuila y Tejas  . . . with pretty well-known results, even if most people are unaware of the details.

This kind of back-story makes helps to make it clear, that it just wasn’t the Texians in rebellion. As the saying goes, it wasn’t all about us; there was a lot of other stuff going on at the same time, and it makes for a more nuanced take, as well as a natural explanation of the presence of Tejanos such as Juan Seguin’s scouts, Almaron Dickenson’s gunners, and Lorenzo de Zavala (once one of Farias’ liberal allies) who managed to serve as a finance minister in one of the Mexican governments and as an interim Vice President of the Republic of Texas. In some ways, the back-story and everything else makes it more resemble a civil war, in which the American settlers in Texas became entangled in as a sort of afterthought.