Continued from Part 1
Quick overview of the political/military position in the summer of 1836:
- Santa Anna is captured, held prisoner by the Texan military. He expects to be released back to Mexico in short order, at which point he plans to turn around and re-invade Texas.
- Texas continues to have a threadbare army, plagued by lack of supplies, undisciplined men, and constant desertions. Without Mexican soldiers to fight, many turn to alcohol and dueling to pass the time.
- Sam Houston is in New Orleans receiving medical treatment for an ankle wound. His replacement, General Rusk, is well-respected but hardly has the gravitas of a Houston.
- The majority of the Texas population who fled during the Runaway Scrape of March through May have yet to return home; crops have yet to be planted, which will be vital for the Texas Republic’s survival for the coming year.
- 700 or so Mexican soldiers are held prisoner on Galveston Island. They will be safely released in short order.
- Several thousand Mexican soldiers have recently crossed the Rio Grande back into Mexico, under the command of General Filisola.
- General Urrea is nominally in command of the army, Filisola having been recalled to Mexico City to answer for his crime of retreating from Texas. This is significant because Urrea is known to be an extremely competent commander.
- The Mexican government repudiates the Treaty of Velasco, saying that Santa Anna signed it under duress. As far as they are concerned, the war is still ongoing.
So, why didn’t Mexico re-invade Texas right then and there? There was no reason for them to expect another failure like San Jacinto, now that they know to watch out for the Texans. Wars are seldom lost by the outcome of a single battle, and San Jacinto was far less devastating to the Mexican military than other battles. After all, Mexico had been a region under continuous warfare for nearly 30 years by this point – why let one little battle determine the loss of an enormous region like Texas?
I have an extensive collection of Texas History resources – textbooks, reference books, biographies, journal articles, etc. None of these sources even asks the question of why Mexico failed to turn around and invade Texas right away. Most just simply assume that the war is over, and that U.S. annexation of Texas is a fait accompli.
I think that I have found out the main answer to this question by using a combination of older book resources and historical newspaper analysis. The answer is both simple, yet hidden under the surface. If I ever find that another historian has already made this same claim, I will be happy to give them the credit.
So, why didn’t Mexico reopen the invasion? The simple answer: MONEY.
Mexico was flat broke. This is before any major nation had switched to an entirely paper currency – every printed currency bill had to be backed up by gold or silver in the nation’s treasury.
How bad was the economic situation? Well, Walter Lord’s 1961 book, A Time to Stand, has a section that presents the economic decisions made by Santa Anna and his government before invading Texas. It’s not pretty.
The short list (from page 65) is:
- Paying for the army’s rations with a 200% markup.
- Borrowing 400,000 pesos from loan sharks at a 48% interest.
- Massive amounts of graft from virtually all the top military officers.
- Forced loans from the departments (subservient states) of Mexico.
And this is all from early 1836. Things got even worse by the summer and fall. A selection of excerpts from the Telegraph and Texas Register will help us paint a picture of the situation:
Article 1: Aug. 9, 1836 (pg 2):
Notice the two main points above? An enormous amount of gold and silver coins is being sent to New Orleans from Mexico, while the Mexican Army is wasting away in Matamoros (at the mouth of the Rio Grande).
Article 2 Quote: Aug. 16, 1836 (pg 3): Quote from a letter from Vera Cruz, dated July 8 (author unknown):
“Our commerce is paralized entirely, and the government are about making us pay a forced loan. Aliens are resisting it; and I hope the reins of government will fall into more wise and honest hands before they verify the unject exaction.”
So the government is so desperate for money that they’re hitting up private citizens, and even foreigners.
Article 3: Sept. 6, 1836 (both entries from pg. 3)
Massive taxes (40%) are being placed on imports to Matamoros, while a ship from Mexico brings another massive sum of gold/silver coins to New Orleans. Oh wow, and they’re simultaneously collecting ANOTHER round of forced loans from the entire population of Mexico, but this time they promise that each person will only have to loan the Mexican government a maximum amount of $1,000. How nice of them!
Article 4: Sept. 27, 1836 (Pg. 2)
Hmmm, not a lot of people suffering from patriotism, at least as far as their pocketbooks are concerned.
Article 5: Oct. 4, 1836 (pg. 2)
Gee, those New Orleans bankers are doing quite well for themselves. Wonder where all that money is coming from…?
I found these articles pretty easily by looking in only one Texas newspaper. I’m sure I could find hundreds of similar anecdotes by looking at contemporary newspapers in the U.S. and Mexico (I’ve started looking in the New Orleans Bee, but the current copies online have poor clarity).
So, what does all this mean? Why couldn’t Mexico get its act together, rebuild the army, and invade Texas again?
The answer is staring them in the face: the government’s economic stupidity.
- The government needs money to carry on the war and pay its outstanding debts.
- The government starts charging massive trade taxes and enacts a series of forced loans on the wealthy.
- The rich people (who got rich by NOT being stupid) enact capital flight by sending their hard-earned cash to the closest foreign bank, preferably aboard American, British, or French vessels.
- The government collects almost nothing, leading to even worse problems.
- Texas remains independent.
By 1838, the situation had gotten so bad that Mexico’s debtor nations were on the verge of declaring war to collect on their loans (see the Pastry War).
To wrap up this rather long entry, I will leave a list of questions requiring further research. I do not have the answer to these questions, but an in-depth study of financial records could reveal a whole new dimension to the history of the Texas Republic.
- How much money was sent to New Orleans banks from Mexico from 1836 through 1837?
- What specific banks received deposits from wealthy Mexican citizens?
- Did these same banks then offer loans to the Republic of Texas?
- If so, does this mean that Mexico was indirectly funding the Republic of Texas?
Coming soon: Part III: The real battle for freedom