The battle of the Alamo begins
For years American migrants had been arriving in the north of the new Mexican Republic, in the province of Texas. These colonists remained a largely foreign element, making little effort to adapt to the local culture and resentful of Mexican decrees that outlawed slavery. In 1835 war broke out between the Texians (English-speaking immigrants) and Mexican troops. At first the Texians were successful in driving out the Mexican army but it returned in strength under President Santa Ana.
Santa Ana had declared that the rebels would be treated as pirates and subject to immediate execution — there would be no prisoners of war. On February 23, 1836 2,000 Mexican troops surrounded a makeshift fort that had been constructed around an old Spanish mission near San Antonio, called the Alamo. It was garrisoned by around 200 Texians who had unwisely decided to stay and fight. Their ranks include newly arrived volunteers from the United States, among them famed Indian-fighter and Tennessee congressman Davy Crockett.
The Mexicans began the siege by raising a blood-red flag indicating that no quarter would be given in battle. The Texans tried to negotiate an honourable surrender but were told that only an unconditional surrender and no promise of safety was on the table. The fighting lasted for ten days during which time the defenders appealed urgently for help. The commander William Travis sent out a letter, addressed “to the people of Texas and all Americans in the world”:
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World:
Fellow citizens & compatriots—I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna—I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch—The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country—Victory or Death.
William Barret Travis
On March 6 a Mexican assault overwhelmed the defenders and all of them, except black slaves, women and children, were killed.
The defeat at the Alamo turned into a propaganda victory and in less than two months Santa Ana’s army had been defeated and an independent Texas Republic had been secured.
Despite Travis’s talk of Liberty, the new republic decreed:
- Persons of colour who had been servants for life under Mexican law would become property.
- Congress should pass no law restricting emigrants from bring their slaves into Texas.
- Congress shall not have the power to emancipate slaves.
- Slaveowners may not free their slaves without Congressional approval unless the freed slaves leave Texas.
- Free persons of African descent were required to petition the Texas Congress for permission to continue living in the country.
- Africans and the descendants of Africans and Indians were excluded from the class of ‘persons’ having rights.