By Jack Cohen
Throughout the history of war and conflict, adversaries have utilized race as a medium through which they are able to dehumanize each other. For numerous combatants, the supposed racial and social inferiority of the enemy validates killing as well as conquest. The Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 proves no exception to this trend. During this period of extreme ethnic turbulence, the majority Anglo population of Texas viewed Mexicans, the native born Tejanos, in a negative light, as the “inferior other.” However, perhaps more importantly, Anglos—immigrants from slave states, for the most part—judged Mexicans through the lens of comparison to Native Americans and African Americans, races Anglos already deemed as subordinate. According to the bulk of the Anglo population in Texas, Mexicans maintained racial and social bonds with blacks and Indians. As a result, revolution from Mexico appeared the only alternative to an existence Anglos perceived to be under half-breeds and false friends.
One of the more popular Anglo viewpoints towards the Mexican was as a half-breed, a dilution of the blood of Spaniards with that of Indians. Countless Anglos wrote of the racial heritage shared by Mexicans and Indians. For instance, William B. Travis wrote in May 1835 that if the Mexicans murdered the captive Stephen F. Austin, “a thousand of their contemptible ‘red skins’ shall be sacrificed to his Name.” Furthermore, Robert Wilson declared in June 1835 that Santa Anna was not only an enemy to Texas, but also the reincarnation of Montezuma, an emperor of the Aztecs. These descriptions sought to degrade Mexicans, proving their racial inferiority from a genealogical standpoint. In addition, these accusations strengthened the Anglo claim that white and Mexican societies were inassimilable. Since most settlers in Texas hailed from the southern half of the United States, and thus a chattel society, they would have frowned upon any sort of interracial amalgamation, even if they were not slaveholders themselves. As James Crisp summarizes, “even when the distinction was made between ‘white’ and ‘Indian’ Mexicans, the great extent of race mixture between these two groups left the Americans uneasy about all Mexicans.” Due to these perceptions of Mexicans as half-breeds, it comes as no surprise that Anglos felt that their society was “diametrically opposed” to that of the Mexicans.
As a result of the shared bloodlines of Mexicans and Indians, Anglos often viewed Mexicans as savages. At his address in the town of San Felipe, R. M. Williamson warned that Texans would “hear around your habitations the Indian yell, mingling with the Mexican cry, and the shrieking of your murdered wives, rousing the slumbers of the cradle, from the midst of your burning buildings.” Many Anglos insisted that racial miscegenation caused depravity, in their view, an inherent trait for Mexicans. Yet, this degeneracy extended further than bloodlust, as Anglos perceived Mexicans to be indolent and uncultured, additional comparisons to Native Americans. Anglos habitually complained of the lewdness of their darker neighbors, illustrated through the complacency of Mexicans to appear naked in public. Anglos did not view this action as harmless, but rather, as an example of Mexican barbarity. Mexicans also seemed content to live in utter squalor, with no impulse to improve their station in life. This too pointed towards the seemingly undeniable claim that Mexican and Anglo cultures were contradictory. Arnoldo De Leon explains that “Mexicans seemed to lack the spirit of enterprise, the drive, the zeal common to American civilization.” Thus, many Anglos in Texas shared the sentiment expressed by John Linn from Guadalupe: whites deserved better than to live under the regime of “Goths” and “Cutthroats.”
Anglos also tended to view Mexicans as false friends who were disloyal to white culture, and instead, partners with African Americans. Consequently, Anglos feared that Mexicans served as traitors in Texas, constantly fomenting servile insurrection among blacks. Ben Milam warned Francis Johnson that the intention of the Mexicans was “to gain the friendship of the different tribes of Indians; and, if possible to get the slaves to revolt. These plans of barbarity and injustice will make a wilderness of Texas.” With the invasion of Santa Anna, Anglos dreaded that the general would re-impose Mexican law, liberating slaves and encouraging black rebellion as he rampaged through Texas. Moreover, since the law forbade the recapture of runaway slaves into Mexico, many Anglos looked upon Mexicans as not only inciting black exodus and uprising, but also scheming to destroy the very way of life for Anglo Texans. As a result, Anglos asserted that Mexicans were unfit to join the Texan polity. From the viewpoint of a Southern Anglo, it seemed ludicrous that anybody could dispute the subordination of the African American. Instead of placing blacks in their seemingly ordained role as slaves, Mexicans wanted to elevate blacks as equals. Thus, not only did Anglos view Mexicans as foolish and naïve in this regard, but also as traitors to the majority of the Texas population. As De Leon encapsulates, “at a time when Southern slave masters were suspicious of any nonconformer, Mexicanos were denounced by Anglo Texans as rascals with no claim to respectability and no knowledge of civilized politics.”
Ironically, the ostensible alliance between African Americans and Mexicans resulted in the Anglo tagging of Mexicans as tyrants and oppressors. From the mindset of many Anglos, Mexicans were aiming to impose the same system of dependence and bondage on whites as whites were forcing upon blacks. In a public meeting in Nacogdoches, Anglos claimed that they were under the yoke of military oppression, subjected to wallow under a “slavish degradation.” Under Mexican rule, many Anglos believed that they were treated as veritable second class citizens. Accordingly, Anglos judged revolution and independence as the only processes through which to preserve their innate love for liberty and to uphold the principles of their American forefathers. Certainly, Anglos viewed themselves as subjugated, and questioned “whither we are to live as freemen or continue to exist as Slaves, under military despotism.” Through the various comparisons to Native Americans and African Americans, Anglos sought to demonize Mexicans as half-breeds and false friends, among a plethora of other labels. Not only did these allegations seek to justify revolution and eventual separation from Mexico, but also to unite the Anglo communities of Texas against a common foe. Yet, the Texas Revolution provides only a singular example of racial dehumanization in the history of world conflict.
Castaneda, Carlos E., trans. The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution. Washington:Documentary Publications, 1971.
Crisp, James Ernest. “Anglo-Texan Attitudes Toward the Mexican, 1821-1845.” PhD diss.,Yale University, 1976.
De Leon, Arnoldo. They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes toward the Mexican in Texas, 1821-1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
Jackson, Jack, and John Wheat, ed. and trans. Almonte’s Texas: Juan N. Almonte’s 1834 Inspection, Secret Report & Role in the 1836 Campaign. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2003.
Jenkins, John H, ed. The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836. 10 vols. Austin: Presidial Press, 1973.
John H. Jenkins, ed., The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 (10 vols.; Austin: Presidial Press, 1973), 1:122.
James Ernest Crisp, “Anglo-Texan Attitudes Toward the Mexican, 1821-1845” (PhD diss., Yale University, 1976), 33.
Arnoldo De Leon, They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821-1900 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), 39.
Carlos E. Castaneda, trans., The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution, (Washington: Documentary Publications, 1971), 65.
Jack Jackson and John Wheat, ed. and trans., Almonte’s Texas: Juan N. Almonte’s 1834 Inspection, Secret Report & Role in the 1836 Campaign, (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2003), 179.
De Leon, 50.