January 3

This Day in History

Old West

Jan 3, 1834:

Stephen Austin imprisoned by Mexicans

Escalating the tensions that would lead to rebellion and war, the Mexican government imprisons the Texas colonizer Stephen Austin in Mexico City.

Stephen Fuller Austin was a reluctant revolutionary. His father, Moses Austin, won permission from the Mexican government in 1821 to settle 300 Anglo-American families in Texas. When Moses died before realizing his plans, Stephen took over and established the fledgling Texas community on the lower reaches of the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. Periodic upheavals in the government of the young Mexican Republic forced Austin to constantly return to Mexico City where he argued for the rights of the American colonists in Texas, representing their interests as a colonial founder. Yet, Austin remained confident that an Anglo-American state could succeed within the boundaries of the Mexican nation.

Mexican authorities were less certain. Alarmed by the growing numbers of former Americans migrating to Texas (8,000 in Austin's colonies alone by 1832) and rumors the U.S. intended to annex the region, the Mexican government began to limit immigration in 1830. Though Austin found loopholes allowing him to circumvent the policy, the Mexican policy angered many Anglo-American colonists who already had a long list of grievances against their distant government. In 1833, a group of colonial leaders met to draft a constitution that would create a new Anglo-dominated Mexican state of Texas by splitting away from the Mexican-dominated Coahuila region it had previously been tied to. The colonists hoped that by decreasing the influence of native Mexicans, whose culture and loyalties were more closely wedded to Mexico City, they could argue more effectively for American-style reforms.

Once they had hammered out a new constitution, the colonial leaders directed Austin to travel to Mexico City to present it to the government along with a list of other demands. Austin conceded to the will of the people, but President Santa Ana refused to grant Texas separate status from Coahuila and threw Austin in prison on suspicion of inciting insurrection. When he was finally released eight months later in August 1835, Austin found that the Anglo-American colonists were on the brink of rebellion. They were now demanding a Republic of Texas that would break entirely from the Mexican nation. Reluctantly, Austin abandoned his hope that the Anglo Texans could somehow remain a part of Mexico, and he began to prepare for war. The following year Austin helped lead the Texan rebels to victory over the Mexicans and assisted in the creation of the independent Republic of Texas. Defeated by Sam Houston in a bid for the presidency of the new nation, Austin instead took the position of secretary of state. He died in office later that year.

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