Welcome to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history
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In the early eighteen thirties,
the territory of Texas belonged to Mexico. But many Americans had moved to
Texas because they could buy a lot of land with little money. The government of
Mexico expected the settlers to speak Spanish, to become Roman Catholic and to accept
Mexican traditions. The settlers did not want to.
most part, there was little that President Andrew Jackson could do. The United
States had a treaty of friendship with Mexico. The government in Washington had
a duty to remain neutral, even as the situation in Texas became increasingly
Outen and Steve Ember tell the story in this week's program in our series.
in Texas held a convention in April eighteen thirty-three. They prepared a list
of appeals to the leader of Mexico, General Santa Ana.
Texas settlers asked Santa Ana to end a tax on goods imported into the
territory. They asked him to lift a ban on new settlers from the United States.
And they asked that Texas be organized as a separate state of Mexico.
the Americans, Stephen Austin, carried the appeals to Mexico City. He spent six
months negotiating with the Mexican government. General Santa Ana promised to
honor all the requests except one. He would not make Texas a separate state,
although he said that might be possible someday. Stephen Austin was satisfied.
He left the Mexican capital to return to Texas.
way home, to his surprise, Austin was arrested. He was arrested because of a
letter he wrote earlier, when his negotiations with Mexican officials seemed to
be failing. He had said it might be best if the people declared Texas a
separate state. Austin was put in prison in Mexico City for a year and a half.
urged the people of Texas to remain loyal to Mexico. But talk of rebellion
already had begun. The settlers already were calling themselves
hostilities broke out between Texans and local Mexican officials. The Mexican
army threatened action. When Austin returned from prison, he was chosen to
negotiate with the commander of Mexican forces. The commander refused to
negotiate. It appeared that war would come. The Texans began to organize their
November eighteen thirty-five, representatives from all parts of Texas held a
convention to discuss the situation. They had no plans to take Texas out of the
Mexican Republic. In fact, a proposal to do that was defeated by a large vote.
the Texans took action to protect themselves against Santa Ana, who had
declared himself dictator. They organized a temporary state government. They
organized a state army. And they made plans for another convention to begin on
the Texans could meet again, Santa Ana led an army of seven thousand men across
the Rio Grande River into Texas. The first soldiers reached San Antonio on
February twenty-third. The Texas forces withdrew to an old Spanish mission
church called the Alamo.
March first, the second Texas convention opened. This time, the representatives
voted to declare Texas a free, independent and sovereign republic. They wrote a
constitution based on the constitution of the United States. They created a
government. David Burnet was named president. And Sam Houston was to continue
as commander of Texas forces.
second day of the convention, a letter came from the Alamo in San Antonio. The
letter was addressed to the people of Texas and all Americans. The commander of
Texas forces at the Alamo wrote:
have been under an artillery attack for twenty-four hours and have not lost a
man. The enemy has demanded our surrender. Otherwise, he said, he will kill
every one of us. I have answered his demand with a cannon shot. Our flag still
waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat.
call on you -- in the name of liberty, of patriotism, and everything dear to
the American character -- to come to our aid with all speed. If my appeal is
not answered, I will fight as long as possible, and die like a soldier who
never forgets what he owes his own honor and that of his country."
letter from the Alamo closed with the words: "Victory or Death."
at the convention wanted to leave immediately to go to the aid of the Texans in
San Antonio. But Sam Houston told them it was their duty to remain and create a
government for Texas. Houston would go there himself with a small force.
help came too late for the one hundred eighty-eight men at the Alamo. Santa
Ana's forces captured the Spanish mission on March sixth. When the battle
ended, not a Texan was left alive.
Houston ordered all Texas forces to withdraw northeast -- away from the Mexican
group of Texans did not move fast enough. Santa Ana trapped them. He said the
Texans would not be harmed if they surrendered. They did. One week later, they
were marched to a field and shot. Only a few escaped to tell the story.
Ana then moved against Sam Houston. He was sure his large army could defeat the
remaining Texas force.
Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston were close friends. When told of Houston's
retreat, the president pointed to a map of Texas. He said: "If Sam Houston
is worth anything, he will make his stand here.
pointed to the mouth of the San Jacinto River.
battle of San Jacinto began at four o'clock in the afternoon. There were about
eight-hundred Texans. There were two times that many Mexicans. The Mexicans did
not expect the retreating Texans to turn and fight. But they did.
"Remember the Alamo!" the Texans ran at the Mexican soldiers.
Eighteen minutes later, the battle was over. Santa Ana's army was destroyed.
half of the Mexicans were killed or wounded. The other half were captured. Only
two Texans were killed. Twenty-three, including Sam Houston, were wounded.
Texans found Santa Ana the next day, wearing the clothes of a simple Mexican
soldier. Santa Ana begged for mercy. Houston told him: "You might have
shown some at the Alamo."
the Texans wanted to shoot the Mexican general. But Houston said he was worth
more alive than dead.
fourteenth, eighteen thirty-six, Texas President Burnet and General Santa Ana
signed a treaty. The treaty made Texas independent.
thirty-six was a presidential election year in the United States. Andrew
Jackson had served for eight years. He did not want another term. He supported
his vice president, Martin Van Buren.
opposition to the demands for more states' rights, and his attack on the Bank
of the United States, had created problems for his Democratic Party. Texas also
was a problem.
was legal in the new Republic of Texas. Most northerners in the United States
opposed slavery anywhere. Jackson felt that if he recognized Texas, the
Democrats would lose votes in the presidential election. So Jackson decided not
to act on Texas until after the election.
to the Democrats came from a coalition political party. Members of the party
called themselves Whigs. Three Whigs ran for president in eighteen thirty-six
against Martin Van Buren.
Whigs did not expect any of their candidates to win. But they hoped to get
enough votes to prevent Van Buren from gaining a majority. Then the House of
Representatives would have to decide the election. And a Whig might have a
better chance. The plan failed. Van Buren won.
Jackson had only a few months left as president. It seemed that much of his
time was occupied with one question. That was the request by the Republic of
Texas to become a state of the union.
wanted to make Texas a state. But more important was the union itself. The
issue of slavery in Texas was critical. Jackson said:
give statehood to Texas now, or to recognize its independence, would increase
the bitterness between the north and south. Nothing is worth this price."
Jackson thought of a way in which statehood for Texas could bring the nation
together, instead of splitting it apart.
will be our story next week.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Gwen Outen
and Steve Ember. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs along with
historical images are online at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week
for THE MAKING OF A NATION - an American history series in VOA Special English.
This is program #63 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION