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TEXAS: SPAIN, MEXICO, REPUBLIC, STATE
One of Texas's main stories has always been about land — how big it is, what it contains, and the uniquely generous land policy put in place by the Spanish, continued by the Mexicans, and later followed when Texas was a republic and finally a state. These farsighted policies were the main reason that Texas grew so rapidly. Having all that land proved to be critical to how Texans envisioned providing for education, which would sometimes be in ways different from what any other state did. It is worthwhile to understand how it came to be this way and how it affected people's thinking.
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Modern-day Texas is large in land mass, yet appears small when compared with the immensity of sixteenth-century Spanish land holdings. Spain's New World empire stretched from the southern tip of South America across the entire western half of the continent, as far north as a territory not yet called Oregon. It ranged from the Pacific shore east to the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast to today's Florida peninsula. Its lands made up almost one third of what would later become the United States. Most of the early wealth that came from the new empire came from Mexico and the lands farther south where the Spanish found the gold and silver that soon began to fill the ships making their way back to Spain. The compliant natives in the southern part of the empire provided cheap labor for Spain's economic enterprises, and made it a very rich country.
Spain began to explore the area that came to be known as Texas — from a Hasinai Indian word — with the hope of discovering more economic opportunities. The first European to explore the region was most likely Alonso Alvarez de Pineda who came by boat from Jamaica to explore the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. The second expedition, in 1528, was led by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and was shipwrecked off the coast of present-day Galveston. There were four survivors — including Cabeza de Vaca — who spent eight years traveling Texas, were enslaved by the Indians, and endured many hardships before returning to "civilization." When Cabeza de Vaca returned to Mexico he wrote about all that he had seen and experienced, making his writings among the first about Texas.
Then, in 1541, from the west came Francisco Vazquez de Coronado who was searching for Quivira and the Seven Cities of Cíbola. The Indians had learned that the Spanish were interested in gold so they told them stories about the fabulous wealth in these cities, which increased the desire of the Spanish to explore the region and made them more willing to dispense gifts. The natives told them that in the Kingdom of Gran Quivira "everyone had their ordinary dishes made of wrought plate and the jugs and bowls were of gold." And, about the Seven Hills, for which Cabeza de Vaca had searched, they said: "the natives not knowing any of the other metals, make of it everything they need, such as vessels and the tips of their arrows and lances." While Coronado's journey was unsuccessful in discovering gold, it did add a considerable amount of land to the Spanish empire.
For more than 160 years, the Spanish viceroys in Mexico who governed the land that included Texas made no attempt to develop the area. This was in large measure because it was difficult to recruit men from Mexico who were willing to live in such a wild and undeveloped place. Other than a few Mexicans, the only people willing to go to Texas were Anglo-Americans, and the Spanish considered them to be unreliable subjects. Even after a hundred years the Spanish had produced only three small Texas settlements with a total population of about 3,000.
During Spanish ownership of Texas and in spite of Spanish claims of conquest, the land was really controlled by the various Indian tribes. They viewed the Spanish not as conquerors or rulers of the land, but merely as people who lived in a small part of it. The Indians had many fighting men while the Spanish had but a few. In fact, a Franciscan missionary explained in a 1750 report to the Spanish king that the missions in the Spanish towns of San Antonio de Bexar and La Bahia lay outside of the "Province of Texas." In other words, Texas was the province in which resided Tejas Indians and it must be understood that Spain did not control any of that land. In 1778 Fray Juan Agustin Morfi said, "though we still call ourselves masters, we do not exercise dominion over a foot of land beyond San Antonio." The Indians knew that they were the rulers of the land, and outside of the settlements the Spanish were of little consequence to them. True development of Texas would have to wait.
When Mexico declared its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government faced a twofold problem concerning Texas. First, it feared the United States, which had publicly discussed taking the undeveloped Texas land. Second, it had to deal with the difficult Indian tribes that were continually raiding and burning Mexican towns, killing citizens, and stealing both cattle and horses. It became Mexican policy to find a way to attract settlers who would both provide a buffer between the United States and Mexico and provide some defense against the Indians.
The first effort involved Moses Austin — and after his death, his son Stephen F. Austin — and the use of empresario grants. Under these grants an empresario was given a large tract of land contingent on its being settled by a specified minimum number of families. The empresario became an agent of the Mexican government and was accountable for the selection of colonists, allocation of land, and enforcement of various regulations required by the Mexican government. The Austin colony was a large block of land that covered much of the lower Brazos and Colorado river basins. To receive individual allotments of land, settlers were required to sign an oath like this one found in Spanish records:
In the name of God, Amen. In the town of Nacogdoches before me, Don Jose Maria Guadiana, appeared Don Samuel Davenport and Don William Barr, residents of this place, and took a solemn oath of fidelity to our Sovereign, and to reside forever in his Royal Dominions: and to manifest this more fully, put their right hands upon the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be faithful vassals of His Most Catholic Majesty, to act in obedience to all laws of Spain and the Indies, henceforth adjuring all other allegiance to any other Prince or Potentate, and to hold no correspondence with any other foreign power without permission from a lawful magistrate, and to inform against such as may do so, or use seditious language unbecoming a good subject of Spain.
Copies of these oaths were preserved in Spanish records, and one can see that the form changed over time to meet the needs of the Mexican government. In return for signing the oath, each settler received title to land at terms unheard of in the United States, and it was good land — broad bottomlands with a mixture of both prairie band woodlands, good grass, and abundant water. The Mexican Congress passed the Imperial Colonization Act of 1823, which granted a league (4,428 acres) of grazing land plus a labor (177 acres) of farming land to each family brought to Texas by an empresario. Single men received one-third the acreage assigned to a family. In 1825, the state of Coahuila y Texas passed the colonization measure that operated until the Texas Revolution. It specified that a league of land would be granted to a family man who became a naturalized Mexican citizen and adopted the Roman Catholic religion, and one quarter of a league would go to a single man who met the same requirements.
The new settlers came quickly, mostly from Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. In many cases they brought cattle and hogs, and in some cases they brought slaves. These settlers were, in the main, the grandchildren of men who had fought in the American Revolution and they were aware of their heritage. They embodied a strong doctrine of self-help and were very resentful of any authority they perceived to be arbitrary. They had a hunger for land, a disdain for brown-skinned people, and a contempt for Spanish authority and culture.
Because the opportunity that Austin offered was so great and the amount of land so large, he was able to pick the settlers he wanted from a sizeable group of applicants. He tried to pick men who were industrious — the "better classes" he called them — and the Old Three Hundred, as these settlers were known, were perhaps unique on the frontier because they were better off financially then most settlers. They were people of substance, and nearly 25 percent had slaves — one individual actually owned ninety. Many of these settlers had a background in cotton farming and the land in the lush river valleys was excellent for that enterprise. From their perspective, growing cotton at a profit required slaves. All but four of this group of three hundred could read and write, an extremely large percentage for frontier times.
There were other empresarios, and in total about thirty-five hundred land titles were issued. Thus, by the end of the Mexican era in 1836, the population of Texas was about 25,000, including slaves. This was an historic achievement by the Mexican government in light of the very long period that Texas had been under Spanish control with a population of only about 3,000.
Not all of the settlements contained families of means. An early description by a young man recruited by Sterling C. Robertson, who had obtained a grant for a colony from the Mexican government in 1826, tells what it was like when he arrived in 1827. He noted that the colonists — at the time twelve families — had built their houses close together as security against the Indians. The houses were rough log cabins with no windows and dirt floors. While the men were excited about their future prospects, the women were sad about the homes and friends they had left behind. Their lives left a lot to be desired. There was not a proper house to keep and their food was so meager as to require little time to prepare a meal. They had left their spinning wheels and looms behind because there was nothing to spin. There was no poultry, no dairy, no garden, no books, and no local papers to read. The lack of schools and churches meant that there was little to break the monotony of their lives. One woman said, "Texas was a heaven for men and dogs, but a hell for women and oxen."
Frontier historians who have studied these early settlers note that the mood among them was mainly one of discontent. Many had come from the United States driven out by debt, and they held a distaste for religious and social restraints, overcrowding, high land prices, oppressive taxation, and unrepresentative government. This created a class of people that in retrospect can be seen to embody a perfect storm of causes for a revolution. The ruling Mexican government was far away, and Texas had no representatives in that government and little influence.
Among cotton farmers there was also a fear that Mexico would make the use of slaves unlawful. During the 1820s and 1830s Mexican leaders had made many unsuccessful attempts to pass antislavery laws, but the big cotton farmers considered slaves an absolute necessity for running a profitable business. Ultimately, it was the large, successful cotton growers who provided much of the support for the Texas Revolution, because they needed to continue to use slaves to economically produce their cotton.
Had the Mexican government been more attuned to the settlers they were attracting with their land policies, they might very well have discontinued their immigration practices. The long-simmering discontent among the settlers finally boiled over and support for a Texas free of Mexican control took hold with the majority of families. Even Stephen Austin, who had tried for a long time to make the relationship between Texans and the Mexican government work, finally realized that Texans were no longer willing to be ruled by a faraway government that seemed not to have their interests at heart. Austin and other Texas leaders felt it was time to make Texas its own republic.
War broke out in October 1835 when Mexican soldiers demanded that the citizens of the town of Gonzales hand over the one small cannon they possessed. A quickly assembled group of volunteer soldiers told the Mexicans to "Come and Take It." During the attack that followed, the Texans repulsed the Mexican army and the Texas Revolution had begun. It ended eight months later with the capture of the Mexican general Santa Anna who was forced to order his remaining troops to return to Mexico. On May 14, 1836, the Treaty of Velasco was signed, ending the revolution and beginning the Republic of Texas.
As the new leaders of Texas began to review the republic's prospects, they understood that the survival of their new country would depend upon increasing its population as quickly as possible. The principle asset for achieving that growth was a vast amount of land: Texas possessed 216,314,560 acres of unappropriated public lands. To further its goals, the government began offering 4,605.5 acres of land to all new families, and 1,476.1 acres to single men over the age of seventeen. This forward-looking policy not only rapidly increased the population, but it began to create wealth and taxable property that allowed the new government to start developing its society and improving the lives of its citizens.
The Republic of Texas lasted for ten years, during which time many Texans hoped Texas would become part of the United States. After years of debate that centered upon whether or not Texas would be admitted as a slave state, the U.S. Congress, by a very close vote — 120 to 98 in the House of Representatives and 27 to 25 in the Senate — allowed Texas to join the Union. On December 29, 1845, the United States formally annexed Texas.
When the resolution that had passed the Congress arrived, it contained conditions for acceptance into the Union. Texas could join the United States and write its own constitution in regard to slavery. In addition, the state would remain liable for the massive debt of the Republic. The federal government would take custody of all public buildings and forts, but the state would retain ownership of its public lands, which were extensive. This offer was acceptable to the Anglo-Americans in Texas as the only way they could continue to be successful and increase business in their slave-based agriculture.
A war with Mexico soon followed, and from 1846 to 1848 the United States fought the Mexicans. When the United States won the war, Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which the boundary between Texas and Mexico was firmly established at the Rio Grande. With three Texas boundaries settled by rivers — the Red, the Sabine and the Rio Grande — only the northwest boundary remained unsettled. Texas had long claimed lands in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. As part of the original state admission settlement, Congress had authorized the purchase of these long-claimed lands, giving Texas its present boundaries.
When Texas was annexed to the United States it was allowed to keep its public lands. In 1850, it ceded 67,000,000 acres to the United States to settle a boundary dispute, which left it with 168,732,160 acres of land, including 149,314,560 acres not owned by anyone that the state had complete freedom to dispose of as it wished.
All along, Texas's advantages of low-priced, abundant land and economic potential meant people wanted to move there. It has been estimated that by 1835, 1,000 people per month were entering Texas by way of the Brazos River. Population estimates in 1836 pegged the total population at 50,000, with 30,000 Anglo-Americans, 5,000 African Americans, 3,470 Mexicans, and an Indian population of 14,000. The population ratio of Anglos to Tejanos was already ten to one. Ten years later when the republic ended and Texas became part of the United States, the population had reached 125,000. The first U.S. census in 1850 showed that Texas had grown to 154,034 whites, 58,161 slaves, and 397 free blacks. By 1900 the census listed Texas as the sixth most populous state in the Union with a total population of 3,048,710.
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Texas had land and people, but what it did not have was sufficient economic resources to properly develop and improve the quality of life for its citizens. Eventually, policies would need to be put in place to help the state discover what resources the land held and what their potential for development might be. As a new state, Texas attracted people who were as anxious as the settlers who had come before them to build a great place. For that greatness to occur there would have to be a system of education so Texans could obtain the knowledge and training needed to develop their abundant resources and take advantage of other economic opportunities being created. The early settlers had been strong-willed men and women who came to a land with little in the way of infrastructure; it needed everything. It was the land that had brought most of them, and they believed that land could endow an education system.
Excerpted from "Higher Education In Texas"
Copyright © 2018 Charles R. Matthews.
Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Texas: Spain, Mexico, Republic, State,
2. Early Attempts at Education: The Leadership of Mirabeau B. Lamar and Others,
Part I: Financing,
3. The Early Years of the University of Texas and the Permanent University Fund,
4. The Fight for Control of University Lands,
5. The Founding of Texas A&M and the Dispute Between the University Board of Regents and the Texas A&M Board of Directors,
Part II: Growth and Expansion,
6. Religious Colleges in Texas,
7. State Normal Schools and Colleges,
8. Community/Junior Colleges,
Part III: Access and Equity,
9. Women and Higher Education,
10. African Americans and Higher Education in Early Texas,
11. Hispanics and Higher Education,
Part IV: Structure,
12. Higher Education Organization and Leadership,
13. Texas Colleges Past and Present,