From the Archives: Déjà vu All Over Again: Closing the Border
Concerns that immigrants flooding across the border threaten the nation’s basic institutions. Construction of armed posts to defend the border. Passage of new, more restrictive immigration laws. Sound familiar? Welcome to Mexico in 1830.
The story began when Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. At first the newly independent country welcomed settlers from the United States. The government signed contracts with immigration brokers, called empresarios, who agreed to settle a set number of immigrants on a set piece of property in a set amount of time. In exchange for the right to buy land, settlers agreed to obey Mexican law, become Mexican citizens, and convert to Catholicism. At the same time, the US Congress passed a new land act that made emigration to Mexico even more appealing. Public land in the US cost $1.25/acre*, for a minimum of eighty acres and could no longer be bought on credit. Public land in Mexico cost 12 1/2¢/acre and credit terms were generous. For many of the westward bound it was a no-brainer.
Some empresarios brought in groups of settlers from France or Germany. More, including Stephen Austin,** brought in settlers from the southern United States. Most new colonists settled in new communities east of modern San Antonia. By the mid-1830s, Anglo settlers outnumbered native Tejanos by as much as 10 to 1 some parts of Texas. These settlers brought the culture of the American South with them, including slaves and slavery.*** Worse, from an economic point of view, many Anglo settlers traded (illegally) with Louisiana rather than with Mexico.
Concerned about the growing American economic and cultural influence in the Texas region, the Mexican government passed a law banning immigration into Texas from the United States on April 6, 1830. They also assessed heavy customs duties on all US goods, prohibited the importation of slaves, built new forts in the border region and opened customs houses to patrol the border for illegal trade.
The law didn’t have the intended affect. Instead of re-gaining control over Texas, Anglo colonists and the Mexican government were in constant conflict. The law was repealed in 1833, too late to staunch the wound. The first shots in what would become the Texas War of Independence were fired on October 2, 1835.
*$31.44 in today’s currency. Still a bargain.
** Hence Austin, Texas. (I don’t know about you, but I’m always curious as to how a town got its name.)
***Outlawed in Mexico is 1829–so much for obeying the laws.
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