Comment Of The Day: The Alamo, March 2, 1836

Michael West has been counting down the days of the Alamo Siege for us, which is generally regarded as beginning on February 3, 1836, and ending on March 6. That makes March 2, yesterday, the 9th day of the iconic historical event. (As Michael reminded us in an earlier post, 1836 was a Leap Year, so there’s an extra day in there.)

Reflecting on The Alamo is always appropriate, but perhaps more this year than usual. The siege of Ukraine has more than a little in common with the desperate stand of the Texans against another ruthless dictator, and the values at stake are the same. Travis, Bowie, Crockett, Dickinson, Bonham and the rest decided to stay and fight for what they believed in and also for those seeking to establish their independence, though they were outnumbered and surrounded. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, resembles the Texas patriots in his determination to stay with his nation’s endangered citizens, because he knows his courage, sacrifice, and likely martyrdom, will be crucial in preserving his nation in the long run.

In many ways Zelenskyy resembles Davey Crockett, a celebrity known for his humor who found himself first thrust into politics and later in deadly fight that required him to rise to new heights of character.

My favorite Alamo history is “Three Roads to the Alamo” by William C. Davis, who makes the case that the mission’s story is a microcosm of the American saga. Each of the three major players in the drama, Travis, Jim Bowie and Crockett, embody an archetype of how the nation came to be. Crockett was the restless pioneer who ventured first into unsettled lands. Bowie, apart from being the bona fide frontier fighter that the public believed Crockett to be, was the land speculator, part of a group that brought business, finance, and corruption to the West. Finally, Travis was the law-maker and politician, who promised to build a civilized structure where families could thrive.

Indeed the Alamo and its participants would support a whole course that would teach young Americans about history, politics, war, human nature, ethics, economics, law and more. Teaching its many complexities and lessons would definitely be more enlightening and productive than focusing on slavery as the defining feature of U.S. culture.

Here’s Michael’s Comment of the Day on Day 9 of the Alamo story...

***

Today, the Texan government declared independence. The Alamo defenders would never have known this, and many were not too enthusiastic to become part of a larger independence movement (though I imagine attitudes were changing). The Texas Revolution cannot be understood outside of a Mexican Civil War – which in turn cannot be understood independently of the break up the Spanish Empire. Facing the instability borne of distance and liberty in the New World, much like the English colonies that would soon become the United States, Mexico had been ready for a split. The Napoleonic invasion of Spain and deposition of the Spanish King was the opening Mexico (and alot of Spanish colonies) needed.

In 1811, Paraguay gained independence; in 1816, Argentina; in 1818, Chile; in 1819, Colombia; in 1821, Santo Domingo and Mexico; 1822, Ecuador; 1823, Central America; 1824, Peru; 1825, Bolivia; 1828, Uruguay; and 1830, Venezuela.

Many of these were bloody affairs led by wild radicals. Mexico established a Constitution in 1824 and appealed to colonists from the United States to settle it as Mexican citizens. This arrangement lasted until 1835 when Centralists repealed the Constitution and Mexico descended into a brief civil war between those who wanted a Federal Government and those who wanted a Centralist Government. Most in Texas fell on the side of the Federalists along with some other Mexican frontier states.

On a side note, a lot of history-haters will claim that the Texans rebelled to keep their slaves because the Mexican’s abolished slavery. Only the Mexicans abolished slavery in 1829 and most Anglo Settlers arrived with that knowledge. But the Mexican authorities, wanting settlers before their principles, found creative ways to redefine slaves. And there was scant little evidence that Santa Anna’s usurpation would suddenly end that practice. No, the Texans rebelled with the other Federalists because coming from the tradition of the American constitution, they had agreed to the social contract established in 1824.

But, let’s be clear, in any revolution there are a lot of interested parties – in Texas there were Centralists in support of Santa Anna, Federalists in support of the Constitution of 1824, others who didn’t want independence but didn’t want 1824 but didn’t like Santa Anna’s method of reform, there were Texans who wanted Independence and there there were Texans who “wanted Independence” but really wanted annexation by the United States.

For the Texans in the Alamo, a large amount were fighting for the Constitution of 1824 even while aggressive types like Travis were for Independence.

Anyway, on the 2nd of March, for Texans in the Alamo, days were growing long and mundane and men used to freedom of maneuver and hit and run tactics would have been getting a kind of cabin fever combined with clearly growing paranoia about a coming fight and the increasingly apparent lack of reinforcement. Closer groups of those answering the call would have arrived pitifully weak to do much for the Alamo and began lingering with the growing crowd in Gonzales.

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: The Alamo, March 2, 1836

  1. Thanks for laying out the threads that unravel a slice of continental history, Michael. This is how “history” should be presented in the first place … from the largest field down (I guess that would be the European theatre revolving around Napoleon at the time), then the spate of independence movements below the U.S. border – I had forgotten these all took place within the “lifetimes” of most of our continent — barring Canada, already going about its national business calmly, ay!, the War of 1812, aka the One Nobody Won, having resulted in a treaty no one paid attention to but shut up about anyway. The best thing about this sort of history is that there is a clear outline there that anyone can follow in any direction, including focusing tensely down on that small place, waiting with the defenders of The Alamo for the attack of the vast Mexican army and desperate for what little help was available. The diverse politics explain a lot. This is how history should be learned, mixed with literature of the period, and others concentrating on different “reports” that made sense of the other threads to weave together a tapestry of tragedy and heroism. And thank you, Jack, for making the space for Michael’s fascinating expertise.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I had never really considered the larger context of the Texas Revolution until about 2 or 3 years ago and it immediately made it more human and understandable. It does tangentially fall into the larger narrative of “who will have influence over the North American heartland” (which boiled down to a Mexican – American competition of which the United States had a clear upper hand). But in light of a Mexican Civil War which was fall out from the collapse of the Spanish Empire, it’s pretty clear that the United States didn’t have active designs on Texas (as some history haters would insist) even though the developments in Texas pretty clearly benefited the US moves to surround the North American Heartland.

      • Someone should write a book about the larger geopolitical context of the years between 1803 and 1836 and how rapidly America’s fortunes changed for the long term future because of decisions and events in Europe.

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