The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000 Page: 514
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Austin proved to be an adept manager, politician, and diplomat. He was suc-
cessful in defending settler interests from various threats, such as hostile
nomadic Indians who had been dispossessed from their lands, the actions of
other land speculators, and the competing claims of older Tejano communities.
Austin skillfully advanced the interests of the settlers with the new national gov-
ernment of Mexico and the administration of the newly formed state of
Coahuila y Tejas. Ironically, his very success contributed to instability. Land spec-
ulation became rampant and numerous legal and illegal American immigrants
entered Texas. By the end of the decade Anglos vastly outnumbered Tejanos.
Mexico proved unable to control either immigration or the settlers. Although
immigrants were required by law to become Catholic, few did, and although
immigration laws forbade the introduction of slaves, many settlers brought slaves
with them. The government of Mexico belatedly attempted to regain control of
the region. In September 1829, President Vicente Guerrero decreed the eman-
cipation of the slaves. The following year, the national government restricted
immigration to the border states, an act that profoundly affected Texas. Despite
Austin's efforts to reduce tensions between the Anglo settlers and the govern-
ment in Mexico City, the situation deteriorated. Finally, internal conflicts within
Mexico provided Anglo Texans, or Texians, the opportunity to separate from
Mexico. The 1832 and 1834 centralist-federalist civil wars provided the excuse.
In the end, Austin, despite his repeated claims of loyalty to Mexico, opted for
war and independence. Despite his many contributions to Texas, he lost the
1836 election for president of the Republic of Texas. He died shortly thereafter.
Cantrell's elegant biography provides a sensitive portrait of a complex man
whose "object has been the general good, and the permanent liberty and pros-
perity of Texas." But the author is forced to admit: "Ultimately there would be
no place in Austin's Texas for the Indians whom the Anglo settlers displaced
from the land .... Austin's Tejano friends and their descendants eventually
found themselves pushed to the margins of the society that he helped create.
Slavery, which Austin described as 'that curse of curses' but which he did so
much to perpetuate in Texas, brought sorrow to untold thousands of black
Texans and a devastating Civil War to Austin's native country" (p. 379).
Despite its excellence, an anti-Mexican bias and inadequate understanding of
Mexico's laws, institutions, and political processes mar Cantrell's biography. For
example, the author fails to realize that the Mexican Constitution of 1824 was
not at all modeled on the U.S. Constitution of 1787; on the contrary, it estab-
lished a weak confederation that concentrated power in the states. Similarly, in
discussing Mexican opposition to slavery Cantrell asserts that Mexicans did not
need slaves because they exploited their workers. Austin's bigotry toward
Catholics and Catholicism expressed in his correspondence, an attitude he
shared with many in the United States, particularly in the South, is interpreted
as a reaction to Mexican Catholic fanaticism or obscurantism. When making this
assertion Cantrell ignores the fact that some of Mexico's leading intellectuals
and statesmen were priests, enlightened men who possessed doctorates and
other advanced degrees. They were better educated and more enlightened than
Austin, whom Cantrell portrays as a paragon of enlightenment; he attended a
preparatory school in Connecticut and spent a year and a half at Kentucky's
Transylvania University, leaving that institution at the age of sixteen.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000, periodical, 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/m1/570/: accessed June 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.