Happy Texas Independence Day!
Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this because it matters to you.
You see, on March 2, 1836, a small group of Anglo settlers and native Mexicans gathered in a tiny village on the Brazos River to declare their independence from Mexico and its bloodthirsty dictator, Generalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
For the Texians, as we were known then, and Tejanos, this was no mere act of civil disobedience. Their civil rights and civil liberties were being violated and their government was forcibly seizing their goods and wealth, as well as their guns. As John Wayne himself put it, “they now faced the decision that all men in all times must face…the eternal choice of men…to endure oppression or to resist.”
A charismatic leader, Santa Anna rapidly rose to take Mexico’s highest office. He promised to protect the poor from the wealthy and powerful, but instead centralized the government and delivered a tyranny even more terrible.
The Mexican army was the largest and best-trained in the Western Hemisphere. Their orders were clear – slash and burn their way through Coahuila y Tejas, take back the town of San Antonio de Bexar, move north, crush the rebellion and execute its leaders.
The only thing between these simple farmers, lawyers and doctors and the hot lead and slashing bayonets of the “Napoleon of the West” was a crumbling stone church along the main road through Texas.
Around 180 volunteers were huddled inside the Alamo, holding off as many as 5,000 Mexican soldiers as long as possible to buy their fellow patriots some time to declare independence and raise a resistance.
They refused Santa Anna’s offer of mercy to any man who left the fort, which came with a promise to slaughter everyone else, despite not knowing that same offer to rebels at Goliad ended with Santa Anna executing those who accepted his "generosity."
Flying a flag of no quarter, Santa Anna lived up to his word to kill all inside when a pre-dawn assault on March 6 finally breached the walls after 13 days of resistance. Every Texian and Tejano defender was killed, but recapture of the Alamo came at a demoralizing price. Fewer than 200 rebels killed around 600 of the Western Hemisphere’s best soldiers and wounded others.
The stubborn resistance bought the freedom fighters time. The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2. Santa Anna’s crimes against liberty were announced to the world before he could capture the rebellion’s leaders and tighten his dictatorial grip over the rebellious colony.
A small band of colonists, armed only with simple hunting rifles and hastily assembled into a makeshift militia, now fled ahead of the massive military juggernaut rampaging north through Texas, burning towns to the ground in its wake. Many Texians were angry, wondering why the leader of their forces, former Tennessee governor Sam Houston, was retreating from Santa Anna rather than fighting.
But they weren’t exactly retreating. General Houston knew an army of thousands, which had marched over 3,000 miles from central Mexico at breakneck speed was exhausted and had overstretched its supply lines. And they knew the valiant sacrifice at the Alamo deeply wounded the Mexican Army. As they lured Santa Anna further north, they waited for their moment to strike. It was a bold gamble with seemingly slim odds of success, as Santa Anna was better armed, better trained, had an exponentially larger force and would stop at nothing to exterminate the rebellion.
Well, the beautiful thing about liberty is that it eventually gives you an opportunity to win it back.
For the Texians and Tejanos, that moment came on the afternoon of April 21. Santa Anna, a brilliant military strategist, had not only split his weary army, he camped his contingent on a wedge of land hemmed in by thick swamps and the San Jacinto River. The arrogant Santa Anna had overreached. The freedom fighters seized the opportunity, charging down the hill into the much larger Mexican camp.
The attack came as a total surprise. As the rebel militia hurtled towards the camp, some Mexican soldiers returned fire and others feebly attempted to retreat into the only directions not blocked by Texians and Tejanos – the nearly impenetrable swamps and the San Jacinto River.
The short battle was a mind-boggling defeat. The outnumbered militia of farmers, doctors and lawyers killed half the Mexican force of over 1,200, wounded more than 200 and captured over 700 more in less than 20 minutes. They lost only nine of their own.
Among those captured was the bold, cocky, arrogant Generalissimo, the “Napoleon of the West,” the once-inspirational hope who changed Mexico from a constitutional republic into a centralized superstate. Only the rebels didn’t know it. Santa Anna ordered a lowly soldier to hand over his uniform, hoping the rebels wouldn’t know who they captured.
His cowardly disguise would have worked, had his soldiers not seen him being led back to the camp and started chanting his name. Disgraced and humbled, he agreed to a simple trade. Give them Texas, and they would give him his life. Unlike Santa Anna, the Texians and Tejanos actually kept their promise of mercy.
And therein lies the lesson of Texas Independence Day. Liberty can be violated, infringed and outlawed, but the transformational leaders behind it eventually overreach. Their arrogance, pride and hope to change a nation in their image lead them too far. That’s when liberty presents the opportunity for once-inconceivable victory those bold enough to declare their independence and win it back.
God bless Texas,
Director of Communications
Libertarian National Committee
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