A Brief History of the Republic of Texas

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There are many interesting stories behind the origins of all 50 United States. Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, among other states, were part of the 13 colonies established by British colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries. Florida was purchased from Spain in 1819, and Alaska from Russia in 1867. There are also a select few states that were once independent nations — for example, Texas. For just over a decade in the mid-1800s, the Lone Star State was a sovereign state. Here’s a brief history into what was once considered the Republic of Texas.

Early Colonization

Matagorda Bay in Texas at sunset
Credit: Damon Rushing/ Shutterstock

Archaeological evidence, such as the discovery of the Leanderthal Lady at Cedar Park’s Wilson-Leonard Brushy Creek Site, suggests that humans inhabited Texas beginning at least 10,000 years ago — and possibly as early as 16,000 years ago. Spanish colonists arrived much, much later, in the 16th century, but left the territory largely ignored. This changed when the French accidentally landed at Matagorda Bay in the 1680s. Unhappy with the threat of another country moving into the area, the Spanish destroyed France’s settlement and made efforts to colonize the region. Spanish control ended in 1821 with the culmination of the Mexican War of Independence. But Texas didn’t stay under Mexico’s command for very long.

During the 1820s, Mexican officials encouraged the migration of Anglo-Americans into the newly formed state of Coahuila y Tejas. Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” was given permission to begin a colony there. The state’s population exploded, and the new immigrants (known as "Texians") soon outnumbered earlier settlers from Mexico (known as "Tejanos"). This alarmed Mexican authorities, as they feared revolts and felt that the United States would attempt to annex the state. Their response was to prevent further population growth by prohibiting immigration in 1830.

The Texas Revolution

The front exterior of The Alamo in San Antonio with a Texas flag in front
Credit: Sean Pavone/ iStock

Mounting tension reached a boiling point in 1834, when General Antonio López de Santa Anna assumed the role of Mexico’s president. By 1835, Santa Anna had proclaimed himself dictator, repealed the Mexican Constitution, and begun a ruthless suppression of the nation. In October of that year, he sent Mexican forces to Gonzales to reclaim a cannon that had been gifted to the city’s residents. The Texians responded by arming themselves and hoisting a homemade flag emblazoned with the words “Come and take it.” A skirmish broke out, and the Battle of Gonzales became the catalyst for the Texas Revolution.

A quick succession of events followed. The Texians created a provisional government in late 1835 and appointed Sam Houston as major general of their army. Determined to exact revenge, Santa Anna assembled a powerful military contingent. Subsequently, the Texians suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of the Alamo, which saw the deaths of Jim Bowie, William B. Travis, and folk hero Davy Crockett. It was during this 13-day siege that the Texas Declaration of Independence was drafted in Washington-on-the-Brazos. This was the birth of the Republic of Texas.

Despite this declaration, the Texians were still on the run. Santa Anna continued to advance, and more Texian soldiers died at the Goliad massacre. Many abandoned the cause in favor of fleeing eastward with their families as part of the Runaway Scrape. Sam Houston and his troops eventually set up camp along Buffalo Bayou, close to present-day Houston. From there, Houston and his army launched a surprise attack on Santa Anna, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” as they did so. The Battle of San Jacinto lasted less than 20 minutes, and hundreds of Mexican soldiers perished or were taken hostage. Santa Anna became one of the hostages and was forced to sign an order to withdraw his men.

An Independent Nation

Highway sign that says "Welcome to Texas"
Credit: miroslav_1/ iStock

The newly independent Republic of Texas now had to elect congresspeople and establish constitutional law. War hero Sam Houston won the election to become the republic’s first official president. During his first year in office, the capital moved from Washington-on-the-Brazos to Harrisburg, and then to Galveston, Velasco, and Columbia. Houston eventually moved the capital to Houston in 1837; however, Maribeau B. Lamar moved it again to Austin in 1839. Internal politics were forever a contentious subject. Houston was in favor of an annexation with the U.S. and harmony with the local indigenous peoples. On the opposing side, Lamar’s nationalist supporters strove for continued independence and banishment of Native Americans. While disputes with Mexico and the U.S. were mostly avoided, there was a series of battles with the Comanche people in the 1840s.

A new nation also needed a new flag to showcase its identity. The Burnet Flag, which featured a gold star on a blue field, was used from 1836 to 1839. Then came the Lone Star flag, which gave rise to Texas’ “Lone Star State” nickname. The flag’s single or lone star represents all of Texas and stands for unity as one for God, state, and country.

Annexation to the United States

The American flag on a poll waving in the wind with the Texas flag behind it
Credit: vcapture/ Unsplash

Becoming part of the United States was high on the agenda from day one for many Texans. In fact, an application was drafted in 1836 but was rejected due to the republic’s favoritism toward slavery. U.S. President Martin Van Buren also had concerns about upsetting the Mexican government, which never officially recognized Texas’ independence.

Annexation remained at an impasse until John Tyler took office in 1841. Tyler made Texas his priority and reopened negotiations with Congress in 1844. His first attempt failed, but he then teamed up with pro-annexation presidential candidate James K. Polk, who was conveniently an old friend of Sam Houston. Tyler’s resolution was accepted in 1845 and Texas was declared the 28th state on December 29.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though. The annexation angered Mexico and became a major factor in the Mexican-American War. The United States ultimately gained control of large expanses of Mexican territory, which today consists of the American Southwest and the state of California, through the Treaty of Guadalupe. People living in these areas had the option of either relocating to Mexico or obtaining U.S. citizenship.

Republic of Texas Today

Front exterior view of Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site
Credit: Christian Hinkle/ Shutterstock

Although it ended more than 170 years ago, the Republic of Texas lives on in the memory of the state. The Lone Star flag flies outside legislative buildings and Texan homes, and there are dozens of historical sights and museums — such as Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, The Alamo, Gonzales Memorial Museum, and San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site — that highlight the events of this pivotal era in both Texas and United States history.

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