Red River Scrapbook Special: Independence
By Edward Southerland
Mar 3, 2017
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They were men in a hurry. With a Mexican army besieging the Alamo on the outskirts of San Antonio, haste was at the fore in the minds of the men who gathered at the Town of Washington.

On March 1, along with the delegates arriving for the convention, a norther swirled in, bringing quickly falling temperatures. There were no windows or doors in the unfinished building that served as a meeting hall, and cloth was tacked up over the openings to try and hold out the freezing wind. Convention President Richard Ellis wasted no time in appointing a five-man committee to draw up a Declaration of Independence for the convention’s consideration.

George C. Childress, James Gaines, Edward Conrad, Collin McKinney, and Bailey Hardeman accepted the duty, but most historians agree that the document as written was primarily the work of Childress. He was a Tennessee-born lawyer who had first come to Texas in December 1834, to join his uncle, Sterling Robertson, who was organizing a colony.

When war became imminent, Childress had gone back to Tennessee to raise money and volunteers. He was back on the Red River on December 13, and on the road to his uncle’s home when he marked his 34th birthday on January 8.

In February, the citizens of Milam chose Childress and Robertson to represent them at the coming convention in Washington. Childress was ready for the duty, and he called the assembly to order that March 1 before turning the gavel over to Richard Ellis. Childress then introduced the resolution calling for a committee to draft a declaration.

He probably brought a preliminary draft with him, and it needed only minor changes in the wording to satisfy the other members of the committee. The debt to Thomas Jefferson, the author of the United States Declaration of Independence, was obvious.

The document followed Jefferson’s model in form and in the enumeration of the grievances of the Texians. But where Jefferson had made King George III the embodiment of British injustices, Childress singled out General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and held the Mexican nation to account for having “... acquiesced in the late changes made in the government...”

Santa Anna had become a national hero during the Mexican war of independence from Spain. He entered politics directly in 1831, lending his support to a coup that ousted and then murdered President Vicente Guerrero. Two years later, the soldier was elected president of the republic.

His vice-president, Valentín Gómez Farís, was a reformer, and when Faris ran afoul of the powers that ran the country—the military, the big landowners, and the church—Santa Anna removed him from office. The president then declared the country not ready for democracy, suspended the Constitution of 1824, disbanded the legislature and brought the machinery of government under his personal control.

Armed opposition arose in a number of Mexican states besides Coahuila y Tejas. Four times since his election, Santa Anna had gathered the army and marched off to put down rebellion in the country. On May 12, 1835, he crushed the uprising in Zacatecas and sacked the city. Now he had turned his soldiers north to deal with the Anglo-American colonists and Tejanos in Texas.

The self-styled “Napoleon of the West” was with his army in San Antonio when the committee in Washington presented George Childress’ six-page document to the convention on March 2. In quick order it was approved by all present, and the next day, 59 delegates affixed their names to five hand-written copies of the declaration, and proclaimed the Republic of Texas.

The vote taken on March 2 surprised no one; the delegates had already decided on independence before they got to Washington. It was a decision more circumspect men might have considered rash, and in the immediate aftermath of the declaration those faint of heart would have felt justified in that opinion.

The Alamo fell on March 6, and even as Gen. Santa Anna planned his next conquest, a Mexican division under General Urrea was moving north in search of more Texian revolutionaries. Urrea found Colonel James W. Fannin’s command at Coleto Creek and forced their surrender on March 20. On March 27, on the expressed orders of Gen. Santa Anna, the Mexicans executed Fannin’s soldiers along with others captured along the way, 342 men in all.

With the bold words of March 2 looking more and more hollow each day, Sam Houston put his ginned-up little army on the road, retreating before the Mexicans to buy time. It was called “the runaway scrape.”

The army was near to mutiny until Houston directed them south in mid April and they turned back toward their pursuers. On April 21, with the fife and drum sounding an old Irish folk song, “Will You Come to the Bower,” the Texians destroyed Santa Anna’s column on the plain of San Jacinto and ratified with blood, powder, and more than a little providence the actions taken on March 2.

Take a moment today to reflect upon what today’s Texans owe to those Texians of 1836.