Throughout history, people who have been abused by oppressive dictators have stood up and risked their lives in the name of freedom and independence. Freedom fighters are the most powerful catalysts for change, and their potential to alter history is unlimited. This country knows the power of revolution better than any other. On July 4, 1776, after fighting for independence from Britain, the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. But there is yet another independence day that is not to be forgotten. For Texans, July 4th is not the only day to celebrate independence. This Saturday, March 2nd, we will celebrate the 176th anniversary of Texas’ Independence.
Texas (once a part of Mexico) had enjoyed the privileges of citizens under the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Trouble started when Santa Anna became dictator of Mexico, abolished the Constitution and took away civil rights. This led to the outbreak of revolution in October of 1835, both from Tejanos (Texans of Spanish and Mexican descent) and from the people from the United States. Santa Anna with his three armies invaded Texas to put down the rebellion. In response, on March 1st, 54 Texians (including Lorenzo de Zavala, Thomas Rusk, Antonio Navarro and Sam Houston) gathered in the small village of Washington-on-the-Brazos. Inspired by the American Revolution and the United States’ Declaration of Independence, the delegates drafted their own Declaration of Independence overnight. Then on March 2nd, Sam Houston's birthday, the Declaration was signed and the Republic of Texas was officially established.
As these determined delegates declared independence, Dictator Santa Anna and several thousand enemy troops closed in on an old beat-up Spanish mission that we now call the Alamo. Outnumbered, Texas’ defenders stood defiant stood determined. They were led by my hero, a lawyer by the name of William Barrett Travis who was just 27 years old. The Alamo and its 186 Texans were all that stood between the massive army of invaders and the people of Texas. Texas’ defenders who entered the Alamo on February 23, were a rag-tag group of relentless patriots, made up from nearly every state in the Union and from 13 foreign countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Mexico. Their ages were 16 through 67, and they were all volunteers. They were mavericks, revolutionaries, farmers, shopkeepers, and freedom fighters; they came together to fight for something they believed in: freedom.
These 186 freedom fighters held off an entire army of several thousand for 13 days. They would not relent. During the bloody siege, Travis penned what would become the most famous letter in Texas history. He said: “I am determined to sustain myself for as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country. Victory or death.” Unfortunately, Travis’ call for help was not answered in time.
After 13 days of glory at the Alamo, Commander Travis and his men sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom. The Alamo fell on March 6, 1836. Because heroes like Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie held out for so long, Santa Anna’s forces took such great losses that they became battered, demoralized and diminished. Captain Juan Seguin and his company of Tejanos joined General Sam Houston, who now had the time he needed to devise a strategy to rally other Texas volunteers and defeat the invaders.
In the middle of the afternoon on April 21, 1836, General Sam and his boys routed a larger Mexican army yelling, “Remember the Alamo!” And the rest is Texas history.
The war was over, and the Lone Star flag was visible all across the broad, bold, brazen plains of Texas. Texas remained a nation for 9 years (I often hear that many Texans still wish Texas was its own nation). Texas claimed land that now includes part of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, even up to the Canadian border. In 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union as a state by only one vote when a Louisiana Senator changed his mind.
Texas Independence Day is a day of pride and reflection in the Lone Star State. I think every Texan (and American) should be required to learn the rich history of our great state. Maybe then the outsiders would understand what makes Texans so proud. We show pride in all different ways, for instance it is no coincidence that my oldest grandson is named Barrett Houston. This week especially we remember that Texas was a glorious, independent nation once and that it won its freedom and independence because some fierce volunteers fought to the death for liberty over tyranny. Freedom has a cost. It always does. It always will. And as we pause to remember those who gave their lives so that Texas could be a free nation, we must continue to remember those Americans (and the Texans) that are currently fighting in lands across the seas for our nation. There are freedom fighters all over the world today that are fighting the same fight against tyrants. It is history like ours that gives them hope for success. So this weekend, celebrate Texas Independence Day and pay tribute to all our Texas heroes, like William Barrett Travis and the soldier from the neighborhood who is fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Travis’ legacy embodies the spirit of Texans that is so admired and envied all around the world today. God Bless Texas. And that’s just the way it is.