“Such Strange and Incoherent Elements”: Early Mexican Immigration Policy and the Challenge of National Consolidation in the Borderlands, 1824–33

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:10 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sarah Rodriguez, University of Arkansas
In 1820 the Spanish Empire overturned its prohibition on foreign immigration. Several years later, the newly independent Mexican government would adopt the National Colonization Law which promised to “protect the liberty, property, and civil rights” of all foreigners willing to swear allegiance to Mexico and accept the Roman Catholic faith. By 1836, nearly 30,000 Anglo Americans had settled in the northern Mexican Province of Téjas y Coahuila. Scholars have long assumed these settlers to be the forbears of manifest Destiny and Mexico’s policy as the first stage of the United States’ ultimate – and perhaps even inevitable – acquisition of northern Mexico. But this interpretation assumes both that Mexico was less appealing to early Americans, and that Mexican leaders were naïve and shortsighted. This paper argues instead that American immigrants who settled in northern Mexico in the 1820’s and 1830’s perceived Mexico as a viable and attractive alternative to the United States, were sincerely invested in the Mexican nation-building project, and shared more in common with their northern Mexican neighbors than with their former compatriots in the northeastern United States. It also carefully considers Mexican leaders’ reasons for initiating the policy and their complicated reactions to the flood of both legal and illegal American immigrants crossing their nation’s borders. In so doing, this study carries important implications for how we understand early American nationalism, Mexican power, and the causes and events that led to Texas independence and the US-Mexico War.
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