Monday, August 22, 2022

the last book I ever read (Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, excerpt one)

from Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford:

From the beginning, the prospect of American settlements in Texas was entirely dependent on slavery. It was no secret. Everyone knew it. Austin would say it over and over and over: The only reason Americans would come to Texas was to farm cotton, and they would not do that without slaves. They really didn’t know any other way.

Slavery hadn’t been an issue under Spanish law, which allowed it. Wealthy Tejanos like the SeguĂ­ns owned slaves themselves. But slavery would be a problem in the new country of Mexico. As backward as many Americans liked to portray it, the new Mexican government was dedicated to liberal ideals. Equal rights for all races had been the revolution’s rallying cry; in a land where 60 percent of the population was of mixed race, this was a powerful message. A new wave of liberal legislators, many committed to liberty and equality for all, thought slavery an abomination. There were only eight thousand slaves left in Mexico anyway? Who really cared if they were set free?

Stephen F. Austin, that’s who. Not that you’d know it from most history books. The best biography of Austin devotes fifteen pages to the year he spent lobbying in Mexico City, but of his efforts attempting to make sure his people could keep their slaves, there is but a single sentence. Austin was not some pro-slavery zealot. He belonged to a long line of Southern intellectuals going back to Thomas Jefferson who understood slavery was morally repugnant but who nevertheless owned slaves because it was the best way to make money. In other words, Stephen F. Austin was a sellout, a not-uncommon kind in his day.

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