Primary Source Adventures
Lorenzo de Zavala: Empresario, Statesman, and Texas Revolutionary
This PSA allows learners to utilize and examine personal correspondence of key figures in the battle for Texan independence. Lorenzo de Zavala’s experience and knowledge garnered the respect of Anglo leaders. These letters and declarations allow the learner to observe the personal biases and beliefs of an important individual in Texas history.
This lesson utilizes Zavala’s private correspondence, Texas Republic documents, and images to examine Zavala’s influence among Texans during the fight for independence. Additionally, it explores some of the personal history between Zavala and Santa Anna which will allow the learner to examine this historic time as its participants saw it.
Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures.
Lorenzo de Zavala Online: Empresario, Statesman and Texas Revolutionary
by Vale Fitzpatrick
Lorenzo de Zavala was an experienced, skilled Mexican politician, and ardent supporter of republican ideals. He spent the bulk of his career striving to create a republican government in Mexico and was one of Mexico’s most active political leaders. He served as the representative for Yucatán as a deputy in the First and Second Mexican Constituent Congresses of 1822 and 1824, in the Mexican Senate from 1824 to 1826, and served as governor of the State of Mexico periodically from 1827-1833. After the establishment of Santa Anna’s military dictatorship, he traveled to Texas and joined the independence movement becoming Texas’s first vice-president.
After his political contributions, Zavala was best known as an author. He wrote a two volume history of Mexico (Ensayo Histórico de las Revoluviones de México desde 1808 hasta 1830), and his book on the United States (Viage á los Estados-Unidos del Norte de América) which described the social, economic and political events he observed during his 1830-31 visit.
Zavala was twice imprisoned for his political beliefs, the first time in 1814-1817, at the notorious island prison of San Juan de Ulua, the second instance was after the overthrow of the government in 1829, when he was temporarily forced into exile. He was a man committed to his politics and prepared to suffer or fight for them.
Zavala first entered office on 30 March 1822 and was assigned to the powerful committees on colonization and finance. By 25 September 1822, Zavala denounced the Mexican Congress. He called it paralyzed by feuds and jealousies; by giving executive power to the regency without the consent of the people congressmen betrayed their oaths to the people. Zavala quickly became an ardent supporter of republican ideals. From this point until his exile he was one of Mexico’s most active republican leaders. His critics in the government denounced him as a “radical republican” and head of the liberal “Jacobian” party. He answered his critics in a pamphlet calling for a congress with powers resembling that of the United States. Mexico divided into political camps: the Federalists, supporters of a republican form of government, and the Centralists, who supported a strong central government patterned after old Spanish monarchy. These factions engaged in a vicious and often violent struggle for control of Mexico.
During the years from 1827-1829 Zavala served periodically as governor of the state of Mexico. Federalist and Centralist struggle for control over state and national government intensified during this period. In April 1829 Zavala was appointed to the cabinet of President Vicente Guerrero, unusually the state legislature allowed him to maintain his governorship. Zavala was charged with the difficult task of stabilizing and restoring the finances of the country. When he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury the country was bankrupt and neither the army nor civil servants had been paid for a significant amount of time. Zavala proposed drastic cuts in spending and new taxes to produce income. Invoking emergency powers he limited government creditors to only one third the amount of specie from the custom houses, the remainder he earmarked to cover the most pressing debts. To generate further income he proposed a variety of new fees and licenses along with the abandonment of national responsibility for state debt. These reforms were very unpopular and Zavala’s enemies quickly blamed him for all Mexico’s fiscal problems. Zavala resigned his position when the cabinet refused to support his policies; his enemies ensured he was unable to resume his position as governor. In need of money, Zavala applied for and received an Empresario contract to settle 500 families in South Texas. A Centralist revolution occurred and the Federalists lost control over the government in 1830. They would not reclaim it until 1833 when Santa Anna entered Mexico City as President. In Mexico Zavala stated “we are condemned to a series of bloody revolutions.” His friend Santa Anna became an enemy when an editorial article appeared which condemned the “Victor of Tampico.” Zavala claimed not to have written the letter but Santa Anna was convinced he had.1
Zavala again served as Governor of the State of Mexico from December 1832 until October 1833, before returning to the Congress as a deputy for his native state of Yucatán. President Santa Anna, on October 1833 named Zavala as first minister plenipotentiary to the Mexican delegation in Paris. He reported to his post in the spring of 1834. Zavala was charged with securing Spanish recognition of Mexican independence. Events soon ended Zavala’s efforts. When Santa Anna claimed dictatorial powers stating that the vice president and the “hoodlum” Congress were tyrannizing people. Santa Anna appointed a new Centralist Congress and cabinet.2
When Zavala learned that Santa Anna had assumed the dictatorship over Mexico he denounced his “old friend” and resigned from his diplomatic post. Zavala traveled to New York and then to Texas, where he arrived in July 1835, contrary to Santa Anna’s orders for him to return to Mexico City. Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos was ordered to arrest Zavala and other leading “troublemakers.” Cos moved into San Antonio with five hundred men. Texans refused to turn over any “troublemakers.” Austin called the situation “hopeless.” “WAR is our only recourse.”3 The situation escalated into open warfare.
Although Zavala had never been to Texas before 1835, he owned large tracts of undeveloped land, thus his move had both economic and political reasons. Zavala and his Federalist allies initially wanted to use Anglo Texans to restore the Constitution of 1824, and force Santa Anna from power.4 Zavala soon realized that a national Mexican revolt against Santa Anna was impossible, and threw his support behind Texas independence.
The fledgling government quickly drew on his political skills. Zavala served in the permanent Council and later he served as the representative of Harrisburg in the Consultation and the Convention of 1836. When the convention met at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Zavala was among the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence on 17 March 1836, an act which branded him a traitor to Mexicans to this day. He was unanimously elected Vice President of the ad interim government. After the Texan victory at San Jacinto and in accordance with the provisions of the Treaties of Velasco, Zavala was appointed, on 27 May 1836 as one of the peace commissioners to accompany Santa Anna to Mexico City, where Santa Anna was to persuade Mexican authorities to recognize Texan independence. This plan failed due to the actions of newly arrived militia units. Shortly afterward Zavala returned home citing poor health and resigned from affairs of state. He relinquished the vice presidency on 17 October 1836. A month later, after a boating accident, he developed pneumonia and died on 15 November 1836.
1Margaret Sweet Henson, Lorenzo de Zavala. (Texas, Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996), 38.
3Randolph B. Campbell, Gone To Texas: A History of The Star State. (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 130.