This Week in Texas History: A column
by BARTEE HAILE
In an emotional letter to a friend on Jul. 2, 1832, the most respected Mexican of his generation hinted strongly at taking a life — his own.
“Immortality! God! The soul! What does all this mean?” Don Manuel de Mier y Teran asked in obvious pain. The presidency of Mexico was within his reach, but the tortured general wanted to end it all.
Gen. Mier y Teran stood head and shoulders above his corrupt contemporaries. Respected by the majority of his countrymen as the only honest leader in their troubled land, he was also the one Mexican official Texas colonists felt they could trust.
From 1811, when the 22 year old mineralogist fought heroically for independence from Spain, until the tragic events of 1832, Mier y Teran consistently rose above the petty politics and chronic treachery of the Mexican Revolution. But the man-eating whirlpool of intrigue and his own private demons would not leave him alone.
In an attempt to break the addictive cycle of violence, Mexicans tried picking a new president in 1828 with ballots instead of bullets. But old habits died hard, and the loser, Vincente Guerrero, took up arms against the winner, Gomez Pedrazo, in a futile attempt to reverse the results. Pedrazo, however, forgot to watch his back and within the year was overthrown by his vice-president, Anastasio Bustamante.
Sick and tired of the bloody bickering, Mier y Teran refused to take sides in the senseless squabble. Despite his neutrality, Bustamante appointed him commandant general of four northern provinces simply because he was the best man for the job.
Heeding his presidential instructions, Mier y Teran took a grand tour of Texas. His detailed report confirmed fears in Mexico City that the sparsely populated province was being overrun by Anglo-Americans.
To turn this alarming tide, Mier y Teran recommended the massive infusion of Mexican nationals at government expense. Ignoring this practical solution, Bustamante opted for the cheaper alternative of completely curtailing immigration from the United States with the Law of Apr. 6, 1830.
Mier y Teran worked tirelessly behind the scenes to frustrate enforcement of the short-sighted decree, and his success won the admiration of grateful Texans. “If Genl Teran issues any orders, obey them,” Stephen F. Austin told his secretary. “He is our mainstay. You may rely upon it, and he is worthy of our confidence and support.”
Meanwhile, more and more Mexicans were looking to Mier y Teran to rescue them from a revolution gone mad. But the unassuming scholar rejected the role of savior. “I am not a politician and I care naught for a political career which brings one nothing but cares and enmities. My profession is that of a soldier, and my pleasures are in the sciences.”
After a brief calm, another storm swept across weary Mexico and diverted Mier y Teran’s attention from Texas. By January 1832, the resilient Santa Anna was again center-stage at the head of a fresh revolt.
Motivated by a desire for stability rather than concern for Bustamante, Mier y Teran marched in April from his headquarters at Matamoros to put down an insurrection at Tampico. Intent on avoiding bloodshed, he put off attacking in order to negotiate, but the peace talks netted nothing and his compassion cost him the opening battle of the siege.
President Bustamante’s frightened cabinet resigned on May 20 making his fall from power inevitable. Once more speculation over his likely successor focused on Mier y Teran as a secret poll of state legislatures indicated he was the clear favorite.
Mier y Teran managed to crush the Tampico rebels in early June but gained no satisfaction from the victory. Prone to prolonged periods of depression, pessimism over the future of Mexico plunged him into the depths of despair.
Bad tidings from Texas two weeks later seemed to push the melancholy general over the edge. A reckless subordinate had provoked the colonists into a confrontation at Anahuac, an incident which could serve as a convenient excuse for purging the province of Anglo settlers.
Concluding his Jul. 2 letter, Mier y Teran wrote, “The spirit is uncomfortable. It commands me to set it free. Here is the end of human glory and the termination of ambition.”
The next day he put on his special dress uniform covered with the decorations of a distinguished military career, buckled on his ceremonial sword and strolled around the plaza.
Encountering a corporal, he asked, “If your general should die, what would you do?” The soldier’s direct answer settled the unspoken issue. “Someone would replace you.”
Selecting a secluded site behind the ruins of an ancient mission, Mier y Teran placed the handle of his sword against a rock and the point on his heart. He lunged forward and the razor sharp blade did the rest.
Syndicated columnist BARTEE HAILE has written about Texas history for the San Marcos Mercury since 2011. Haile welcomes your comments or questions by mail at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.