Cotton Empire : Slavery and the Texas Borderlands, 1820-1837

Torget, Andrew J., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Ayers, Edward, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gallagher, Gary, Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the role that slave-based agriculture played in the transformation of the Texas borderlands from a Mexican province during the 1820s into an independent slaveholders' republic during the 1830s. That transformation occurred because of two powerful forces that overlapped in Texas - the cotton economy of the southern United States and the government of Mexico - whose complex interactions reshaped Mexico's far-northern frontier into an American slaveholding society. This process began when the massive expansion of the cotton economy in the southern United States during the nineteenth century pushed some Americans to seek cheap cotton lands in Mexican territory. Mexico's government encouraged this transnational migration during the early 1820s out of a desperate need to populate their northern frontier (something the Spanish had failed to do). When those expatriate Americans insisted, however, that slavery serve as the labor system underlying the growth of cotton farming in northeastern Mexico, battles over the institution became central to fights among Mexicans and Americans about the future of the U. S.-Mexican borderlands.

There was no one position on slavery within Mexico; different groups with varying levels of investment in the institution held different perspectives. Mexicans closest to Anglo settlements in Texas formed political coalitions with Americans to protect slavery, while Mexicans in other parts of the nation sought to abolish the institution. Because Mexico's early government adopted a federal political system, competing perspectives about slavery were put into conflict with one another among Mexicans at the local, state, and national levels. As a result, anti-slavery Mexicans were never able to stamp out the institution in Texas, although neither were pro-slavery Mexicans and Americans able to secure the outright support of the government for their slaveholding society. Battles over slavery and American colonization thus became entangled in larger fights within Mexico over federalism, battles which led to the 1836 Texas revolution. By 1837, these struggles had produced a weak, but committed, slaveholding society in the borderlands between the United States and Mexico, when Texas emerged as the most unlikely creation: an independent republic of American slaveholders built beyond the borders of the United States.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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