History: March 6th
Yesterday was March 6th and, for those familiar with United States history, you will recall that in 1836 March 6th was the day the Alamo fell. “Remember the Alamo” became the battle cry of the Texas rebellion (1836) and the Mexican War (1846-1848), a questionable chapter in American imperialism. If you’re fuzzy about the details, Texas was part of Spain’s North American colonial empire, which originally included Florida, parts of the Louisiana Territory/Purchase (particularly New Orleans), and what is now the southwestern United States (Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada) as well as California. As the Spanish empire slowly dissolved in North America (the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 gave the U.S. Florida, Louisiana had previously been ceded to France) Mexico rebelled, gaining independence in 1821. Its northern province nearest the United States was Texas and, in the 1820’s, the nascent Mexican government encouraged U.S. citizens to migrate and populate the fertile lands of Texas. Southern Americans began to take the Mexicans up on their offer but, as we Americans tend to do, ignored the stipulations Mexico had put on moving to the Texas territory. Those stipulations were: 1) become a citizen of Mexico; 2) speak Spanish; 3) become Roman Catholic; 4) do not bring slaves. As one might expect, U.S. citizens who migrated to Texas did not comply with any of the stipulations. A compromise was made regarding slavery (the Mexican government allowed a form of “indentured servitude” --- which is how the Americans then labeled their slaves) but the other three items were totally ignored. So much so, in fact, that by 1835 the Mexican government dispatched General Santa Ana to impose martial law on the province, leading the settlers, led by Stephen Austin and Sam Houston, to rebel.
Early in the rebellion (March 6,1836), a tiny mission in what was to become greater San Antonio --- the Alamo --- became the scene of a famous battle in which (purportedly) 200 volunteers (including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie) held off 5,000 of Santa Ana’s troops for three days before being “slaughtered” by the Mexicans. Hence, “Remember the Alamo” became the war cry throughout the rebellion as well as a decade later during the Mexican War. By late April, 1836, Austin had driven Santa Ana out of the territory we now know as the state of Texas and it was declared an independent Republican (The Lone Star Republic) --- no longer part of Mexico yet not part of the United States. Mexico, of course, never recognized Texas’s declaration of independence and continued to consider it a northern province (“in rebellion”) while statehood in the U.S. was a hot potato issue because of slavery. American Presidents (Jackson, Van Buren, Tyler) and Congress batted the issue around until 1845, when the election of Manifest Destiny candidate James K. Polk (dubbed “Young Hickory,” after Andrew Jackson) took office and the Congress “annexed” Texas as the 28th State in the U.S. There were border issues, right from the start (sound familiar?), with Mexico claiming its northern border at the Nueces River and the United States saying the Rio Grande was the southern border of Texas/the United States. With American and Mexican troops both patrolling (and claiming) the territory between the two rivers, a military confrontation led to the United States declaring war on Mexico (a clearly outmatched foe) in April, 1846. By February of 1848 the war was over and James Polk’s “Manifest Destiny” was fulfilled --- the United States now extended from “sea to shining sea” with the acquisition of the Southwest territory and California as the Mexican War spoils.
Personal Note: I believe one of the residual long term results of the Mexican War (though I’ve never seen any historian write about this) is an attitude by U.S. citizens to feel “naturally superior” to Mexicans because, the thinking goes (as I see it), that if Mexico were really “worth anything” we would have taken all of it in 1848. We took the “good parts” (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California --- note the Spanish names) and left the "less desirable" territory to the less-than-white people south of the border. It certainly fits an historical narrative we see being played out yet again in statements from the current administration.
So, March 6th always makes me think of “Remember the Alamo” and evokes the memory of watching Fess Parker, as Disney’s Davy Crockett, dying at the Battle of the Alamo. The period of Crockett-mania (starting in 1955) was one of the first indicators of how powerful this new medium of television had become. (White) Kids all across America were walking around wearing coonskin caps and singing “Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,” as popularized on Disneyland, a black and white Sunday night staple on ABC. I collected all the Davy Crockett cards (before collecting thousands of baseball cards in later years), learning them by heart and becoming part of a parlor trick my Dad liked to show his friends (“What’s the title and picture on card #19 in the orange-back series?” – I always had the answer) Beyond that, March 6, 1956 was the day my family moved into our house at 929 Thompson Drive in Bay Shore, on Long Island. It’s the place I lived from 1st grade through high school graduation; where we played with friends, rehearsed our high school band, spent hours on a mini-pool table in the “rec” room, and a million other things. The dinner table was where I learned to converse, debate, and argue with adults (Mom and Dad), where my early political instincts were sown and grown, where humor was always valued. I visited that old house about 5 or 6 years ago and was surprised at how small the interior seemed (classic, eh?) but how big the back yard was! That yard was where we spent countless hours “playing catch” and tossing a football, where 4th of July cook outs and fireworks happened, where my Yale graduation party “for the family” transpired. Memories and nostalgia all evoked by March 6th.
While not as (in)famous as the Ides of March, the 6th of March is rife with personal and historic meaning for me. The history part is once again relevant to our national discussion, as that border is at issue. The personal part is just a yearly jog down memory lane with selective recollections that dim over time but still provide a pleasant glow from a distant horizon.