US: Frontier’s Changing Face; Anglo Immigrants Replacing Hispanics

The “great replacement” theory, which suggests that one demographic group can replace another with vast political repercussions, has been a topic of debate among conservatives and progressives. This idea has been observed in various places, such as the Americas, Africa, Palestine, Russia’s “near abroad,” and Manchuria under the Japanese. Migration has long been a political tool, used by both states and non-state activists. The potential immense effects of migration on geopolitics make open-border policies not a serious option for polities with small populations.

European displaced Indian tribes in the Americas were more prominent than in other places. Anglo-American migrants displaced Hispanic populations along the Gulf coast and into the far west in the 19th century, leading to their eventual secession, independence, and annexation by the United States. This Anglo version of a “great replacement” demonstrates how migration can be used for social and political revolution. The aftermath of these changes highlighted the deprivations faced by the new minority under Anglo majority rule. The pro-Spanish faction found allies among merchants, traders, and river boat operators who enjoyed the lax regulations and market opportunities in the Spanish territory.

The Spanish-US border was generally open in practical terms, especially open to new American settlers who cared little for Spanish law. By 1810, West Florida faced an increasingly hostile Anglo-American population that fomented small-scale rebellions and pursued self-rule independent of Spanish law. Residents loyal to Spain convened political conventions to address the violence and demands of the American migrants, which were described by some as a “growing population of vagrants.”

Migrations led to secessionist rebels declaring independence, overcoming the opposition of loyalists from British, Spanish, and French extraction. The Republic of West Florida faced challenges in securing its sovereignty, leading to the US annexation in 1812. President James Madison declared control in October 1810, but did not order military action. De facto annexation occurred in 1812 after the War of 1812. Anglo-American colonization of Texas followed a similar pattern, but on a larger scale.

After 1821, Texas had ceased to be “Spanish” and was a region of the Mexican republic. However, Mexico’s northern frontier had always been a problem for Mexico, and the Mexican government decided to open the areas in what is now Texas to immigration from the United States. Immigrants were required to adopt Mexican citizenship and respect the 1824 Mexican ban on slavery.

The arrival of American squatters from the South increased Texas’s non-Indian population from 2,500 in 1821 to over 40,000 in 1836, outnumbering Mexicans by ten to one. Illegal immigration became a law-and-order issue, causing conflicts with Mexican officials and US policy calls for annexation.

The Mexican government attempted to stop the flood of immigrants in 1830 and set up administrative districts to impose new customs duties. However, the theoretical halt in immigration was largely ineffective, as new Texans of American extraction were already numerous enough to control many of the local institutions. This resulted in Hispanic Texans being a small minority in the region by the time Texas declared its independence in 1836.

The growing Anglo majority led to increased conflicts with Mexican officials, resulting in Mexican centralists demanding more control. The 1830 slave import ban sparked rebellion, but even lower-class immigrants supported Texas secession due to ethnic nationalism and self-determination.

After Texas gained independence in 1836, US policymakers began calling for annexation. The annexation didn’t occur until 1845, but the new Anglo majority in Texas ensured little resistance from Mexican loyalists or dissatisfied ethnic Hispanics.

Alta California, sparsely populated, saw an increase in Anglo immigration after Mexican independence in 1821. Anglo settler John Marsh complained to US federal officials that Anglo-American migrants were at the mercy of local officials and required better “protection” from American officials. He also began efforts to recruit more American immigrants to settle in California, emulating their compatriots who had recently freed Texas from Mexican rule.

American migrants increased rapidly after 1845, with California’s non-indigenous population potentially as low as 14,000 by 1846. The local Anglo population helped facilitate pro-US nationalist agitation in the region, signaling to the US government that Mexico’s hold over California was tenuous. The Anglo migrants were motivated in part by a desire to foster US expansionism and a perceived incompatibility between Anglo and Hispanic culture. As the Anglo immigrant population grew, it felt increasingly emboldened, and the immigrants took matters into their own hands, with momentous consequences.

The history of Texan-Tejano relations in the second half of the nineteenth century is marked by increasing intolerance and segregation. Despite promises to respect Hispanic property and ensure an impartial legal system, many Hispanics felt relegated to a minority under Anglo rule. The uneasy partnership created during the Mexican era was dissolving, and promises that laws would be published in Spanish went unfulfilled. Manipulation of the legal system led to land loss, indiscriminate violence against them, and identification with Catholicism made them enemies of progress and enlightened thinking.

The judiciary, dominated by Anglos, manipulated the legal system to favor Anglos, leading to anti-Mexican sentiment among Anglo settlers. Cases like the “Cortina Wars” resulted in violence, and deprivations continued into the twentieth century, including the systematic lynching of 300 or more Mexican-Americans in 1915 by local militias and the Texas Rangers.

The California Land Act of 1851, enacted by Congress, breached the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which promised to enforce the existing property rights of Mexicans. The Act reduced these protections to two years and placed an impossible burden on Mexican claimants, aiming to force them off the land by encouraging squatters to invade them. Congress generally sided with Anglo-Americans, as Mexican landowners had legal title from a sovereign but their lands were taken away by the Board of Land Commissioners and the federal Possessory Act. This led to settlers receiving squatted land, whether public domain land claimed by the federal government or tracts of land owned by private individuals.

This contradicted the promises made to new immigrants who insisted that the rights of the new minority would be protected. The Mexican-American population soon fell out of favor with state legislatures and local governments, with lawsuits decided by Anglo judges and verdicts by Anglo juries. Laws were made by Anglo legislators, and the cumulative effect was that the “gringo behaved more violently, maliciously, and immorally than he thought.”

The American experience of Anglo-American immigration into western and southern frontiers illustrates historical realities about migration, such as the significant consequences when large enough to displace or greatly diminish majorities of different linguistic, ethnic, or religious groups. This tends to result in a decline of political and social status of the new minority, although the political aftermath does not necessarily lead to bloodbaths or a wholesale loss of rights.

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