“I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat.”
—William Barret Travis at the Alamo, 1836
Every year on March 2, Texans celebrate a holiday that is entirely and uniquely Texan—Texas Independence Day. The day marks the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence at the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos.
The 59 delegates to the historic convention were a diverse group. Two delegates, José Francisco Ruiz and José Antonio Navarro, were native Mexicans. The rest were immigrants from other parts of Mexico, the United States, and Europe. Two-thirds of the delegates were less than 40 years old.
The delegates – and the people they represented – had a clear goal. They sought to preserve the freedoms guaranteed to them under the Mexican Constitution, which had been lost under the dictatorship of President Antonio López de Santa Anna. They modeled their Declaration on the one signed in Philadelphia 60 years earlier, expressing their just grievances, determination to protect their freedoms, and vision for a new nation: the Republic of Texas.
Unlike the deliberations today in the U.S. Congress, the Texas Declaration of Independence was non-controversial and approved swiftly. The Unanimous Declaration of Independence by the Delegates of the People of Texas was signed on March 2, 1836. Five copies were sent to the towns of Bexar, Goliad, Nacogdoches, Brazoria, and San Felipe. Because there was no printing press in Washington-on-the-Brazos, the printer at San Felipe was ordered to print 1,000 copies in handbill form. The original copy was sent to the U.S. Department of State in Washington – where it would stay for six decades before being returned to the land where it was written.
Even as the delegates signed this historic document, they knew their love of liberty might command the ultimate sacrifice. At that moment, less than 200 miles to the West, Santa Anna’s army was laying siege to the Alamo. Just days earlier, its young commander, William Barret Travis, sent a letter addressed to the people of the Republic of Texas and all Americans. He wrote:
“Fellow citizens and compatriots – I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna – I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man – The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken.
“I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat.
“Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch – The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days.
“If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country – Victory or Death!”
The Travis Letter became a rallying cry for freedom across the young Republic, and though death came to the defenders of the Alamo, victory eventually came for the people of Texas. Not long after the fall of the Alamo, General Sam Houston and about 900 Texas soldiers defeated the larger Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto. The surprise attack was so successful that the battle lasted only 18 minutes, and the next day Santa Anna himself was captured. By this victory, Texans won the independence they had declared less than two months earlier.
Today we pay tribute to Texas’ founding fathers and the thousands who took a stand to defend the land and liberties we cherish today. As our state song says: God bless you Texas! / And keep you brave and strong / That you may grow in power and worth / Thro’out the ages long.
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.