After a long and hard struggle for Mexican Independence, on August 24, 1821, Spain withdrew and officially recognized Mexico as an independent country. Mexico was now a brand-new nation among nations, prepared for a fresh start.
The yoke of their Spanish overlords proved too much for free thinking Mexicans, therefore, Mexico required a new constitution that would enable a new start by conveying more “freedoms” to the common man.
A very intelligent, young politician of 36 years would be closely associated with the authorship of that new constitution; the Constitution of 1824. In 1824, Mexico became known as “Estados Unidos Mexicanos”. (The United States of Mexico)
History remembers that young politician who was very instrumental in writing the Mexican Constitution as Lorenzo de Zavala. Some scholars have pointed out that Lorenzo practically “copied and pasted” the American Constitution, translated to Spanish, and called it the new Mexican Constitution.
Through a remarkable series of events, in 1836, Lorenzo de Zavala drafted another constitution, but this time, it was for Mexico's rebellious foe, the Republic of Texas.
Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala y Sanchez was born in 1788, in the town of Tecoh, Yucatán. De Zavala's parents were creoles, Spanish Basques born in Mexico. De Zavala was a third-generation Yucatecan. He was educated in Mérida and studied the standard curriculum of Latin, morals, scholastic theology, and classical philosophy.
Lorenzo De Zavala was a Mexican physician from Yucatán who became a career politician, diplomat and author, who was considered a keen intellect, and a man fluent in many languages.
After graduation from college, Lorenzo founded a newspaper called “El Aristarco Universal” (The Universal Critic), and wrote for several other newspapers through which he advocated democratic concepts that would remain mainstays of his later political career.
At the age of 26, Lorenzo was arrested by the Spanish Crown for sedition for writing articles that criticized Spanish political rule. He was given a three-year prison sentence ,1814-1817.
Lorenzo took full advantage of his incarceration by reading and learning. In those three short years, Lorenzo learned a new language, English. If that wasn’t enough, he also read many medical books and upon his release in 1817 – he became a Doctor and started practicing almost immediately. He successfully practiced medicine for two years, but current political events forced Lorenzo to return to diplomatic service.
In 1829, when the Mexican government was overthrown, De Zavala was forced into exile and moved to the United States for two years and resided in New York for a time. There he wrote a book about U.S. political culture during that current period of history, from his Mexican, aristocratic point of view.
His book, called “Journey to the United States of North America”, mainly reflected well of the America that Lorenzo experienced. He also pointed out what he perceived as hypocrisy of the U.S. for allowing slavery, despite professing lofty ideals of freedom.
In 1831, after his exile, Lorenzo returned to Mexico and was appointed as Minister to France. De Zavala's wit and his commands of Spanish, English, and French languages made him popular in Europe. While serving in Paris, he became increasingly aware that President Santa Anna, backed by military force and the clergy, had assumed dictatorial powers and was not observing the Mexican Constitution of 1824. De Zavala helped write that Constitution and considered Santa Anna’s actions as betrayal of the Mexican people.
De Zavala resigned his position in protest and spoke out against the tyranny.
Doing so made him an enemy of the state and prohibited him from returning home, so for their safety he moved his family to land he owned in Texas. Lorenzo, his wife, and children arrived in 1835 by steamboat and briefly shared a house with his good friend, Stephen F. Austin. Austin would later be hailed as “The Father of Texas.”
Other than Austin, the only Texan Lorenzo knew was David G. Burnet, who later became Interim President of Texas. De Zavala had previously known Burnet from New York. De Zavala and Burnet had been issued Empresario (entrepreneur) Grants. The grants were provided by the Mexican government to encourage immigration and settlement to create a buffer zone between Mexico and the U.S. Mexico also intended the settlers would help put down the hostile Indians of the region.
The holder of an Empresario Grant was given immense tracts of Texas land in exchange for recruiting and being responsible for a certain quota of new settlers. De Zavala's arrangement required 500 families. De Zavala and Burnet sold their grants in New York to a group of investors.
At the height of the Texas revolution, in early March of 1836, an assembly of Texian and Tejano delegates, was held at a Texas settlement known as "Washington on the Brazos." At that historic convention of 1836, a Declaration of Independence for the Republic of Texas was drafted and signed. One of the delegates at that historic convention was Lorenzo de Zavala. Lorenzo personally designed the first flag of the new republic, helped write the new constitution, and eventually served as Vice President under the provisional government.
But just as the ink was drying on those signed revolutionary documents, Santa Anna's forces were aggressively marching towards Washington on the Brazos to capture the delegation and put an end to the rebellion.
As Santa Anna's troops approached, De Zavala and his family escaped down the San Jacinto River to the nearby home of an old friend, William Scott. Scott was one of the Empresario Grant colonists. History remembers that Scott’s home had a good “view”, across the river, of what would be the battlefield of San Jacinto.
And, as if history wanted Lorenzo to have a front row seat to the birth of Texas, a couple of days later, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his Mexican Army arrived on the other side of the river, and set up camp. Soon after, a Texian army of about 800 men arrived, led by Sam Houston.
Lorenzo was sitting, with other friends, on the proverbial 50-yardline of the battlefield when at 4:30pm of April 21, 1836, Houston gave the order to commence the attack, and the “Twin Sisters” cannons fired on the Mexican troops. The Battle of San Jacinto was underway.
A short 18-minutes later the battle was over, and formal news of the victory was announced to Lorenzo and his companions. Houston had succeeded. The day belonged to the fighting Texians and Tejanos, and the Republic of Texas was then and there - born.
History remembers that Lorenzo witnessed the battle in real time, witnessed the rout in real time, and then celebrated the Texan Victory in real time.
It is a known fact that General Santa Anna hated Lorenzo de Zavala. Santa Anna was jealous of Lorenzo and secretly desired De Zavala’s wife. Some believe that Santa Anna’s prime motive for marching to Texas in early 1836 was to “capture and punish” the traitor, Lorenzo de Zavala, and make an example of him.
Sorrowfully, soon after the great victory, De Zavala's health began to fail. He resigned his post as Vice President and returned home. Less than a month after his retirement he was boating in Buffalo Bayou and his rowboat overturned, and he took a chill. He developed pneumonia and died at his home on November 15, 1836, merely months into the life of the fledgling Republic he helped establish.
Soon after, De Zavala’s wife left Texas on a schooner bound for the east coast. History remembers that Texas’ first vice-president, Lorenzo de Zavala, was married to an amazingly attractive lady - Emily West.
Some Mexicans consider De Zavala a traitor to his homeland for supporting Texas independence. Texans consider him a founding father and a hero. Lorenzo De Zavala was a true Patriot of our Texas Revolution and remains a shining figure in our grand history.
This post is dedicated to all De Zavala’s descendants living today in Texas and around the world. May they continue to carry the torch handed down to them by Lorenzo De Zavala, to the benefit of this great state of Texas.
Thank You Lorenzo for giving us our Texas Constitution, for your deeds of bravery and your heroic devotion to our Republic — Texas!
Texas Heroes - Never Forget!
Lorenzo De Zavala, Wikipedia
ZAVALA, LORENZO DE by Raymond Estep, TSHA Texas State Historical Association
Evolution of the Texas Flag, Texas Almanac
If you love Texas and Texas history then join us in our efforts to promote both the history and the heroes of our Texas revolution. Support our efforts, stop by our virtual store and check out all the cool merchandise. Thank you for all your support. -Gonzo