Today marks the 179th anniversary of the martyrdom of the heroes of the Alamo, who died to delay the dictator Santa Anna’s army long enough so that Texian troops could rally and defend their homes. Singular among those heroes was Colonel and Congressman David S. Crockett, “King of the Wild Frontier.”
Born in 1786 in that part of North Carolina which was then the renegade “State of Franklin” but not yet the State of Tennessee, “Davy” Crockett was a legend even in his own time, and long before the Texas Revolution.
The son of John Crockett, one of the “overmountain men” unleashed by Joseph Martin to turn the tide of the Revolutionary War at Kings Mountain, the future legend in his teenage years repeatedly traveled on foot from eastern Tennessee to Virginia across the Appalachian mountains, developing skills and achieving feats for which he’d become so well known later. He served under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War and in Jackson’s campaign, late in the War of 1812, to drive the British out of Florida. By the age of 32 he’d been appointed a justice of the peace, elected lieutenant colonel of the Tennessee Militia, and started several successful business enterprises.
In the Tennessee legislature and in the U.S. House during Jackson’s presidency, he fought untiringly against Congress’s overspending and unconstitutional expansion of its powers. He also vociferously opposed Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act, the only member of the Tennessee delegation to do so. For this, the voters of Tennessee sent Crockett home. Undaunted, he ran again two years later and returned to the House, resuming his previous crusades and also collaborating with Kentucky Congressman Thomas Chilton to produce his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself.
Crockett embarked upon an extensive book tour which, combined with larger-than-life stage productions such as Lion of the West and mythologized biographies like Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee, cemented in the national mind his legend as a pioneer and frontiersman. Everywhere he went, from New York to Little Rock, adoring fans swarmed him. More and more, he took the opportunity they afforded him to speak against the military threat and growing tyranny of Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the need to support an American-style revolution in Texas.
By the time the voters dumped him again in August 1835, Crockett’s heart was consumed with the Texian cause. No longer seeing Washington or the pettiness of politics as worthwhile, he famously told his erstwhile constituents, “You all can go to Hell, I’m going to Texas.” And he went.
He arrived in Nacodoches with a company of volunteers just five months later in January 1836, swearing an oath to the Provisional Government of Texas. Barely a month later he and his group were in San Antonio de Bexar, with fellow Texian heroes Jim Bowie, Antonio Menchaca and Don Erasmo Seguin, a Founding Father of the Mexican republic who helped feed and finance the Texas Revolution (Don Erasmo was also the father of Juan Seguin, a defender of the Alamo who survived to become a hero of San Jacinto and a Senator of the Republic of Texas).
Less than a month later, Crockett died defending the Alamo.
Moderns appreciate little of the importance of this. Some (outside Texas at least) see the Alamo as a minor incident at most. Many today view the Texas Revolution as an Anglo brutalization of a victimized Mexico: they ignore, willfully or otherwise, the multilingual, multi-ethnic nature of the affair, the many prominent Mexican statesmen who, loyal to the principles of their lost republic, took up arms in favor of the revolution: men such as Erasmo Seguin and his friend Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice president of Texas, who was born in Yucatan and had previously served as Mexico’s minister of finance.
The revisionists also ignore the widespread opposition throughout Mexico to Santa Anna’s dictatorship and scrapping of the 1824 Constitution. In addition to Texas, both Yucatan and the Mexican states immediately across the Rio Grande from Texas formed republics and seceded from Mexico, albeit unsuccessfully.
But beyond the unquestionable rightness of the Texian cause, the successful Revolution served to answer the burning geopolitical question of that era, namely, would America or Mexico — and would liberty or tyranny — dominate the New World?
Santa Anna had proclaimed himself “the Napoleon of the West”: his ambitions were vastly greater than just holding a few farms on the Brazos. Had he imposed his tyranny on the Texians, he would have been liberated to threaten — and possibly conquer — New Orleans, the continent’s single most strategic point, thus reversing Jefferson’s achievement in securing the Louisiana Purchase and achieving what the British in 1815 could not: the reduction of the United States to a servile position. And with all commerce in the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river basins bottled up at Santa Anna’s mercy, not only might America never have generated the capital, industrial strength and military might needed to become a great power, but an authoritarian Mexico might well have supplanted it, expanding throughout the West and the Caribbean Basin as well.
But for Houston’s victory at San Jacinto — and but for Davy Crockett’s martyr’s death at the Alamo, enabling Houston’s triumph — the American experiment might well have come to nothing. America might well have been recolonized in that era of global European expansion which saw India and China subjugated (as indeed Mexico was by France for a time, during the 1860s). And with the coming of the 20th Century, freedom might well have perished from the Earth.
History has long honored the greatness of David S. Crockett, and rightly so. He quite literally paid for our lives with his own.
Rod D. Martin, founder and CEO of The Martin Organization, is a technology entrepreneur, futurist, hedge fund manager, and professor. Fox Business News calls him a “tech guru”, Britain’s Guardian labeled him a “philosopher-capitalist”, and Gawker describes him as a “brilliant nonconformist.” He was a senior member of PayPal’s pre-IPO startup team and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Council for National Policy.