Bridges: Zavala played important role in birth of Texas

Dr. Ken Bridges
Dr. Ken Bridges

Lorenzo de Zavala was a man of great ideas. He was an outspoken writer and editor as well as a diplomat, businessman, physician, and statesman. With all these accomplishments in his short life, he became revered as one of the architects of Texas independence. 

He was born in 1788 in the Yucatan in southern Mexico when it was still under Spanish rule.  From a young age, it was clear he had a brilliant mind, voraciously reading any book he could find.  His family arranged for the best education possible, and he eventually learned to speak four languages. 

He started several newspapers as a young man, writing against the Spanish monarchy and its oppressive rule over the region.  Because of these stands, he was arrested in 1814.  Unswayed, he continued his writings and also began studying medicine.  By the time he was released in 1817, he had become a practicing physician. 

After Mexico’s independence in 1821, he was elected to the national Congress in 1822 and to the Senate in 1824.  He briefly served as governor of the State of Mexico, the largest state in Mexico and briefly served as the secretary of the treasury.  

Zavala’s star was rising in the politics of the young Mexican nation.  However, the infighting and intrigues that plagued Mexico in those years soon derailed his career.  In 1830, the president was ousted in a coup led by the vice-president, and Zavala was arrested once again.  

Recognizing the danger to his life, Zavala fled to New York.  When the government changed again, he returned to Mexico.  By 1834, with Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in charge, Zavala was sent as a diplomat to France.  But when Santa Anna became a dictator to put down the unrest in Mexico, Zavala resigned and returned to America. 

In 1835 while in New York, he reunited with Stephen F. Austin, whom he had met on many occasions while in Mexico.  Austin convinced him to come to Texas.  Zavala settled in what is now Channelview, a Houston suburb, at a home he called Zavala Point.  

As the Texas Revolution erupted, Zavala served on the Permanent Council in October 1835 and helped coordinate supplies for the Texas army.  To protect themselves from Santa Anna’s despotism, he and others began arguing that Texas must be independent.  

Zavala was elected to represent the Harrisburg (modern-day Houston) area in the Convention of 1836.  There, with 58 other delegates, he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2.  He led the effort to create a stable constitution, one close to the Constitution of the United States.  Thus, the Republic of Texas was born.  

Impressed by his accomplishments and his passion for the cause of Texas, the convention chose him to be the interim vice president, serving under interim President David G. Burnet.  He served for seven months until the elected administration of President Sam Houston took charge in October. 

Initially, Zavala was selected to accompany Santa Anna back to Mexico to argue for their government to accept the agreements he had made with Houston after his defeat at San Jacinto.  Mexico, however, argued the treaties were made under threat and therefore invalid.  The outright rejection ended the plan to escort him back. 

He died after a sudden illness in November 1836, at the age of 48.  Zavala helped steer Texas through its most desperate days.  He would be honored greatly across the state in future years.  Legislators named Zavala County in South Texas for him in 1858.  Many schools are named for him as well as the State Archives building in Austin.

Dr. Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a doctorate from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be reached by email at drkenbridges@gmail.com.