Mexico once tried hard to prevent Americans from migrating to Texas.
In recent years, considerable attention has focused on the U.S. government’s efforts to stem the flow of Mexicans migrating north of the border in search of jobs. But there was a time in history when the boot was, so to speak, very much on the other foot.
In the early nineteenth century, shortly after gaining her Independence from Spain (1821), Mexico’s territory extended considerably further north than it does today. It included modern-day Texas, as well as many other parts of what later became U.S. territory.
The first British Chargé d’Affaires in Mexico was Sir Henry George Ward (1797-1860). Ward entered the diplomatic service in 1816, and first visited Mexico in 1823, as a member of a British government commission assessing the desirability of establishing trading relations following Independence. The following year, he married Emily Elizabeth Swinburne, who accompanied him on his return to Mexico in 1825 in his role as Chargé d’Affaires.
Fortunately for us, two years later, Ward wrote a detailed description of how he saw Mexico. Mexico in 1827, which contains illustrations by his wife, was an early appraisal of the fledgling Mexican Republic, and was published on his return to the U.K.
Ward, a skilled diplomat, arrived only a few months before his American counterpart Joel Poinsett. (Poinsett, after whom the poinsettia is named, was the first U.S. minister to Mexico). Ward was not only anti-Spanish, but also decidedly anti-American. His main goal, apparently, was to try to prevent the U.S. from expanding its territory at the expense of Mexico. The British diplomat believed that the incorporation of Texas into the Anglo-American states was inevitable unless the Mexican government could stem the wave of immigrants flooding southwards into the region. (How times have changed!)
The Mexican government was relatively unstable at this time, with frequent changes of leaders and some inconsistency in policies. Ward summed up the political situation that he encountered as one in which, after 13 years of civil war, the form of government had still not been determined, with great differences of opinion existing with respect to the desired degree of central authority. He found it difficult to conceive of any country less prepared than Mexico for the “transition from despotism to democracy”.
While both men were acting on behalf of their respective countries, Ward acted as a moderate balance to the interventionist politics of Poinsett. He promoted the signing of a U.K.-Mexico treaty of friendship, trade and migration, but the U.K. gradually lost influence in Mexico despite Ward’s best efforts. Meanwhile, Poinsett was trying his hardest to purchase Texas. His meddling in Mexican politics antagonized the government of Vicente Guerrero to the point where his recall was demanded in 1829.
The British Chargé d’Affaire’s greatest concern was that the U.S. might one day gain control over Texas ports. This would put them only three days away by boat from Tampico and Veracruz (Mexico’s main trading port) and mean that Mexico was vulnerable to invasion. Ward’s worst fears in this regard were realized later in the nineteenth century (the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848).
On his return from Mexico, Ward entered the British parliament, occupying his seat from 1833 to 1849. Described as “a tall, powerful man, with light brown hair, full round face and good-natured countenance”, he was appointed Secretary to the Admiralty in 1846. Following criticism in the press of his financial affairs, and some ill-judged investments, he was appointed governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1855 to 1860. He died of cholera on August 2, 1860, only a few days after being transferred to Madras, India.
Ward’s book provides numerous details of trade, mining, economic activity and topography, as well as pointing out many errors in Alexander von Humboldt’s earlier classic work Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain (1811).
- Ward, Henry George. Mexico In 1827. London: Henry Colburn. 1828. 2 vols.
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