Conclusion
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Name /T1405/T1405_CNC 12/06/00 06:10AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 163 # 1  Conclusion  Frederick Jackson Turner argued that antebellum southerners placed an incomparable value on the liberty to compete for the ‘‘public domain’’ and the natural resources abundantly available in the unsettled wilds further west. Freedom from class rule and elite-dominated institutions of law that might limit this prerogative, furthermore, was fundamental to the ‘‘squatter ideal.’’ From the perspective of settlers, government was an evil. Westering southerners regulated themselves with ‘‘extralegal, voluntary associations . . . . where settlement and society had gone in advance of the institutions and instrumentalities of organized society.’’ Only in time did courts and legislative halls appear and, even then, only in response to the leadership of able men who had proven their worth in the struggle for survival. These men were thus especially equipped to make wise law that reinforced frontier democracy.1 There is certainly some merit in Turner’s characterization. But Texas society from 1823 to 1860 did not develop in an institutional vacuum. While the strategic aims of Mexican policy-makers and Anglo-Texan leaders varied considerably, they consistently promoted rapid immigration with extraordinarily generous offers of real estate. The power of governments through the antebellum period to allocate land and clarify title thereto was critical in spurring the Anglo invasion and organizing settlement. As Gordon Morris Bakken has demonstrated quite convincingly , law was essential in defining and stabilizing property rights in nineteenth-century frontier regions.2 Regardless of institutional primitivism, the impact of law on social Name /T1405/T1405_CNC 12/06/00 06:10AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 164 # 2 development in Texas was not limited to land policy. The Hispanic matrimonial property regime and an innovative law of debt created powerful additional incentives for southern immigrants eager to obtain new homesteads and start over. Settlement exigencies requiring the cooperative exertions of spouses and the sharing of profits derived from successful family ventures under community property rules, furthermore , produced unusually reciprocal and egalitarian marriages among Anglo-Texans. The law thus had an influence extending far beyond those who actually involved themselves in litigation or otherwise had dealings with the legal system. The impact of law on Anglo-Texan society, however, was not always positive. Institutional disarray and social atomization combined with male unruliness and stressful conditions to produce informal coupling and uncoupling, illicit sexual relationships, bastardy, and marital instability among far too many of those who responded to economic incentives . Sexual disorder of this kind deranged family property rights in land—the socioeconomic foundation of the polity. After independence from Mexico, Texas lawmakers dealt aggressively with the disruptive, rampant individualism of settlers.Legislators and the justices of the high court blended and modified Hispanic principles , common law doctrine, and English ecclesiastical precepts to accommodate distinctive frontier marital norms and sexual behavior. Along with constitutional delegates, these leaders also adopted rules that safeguarded pioneer women and children against the more exaggerated forms of ‘‘manly independence.’’ New legal measures also bolstered homesteading families and their property in land. Many of these laws were extraordinarily progressive. Law supporting more equitable marital relations and reinforcing the sexual practices of settlers helped generate family mores that deviated radically from those found contemporaneously in the more settled South and urbanizing Northeast. For many in antebellum Texas, however, the social-legal system that developed was anything but democratic. After the Anglo war of independence , the law of domestic relations often combined with positive pronouncements regarding citizenship, land policy, Indian Removal, slavery, and miscegenation to fashion a racial-caste system. This institutional scheme certainly destroyed a preexisting multiracial polity that had recognized a viable role for Native Americans, Tejanos, and blacks. It also merged with a transcultural array of gender constructs, mores, and political exigencies to facilitate and encourage cross-racial sexual homesteads ungovernable   164 Name /T1405/T1405_CNC 12/06/00 06:10AM Plate # 0-Composite pg 165 # 3 relationships. These connections, and their reproductive consequences, almost always comported with Anglo-Texan supremacy. The development of Texas society and law involved much more than the cooperative response of freedom-seeking homesteaders to harsh ecological circumstances and the unwavering guidance of sage lawgivers . Legal concepts regarding real estate, contracts, marriage, illegitimacy , and inheritance arrived with immigrants to influence how they and their rudimentary institutions dealt with settlement, each other, and those they dispossessed and subjugated. To provide socioeconomic coherence for a rapidly developing pioneer community, however , Anglo-Texan officials had to refashion rules about...


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Subject Headings

  • Domestic relations -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Race relations.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Social life and customs.
  • Families -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
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