Discover more from A User's Guide to History
America, Texas, Ukraine
March 2 is Texas Independence Day, the day on which in 1836 Texans gathered at the small town of Washington-on-the-Brazos to declare independence from Mexico. The name of the town and the language of their declaration reflected the connection they felt to the American Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.
Texas was already in revolt against the Mexican government of Antonio López de Santa Anna; the Texas declaration made clear what they were fighting for. This too reflected the experience of the Americans of the 1770s, who started fighting against King George's British army in 1775 and only got around to declaring Independence in 1776.
In both cases the rebels stood on what they considered to be their rights against changes in the status quo. King George was tightening up British control in the American colonies, imposing new taxes and regulations, and the Americans resisted and eventually rejected this. Santa Anna’s government curtailed the authority of states within the Mexican federation and finally dissolved the state governments entirely; the Texans feared for their rights and property, including their property in slaves.
How March 2 will be remembered in the history of Ukraine is anyone's guess. It's unlikely that anyone there is drawing connections to the Texas revolution. Many in Ukraine will have heard of the American Revolution, but its lessons for them are probably distant too.
Yet the struggle in Ukraine does have parallels with the American and Texas revolutions. Much as the Americans were trying to get out from under the British thumb, and the Texans from the Mexican, so Ukrainians today are trying to make good their break from Russian control. Just as George III was trying to hold together the British empire, and Santa Anna the Mexican republic, so Vladimir Putin is trying to hold together what remains of the Russian empire and sphere of influence.
The timing is different in the three cases. The Americans had been left mostly to their own devices for generations before the British cracked down in the 1760s and 1770s. The Texans had largely governed themselves during the 1820s and early 1830s before Santa Anna rewrote the rules. Ukraine had been ruled from Moscow for centuries before gaining independence in 1991; only after a thirty-year hiatus did Putin attempt to reimpose Russian control.
The Americans and the Texans won their wars, but not without difficulty. The American Revolutionary War lasted eight years, and for another generation Britain harassed America's borders and ships at sea. Texans claimed victory after just several months, but Mexico didn't acknowledge defeat until more than a decade had passed.
The outcome in Ukraine hangs in a parlous balance. And should the Ukrainians retain their independence after this current campaign has ended, they will have a strong and potentially hostile neighbor for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, should Ukraine lose this round of fighting and once more fall under formal or informal Russian control, Russia will then be faced with a restive and potentially rebellious province or satellite.
Most wars end, but the influences that give rise to them can last a long time. It was America's good fortune after the Revolutionary War that the foe it defeated was three thousand miles away. Even so, friction with Britain lasted another century. It was the Texans good fortune that the United States took them under America's wing, thereby precluding further Mexican attacks. But when Mexico experienced its own revolution in the early twentieth century, the violence spilled over into Texas.
By now the influences that gave rise to the American and Texas revolutions are of interest only to historians—and to the politicos who try to score points with their tendentious interpretations of history. The influences that gave rise to the war in Ukraine are likely to persist for decades, regardless of how today’s fighting ends. That history is a long book with many chapters.