The Bexareños Democratas or Bexareños Democráticos (Democrats of Bexar) was a conservative political organization founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1868. The organization’s original conception dates back to June 30, 1855, when Juan Seguín and José Antonio Navarro, among others, organized Tejano Democrats in Bexar County as the “Democratic Mexico-Texans.” Their purpose was to oppose the growing influence of the Know-Nothings (see AMERICAN PARTY) whose anti-immigration, anti-naturalization, and anti-Catholic policies went directly against the interests of the Tejano community.
As the Know-Nothings’ political influence diminished to irrelevancy in the late 1850s and the Democratic party fell into disarray during the Civil War, so did the Democratic Mexico-Texans. However, Tejano Democrats began to organize once again in 1868 in response to the shift in Reconstruction policies implemented by the Radical Republicans in Congress the prior year. Moreover, Tejano Democrats in Bexar County organized in response to the local supporters of Radical Reconstruction, the Mexican-Texan Club, which was founded in July 1868.
The Bexareños Democratas formally organized in August 1868 and consisted of prominent Tejano Democrats such as José Antonio Navarro, Rafael Quintana, Antonio M. Ruiz, Manuel Yturri, José Peñaloza, and Juan Cárdenas. The group’s principles were in accordance with the Conservative Union Reconstructionists, a movement that began in Galveston and Houston in 1867. The Bexareños Democratas were conservative in nature. They fought against the “negro supremacy” they saw being imposed in the South through Radical Reconstruction policies.
The Bexareños Democratas was an active local arm of the national Democratic party. Its membership and leadership consisted of predominately propertied Tejano elites. However, a few Anglo-American Democrats were among the organization’s membership and leadership. The group communicated with the public through a combination of the San Antonio Herald and privately published pamphlets.
Early activities were mostly in opposition to the Mexican-Texan Club and its support of Radical Reconstruction. Their early focus on conservative Democratic party issues included their efforts to defeat the Radicals’ efforts to advance the issue of the division of Texas at the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69. In 1871 Antonio Menchaca, Juan Chaves, and José Peñaloza spoke during a rally at Mission Espada to garner support for resolutions for the Bexareños Democratas to back conservative candidates. In 1872 the Bexareños organized a Mexican campaign to support Horace Greeley over Ulysses S. Grant’s bid for reelection.
However, toward the end of the 1870s, the Bexareños focused less on national Democratic issues and more on local Tejano issues. This began in earnest in 1876, when, in January they argued in support of $300,000 to bring the railroad and its jobs to San Antonio and its Tejano community. In 1878 the Tejano leadership of the Bexareños walked out of a Democratic convention because they felt the party was using the Tejano community to attain ends that went against their interest. Members of both the Bexareños and the Mexican-Texan Club even began to leave politics at the door and worked together organizing the Diez y Seis street festivals in San Antonio. Bexareños leader Juan Cárdenas in 1883 chaired a committee (that included Mexican-Texan Club leader Epistacio Mondragón) that drafted resolutions in protest of Frederick Kerble, the lessee of San Pedro Springs Park, banning Mexicanos from using the dance platform in the park. In 1896 the Bexareños, led by civil rights activist A. L. Montalbo, protested an attempt to disfranchise Mexicanos by two Anglo attorneys.
The Bexareños Democratas slowly dissolved as an arm of the Democratic party in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. Although the Bexareños formally disappeared, its members and leaders continued be vocal in the Tejano fight for civil rights as part of the sociedad mutualistas (mutual aid societies), especially the Sociedad Mutualista Mexicano, that formed in 1883 with Juan Cárdenas at the helm.