Republic of the Rio Grande

By: David Vigness

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 1, 1995

The Republic of the Rio Grande was an effort on the part of Federalist leaders in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila to break away from the centralistic government of Mexico in 1840 and to form a new confederation. Since 1835, with the ascension of Antonio López de Santa Anna, then a Centralist, to the presidency of Mexico, Federalist leaders throughout the nation had attempted to force a return to the federalistic Constitution of 1824. This feeling was particularly strong in the northern states of Mexico, and, when they failed to achieve success in that enterprise, the northern Federalists worked to win independence from the Mexican Republic. Contiguity with Texas, recently successful in winning de facto independence, in all probability influenced their action. After much Federalistic flurry in the northern frontier Mexican states, leaders of the party met at Laredo, Texas, in convention on January 17, 1840. The convention declared independence from Mexico and claimed for its territory the areas of Tamaulipas and Coahuila north to the Nueces and Medina rivers, respectively, and Nuevo León, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, and New Mexico. Officers and a general council were elected as follows: Jesús de Cárdenas, president; Antonio Canales Rosillo, commander-in-chief of the army; Juan Nepomuceno Molano, delegate and member of the council for Tamaulipas; Francisco Vidaurri y Villaseñor, for Coahuila; Manuel María de Llano, for Nuevo León; and José María Jesús Carbajal, secretary to the council. The government was moved to Guerro, Tamaulipas, where it was to have remained temporarily. Canales with his force took the field against the Centralist army under Gen. Mariano Arista, and on March 24–25, 1840, met Arista in battle at Morales, Coahuila, and was disastrously defeated. Col. Antonio Zapata, cavalry commander of Canales, was captured and executed. Canales with his few remaining troops retreated to San Antonio, while Cárdenas and the provisional government fled to Victoria, Texas. Canales then toured Texas in an effort to raise interest and aid for the continuance of his campaign. He arrived at Austin in the latter part of April 1840 and conferred with President Mirabeau B. Lamar, who, though privately interested in Canales's cause, officially gave no sanctions to him on the basis that Texas was at that time striving to secure recognition of its independence from Mexico. Canales left Austin on May 2, 1840, proceeded to Houston, where he was well received and on June 1, 1840, arrived finally at San Patricio, where his army was undergoing reorganization. The army at this time consisted of 300 Mexicans, 140 Americans, and 80 Indians, the number increasing daily. The principal leader of the Americans was Col. Samuel W. Jordan. Jordan and ninety men were ordered to the Rio Grande as the vanguard of the army late in June. They proceeded into the interior of Tamaulipas and captured Ciudad Victoria without a battle. From there treacherous subordinate officers led them toward San Luis Potosí, but, suspecting the treachery, Jordan changed direction and marched toward Saltillo. There, on October 25, 1840, he was attacked by Gen. Rafael Vásquez, the Centralist commander at Saltillo, but in spite of the desertion of part of his command, managed to defend himself and return to Texas. Early in November commissioners of Canales and Arista met, and Canales capitulated at Camargo on November 6, 1840. He was taken into the Centralist army as an officer, and Federalism was dead for the time being.

David M. Vigness, "Relations of the Republic of Texas and the Republic of the Rio Grande," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 57 (January 1954). David M. Vigness, Republic of the Rio Grande: An Example of Separatism in Northern Mexico (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1951). David M. Vigness, "A Texas Expedition into Mexico, 1840," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (July 1958).
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Military
  • Boundary Disputes and Ethnic Conflict

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David Vigness, “Republic of the Rio Grande,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995

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