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The first biography to appear in more than a generation on the most influential Tejano leader of the nineteenth century, José Antonio Navarro: In Search of the American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Texas fills one of the most glaring gaps in the current historical literature on Texas. The product of a lifetime of research by author David McDonald, this volume is sure to stand as the definitive treatment of Navarro’s life for decades to come. McDonald corrects many long-standing misconceptions concerning Navarro and fleshes out the details of his life in a way no author has done before.
Born in San Antonio in 1795, José Antonio Navarro lived through a tumultuous era in Texas history that saw the transitions of Texas from a Spanish colony to a Mexican state, an independent republic, an American state, a Confederate state, and an American state once again. More than just bearing witness to these events, however, José Antonio Navarro helped shape them. He served in the legislatures of Coahuila y Texas, the Republic of Texas, and the state of Texas. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a steadfast defender of the rights of all Tejanos and people of Mexican descent in Texas, ensuring at both the 1836 Consultation that created the Texas Republic and the 1845 drafting of the state constitution after annexation that political rights would not be restricted solely to those with white skin and pure European ancestry.
José Antonio Navarro has won a 2013 citation from the San Antonio Conservation Society's Publications Awards Committee.
José Antonio Navarro: In Search of the American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Texas is more than just a political biography; it is a story of the American Dream. Navarro and his family worked hard to improve their lives on the Texas frontier, starting with his father, an immigrant from the Mediterranean island of Corsica. Navarro was not only an influential politician, but a successful businessman and rancher. This pattern of improvement continued into the next generation of the family when Navarro’s son Ángel entered Harvard College to study law. José Antonio Navarro was also an early friend of Stephen F. Austin, sharing a vision of Texas with the famed empresario in which both Tejanos and Anglos could thrive. Navarro believed that Texas was a place where peoples of all colors and backgrounds should be able to realize the American Dream.
In 1946 historian William Ransom Hogan, then a professor at the University of Oklahoma, published The Texas Republic: A Social and Economic History. The book became an instant classic of Texas historical literature. In an era when scholarly writing on Texas history still gave disproportionate emphasis to military and political history and "great men," this book emphasized the lives of ordinary people as well as of the legendary figures of the Republic period.
Hogan knew how to be a "revisionist" in the best sense of the term, offering up fresh interpretations that, as he put it, challenged the "pleasant myth" of "heroic" Texas history. Yet he also managed to balance his revisionism with an acknowledgment that the Republic era did indeed embody much that was heroic, even legendary.
Naturally The Texas Republic is a product of its time. If written today, it would undoubtedly pay more attention to African Americans and Tejanos, for example. But whatever shortcomings the book may have in the eyes of modern readers, even those shortcomings make the book valuable in the college classroom, because they serve as important points of discussion for students and professors.
Ward’s public career spanned three decades and a multiplicity of responsibilitiesmilitary officer, three-time mayor of Austin, presidential appointments as U.S. Consul to Panama and a federal customs official in Texasbut it was as Texas land commissioner during the 1840s that he particularly made his mark. At a time when land was the principal asset of the Texas republic and the magnet that attracted immigrants, he fought to remedy the land system’s many defects and to fulfill the promise of free land to those who settled and fought for Texas.
If Ward had a remarkable career, his life was nonetheless troubled by symptoms comparable to those experienced by recent war veterans with post-traumatic stress disordera hair-trigger temper, an impulse to violence, and marital discord. His wife, Susan Ward, though deeply in love with him at the start, eventually left him and accused him in two bitterly fought court cases of verbal, psychological, and physical abuse. To many of his fellow Texans, however, Ward remained a hero who had sacrificed his leg for a noble causeindependence from Mexico.