Mexican Colonization Laws

When Mexico became independent in 1821, the provisional government failed to recognize Austin’s empresario grant, and it chose to settle terms of colonization and immigration by general law.

The Imperial Colonization Law

The first law that was passed in January 1823, and it is known as the Imperial Colonization Law. The law invited Catholic immigrants to settle in Mexico. It provided for the employments of agents, called empresarios, to introduce families in units of 200. The law defined the land measurements in terms of labors (177 acres), leagues, or sitios (4,428 acres), and haciendas (five leagues each), and it defined the privileges and certain limitations of immigrants and empresarios.

Families were allotted land according to the purpose: farming or ranching. Settlers were not taxed for six years and subject only to half payments for another six years. Families could import "merchandise" free of duty and tools and materials for their own use to the value of $2,000. Married, self-supporting settlers became automatically naturalized citizens after three years. An empresario might receive premium lands to the amount of three haciendas and two labors (roughly 66,774 acres) for settling 200 families.

Immigrants were permitted to bring slaves into the empire but declared children of slaves born in Mexican territory free at age fourteen. Domestic slave trading was not allowed.

The National Colonization Law

The national colonization law was passed on August 18, 1824. It became the basis of all colonization contracts that affected Texas, except for Austin’s first contract. The law stated that it was up to the state to set up regulations to get divide unclaimed lands. All states had to follow this act. No land could be granted within twenty leagues of an international boundary or within ten leagues of the coast without getting approval from the federal executive authority. Congress agreed to not make any major change in the policy of immigration before 1840, but it had the right to stop immigration from certain countries to protect national security. Land titles were given to residents, but they did not exceed eleven leagues for an individual.

The State Colonization Law

The Coahuila and Texas State Colonization Law accepted the limits set by the national law. It gave heads of families who immigrated a league of land with the understanding that they should pay the state a small fee in installments at the end of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth years after settlement. It allowed the executive to have contracts with empresarios for the introduction of a certain numbers of families, and in return they should receive five leagues of land per hundred families after their settlement. For ten years following settlement the colonists were to be tax-free, except for contributions to protect the area. Colonists became citizens by settling the land. The land commissioners who issued titles and surveyors were to be paid by the colonists.

Thirty or more empresario contracts were made, expecting some 9,000 families to settle. All grants had definite geographical boundaries, all empresarios had six years in which to carry out contracts, and in effect this provision deprived the state of control of vast areas while they were waiting on the contracts.

Source: Mexican Colonization Laws
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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