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.

Imperial Colonization Law

The Imperial Colonization Law was passed in January 1823, inviting Catholic immigrants to settle in Mexico. It provided for the employment 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). It defined the privileges and certain limitations of immigrants and empresarios.

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

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

National Colonization Law

The National Colonization Law passed on August 18, 1824, becoming 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 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 approval from the federal executive authority. Congress agreed not to 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, up to eleven leagues per individual.

State Colonization Law

The Coahuila and Texas State Colonization Law accepted the limits set by the national law giving each head of family a league of land in return for paying a small fee at the end of the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth years after settlement. It allowed the executive to have contracts with empresarios to resettle a certain number of families. In return, they received five leagues of land per hundred families after their settlement. For ten years following settlement the colonists were tax-free, except for contributions to protect the area. Colonists became citizens by settling the land. The land commissioners and surveyors were paid by the colonists.

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

Source: Mexican Colonization Laws
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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