BY NORMAN ROZEFF
“Manuel Lorenzo Justiniano de Zavala y Sáenz, who was known by the name Lorenzo de Zavala, was a 19th-century liberal Mexican and Texan politician of Spanish descent.
He “was a leading figure at both the provincial and national level, participating in many of the defining moments that preceded independence from Spain” and afterward as a major federalist, liberal politician. He served as finance minister under President Vicente Guerrero.
He successfully petitioned the Mexican congress for grants to colonize Mexicans and non-Mexicans in Texas. His break with Antonio López de Santa Anna and Santa Anna’s attempt to impose stringent controls on the Mexican state of Texas caused Zavala to join the cause for Texas independence.
He served as the interim Vice President of the Republic of Texas, serving under interim President David G. Burnet from March to October 1836.”
He was the fifth of nine children of Anastasio de Zavala y Velázquez and María Bárbara Sáenz y Castro and was born in the village of Tecoh near Mérida, Yucatán, on October 3, 1788. He graduated from the Tridentine Seminary of San Ildefonso in Mérida in 1807.
He soon founded several newspapers in which he expressed democratic ideals and reforms. This led to his imprisonment in a fortress at Veracruz. In the three years there he learned English and studied medical books which qualified him to practice medicine upon his release in 1917.
Three years later he as secretary of the provincial assembly of Yucatán before going to Madrid in 1821 where he was a deputy to the Spanish Cortes. Upon his return to Mexico, he joined the leaders of the new nation in establishing a republican government.
Mexico, however, was torn between the Federalists and the Centralists for control of both local and national governments. His Federalist party lost, and after a period of house arrest, he was exiled in June1830.
He traveled to New York where he tied to enlist interest in the empresario grants that he had received the year before. In the fall of that year he transferred his grant interests to the Galveston Bay and Land Company.
He traveled to England and France in 1831, spending several months there before returning to reside in New York City.
In 1832 he returned to his native land and again served as governor of the state of Mexico. He was an associate of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna but broke with him in April 1834 when Santa Anna assumed dictatorial powers.
Zavala then returned to New York City from his European assignment and was soon on his way to Texas where he arrived in July 1835. Here he, at first, advocated for Mexican Federalism, but then he became a supporter of independence movement.
“Zavala’s legislative, executive, ministerial, and diplomatic experience, together with his education and linguistic ability, uniquely qualified him for the role he was to play in the drafting of the constitution of the Republic of Texas.”
He was subsequently elected ad interim vice president of the new republic.
Upon Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, Zavala was appointed, on May 27, 1836, one of the peace commissioners to accompany Santa Anna to Mexico City where the general was supposed to persuade the Mexican authorities to recognize the independence of Texas.
This was not a clear success.
In ill health, Zavala returned to his home on Buffalo Bayou and soon gave up any of his political roles, including resigning the vice presidency on October 17, 1836.
A month later he was involved in a boating accident during a norther and developed pneumonia, dying on November 15, 1836. His small family cemetery burial plot was recognized by the state in 1931 but since has sunk into Buffalo Bayou.
He was a remarkable individual, far ahead of his times for a Mexican national.
He is known for his two-volume history of Mexico, but it is his editorials, pamphlets, and literature promoting democracy that place him high above his compatriots.