Friday, January 14, 2022

Henry Adams Bullard

On July 26, 1813, in the midst of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain, an unlikely event occurred during a meeting of the revolutionary junta of San Antonio, when a 24-year-old youth from Massachusetts stepped forward, and began to address the body in perfect Spanish. What he would say would transform the revolution and dramatically reshape the history of North America. Who was this young New Englander who would so radically shape Texas history?

His name was Henry Adams Bullard. Born in 1788 in Pepperell, Massachusetts, he attended Harvard, where he graduated at age nineteen with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, staying on and working at the university for two years after graduating to pay his expenses. Relocating to Philadelphia, he began studying the law. Bullard circulated in elite circles, becoming acquainted with Matthew Tilghman, a former member of the Continental Congress, and young George Dallas (later vice president).[1]

He had a passion for languages; having studied French at Harvard, he wanted to learn others. A memorial written at the time of his death indicates this interest as one of the key reasons he chose vibrant, cosmopolitan Philadelphia over Puritan Boston to start his career, noting that while he pursued his legal studies, he “acquired the Spanish, Italian and German, all of which he critically understood and appreciated.” But even before Bullard came to Philadelphia, he had developed a profound interest in the revolutions surging through Spanish America.[2]

In the early fall of 1808, he had just passed his 20th birthday strode up the steps of the publishing house of Oliver and Monroe at No. 70, State Street in Boston and delivered a manuscript for the printers. It was a political tract defending revolution, and like many books of the era, began with a stirring quotation from Shakespeare. Fittingly, the line came from Richard II, a story of revolution from centuries before, and its words would ultimately come to encapsulate the young man’s life:

Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot unlikely wonders.

The book was a spirited defense of a filibuster attempt by the Venezuelan rebel Francisco de Miranda, who had come to America and recruited a force of 200 men for an invasion of his homeland. His force was defeated, and though Miranda himself escaped, several Americans were hung, beheaded and quartered by the Spanish.[3] American authorities attempted to try their citizens who had participated for violating the Neutrality Act. Bullard’s book amounted to a defense of the men – and the filibuster concept in general. The 300-page manuscript he completed – to be published anonymously – was entitled The History of Don Francisco de Miranda’s Attempt to Effect a Revolution in South America, In a Series of Letters.[4]

Moving a few years later to Philadelphia, Bullard began his legal career and continued to explore his fascination with the Spanish world. He probably took Spanish lessons at this time with a tutor, possibly a Spanish exile. Eventually, he met the revolutionary he had always been waiting for, José Alvarez de Toledo, a Cuban who was attempting to rally support for a filibuster into Texas. The rebel had initially been a co-conspirator of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, a Mexican rebel who entered Texas alongside a former American military officer, Augustus Magee, in August, 1812. The Gutiérrez-Magee Filibuster which resulted, had opened a rebel front in Texas. Toledo, failing in efforts to raise an independent force, began to make his way to Texas to join this invasion. For Bullard, this was the perfect opportunity to live up to his ideals. A subsequent biographer recalled:

We now find him, at that most critical period of his life, a young man of vigorous mind, with a liberal education…full of the high hopes and aspirations which the fame and example of such men would excite; and yet, without influential relations and friends to give him the first impulse, without which so many of the noblest and best so frequently fall into despair. About this time Mexico was in revolution against Spain…He was fascinated with the splendid pictures painted by the imaginative mind of the Spanish revolutionary soldier [Toledo]. Can we wonder what was his course?[5]


And so the 24-year-old Bullard, just having passed the bar, abandoned a potentially lucrative legal career to accompany Toledo to the revolution, signing up as an aide and military secretary.[6] He, along with Toledo’s printers, a long-time revolutionary from South America named Juan Picornell and several Frenchmen formed an entourage that began to grow as Toledo moved west towards Texas. Toledo, in fact, was not coming to Texas to join Gutiérrez anymore. He was coming to replace him. Arriving in Nacogdoches, Toledo, Bullard and their company prepared for their final move to San Antonio.

But in that city, the rebel leader Gutiérrez, fueled by a smear campaign led by a former Toledo acolyte, Nathaniel Cogswell, who alleged that Toledo was a spy, jealously ordered the Cuban revolutionary out of the country. Toledo complied, but the order did not apply to Bullard, who made his way to Texas, where he found out, to his stunned surprise, that Gutiérrez was in desperate need of a man fluent in English, French and Spanish to serve as his revolutionary secretary of state. Bullard fit the bill perfectly, and Gutiérrez, unaware of the young New Englander’s connection to Toledo, appointed him. Thus did Toledo and his company gain not only a mole within Gutiérrez’s inner circle, but one perfectly positioned for their planned coup.

Bullard, as Toledo’s de-facto spy, helped persuade American special agent William Shaler to leverage his authority to oust Gutiérrez in favor of Toledo, writing with unbridled criticism that Gutiérrez should be replaced because he did little in San Antonio beyond “lolling on his sofa and catching flies.”[7]

But it was at the meeting of the Béxar Junta that July 26, that Bullard made his fateful move that dramatically altered the history of Texas. The American contingent of the Republican Army of the North had already made it clear they wanted Gutiérrez gone, but the Mexican rebels were wary of Toledo, first because he was a Cuban and too much like a peninsular Spaniard in temperament, secondly because he was rumored to be a mason, and lastly, because they believed the allegations of Cogswell, which Gutiérrez had shared with them.

This was the impediment that Bullard faced, but he found his opening and made his move. At a moment when Gutiérrez had briefly left the Junta, Bullard brought up the Mexican rebel’s failings and launched into a spirited defense of Toledo. Bullard, who knew Cogswell closely, attacked his allegations as a calumny against Toledo, the only commander, Bullard said, who the Spanish truly feared. He mocked the allegations of freemasonry and asserted the only way to regain the support of key American leaders like Shaler was to replace Gutiérrez with Toledo instantly. This impromptu address broke the logjam, and the Junta at last sided with the American contingent against Gutiérrez. Toledo was sent for and Gutiérrez was pushed out of the army and into exile. And it had been Bullard who had made the difference.

Toledo arrived on August 1, 1813, and within two weeks, he was marching at the head of the Republican Army of the North towards the fateful Battle of Medina – and to ultimate defeat. There is no actual evidence that Toledo was a traitor, and in fact, as the battle unfolded, he had little control of the army at all, as the Mexican and American contingents followed their own commanders, who ignored Toledo’s instructions on the day of battle. The army was defeated, and the revolution in Texas had failed.

Henry Adams Bullard survived the Battle of Medina and fled back to the U.S. The defeat would leave him “destitute and worn down with fatigue and sickness” in Louisiana, unable to return home. He turned back to the legal profession and soon found dramatic success, owing to his fluency in Spanish and French, which brought him into high demand in Louisiana.[8] He was appointed a district judge in 1822, elected to Congress in 1831, appointed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, served as Louisiana Secretary of State, and taught as a law professor at the Law School of Louisiana (today’s Tulane University Law School).[9]

Bullard, as a justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court

The post-expedition Bullard’s erudite personality comes through via his voluminous library, which was cataloged after his death and offered for sale, the titles preserved in court records. He had great interest in foreign cultures and their systems of law, though he believed America’s democratic legal tradition superior. He was a profound believer in natural law theory, and his library “revealed him to be both a practical man and a scholarly one.”[10] Bullard also served as president of the Historical Society of Louisiana, and in a speech to the organization on January 13, 1836, he told the members their purpose: “Each generation, as it passes away, is under obligations to its successors to furnish them those authentic materials for which alone its true character can be known to posterity.”[11]  Although Bullard never penned any works under his own name on the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, he is the author of an unsigned 1836 article in the North American Review. The piece, published shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto, is part history lesson, part current affairs for its readers. It shows Bullard to be well-read in Mexican history, and despite 25 years residence in the South, and at the time a sitting justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court, still possessing a New England bias against slavery.[12] In the article, Bullard denies any government inclination to “take possession of the country as soon as it should have been wrested from the dominion of Spain,” though he does note Shaler’s presence as an agent for the government observing and assisting the rebellion. As for the filibusters themselves, Bullard gives as the prime motive the disputed boundary of the Louisiana Purchase:

At that time, the American people and government were wearied with the protracted negotiation with Spain, its interminable delays, and the evident reluctance of the cabinet of Madrid, to do justice to the United States; and there was a strong disposition among the people to seize upon that part of the territory which was still in dispute.[13]

Bullard, driven by youthful idealism in 1812, was considerably less idealistic by 1836. He expressed skepticism of whether Mexicans could ever understand democracy as the Americans did, writing “The great mass of the population of Mexico were absolutely ignorant of the simplest elements of popular self-government,” a condition he blamed on the legacy of Spanish authority. In the January, 1836 speech, he laid out a vision of history in which Spain’s colonization is depicted as brutal and oppressive compared to the English and French models.[14]

Another source of Bullard’s character comes from a historical novel written about the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition. Francis Berrian; or, The Mexican Patriot, was a novel by Timothy Flint, a friend of Bullard’s who used the latter’s remembrances as told to him as his prime source for the expedition and patterned his swashbuckling lead character on the young Bullard. The novel, written in 1823, is historically confused and was generally panned as horrible by the press of the time, but provides detailed insights into how the filibusters – or at least Bullard, speaking through Flint – wanted their motivations to be interpreted. As James Weldon Long writes of the book, “If we read Berrian as a prototypical filibuster, then Flint’s novel registers as a representative national narrative conveying an exceptionalist vision of the United States and its position in the Age of Revolutions.”[15]  While one must avoid conclusions based on a work of fiction, the close connection between Bullard and Flint – and corresponding information in Bullard’s background – makes the work relevant to Bullard’s viewpoint – at least the viewpoint he held in the years after the expedition.

In the novel, Berrian, the hero/lawyer claims of his fellow filibusters, “Their avowed object was to aid the Patriot natives in communicating to this oppressed and beautiful country, the entire freedom of their own.” These, the author contends, are “gallant and high-minded men.” He contrasts them with “self-denominated patriots,” of one of whom he writes, “it was difficult to ascertain which element preponderated in him, revenge, or a love of liberty, cupidity and ambition, or a desire to liberate his country.”[16] The latter is a reference to a fictional character clearly based on Gutiérrez, and exposes the strong bias to be expected from Bullard, a committed partisan of Toledo.

Just as Bullard exhibited a bias in his speech, Flint shows a conceit of the Spanish as inherently hostile to liberty. They are “instinctive enemies to every form of republican government...[are] contemplating with horror and disgust the development of republican principles.” Long notes, “As ‘the Mexican Patriot,’ Berrian remains indelibly a U.S. citizen, devoted to the nation’s foundational principles, a characterization that literalizes the cultural assumption that the American Revolution was in fact a global rebellion against tyranny that could spread its influence to any oppressed group.”[17] This second-hand portrayal completes a picture of Bullard as an idealist who at once loves Spanish culture, language, and people – or at least the cosmopolitan variants he found in Philadelphia – but who ultimately maintains a paternalistic view of the Spanish struggle for liberty.

And that, ultimately was Bullard, and in this way, he represented the evolution of the American attitude towards Mexicans. As he himself had done in his early writings, many Americans saw Mexicans in 1812 as brothers in arms, much like themselves, struggling against tyranny, who when liberated, would stand alongside Americans as examples of the new man of the New World.

But by 1836, American attitudes were moving in a different direction. For some, the new attitude began to bear the hallmarks of racism, but for many others, it was the slightly less rabid, but still contemptuous form known as paternalism. The Mexicans, for Bullard, had ceased to be the object of liberation themselves, but merely the background scenery in a liberation of the land, not for the benefit of the native inhabitants, but for that of the straining, expanding movement of American citizens known by this time as Manifest Destiny.



The author of this blog, in front of the old columns
that are all that remains of Henry Adams Bullard's
home in Natchitoches, Louisiana. 


[1] B.F. French, “Memoir of Hon. Henry A. Bullard, LL.D., president of the Louisiana Historical Society, and late judge of Supreme Court of Louisiana,” in Historical Collections of Louisiana...Compiled with Historical and Biographical Notes (New York: B.F. French, 1851), 6.

[2] C. Little and James Brown, ed. “American Obituary for 1851” in The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge, 1852 (Cambridge: Metcalf and Company, 1852), 334.

[3] Filibusters as a rule generally crossed class lines, far more so than most other activities in the nineteenth century. As Robert E. May notes, “Sons of planters, merchants, and prominent politicians joined clerks, apprentices, and immigrants in filibuster invasions. Some college students dropped out of their institutions to participate.” Schakenbach, 268. Robert E. May “Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age of Manifest Destiny: The United States Army as a Cultural Mirror,” The Journal of American History 78, No. 3 (Dec., 1991), pp. 864. Margaret S. Henson, “Burnet, David Gouverneur,” HOTO, (accessed July 03, 2021).

[4] Two sources have attributed the book to Bullard. The account claims to be a series of letters by a “Gentleman who was an officer under that General, to his friend in the United States.” The book was published anonymously in its first printing, then in later printings attributed to a James Biggs, who is unknown, and likely Bullard’s pseudonym. Bullard never went to Venezuela personally, though he evidently interviewed a source with first-hand knowledge of the affair. Credence to Bullard’s authorship is also given by the fact that he subsequently wrote additional histories, also under the cloak of anonymity. Pierce Welch Gaines, ed. Political Works of Concealed Authorship During the Administrations of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson (New Haven: Yale University Library, 1959), 116.

[5] V.H. Ivy, “The Late Henry A. Bullard,” In Debow’s Southern and Western Review 12 (1852): 51-52.

[6] Little and Brown, 334.

[7] William Shaler to James Monroe, 14 July 1813, Founders Online, National Archives [Source: The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 6, 8 February–24 October 1813, ed. Angela Kreider, et all. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 439–440.

[8] Ivy, 52.

[9] U.S. Congress, “Biographical Dictionary of Congress,” (accessed March 13, 2016).

[10] Robert Feikema Karachuk, “A Workman’s Tools: The Law Library of Henry Adams Bullard,” The American Journal of Legal History 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1998): 188.

[11] Henry Adams Bullard, “A discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana” (speech, New Orleans, LA, January 13, 1836.), in North American Review Vol 43 (Cambridge: Folsom, Wells, and Thurston, 1836): 281.

[12] “Mexico and Texas” North American Review Vol 43 (Cambridge: Folsom, Wells, and Thurston, 1836). While the published article does not have an attributed author, the original draft of the document is attributed to Bullard. Notably, Bullard’s comments negative to slavery were redacted by the publishers before printing. Bullard was a Whig, but found respect in Southern society despite his views. Ivy’s editors state in their biography that “Neither Mr. Ivy nor ourselves agree with the political tenets held by Judge Bullard; but find nothing in that to militate against our high appreciation of his learning, his talents, and his constant and unwavering services to the state.” Ivy, 50.

[13] Henry Adams Bullard, “Mexico and Texas” [Original Manuscript] North American Review Papers, 1831-1843. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

[14] Henry Adams Bullard, “A discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Louisiana.”

[15] James Weldon Long, “Revolutionary Republics: U.S. National Narratives and the Independence of Latin America, 1810–1846” (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University, 2011), 13.

[16]Long, 88.

[17]Ibid., 93.

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