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Leadership in and around Laredo

Then & Now

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Lots of things were happening in the region around Laredo in 1840, some of which were a result of its geography. It sat squarely in a “no man’s land” between the Republic of Texas and the northern lands of the Republic of Mexico, the government to which it belonged. It was not well-protected by the Republic of Mexico and a large number of people who lived here believed in ideals that were in opposition of the Centralists, who were aligned with Mexico’s government. Indian raids and skirmishes broke out often, leaving the residents in a near-constant need of defense. The resources were diminished by these attacks and the people were left fearful. They needed help.


After a period of time, a few like-minded people with backgrounds in politics or the military resolved to form the Republic of the Rio Grande. Leaders in opposition to the formation challenged it with pummeling attacks—those were the people with allegiance to the current government in Mexico City. 


Leaders both advocating for the Republic of the Rio Grande and those opposed to it were strong-minded men and they had characteristics necessary for governmental leadership of the time. They were either strategic military thinkers, had knowledge of the vast, undeveloped landscape, were politically savvy, or had an understanding of how to rally troops to support them.  


Today’s leaders of nations have some of these same qualities although it is how they go about doing the business of leading a country that is different.  

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on behalf of the Republic of the 

Rio Grande in 1840

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There were a number of men who rose to leadership positions within the Republic of the Rio Grande. The exhibition at the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum enables a deeper study of each of these men. 

(Note: Remember that women were not allowed overt leadership roles in society at this time.) These people were Federalists and defied the rule of the Republic of Mexico. Two are noted here: 

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on behalf of the Republic of the 

Rio Grande in 1840

The Republic of Mexico, which was based on the Constitution of 1824, called for a strong allegiance to a centralized government and support of the Church.  

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Describe what you think gave Canales or Zapata courage to be part of a fledgling nation and fight for its cause? 

Why do you think Canales needed a mythological or magical sign before he could made a decision?

What gave Zapata courage? What is the difference between reckless action and thoughtful decision making? 

Can you relate to a time 

when you needed to make 

a decision that would lead 

a group? 

Profiles of Leadership
Fear and Courage

Leadership Can Lead to Change

Leaders stand up for something.  People get behind them, trust them, and respect their leadership skills. This is how people who run in an election come to have support and it is how military leaders encourage soldiers to follow them into battle. With support, leaders can often make change happen. 


During the time of the Republic of the Rio Grande, Canales and Zapata were part of a group that formed a new nation.  Today, leaders can change policy, bring about equity and provide for access.  Leadership is a powerful tool but needs to be used with great care to ensure no one abuses their followers or uses power in other, unethical ways.


During the rise of the Republic of the Rio Grande, Zapata and Canales gained power from their leadership qualities on topics that mattered to the people who followed them and which were important in 1840. That meant strategic military thinking, the ability to protect, and an understanding of political history.  Santa Anna, on the side of the Republic of Mexico, was also an excellent military thinker, but he ruled as a dictator and required his people to follow not by choice, but by fear and force.

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Leading to Change
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Through time, not all leaders have done well with their power. Some have forced their leadership on others through fear as Santa Anna did.  


Some of these types of leaders went way too far and committed crimes against humanity. 

• In the 1940s, Germany’s Nazi dictator Hitler led the country by brutal rule, fear, and intimidation.  He unlawfully used his power to commit crimes and led the Holocaust genocide which accounted for the murder of over six million, mostly Jewish, people.


• In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia regime was led by Pol Pot.  He combined extremist ideology with a cruel disregard for human life to produce repression, misery, and murder on a massive scale. He exterminated 21% of the population in order to gain power. 


•  The 1980s saw General José Efraín Ríos Montt, president of Guatemala, exterminate five indigenous Mayan groups. He is the first former head of state to face trial for genocide.

While many have used power unfairly, other leaders have done great, transformative things for those who provided them support.    

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ruling through fearful propaganda

Many brutal leaders—from Hitler to Pol Pot—used propaganda to develop fear in the people they ruled as “leaders”.  They made up lies, misrepresented groups of people with unfair characterizations, and created scares to divide groups.


Mexico’s Santa Anna did the same thing. One propaganda technique he used was the display of Zapata’s head, placed on a pole in front of his family’s home, to scare others into compliance. Leader’s often use propaganda to advance their cause.

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leadership skills

Developing leadership skills is important for young people. Why do you think that is? 


In the years to come, our communities and employers rely on the young people of today to be leaders for tomorrow. Our entire global society depends on leaders to protect our resources and maintain the best interests of all of us. 

Some key skills of leaders include:

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Who are the leaders in and around Laredo today? 

Senator Judith Pappas Zaffirini


Senator Judith Zaffirini represents the 21st Senatorial District, which stretches from the Rio Grande to the Colorado River and to the Port of Corpus Christi and the Valley. It includes Laredo. She is the first Hispanic woman elected to the Texas Senate, the second-highest-ranking senator, and the highest-ranking woman and Hispanic senator.  


Leaders like Zaffirini have to listen to the people she represents while working hard to bring about change that she believes in.  


Listen to her speak about what she views are important qualities of a leader in Texas today and what topics are important to her as a senator.


In 1840 Laredo, and the nearby region needed protection and resources.  Today, the people in Laredo, and all of Texas, have a similar need for protection and resources. Attending to the needs of the people–then and now–makes for a good leader.


Timberly Williams



Timberly Williams



Timberly Williams

getting around

Timberly Williams

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Ruling Through Propaganda


There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,

Can circumvent, or hinder, or control

The firm resolve of a determined soul.

Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great;

All things give way before it soon or late.

What obstacle can stay the mighty force

Of the sea-seeking river in its course,

Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?

Each well-born soul must win what it deserves.

Let the fool prate of luck.

The fortunate is he whose earnest purpose never swerves

Whose slightest action or inaction serves

The one great aim. 


- Ella Wheeler Wilcox

recommended reading

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Recommended Reading




Art/Social Studies

ELA/Social Justice



Art/Social Studies

ELA/Social Justice



Art/Social Studies

ELA/Social Justice

Lesson Plans
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