From 1822 until his death, he was one of the nation’s most active political leaders, representing Yucatán as a deputy in the First and Second Mexican Constituent congresses of 1822 and 1824 and in the Mexican Senate from 1824 to 1826. In the following two years, marked by the internecine struggle between federalists and centralists for control over both national and state governments, Zavala served intermittently as governor of the state of Mexico. On March 12, 1829, Zavala received an empresario contract to settle 500 families in a huge tract of land in what is now southeastern Texas.
When Vicente Ramón Guerrero became president, Zavala was appointed secretary of the treasury and served from April to October 1829. When the centralist party under Vice President Anastacio Bustamante, ousted Guerrero late in the year, Zavala, a strong Federalist, was forced to abandon politics and to go into exile in June 1830.
Zavala headed for New York City hoping to interest eastern capitalists in his empresario grant. He succeeded and in October 1830 he sold his interest in the grant to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. The next year, Zavala headed for France and England then returned to New York City until his return to Mexico in the summer of 1832. During these year, Zavala authored a two-volume history of Mexico, which first appeared under the title Ensayo histórico de las revoluciones de México desde 1808 hasta 1830 (Paris and New York, 1831 and 1832), as well as Viage á los Estados-Unidos del Norte de América (Paris, 1834), in which he described economic, political, and social phenomena he observed during his visit to the United States.
From December 1832 until October 1833 he again served as governor of the state of Mexico, before returning to the Congress as a deputy for his native state of Yucatán. Named by President Antonio López de Santa Anna in October 1833 to serve as the first minister plenipotentiary of the Mexican legation in Paris, and he reported to that post in the spring of 1834. When he learned that Santa Anna had assumed dictatorial powers in April of that year, Zavala denounced his former ally and resigned from his diplomatic assignment. Disregarding Santa Anna’s orders to return to Mexico City, he traveled once again to New York City and then to Texas, where he arrived in July 1835. From the day of his arrival, he was drawn into the political caldron of Texas politics. Although he first advocated the cause of Mexican Federalism, within a few weeks he became an active supporter of the independence movement.