Mexican History, the rise of General Santa Anna, and the Texas rebellion

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1808: In France, Napoleon forced the King of Spain (and his son) to abdicate, installing his older brother Joseph as their new King. A civil war broke out at "Christian" Spain's domination by "Atheistic" France and their Revolutionary Council. The war lasted until 1814 and the fall of Napoleon. In 1810 it spilled over to calls for independence in Spanish America - in Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Bolivia), in New Granada (Venezuela and Colombia), and in New Spain (Mexico).

1810: The place was a small town known simply as Dolores when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753 - 1811) uttered his famous cry for the independence of Mexico (the Grito de Dolores Cry of Dolores) there in the early hours of September 16, 1810, in front of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores parish church. After Mexico achieved independence, the town was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in his honor.

1811: Father Hidalgo was captured and executed by Mexican Royalist forces. Insurgent fighting evolved into guerrilla warfare, and eventually the next major insurgent leader, José María Morelos y Pavon (1765-1815), who had led rebel movements with Hidalgo, became head of the insurgents, until Morelos was captured and shot in 1815.

1815: Mexican Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca offered an amnesty to the rebels. Many accepted. But after Morelos's death, his lieutenant, Vicente Guerrero (1782-1831), continued the war for independence.

Agustín de Iturbide (1783-1824)

1820: Hoping to extinguish this rebellion by Guerrero, the Mexican government reinstated Mexican army general and politician Agustín de Iturbide. He had been relieved of his command in 1816 on charges of cruelty and corruption after warring against the rebels since 1810.

Guerrero appealed to Iturbide to abandon his royalist loyalty and join the fight for independence. Events in Spain had changed, with Spanish liberals ousting Ferdinand VII and imposing the liberal constitution of 1812 that the Spanish king had repudiated. Conservatives in Mexico (including the Catholic hierarchy) judged that continued allegiance to the weakened king in Spain would undermine their position.

And so Guerrero's appeal to join the forces for independence was successful. Iturbide met with Vicente Guerrero on February 10, 1821. The two of them agreed to declare the independence of Mexico. The agreement was announced March 2, 1821, in the town of Iguala, in the present state of Guerrero, with the agreement known as the Plan de Iguala as their forces merged as the Army of the Three Guarantees (religion, independence, and unity). 

The plan was a rather vague document that sought the transition of the center of power in New Spain from Madrid to Mexico City. Essentially, the idea was to bring Ferdinand VII to Mexico City to rule. If he did not come to this new nation, i.e. Mexico, another member of the Bourbon royal family would be chosen to rule there. If no European ruler would come to rule México, the nation would have the right to elect a ruler amongst its own people. To attract the disparate parties involved in this scheme, the plan offered three guarantees: Mexico would be independent from Madrid, Roman Catholicism would be the official religion, and all inhabitants of México would be considered equals, with no distinction being made between Spaniards, Creoles, Mestizos, etc., thus eliminating the complicated caste system that had been used up until that moment, and abolishing the use of slaves in the territory of the new nation as well.

It invited their current Viceroy in Mexico, Ruiz de Apodaca, to become leader of the independence movement.

The Viceroy rejected the offer, and declared Iturbide a traitor and an outlaw. He sent troops to fight him, but everywhere the troops rebelled and went over to Iturbide. The coming leader Lieutenant Colonel Antonio López de Santa Anna, for example, endorsed the Plan de Iguala in Xalapa on May 29, 1821.

The Mexican Royalists, led by Brigadier Buceli, declared Viceroy Apodaca inept and deposed him on July 5, 1821. He was sent to Spain to face charges, but he was absolved and returned to duty, becoming captain general of the Spanish navy at the time of his death in 1835.

On August 24, 1821, representatives of the Spanish crown in Mexico and General Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the Plan of Iguala.

The Army of the Three Guarantees marched triumphantly into Mexico City on September 27, 1821.

In Spain, the Spanish parliament rejected the Treaty of Córdoba, and Ferdinand VII rejected the offer of the Mexican throne and forbade any of his family from accepting the position. Ferdinand VII had now regained the upper hand against the liberals in Spain, increasing his influence outside the country. As he was forming plans for the reconquest of the old colony, no European noble was prepared to accept the offer of a Mexican crown. 

Spain did not recognize Mexico's independence until 1836. On 28 December 1836, Spain recognized the independence of Mexico under the Santa María–Calatrava Treaty, signed in Madrid by the Mexican Commissioner Miguel Santa María and the Spanish state minister José María Calatrava. Mexico was the first former colony whose independence was recognized by Spain; the second was Ecuador on 16 February 1840.

Back to 1821
28 Sep 1821 General Agustín de Iturbide was pronounced President of the Regency of Mexico

19 May 1822 – 19 March 1823 Crowned Emperor of Mexico.

During this time, Mexico suffered. Most European nations broke off economic ties with the new state. Iturbide's economic policies drained its resources. To increase his popularity, he abolished a number of colonial-era taxes but insisted on a large and very well-paid army and lived extravagantly himself.

The situation did not last long. Soon Iturbide was unable to pay his army, with discontent growing in a significant portion of his power base. When criticism of the government grew strong, Iturbide censored the press–an act that backfired against him. Opposition groups began to band together against the emperor. Leaders such as Valentín Gómez Farías and Antonio López de Santa Anna began to conspire against the imperial concept altogether and became convinced that a republican model was needed to combat despotism.

Santa Anna publicly announced his opposition to Iturbide in December 1822 in the Plan of Veracruz, supported by an old Insurgent hero, Guadalupe Victoria. 

Santa Anna's army marched toward Mexico City, winning small victories along the way. Iturbide gathered and sent troops to combat Santa Anna, but they did not put up a strong resistance. Iturbide abdicated, sailed to Tuscany, then England to write his memoirs. Iturbide sent word to congress in Mexico City on 13 February 1824 offering his services in the event of Spanish attack. Congress never replied. However conservative political factions in Mexico finally convinced Iturbide to return. He returned to Mexico on 14 July 1824, accompanied by his wife, two children, and a chaplain. He was arrested and shot 19 July 1824.

Guadalupe Victoria (1786-1843)

Iturbide's empire was replaced with the First Mexican Republic. Guadalupe Victoria (1786-1843) was elected as the first President (10 October 1824 – 31 March 1829).

Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794 - 1876)

Guadalupe Victoria was followed as President by Vicente Guerrero, who had come second in the 1828 election, but was supported by Santa Anna who ensured the winning vote was overturned. Guerrero became the first in a long line of Presidents to gain the Presidency through a military revolt after losing an election. Guerrero was later betrayed and assassinated in 1831, and Santa Anna would rise again to avenge him, beginning the era of Mexican History that Santa Anna so clearly dominated.

In 1829, Santa Anna defeated a Spanish invasion to reconquer Mexico. Spain invaded Tampico with a force of 2,600 soldiers. Santa Anna marched against the Barradas Expedition with a much smaller force and defeated the Spaniards, many of whom were suffering from yellow fever. The defeat of the Spanish army not only increased Santa Anna's popularity, but also consolidated the independence of the new Mexican republic. Santa Anna was declared a hero. From then on, he styled himself "The Victor of Tampico" and "The Savior of the Motherland". His main act of self-promotion was to call himself "The Napoleon of the West".

In a coup in December 1829, Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante took over from President Guerrero, who then left the capital to lead a rebellion in southern Mexico. On 1 January 1830, Bustamante became President. His capture of ousted President Guerrero in 1831 followed by a summary trial and execution was a shocking event to the nation. The conservatives in power were tainted by the execution. In 1832, a new rebellion started against Bustamante in order to install Manuel Gómez Pedraza (the one who had won the election in 1828 and been unseated in Guerrero's coup). The command of the rebellion was offerred to Santa Anna.

In August 1832, Bustamante temporarily appointed Melchor Múzquiz to the post of President. He moved against the rebels and defeated them at Gallinero. Forces from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and Puebla marched to meet the forces of Santa Anna, who were approaching the town of Puebla. After two more battles, Bustamante, Gómez Pedraza, and Santa Anna signed the Agreement of Zavaleta (21–23 December 1832) to install Gómez Pedraza as a temporary President. Bustamante went into exile. Santa Anna accompanied Pedraza on 3 January 1833 and joined him in the capital.

First Presidency of Santa Anna, 1833–35
Santa Anna was elected President on 1 April 1833, but while he desired the title, he was not interested in governing. "It annoyed him and bored him, and perhaps frightened him."

Santa Anna's Vice President, liberal Dr Valentín Gómez Farías took over the responsibility of the governing of the nation. Santa Anna retired to his Veracruz hacienda, Manga de Clavo. On 12 June 1834, Santa Anna dissolved Congress and announced a decision to adopt the Plan of Cuernavaca. Santa Anna formed a new Catholic, centralist, conservative government. In 1835, it replaced the 1824 constitution with the new constitutional document known as the "Siete Leyes" ("The Seven Laws"). His regime was a dictatorship backed by the military.

  1. The 15 articles of the first law granted citizenship to those who could read and had an annual income of 100 pesos, except for domestic workers, who did not have the right to vote.
  2. The second law allowed the President to close Congress and suppress the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Military officers were not allowed to assume this office.
  3. The 58 articles of the third law established a bicameral Congress of Deputies and Senators, elected by governmental organs. Deputies had four-year terms; Senators were elected for six years.
  4. The 34 articles of the fourth law specified that the Supreme Court, the Senate of Mexico, and the Meeting of Ministers each nominate three candidates, and the lower house of the legislature would select from those nine candidates the President and Vice-President,
  5. The fifth law had an 11-member Supreme Court elected in the same manner as the President and Vice-President.
  6. The 31 articles of the sixth Law replaced the federal republic's "states" with centralized "departments", fashioned after the French model, whose governors and legislators were designated by the President.
  7. The seventh law prohibited reverting to the pre-reform laws for six years.


Back in 1820, Moses Austin, a US citizen, had asked the Spanish government in Mexico for permission to settle in sparsely populated Texas. Land was granted, but Austin died soon thereafter, so his son, Stephen F. Austin, took over the project. In 1821 when Mexico gained independence from Spain, Austin negotiated a contract with the new government that allowed him to lead some 300 families to the Brazos River. Under the terms of the agreement, the settlers were to be Catholics, but Austin brought mainly Protestants. Other US settlers arrived in succeeding years, and the Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans. In 1826, a conflict between Mexican and American settlers led to the short-lived Fredonian Rebellion, and in 1830 the Mexican government took measures to stop the influx of Americans. In 1833, Austin, who sought statehood for Texas in the Mexican federation, was imprisoned after calling on settlers to declare it without the consent of the Mexican congress. He was released in 1835.

However Santa Anna, as a soldier and politician, and from 1834 dictator, sought to crush the rebellions. In October 1835, the Anglo residents of Gonzales, 50 miles east of San Antonio, responded to Santa Anna's demand that they return a cannon loaned for defence against Indian attack by discharging it against the Mexican troops sent to reclaim it. The rout is regarded as the first battle of the Texas Revolution. The American settlers set up a provisional state government, and a Texan army under Sam Houston won a series of minor battles during the following two months.

In December, Texas volunteers commanded by Ben Milam drove Mexican troops out of San Antonio and settled in around the Alamo, a mission compound adapted to military purposes around 1800. In January 1836, Santa Anna concentrated a force of several thousand men south of the Rio Grande, and Sam Houston ordered the Alamo to be abandoned. Colonel James Bowie, who arrived at the Alamo on January 19, realized that the fort's captured cannons could not be removed before Santa Anna's arrival, so he remained entrenched with his men. By delaying Santa Anna's forces, he reasoned, Houston would have more time to raise an army large enough to repulse the Mexicans. On February 2, Bowie and his 30 or so men were joined by a small cavalry company under Colonel William Travis, bringing the total number of Alamo defenders to about 140. One week later, the frontiersman Davy Crockett arrived in command of 14 Tennessee Mounted Volunteers.

On February 23 1836, Santa Anna and some 3,000 Mexican troops besieged the Alamo, and the former mission was bombarded with cannon and rifle fire for 12 days. On February 24, in the chaos of the siege, Colonel Travis smuggled out a letter that read: "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World…. I shall never surrender or retreat…. Victory or Death!" On March 1, the last Texan reinforcements from nearby Gonzales broke through the enemy's lines and into the Alamo, bringing the total defenders to approximately 185.

On March 2, a convention of American Texans met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and formally declared its independence from Mexico. The delegates chose David Burnet as provisional President and confirmed Sam Houston as the commander in chief of all Texan forces. The Texans also adopted a constitution that protected the free practice of slavery, which had been prohibited by Mexican law. Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's siege of the Alamo continued, and the fort's 185 or so American defenders waited for the final Mexican assault.

In the early morning of March 6, Santa Anna ordered his troops to storm the Alamo. Travis' artillery decimated the first and then the second Mexican charge, but in just over an hour the Texans were overwhelmed, and the Alamo was taken. Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken, and all the Texan and American defenders were killed in brutal hand-to-hand fighting. The only survivors of the Alamo were a handful of civilians, mostly women and children. Several hundred of Santa Anna's men died during the siege and storming of the Alamo.

Six weeks later, a large Texan army under Sam Houston surprised Santa Anna's army at San Jacinto. Shouting "Remember the Alamo!" the Texans defeated the Mexicans and captured Santa Anna. The Mexican dictator was forced to recognize Texas' independence and withdrew his forces south of the Rýo Grande.

Texas sought annexation into the United States which was against Mexico's wishes and antislavery forces in the US also opposed its admission into the Union. For nine years Texas existed as an independent republic, with Sam Houston as Texas' first elected President. In 1845, Texas joined the Union as the 28th state, an event that led to the outbreak of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Back to 1836

On December 8 1836, following the death of King Ferdinand in Spain in 1833 and with his young daughter Isabella ascending to the Spanish throne, a definitive peace treaty was signed in Madrid between Spain's Prime Minister and Minister of State José María Calatrava and the Mexican minister (to the UK) Miguel Santa Maria.

General Santa Anna continued to rule as President of Mexico, on and off until 1854.

In 1838 he had his leg amputated when wounded during the Pastry War, a brief French intervention that followed a grievance raised by a French pastry chef to the French King Louis-Philippe, from his shop on the outskirts of Mexico City. 

On August 22, 1846 interim Mexico President José Mariano Salas issued a decree restoring their original 1824 constitution and forming the Second Federal Republic. It was the year of the Mexican-American War that ran from April 1846 - February 1848. It was lost by Mexico under General Santa Anna and resulted in Texas then California in 1850 becoming a state inside the USA, alongside the new territories of New Mexico / Arizona.

In 1854, the Plan of Ayutla was the written plan aimed at removing Santa Anna from control of Mexico during the Second Federal Republic period. Initially, it seemed little different than other political plans of the era, but it is considered to be the first act of the Liberal Reform in Mexico. It was the catalyst for revolts in many parts of Mexico, it led to the resignation of Santa Anna from the Presidency, after which he never vied for office again.

In 1858 Benito Juárez became President, reigning on and off until 1872. In 1861 he declared a two-year moratorium on Mexican debt to France, among other nations. It was the time of the American Civil War and France, temporarily aided by England and Spain (but who both withdrew in 1862), invaded Mexico a second time and seized Mexico City in June 1863. Maximilian, brother of the Habsburg Austrian emperor Franz Joseph, was invited to become emperor which took place in 1864. Maximilian offered Juárez an amnesty and the post of prime minister, which Juárez refused. Following ongoing guerrilla warfare in the south, increasing in 1866 with US aid, France began withdrawing its troops. In May 1867 Mexico City was taken by Juárez's troops, and Maximilian, along with his two leading generals, was executed by firing squad.

In 1876 Porfirio Díaz became President, ruling on and off until the Mexican Revolution in 1911, which followed the collapse in the silver price and the disappearance of the Mexican silver dollar as an international currency, especially in Japan and East Asia markets.

Click here for Mexico's history during the 20th century that followed the revolution. Relations between Mexico and the US warmed in the 1930s, particularly after US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin American countries. On the other hand, since the late 1960s Mexico has become a major player in the US drug war.

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