(Mexico, the United States and War – continued)

home | 18-19th centuries index


previous | next

Mexican Politics from 1836-44, and Texas

When Santa Anna returned to Mexico from his 1836 defeat in Texas, he found it common knowledge that he had been willing to trade Texas for his personal freedom. He remained in retirement on his estate. Conservatives dominated the central government in Mexico City, and in December they imposed on Mexico a new constitution, with tough new property qualifications for voting and new legal powers by Mexico City over various states.

Mexico was still suffering from unrest and political instability. It was divided by class, or caste, about as much as it had been when ruled by Spain, and it was still divided by regional loyalties. Mexico's wealthy whites saw themselves as racially superior, and the majority of Mexicans – the Mestizos and Indians – were outside any peaceful political process. Since independence there had been little economic growth. Mexico was deeply in debt and the government without money. The production of corn – a staple food for common people – had doubled. Common people were still barely surviving. Mestizos working on plantations and for haciendas were usually in debt – similar to people in the U.S. who would owe money to the company store. And they were living in virtual serfdom. The earnings of workers were hardly enough for bare subsistence. Indians were raiding white settlements in response to being deprived of land that had been theirs, and the Maya of Yucatán were taking that province into virtual independence. Local caudillos (warlords) were talking about independence.

Mexico's liberals wanted reforms, including doing away with Church privileges, domination of education and right to tax (the tithe), and conservatives and the Church were fighting for the status quo.

In 1836, Mexico had what is called the Pastry War. Amid social upheaval, French business people in Mexico had suffered property damage, and one of them was a pastry cook who claimed that his shop had been ruined by soldiers. France demanded 600,000 pesos for damages, and, when payments were not forthcoming, France sent a fleet of ships to blockade and bombard ports on Mexico's gulf coast. In December the French raided the coast, landing several hundred marines. The French had aroused Santa Anna from seclusion on his gulf coast estate, and, when the marines were returning to ship, Santa Anna attacked and lost one of his legs to a shot from a French mobile artillery piece. Santa Anna wrote to Mexico's war ministry describing his harassment against a successful withdrawal as a "glorious victory." The war ministry accepted it, as did some others who were happy to see the French punished, and Santa Anna was rehabilitated as a national hero.

In March 1839, Mexico's conservative president, Anastasio Bustamente, a former general, responded to financial crisis and ended the war with France by promising to pay the 600,000 pesos, followed by Mexico granting France most favored nation trading status – 600,000 pesos perhaps cheaper than a prolonged war. But rather than peace for Bustamente, there came civil war – a liberal uprising, with fighting for eleven days in the streets of Mexico City. General J. Antonio Mejía sent Bustamente fleeing from Mexico City. Santa Anna intervened and became an interim president as the civil war continued. The revolt against Bustamente was finally crushed. Bustamente returned to his duties, and Santa Anna retired again to his estate.

Bustamente did not fully support the conservative agenda and was toying with moderation, and another general, Mariano Paredes, commandant at Guadalajara, led another rebellion against him, in 1841. Paredes proclaimed his "Plan of Political Regeneration." Mexico City was bombarded for a week. Santa Anna acted again as Mexico's savior. He mediated the conflict and sided with Paredes and other generals who were insisting that Bustamente step down. For the sake of order a special arrangement was made. On October 9, 1841, a body composed of two representatives from each state voted Santa Anna in as provisional president, and Santa Anna assumed dictatorial powers.

With others in Mexico City, Santa Anna continued seeing Texas as a part of Mexico, and, in December, Santa Anna ordered a raid against the Anglos in San Antonio. On March 5, a Mexican force of 391 men took San Antonio and proclaimed Mexican Law to be in effect. Then they withdrew from Texas. Santa Anna was dissatisfied and ordered another expedition against San Antonio, this one with more than a thousand men. They entered the town in September. Twelve Anglo-Texans were killed, three were wounded, fifty-two surrendered and others fled. One Mexican was killed and eighteen wounded. The Mexicans confiscated rifles, muskets and ammunition and then withdrew from Texas.

Santa Anna found his duties as president burdensome, and in October 1842 he abandoned his presidential duties again and made his vice president, Nicolas Bravo, president. On December 25, 308 Anglo-Texans attacked the town of Mier (just across the Rio Grande, 130 miles upriver from the coast) one of several raids by Anglo-Texans into Mexico that, like Mexico's raids, accomplished nothing. Santa Anna resumed office in March, 1843. On March 25, of the 176 Anglo prisoners from the Mier raid, Santa Anna had seventeen selected by lot and executed.

Also in March, Santa Anna's wife of nineteen years died, at the age of 33. Forty-one days later Santa Anna married a fifteen-year-old, the quick remarriage diminishing his popularity. In September he had his leg reburied in Mexico City with great pomp and ceremony, and a statue of Santa Anna was erected, its arm outstretched in the direction of Texas, which Santa Anna was still promising to liberate. To pay for his extravagances, Santa Anna raised import duties 20 percent, he sold more military commissions and he sold mining concessions to foreigners.

In September, 1844, Santa Anna took another leave of absence, leaving General Valentín Canalizo as acting president. A rebellion against rising taxes turned to General Paredes for leadership, and Paredes joined the rebellion in November. A mob in Mexico City tore down Santa Anna's statue, ransacked a theater that bore his name, disinterred his leg and dragged it through the street. Santa Anna marched toward Mexico City, taking money from Mexico's mint and from whomever he could intimidate. His army was reduced by desertion and Santa Anna advanced no farther than Puebla. His attempt to bargain with opponents failed. In January, Santa Anna was taken prisoner, charged with embezzlement and sent into exile to Spain's colony, Cuba, where he pursued his passion for cock fighting.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.