Mexico After Independence



The Crisis of Independence

Instability and the Early Nation


Mexico was faced with many challenges after the wars for independence. The economy had been ravaged. Many had died. There were large armies that still had not been demobilized. The social dislocations caused by the wars and all its residual wounds had still to be healed.


And in this chaotic environment the Mexicans tried to forge a nation out of growing economic, social and political instability.


As stated in the Plan de Iguala Iturbide named a provisional junta to govern the country. The junta was dominated by conservative criollos who then selected him to serve as the executive officer.


An independent Mexican congress was also formed made up of conservative criollos who debated the future course of Mexico.


In congress there was a small group who sought the creation of a republic, but the conservatives beat back these attempts at republicanism. The congress then sought to cut back on the army of the three guarantees.


Iturbide saw this as an attempt to undermine his power since he was in charge of the army. He then led a barracks coup on May 18, with troops backing him in becoming emperor of Mexico in 1822.


With Iturbide sitting on the throne of Mexico the congress met to define not to develop the economic base or a recovery from the war but to decide proper imperial etiquette.


In June the congress declared the monarchy to be hereditary and the heir would be Iturbide's oldest son. The coronation ceremony was very authoritarian and demeaning for those Mexicans who had fought for a more liberal political system.


The Napoleonic model would be how Iturbide fashioned his imperial rule. On July 21, 1822 Iturbide became the first emperor of Mexico amidst much fanfare and celebration.


Iturbide also saw that the entire governmental system of the colonial period had been based on loyalty to the king and crown. He wanted to build upon this authoritarian tradition.


Iturbide was an emperor in name, but he was really a caudillo that congress had given legal sanction to rule.


The Mexican empire was huge in that it stretched north to California and the southwest and then extended south all the way to Panama. Several of the central American regions actually rebelled against Mexican rule, but Iturbide sent an army force to suppress the revolt.


A more pressing problem occurred with the US. For Iturbide good relations was essential for the security of Mexico and he had hoped to secure a $10 million loan from the US.


But the US president James Monroe extended recognition to a republican Mexico, not an imperial one under Iturbide and from the very start of Iturbide's rule it was clear that the US would not actively support an empire at the expense of a republic on the southern border of the US.


Iturbide forced the issue when he sent an emissary to Washington. With moved emotions US president urged congress to recognize the Mexican regime. For the US it was important to recognize even a dictatorial regime in order that US businessmen would not be excluded from Mexico.


But economically Mexico was on very shaky economic foundations.


In the past Mexico's colonial economy had been dependent on gold and silver mines in the center of the country.


But it had been in the center of the country that the wars for independence had been the most destructive. The wars had completely dislocated mining. Workers had left to fight, mines that were not worked became flooded and other mines had been destroyed in the fighting.


There was such a scarcity of silver that the minting of money was curtailed and without a recovery in the mining centers there was massive unemployment in the mining centers of Mexico.


The wars for independence also had a very destructive effect on agriculture. Both the Spanish and the rebels had destroyed crops and killed off livestock. In addition many haciendas were burned and many hacendados killed.


This led to a shortage of food in the cities and the price of agricultural products rose steadily in 1822.


The average urban Mexican felt the impact of the economic recession and the government did as well in the form of falling revenues and a shrinking tax base.

The government despite a lack of money was still forced to pay bureaucrats, soldiers and very quickly the treasury was depleted. Expenses far exceeded government income. And the new government had lowered excise taxes on pulque and tobacco.


There was also a lack of investment capital and whatever capital was available was in the hands of Spaniards and most of them left after independence. Thus, there was tremendous capital flight from Mexico.


In response to the crisis the congress levied a forced loan on church properties. In addition the government cranked up the printing presses and simply made money which led to high inflation and a devalued currency.


As the economy deteriorated Mexicans began to lose faith in the imperial regime.


Military veterans were unhappy for there was no work. The congress had a very uneasy relationship with the monarchy.


The liberal press constantly attacked the emperor and this led Iturbide to censor the press. With the suppression of the press a conspiracy began in the congress led by Fray Servando Teresa de Mier and Carlos Maria de Bustamante, but they were all arrested.


The congress then protested their arrest and public opinion turned against Iturbide, with even his ally Guadalupe Victoria turning against him.


On October 31, 1822 these vociferou protests led Iturbide to dissolve the congress. This would set a precedent for most of the 19th century. When an executive did not like what congress stood for or was doing he would dissolve it in flagrant disregard for law.


An Anti-monarchy movement spread throughout Mexico city and the provinces and a specific plot crystallized in Veracruz under the command of Antonio López de Santa Anna.


Santa Anna had known Bustamante and he was influenced by the republican beliefs of his friend, but in reality it had more to do with a spat between Iturbide and Santa Anna over how Santa Anna was prosecuting the war for independence when his was the commander of Veracruz.


On December of 1822 Santa Anna rode through the streets of Veracruz proclaiming that Mexico was a republic. And a few days later he formally launched his revolt. Quickly Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria had joined the movement.


Iturbide was alarmed that there was now organized and armed resistance against his rule and he placed José Antonio Echáverri in charge of the imperial response to Santa Anna's rebellion.


But Echaverri had other plans and on February 1, 1823 he and his followers proclaimed the plan de casa mata and Santa Anna saw this plan as similar to his own decided to link up with Echaverri.


With this two antiimperial movement and armies had now become one and province after province fell to Santa Anna. The they turned their sights on Mexico City, but they did not have to take the capital by force.


2 weeks after the formation of the plan and the alliance, Iturbide abandoned Mexico city and the throne. He accepted a generous pension and he and his family left for an exile in Europe.


The first Mexico empire had been a real failure and it had merely substituted a new criollo oligarchy for the old Spanish oligarchy. It was also inherently anti-liberal which made many Mexicans feel safer.


The entire anti-monarchy fight was made in the name of the Congress, but few practical lessons as how to govern Mexico came about due to the imperial experiment.


The Mexican elite believed that those generals who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield would make good statesman as well, but nothing was further from the historical truth.


The fall of the empire marked the beginning of a new era, for it brought to power for the first time a criollo middle class who from the start had supported the independence movement.


In the melee it was the conservative criollos who had stolen the government away from those who had supported the movement.


But it should be noted that the criollos were not social revolutionaries and their objectives were political and economic, and certainly not social.




With the end of the empire a provisional junta was formed that was composed of Nicolás Bravo, Guadalupe Victoria and Pedro Celestino Negrete, all of whom were military men.


This would start a precedent in Mexico the casting of soldiers into political positions. The first order of business was to hold elections to create delegates for a constitutional congress.


This congress met in November of 1823 and before the week was over two very powerful factions had emerged that centered around the question of whether Mexico should be federalist or centralist.


The clergy favored centralism as did the hacendados, and the army officers. While the federalists were supported by liberal criollos and mestizos. The spokesman for the federalists was Miguel Ramos Arzipe and Valentín Gómez Farías from Zacatecas.


The centralists were supported by Bustamante and Teresa de Mier.


The federalists planned to model their constitution after the constitution of the US. But the centralists rejected this arguing that the experience of the US was much different from that of Mexico and a federal system could not work in Mexico.


In the end the federalists won the debate and in 1824 the constitution of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos was created. Mexico was organized as a federal republic composed of 19 states and 4 territories.


There was also a separation of power clause that divided government authority among the executive, legislative and judicial. The president and vice president were to be elected by the state legislature for a term of 4 years.


While the federalists had won some victories so too had centralists. The catholic church would be the religion for Mexico. The president was also given extraordinary power during times of crisis.


In times of emergency the president could assume the power of a dictator under law and the term emergency was very vaguely defined which would later invite abuse.


Finally the constitution guaranteed the military a continuance of their fueros such that if the clergy or soldiers committed a crime they could not be tried in civilian courts but only in either ecclesiastical or military courts respectively.


In the first election in Mexico's history Guadalupe Victoria became president. Victoria seemed to be a good president who sought to be impartial, but his attempts a building a consensus and his impartiality doomed him to indecision or to decisions that had little substance.


Additionally, Victoria had entered a very volatile and charged political environment. All the debates over empire, the government and the constitution had led to this intensely political atmosphere.


Both the major political factions identified themselves and their efforts with a branch of freemasonry. The federalists allied themselves to the York Rite Masons or Yorquinos and the centralist followed the Scottish Rite or Escoses. The meetings were held in secret behind locked doors where all manner of plots were hatched.


Under Victoria Iturbide was also executed. Iturbide had returned to Mexico to save Mexico from a rumored reconquest by Ferdinand VII. The congress told him not to come back to Mexico, but he did anyway.


Victoria's administration did very well in foreign policy. Mexico's independence was formally recognized by most of Europe and several treaties of friendship and commerce were also signed.


A treaty with the US decreed the sabine river would be the boundary between the US and Mexico as well as the boundary of east Texas. Victoria had finally secured the northern and eastern flank of the southwest.


But in terms of the domestic economy Victoria was able to do very little and the nation's financial condition steadily worsened. The criollos were poor managers of the Mexican economy.


Part of the problem of government expense was defense spending and Victoria kept a costly, large, standing army of 50,000 men intact. This army would drain government revenues, was a menace to civil liberties and to future civilian government.


Another economic problem was that the new government also assumed all national debts from the colonial era this was no small sum amounting to over 76 million pesos.


To make up government revenue import taxes were levied, sales taxes and new government monopolies were created. But large scale tax cheating occurred in order not to pay the new taxes.


Lack of Revenue was not the only problem facing the early Mexican economy. The entire financial structure of the economy was unsound. To make up for the shortfall in government income Mexico sought out loans from England in order to just pay the day-to-day expenses of government.


The loans were too small to invigorate the economy, but they did lead to a growing dependency of Mexico on European loans.

The rival factions grew farther apart and political and economic pressures led to an armed revolt against president Victoria in 1827. The leader of the insurrection was the VP Nicolas Bravo who was also supported by the Yorquinos.


The revolt was suppressed by Santa Anna and Guerrero, but a precedent of the military coup had been established, as well as the precedent that it would be armed force and the military that would be the ultimate social arbiter.


New elections were held in 1828 and the Liberal candidate Vicente Guerrero who ran against the conservative Manuel Gómez Pedraza. The election results revealed that Pedraza had won and the liberals rather than accepting the victory decided to stage a coup with Santa Anna as the leader.


Liberal revolts then broke out all over Mexico and the president elect was forced to split up his troop strength in order to deal with the liberal threat. With the army divided the rebel forces made great gains.


The president elect disgusted by the events then resigned and the defeated candidate Vicente Guerrero then became president. The conservative Anastasio Bustamante then became VP. Santa Anna for his role in this was given the position of division generalship the highest military rank in the country.


Guerrero was a very active president and did not worry about alienating certain segments of the population due to his executive decisions. The most progressive legislation he pushed was the abolition of all slavery in 1829.


Slavery was easily abolished in every area in Mexico except for Texas. In addition on the day of the election, the congress voted on a bill to expel every Spaniard from Mexico. This was in response to the fact that Spain was indeed planning an invasion of Mexico.


The Spanish expedition left Cuba with 3000 troops and they arrive on the coast Tamaulipas in July of 1829 exhausted and sick.


Guerrero decided to place the defense to a man who supposedly had saved Mexico many times in the past General Santa Anna. Santa Anna began a long siege of Tampico where the Spanish forces were holed up. Yellow fever and starvation plagued the Spanish forces.


By October the Spanish forced had retreated and the aborted invasion touched off a series of reprisals against the remaining Spaniards in the country. As more and more Spanish left Mexico it further weakened the economy due to the capital flight that the exit of the Spanish create.


Santa Anna was very popular and by 1830 he had become a national hero.

With Spain gone as a threat the Liberals and conservatives returned to their battles. Guerrero refused to give back the dictatorial powers that he had been granted and this allowed Bustamante to pose as a champion of the constitution.


Then Bustamante led an armed revolt against the president and succeeded in putting himself in the presidency due to his large support in the military.


With Bustamante as president the conservatives were back in power for the first time since Iturbide. The problem for the conservatives was once they were back in power they did not know what to do.


Bustamante was no more able to bring about stability than had been his liberal predecessors. He exacerbated the problem by becoming Mexico's first real military dictator.


Repression was exacted against the Yorquinos and the press was rigidly censored. Political corruption reached new heights.


The most alarming incident was the capture and execution of Vicente Guerrero. The execution had a sobering impact on Mexicans. Of the five great leaders of the independence movement 4 had died before firing squads.


The word traitor had become common political discourse and as a nation Mexico was drifting. At the national and state levels there was great civil instability and bankruptcy.


The social structure, the rigid class system and the unequal distribution of wealth had not changed. Poverty was everywhere and freeing the slaves did not abolish illiteracy and malnutrition.


The nations seemed ripe for some type of new leadership and there was one leader who was ready. This would be General Santa Anna.


Santa Anna grouped his forced and overthrew Bustamante in 1833 and then returned to Veracruz to wait for the election returns.




Santa Anna is one of the three great Mexican political figures and is very controversial in the history of Mexico. The other 2 great leaders were Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz.


Santa Anna would leave an indelible mark on the course of Mexican history. He would lead Mexico from the early 1830's to the 1850's. This would be a period of great political instability for the presidency would change hands some 36 times.


Santa Anna himself would be president not less than 11 times and even when he was out of office he had a tremendous influence on politics.


In the election of 1833 Santa Anna won by the largest majority in Mexican history and his VP would be Valentin Gomez Farias, both were avowed liberals.


As a liberal SA was expected to embark on a series of reforms that would make Mexico a modern nation. But SA decided to return back to his estate leaving the office to his VP.


Gomez Farias immediately began to sponsor a series of reforms. He reduced the size of the military abolished fueros. The liberals reforms also impacted the clergy in that priests must stay out of politics.


Much of Gomez Farias ideas came from the Mexican liberal theoretician Jose Maria Luis Mora who advocated that education should be secular. The University of Mexico was closed due to the fact that the majority of its professors were priests.


All clerical appointments would be made by the government, mandatory tithing was declared illegal and finally the Franciscan missions of California were secularized, replaced by presidios and the property of the missions was attached by the state.


The army and the church reacted along with other conservatives, but they needed a leader. They found their leader in the person of Santa Anna who jumped at the opportunity to return back to politics. Even if this meant attacking his very own VP.


The new regime of SA was openly conservative and he abolished the federalist constitution of 1824. The new Charter was known as the siete leyes or the constitution of 1836.


The Mexican state was reorganized along rigid centralist lines. States were transformed into military districts and the presidential term was extended from four to eight years.


The decision to abolish the federalist republic and replace it with a conservative one had momentous repercussion that would haunt SA throughout his life.


Foreign affairs during the age of Santa Anna were troubled to say the least and in 1838 Mexico became involved in a war with France. The French had made economic claims on Mexico and the bankrupt state of Mexico prevented the payment of French property losses due to the political chaos.


The French demanded $600,000 and then a fleet blockaded the port of Veracruz in 1838. They then attacked in November. Santa Anna then arrived at Veracruz and led his troops to the attack and in the street fighting lost his leg. The French and Mexicans rather than prolong the war decided on the sum of $600,000.


Despite the Mexican victory the liberals and conservatives were constantly at each others throats and larger and larger armies and a constantly expanding bureaucracy drained the Mexican treasury.


SA may have raised more revenue than his predecessors but he spent more too between 1839 and 1846 the annual deficit was 12.7 million pesos per year.


The Santa Anna dictatorship exacted a great price on the formation of the Mexican political culture. The only law of the period was that Liberals and conservatives would never agree or compromise. Successive governments were more concerned with pilfering the treasury than running the country.


SA set the example of political dishonesty, deception and a person devoid of principles. His loyalties could change at a moments notice. Revolts and repression were now accepted as normal political culture in Mexico.


The economy was in shambles, the national treasury all but bankrupt and Mexico had become dependent on foreign loans just to run the government and bureaucracy.




In 1821 the commandant general in Monterrey granted permission to Moses Austin and 300 catholic families to settle in Texas. Moses died and his son Stephen took over the project.


The families and settlers agreed to abide by Mexican law and late the influx of Americans into Texas was tremendous. The land was all but free and each male colonist over 21 was allowed to purchase 640 acres, 320 for his wife and 160 for each child, and 80 acres for each slave the settler brought with him.


By 1835 there were 30,000 white settlers with 7,800 Mexicans. Of the settlers very few were actually catholic and almost none spoke Spanish.


A major problem for the Texans was that it was administered by the state Coahuila which meant that Texans had little political representation. The Mexicans were also troubled by Americans. American filibusters had been repulsed by Mexican troops on more than one occasion.


Antagonism grew between white settlers and Mexicans. The last straw for the Texans was hearing that Santa Anna had annulled the federal constitution of 1824. The new centralist politics in Mexico city meant for Texans that now they would have no political voice at all.


Mexican liberals were sympathetic to the plight of Texans and Lorenzo de Zavala the Mexican minister to France argued that with the end of the 1824 constitution the Texans need not obey SA any longer.


The Texans themselves needed little prodding and chose a president of the Lone Star Republic with Zavala as VP.


At this point SA took to the field again in 1835 with 6000 troops and in March of 1836 they reached the outskirts of what today is San Antonio where the Texans had taken refuge in an old mission the Alamo.


After a siege of several days SA issued the deguello which was a battle call to take no prisoners. The Alamo fell to SA.


But a far more important battle occurred a few weeks later where upon seizing 365 prisoners SA ordered their execution. This was known as the battle of Goliad. The massacre at Goliad galvanized Texan and US opposition to Mexico and SA and served as a battle cry.


The Texans reorganized their army for the Mexicans had Sam Houston and the Texans on the run, but with the atrocity of Goliad men, arms, and supplies began to pour into Texas from the US.


At the San Jacinto river Houston and his men made their stand on April 21 and they caught SA and his army off guard. Within 30 minutes the Mexican army was routed and two days later SA himself had been captured by a Texan patrol.


As a prisoner SA signed two treaties with the president of Texas David Burnet. In the public treaty he promised never to take up arms against the people of Texas. In the secret treaty SA agreed to prepare the Mexican cabinet to recognize the independence of the Lone Star Republic.


Back in Mexico the liberals, the intellectuals, and the nationalists though that the treaties were a national disgrace.


Many Mexicans thought that SA had committed treason. The Mexican legislature rejected the treaties arguing that SA had been a prisoner and signed them under duress. Therefore no recognition would be extended.


Texas was independent as the Lone Star Republic from 1836 to 1845. Mexico was so racked by intrigue and political instability that for the nine years it was too unorganized and divided to bring Texas back.


The US recognized the independence of Texas in March of 1837. There were calls for the annexation but many congressmen felt that by annexing Texas it would provoke a war with Mexico.


But in 1844 Polk won the presidency on a platform that included annexation. Before Polk's inauguration president Tyler introduced annexation legislation and it passed both houses in early 1845. The road to war had been created.


The Mexican minister lodged a formal complaint and then diplomatic relations were broken off. The US then sent John Slidell to Mexico to negotiate with the president Jose Joaquin Herrera.


Slidell was asked to negotiate a boundary dispute. The old boundary had been the nueces river, but the Texans wanted it to be the Rio Grande. If the Rio Grande was to be the boundary then much of the southwest fell under US control.


Polk wanted even more, especially California and the rest of New Mexico. The US offered $30 million for both. The diplomatic secret was leaked out and Mexican nationalists were furious. There would be a rebellion if Herrera agreed to this.


He refused but even on the eve of war with the US Mexico could not act in a unified manner.


On May 9 General Zachary Taylor was attacked by Mexican troops and 16 of his men were killed. Polk now had the perfect excuse to push for a declaration of war and to begin hostilities against Mexico.


But if one examines this from Mexico the Americans had not only taken Texas, but the had changed the traditional boundary and doubled its size. And it would be Santa Anna who would fight against the Americans in 1846.


The war went very badly for Mexico and very well for the US. General Taylor pushed into Mexico and General Scott landed at Matamoros and then march and bombarded Veracruz. At the same time General Kearny set out for California.


In the attack on Veracruz hundreds of innocent civilians were killed by the merciless bombardment of the city. Veracruz surrendered on March 27.


Meanwhile Santa Anna after a series of disastrous battles with Taylor had retreated to Mexico city to block Scott's expected assault on the Capital.


The battle for Mexico city was epic, but as throughout the war the Americans proved themselves superior to the Mexicans in terms of firepower, leadership, and tactics. The city was finally taken by the US after intense hand to hand combat and house to house fighting.


The last battle was for Chapultepec palace guarded by cadets. It fell to US troops on September 13 and the US government prepared to negotiate a tough peace.


On Feb. 2 1848 Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The US would get Texas as well as California and Texas. Mexico would keep everything south of the Rio Grande.


The US would pay $15 million and claims against the government. The grand total the US would pay for all this was $18,250,000 and Mexico's territory was reduced in half.


The great question was should the US annex all of Mexico and this was debated as well. Upon the negotiation of the Treaty president Polk promptly recalled Slidell and fired him. If you occupy Mexico why pay anything was Polk's reasoning.


The Treaty stunned Mexico and the humiliation of the treaty did create unity and local revolts constantly plagued Mexico. President Santa Anna thought that the treasury could be saved by selling some more of Mexican territory to the US. This time it would be southern New Mexico and Arizona. The Gadsden Purchase cost the US $10 million.


This final humiliation prompted the liberals to finally get rid of Santa Anna for good. The Liberals proclaimed the Revolution of Ayutla. The revolution was the first of its kind where ideology and responsible national action would be more important than the personality of the leader.