From Empire to Republic - Arthur H. Noll

War With the United States, and Its Consequences

Texas had been independent of Mexico for nine years, had established a Republic, and had been recognized as such by the United States and by the principal nations of Europe. All the plans of Santa Anna for its reconquest had come to naught. It was now applying for admission to the United States. The project for annexation was regarded with feelings of great bitterness in Mexico; for not only did this project place the United States in the position of an oppressive neighbor taking advantage of the unhappy conditions that had prevailed in Mexico and enabled Texas to gain her independence, but it also made the United States a party to the dispute over the claim of Texas (under the Treaty of Peace concluded between General Houston and Santa Anna) to the Rio Grande, and not the Nueces, as her boundary. Diplomatic relations between Mexico and Texas were suspended; and immediately upon the passage of the act of annexation by the Congress of the United States, General Almonte, who had been Santa Anna's fellow-prisoner at the battle of San Jacinto and was now Envoy to the United States, demanded his passports and returned to Mexico. President Herrera issued a proclamation declaring the annexation a breach of international faith, and called upon the citizens of Mexico to rally to the defense of the territorial integrity of the country.

Troops were sent to the Rio Grande to enforce the claims of Mexico to the territory in dispute. This prepared the way for the United States government to send troops, under General Zachary Taylor, to take up a position at Corpus Christi. Herrera was evidently convinced of the inability of Mexico, in her then crippled condition, to carry on a successful war with the United States, and he showed a disposition to negotiate for a peaceable settlement of the territorial dispute. Nevertheless troops were forwarded to the frontier; and among the officers in command was General Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga.

During the progress of the war that ensued, the changes in the government of Mexico were unusually frequent. The Federalists were in the ascendant in 1845, and Gomez Farias and Herrera were prominent candidates for the Presidency. The latter was almost unanimously elected. A certain weakness in declaring his Federalism alienated him from his own party, without attracting to him the Church and the Centralists who were the natural enemies of his government. In addition to this, his efforts to avoid a conflict with the United States raised a popular clamor against his administration, and speedily brought it to an end.

General Paredes, on his way to the seat of war, "pronounced" in San Luis Potosi, in December, 1845, and returned to the capital at the head of about six thousand men. A pronunciamento, emanating from the army in San Luis Potosi and Tampico, expressed the discontent that was becoming general over the administration of Herrera. But no acts of violence occurred, and arrangements were made for the surrender of the capital without disorder or bloodshed. Paredes reached the capital on the second of January, 1846. He called together a Junta of Notables, comprising two representatives from each Department; and by this Junta he was elected President two days later.

He took an oath at his inauguration to "sustain the independence and integrity of the national territory against any foreign aggressions whatever, and to maintain the Republican popular representative system of government according to the Plan of Administration of the Republic agreed to by the act of the army on the second of January." The acts of the junta were signed by Bravo, Valencia, Almonte, and other professed enemies of Paredes. In the cabinet appointed by him, Almonte held the post of Secretary of War.

The man who had once built up and now destroyed Herrera's administration was a strangely contradictory character. Many supposed him to be acting at this time under the influence of Santa Anna. He declined to take up his residence in the National Palace, avoided all ostentatious display, and moved about the capital unattended by any military or other escort. But he was nevertheless an advocate of monarchy; and to the neglect of subjects of greater importance then prominently before the people, and of the war then in progress, he used his position to further a retrogressive movement and to propagate his monarchical ideas. Lucas Alaman, the pronounced monarchist, was entrusted by Paredes with the task of drawing up a new Constitution similar in form to the "Bases Organicas." Paredes was favored, in his monarchical plans, by the Spanish minister then in Mexico. He supported a paper called El Tiempo, edited by eminent persons of the Conservative party, and made it the organ of his government. He was intolerant to the extent of active persecution of the Liberal writers on the staff of El Monitor Republicano, who were outspoken in their opposition to his administration. It is remarkable that it should have escaped suspicion at the time, that he was in collusion with Santa Anna to destroy the Republic and to carry out the threats which Santa Anna is alleged to have made when he entered upon his exile.

A revival of monarchical ideas in an extreme wing of the Conservative party was scarcely to be regarded as a novel phase of Mexican politics. It had manifested itself before to such an extent as to attract the attention of publicists. It was one of the phases of political life to be taken into serious consideration by anyone who would attempt to study the constitutional history of Mexico or the various efforts to establish constitutional government therein.

When, as late as 1851, a political pamphleteer attempted to describe the various parties and factions in Mexico, he accorded recognition to the Monarchists, but flippantly referred to them as "calling themselves Conservatives," and stated that they had assumed the task of propagating their "peculiar political heresies," and stirring up feeling against the Republic. He pointed out, however, the impossibility of the Monarchists making any headway toward the accomplishment of their purposes as long as the United States maintained a Republic. In according to Lucas Alaman, the celebrated historian and publicist of Mexico, the chief place in the Monarchical wing of the Centralist or Conservative party, the pamphleteer ignored a more outspoken Monarchist than Alaman, Paredes, or any of the contributors to El Tiempo, and overlooked an event quite worthy of his attention and of ours, being not without its bearing upon the events now under consideration and upon others to which we must shortly pass.

In August, 1840, Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada addressed from his home, in one of the suburbs of the capital, a letter "to the President of the Republic, upon the necessity of seeking in a Convention the possible remedy for the evils which afflict the Republic." The letter reviewed, with unsparing frankness and with great accuracy, the attempts and the failures of the Mexicans to govern themselves, and proposed the establishment of a monarchy under the rule of some European prince. In order to write this letter, Gutierrez de Estrada resigned the office of Minister of Foreign Relations in the Cabinet of Bustamante, and also his seat in the Mexican Senate. When read in Congress, the letter created a profound sensation. The writer's position in society, his respectable antecedents, and the widespread popular confidence in the sincerity of his convictions, prevented his being dealt with in accordance with the customs prevailing in Mexico at that time. But the feeling against him was so strong that he concluded that it was best for him to reside in Europe, which he did until near the end of his life.

Paredes was a good soldier but an indifferent executive, and utterly incapable of inspiring the people with any respect for him or any enthusiasm for the measures he desired to have adopted. He summoned a "Constituent" Congress, as it was called, in May, 1846, and it sat until July. On the sixteenth of June it went into a formal election of President, as a result of which Paredes was declared elected President, and General Nicolas Bravo became Vice-President.

In the meantime, in March, 1846, General Taylor of the United States Army had begun his advance from Corpus Christi toward the Rio Grande. On the twenty-sixth of that month he was on the banks of that river opposite Matamoras, within the territory in dispute between the United States and Mexico. On that soil the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma were fought in May, resulting in victories for the superior arms of the Americans. President Polk, who had been elected chief magistrate of the United States upon the issue of the projected annexation of Texas, asserted in a message to Congress that "by the act of the Republic of Mexico, war existed between that government and the United States." From the present point of view, and studied in the light of subsequent events, the statement of the Whig members of the American Congress is verified,—that the war was really begun by General Taylor, who sought an opportunity to cross the Rio Grande and take possession of Matamoras, which was in undisputed Mexican territory. This he did immediately afterward, and proceeded to the capture of Monterey the following September. Upper California had already submitted to the navy of the United States, commanded by Commodore Sloat; and Santa Fe, the key to New Mexico, was in the possession of General Kearney. All this is now proved to have been part of the program upon which Polk had been elected President of the United States, The remainder of the program was carried out in a war of aggression which few historians now attempt to justify, with the acquisition of territory in view from the start.

Paredes was at the head of the party in Mexico favorable to prosecuting the war, as opposed to the policy of Herrera, who, seeing that it was impossible for Mexico to gain anything from a struggle with a superior power, had been disposed to submit the questions at issue to arbitration and arrangement. Again lack of unity proved the curse of Mexico, and internal feuds opened the way for the success of the invading army, and brought the whole land to the feet of the government of the United States.

Paredes, when elected President, received the permission of Congress to lead the army against the United States; and, also with the permission of Congress, he left the government in the hands of General Bravo in July. A pronunciamento at the Ciudadela, in the capital, a few days later, brought the administrations of both Paredes and Bravo to an end, and made General Mariano Salas President. This pronunciamento had evidently been instigated by letters written by Santa Anna, in his Cuban exile. All who had been banished for their political opinions since 1821 were by the pronunciamento invited to return and cooperate with the Mexicans in driving the invaders out of the country; Congress was to take all necessary action relative to the warmth the United States, and Mexicans were to be guided accordingly. General Santa Anna was declared to have had the glory of establishing the Republic, and, whatever his errors, he was still the firm supporter of public liberty and of national honor. Hence he was proclaimed leader of the enterprise proposed in the pronunciamento; and Mexico was prepared for another exhibition of political inconsistency, and for surrender to a man who was acting as the agent of the United States with scarcely an effort at concealment.

Salas was chief of the army at the capital when he took charge of the executive office. He was a Moderate Liberal, and his administration was in the direction of Federalism. He succeeded in reconciling the various parties and factions, in the face of the peril in which all were placed; Paredes was put under arrest, and, though treated with respect, was imprisoned in Castle Perote for a time, and finally sent into exile. The Constitution of 1824 was re-established, by the decree of Salas, upon the recommendation of Santa Anna. Having done this, Salas attempted to extricate the Presidential office from the tangle in which it was found, and convened Congress for a new election. Santa Anna was recalled from his exile as the military leader most competent to cope with the difficulties then presenting themselves.

It seems to have escaped the attention of the Mexicans at the time that for Santa Anna then to land at Vera Cruz it would be necessary for him to run the blockade which the United States army under General Scott had established in front of that city; and it was not until afterwards that it was seen that his presence in Mexico at such a juncture was only possible through the collusion of the United States government. The interest of that government in having him at the head of the armies of Mexico lay in the understanding that the wily and unscrupulous politician would be sure to add to the discord at the capital of Mexico, and thus render the victory of the United States an easier one.

Accordingly Santa Anna landed at Vera Cruz, on the sixteenth of August. He was received by but few friends, and his welcome was of neither a public nor a popular character, nor was it marked by any enthusiasm. His personal vanity received a wound. He was chilled and disappointed by the coldness of his fellow-countrymen. He entertained at a public dinner in Vera Cruz a large number of civil dignitaries and military officers, and thus succeeded in securing something in the way of a demonstration and some show of enthusiasm. He was placed in communication with Salas, and letters passed between them filled with bombastic expressions of patriotism. Santa Anna was nothing if not theatrical. He had learned, however, to be cautious of his countrymen. He tarried, on the plea of ill-health, until General Almonte could go to the capital and make sure what was the popular feeling, and whether his advent in the City of Mexico would be safe.

He then issued a long manifesto, apologizing for his conduct since 1834, and criticizing Herrera and Paredes very severely. He denounced the proposal for monarchy, despite the ugly stories that had appeared in a French paper to the effect that he had sent a memorial to the courts of France, Spain, and England, "offering to put himself at the head of an expeditionary army to plant a monarchy on the Mexican soil, and to place all his influence and resentments at the disposal and for the service of a foreign dynasty." He had denied this story most emphatically from the place of his exile in Cuba; but the evidence seems clear that he had actually entered into negotiations of that character. He recommended that Congress, about to be assembled, be empowered to regulate all branches of the government, and that the Provisional Executive be entirely under its control, and that, until a new Constitution could be adopted and proclaimed, the Constitution of 1824 be revived for the internal administration of the Departments.

On the twenty-second of August, Salas issued a Bando Nacional  or edict, embodying the views of Santa Anna, and at the same time sent word to him to hasten his appearance at the capital. After further correspondence between them, Santa Anna left his hacienda, and reached Ayolla on the fourteenth of September. It is so usual to find Mexican leaders consulting the dramatic features of a situation, that we fully understand the selection of this date for Santa Anna's proclamation, wherein he hoped to enter the City of Mexico on the following day at noon, that he might "celebrate with the people the two great blessings which had fallen upon the nation,—her independence and her liberty,—the Grito de Dolores  and the Constitution of 1824."

The proclamation was otherwise filled with bombastic professions of disinterested patriotism, which are ludicrous in view of his well-known love of power and of the strong dictatorial character of his government. But it was characteristic of the Mexican people that they should accept the proclamation in good faith; and, forgetting the manner in which they had driven Santa Anna out a year and a half before, under accusations of treason and robbery (which charges had never been so much as denied on his part), that they should now receive him in their capital with rejoicings more enthusiastic than had ever before been witnessed in that city. The people were almost frantic with joy, and seemed to behold in Santa Anna their national savior.

The prosecution of the war with the United States was very popular at this time, and Santa Anna's preference was to be at the head of the army. He wisely shrank from openly assuming the political management of the government. He had been placed in power by means of a coalition between the Federalists and his special partisans. But the division of the parties had then recently changed. It was assumed that the old Centralists, the "Escoceses," and the Conservatives, had gone out of existence. All were now Federalists. But the Federalists were divided into two factions. One was called "Puro," or Ultra Liberal; the other comprised the "Moderados," or Moderates, who were scarcely in advance of the Conservatives. These two factions were now in a conflict quite as bitter as any that had formerly existed between Conservatives and Federalists. Santa Anna was shrewdly aware that he could retain his hold upon the popular regard only so long as dissensions were kept alive between these opposing factions.

The election provided for by Salas was eventually held in Congress. Each State cast one vote, which was determined by the majority of its deputies. Santa Anna received a majority of four votes for President. A separate vote for Vice-President resulted in the election of Gomez Farias. This election by no means signified that the popularity of Santa Anna had been fully or permanently restored, or that he had the full confidence of those who were in public life. He was at San Luis Potosi, with a poorly equipped and undisciplined army, and with but scanty means of support. The condition of the country was deplorable.

The army of the United States was rapidly advancing upon Buena Vista. Large territories had been subjugated by the invaders. Santa Anna's position was far from an enviable one. He issued dispatch after dispatch and proclamation after proclamation, to stimulate Congress and the people to uphold him in the defense of the country.

While Santa Anna was thus in the field, Gomez Farias was left in charge of the government. In January, 1847, he proposed, as a means of raising money for the conduct of the war, a forced loan of four million dollars from the Church. The Church was in possession of all the available wealth of the country. Her interests were quite as much imperiled as any in the land, by the invasion of the army of the United States; and she was receiving the protection of the army of Mexico quite as much as any other of the constituents of the nation. It was but right, therefore, that she should assist the government in the prosecution of the war. The Moderates, however, with their Conservative antecedents and clerical sympathies, opposed the measure when it was brought before Congress; and both "Moderados" and Clericals were greatly exasperated when, in spite of their opposition, the measure was adopted. They succeeded, however, in creating dissensions in the troops raised for the defense of the country. They not only resisted all attempts of the government to disarm mutinous soldiers, but they furnished resources for the maintenance of a struggle against the government, and sought to prevent the decrees from being carried into effect by which the Church was to be made to disgorge her wealth for the relief of the national distress.

Thus arose the "Polkos Pronunciamento," as it was called, taking its name from the President of the United States, who was regarded in Mexico as having precipitated this war upon a defenseless country. The name "Polkos" was applied to the ''Moderados," who, under the leadership of General Salas, were practically assisting the United States in their war of aggression. For a month the streets of the capital were scenes of wild confusion and violence. The efforts of Gomez Farias to obtain the assistance of the Church in the prosecution of the war was resisted by the "Polkos." While the squadron of the United States was in the Gulf of Mexico, and preparing to land soldiers in Vera Cruz to march upon the capital of Mexico, the "Polkos" were seeking to make terms of peace with the United States, without even attempting to preserve the integrity of the national territory. It was the action of the ''Polkos" that made the war, on the part of the army of the United States, a mere military progress through Mexico from the borders of the land to the capital.

The adoption of the measure proposed by Gomez Farias brought Santa Anna back to the capital from the battlefield of Buena Vista, where he had suffered defeat. He removed Gomez Farias from office, and himself resumed the functions of chief magistrate for a few days. When he was called again to the seat of war in April, he ignored Gomez Farias, abolished the office of Vice-President, and appointed General Pedro Anaya as Acting President, or Presidential Substitute. Anaya was a man of the highest probity, and his period of rule, though brief, was. honorable. Leading Liberals offered him their services in defense of the country.

Santa Anna suffered another defeat at Cerro Gordo, and returned with the Mexican army to the capital, where he resumed control of the government until the occupation of the city by the victorious army under General Scott. Then he turned the command of the Mexican army over to General Lombardini, resigned the Presidency, and, as one who had accomplished all that he had intended, left the country. He was succeeded in the Chief Magistracy by the President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Manuel de la Pena y Pena, who took charge of the government in Caneleja, near Toluca, and then removed it to Queretaro. Congress, when convened in Queretaro, appointed General Anaya Acting President, in November, 1847. He remained in office until the following January, when Manuel de la Pena y Pena resumed the office, and held it until the third of June, 1848. Then, by virtue of an election. General Jose Joaquin Herrera became President a second time, and something like order was restored for a while to the government of Mexico.