Short History of Mexico - Arthur H. Noll

More Revolutions and War with the United States

Surprising as it may at first seem,—though nothing that occurs in Mexican history should occasion surprise,—in the year 1837 Acting- President Corro was succeeded by Gen. Anastasio Bustamante, who, returning from his exile, became President of Mexico for the second time by the election of Congress. Belonging to a party opposed to Gomez Farias, he set out to reverse many of the acts performed by that eminent publicist.

Trouble with France was the first important event of his second administration. It grew out of an exorbitant claim made by France upon Mexico, sarcastically termed in history "the Pie claim" (reclamacion de los pasteles). The whole claim amounted to six hundred thousand dollars, and was based upon alleged damages to French citizens during the Mexican civil wars. One tenth the amount was claimed by a French chef  for pies  stolen by the revolutionists; hence the term, at first humorously applied, but finally adopted in sober history and even used in official documents. To enforce the payment of this "pie claim," the Mexican ports were declared blockaded, a squadron arrived off Vera Cruz under the Prince de Joinville, and that city was bombarded the 27th of November, 1838. The Mexicans themselves destroyed the forts, and to the number of six hundred perished in the ruins.

Santa Anna had returned from the United States, and having hid his disgrace for a while in his hacienda, now came forth to defend Vera Cruz from the new enemy; and finally, on the 5th of December, 1837, defeated the French in a well-fought battle, in which he lost a leg,—but he regained his popularity. The cause of the war was subsequently settled by the payment of the French claim in full.

The adoption of a new Constitution caused various revolutions throughout the country. But they were successively put down. One of them was headed by Gen. Jose Antonio Mejia, a personal enemy of Santa Anna, noted for his bravery and honor. He fell into the hands of his enemy on the 3rd of May, 1839. When he inquired what disposition was to be made of him, he was told that he was to be shot within three hours. "If Gen. Santa Anna had fallen into my hands," he replied, "I would have given him as many minutes." Another of these revolutions had for its object the establishment of a Sierra Madre Republic.

In August, 1840, Don Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada, a statesman, resigned his position under the government and wrote an open letter to the President, pointing out the absolute failure of the Republic to maintain itself and provide good government for the Mexican people, and proposing that the republican form of government be abandoned, and in its place an Empire be established with a European prince at its head. Gutierrez de Estrada paid for his temerity by going into exile, but his famous letter was the initial act in the drama which closed with the execution of Maximilian in 1867.

Other revolutions sprang up, and these would not "down at the bidding" of Bustamante and his partisans. Finally, in September, 1841, the party of Santa Anna regained power, and Bustamante departed for Europe. He left the government in the hands of Don Javier Echeverria, who, under the new Constitution was President of the Council, or virtual Vice-President. By the "Plan de Tacubaya," by which name the revolution that had deposed Bustamante is known, Echeverria was superseded within a few days by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna as Provisional President. But rather than leave the seclusion of his hacienda, Santa Anna preferred to place public affairs in the hands of Gen. Nicolas Bravo, and Don Valentin Canalizo, who executed the mandates of the Provisional President during his absence from the capital.

Bravo manipulated matters with great skill in behalf of his chief, dissolved Congress, and established a Junta de Notables, which decreed, on the 12th of June, 1843, a new Constitution, known as "Bases organicas,"  centralizing the government. The elections held under this arrangement bestowed upon Santa Anna the presidency unconditionally. But the absolutism of the President called forth vehement speeches all over the country, and the result was a new crop of revolutions. They sprang up everywhere. While Santa Anna was engaged in quelling an insurrection in Guadalajara, and Canalizo was in charge of affairs at the capital, a popular movement was so far successful in the latter city (December 6, 1844) as to obtain the imprisonment of Canalizo and his Minister of War. When Santa Anna returned to the capital he found it fully occupied by armed opponents of his despotic government. After an unsuccessful attack upon Puebla, and the desertion of his troops, he set out for the coast, intending to leave the country. He was captured in Jico and imprisoned in Perote, but was subsequently pardoned and permitted to leave the country. He spent his exile in Cuba.

It was the movement headed by Gen. Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga, that produced this overthrow of Santa Anna and his government; and upon the imprisonment of Canalizo, Gen. Jose Joaquin de Herrera, President of the Council, entered upon the discharge of the duties of President, and held the office for about a year. His brief administration marks the beginning of the war with the United States, and was brought to a close by the pronunciamento of General Paredes, then in San Luis Potosi, on his way to engage Gen. Zachary Taylor, advancing with the American army from the North.

Gen. Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga returned with his troops to the capital, and the day after his arrival (January 3, 1846) was declared President. But he was able to maintain his position only about six months. He developed most remarkable monarchical tendencies, and aided by the Spanish ambassador, published a paper, "El Tiempo"  suggesting a monarchy as alone able to withstand the threatened encroachments of the Americans. A revolution, breaking out in Guadalajara in May, brought his administration of affairs to a close; for no sooner had he marched against the insurgents in Guadalajara, than Congress installed Gen. Nicolas Bravo as President ad interim  (July 29, 1846). But another revolution broke out in the capital the next month, and Bravo was displaced by Gen. Mariano Salas, who succeeded in reconciling the various parties in view of the impending dangers from the American invasion. He re-established the Constitution of 1824, organized the national army, and convened Congress for the purpose of obtaining a new election. He also caused the return of Santa Anna from his exile, as a man who could be relied upon to cope with the military emergencies that had arisen. He procured the arrest and imprisonment of Paredes.

When Congress held its election, it resulted in the choice of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna for President (Dec. 6, 1846). The President, however, went at once to the seat of war, leaving, as before, his Vice-President, Don Valentin Gomez Farias, to administer the presidential office. And during the year 1847 the presidential office was made even more than usually a football. Gomez Farias laid down the office on the 21st of March, and General Santa Anna resumed it for a few days until called to take charge of the campaign against General Scott, when Congress, ignoring Gomez Farias, appointed Gen, Pedro Maria Anaya Acting-President, and he held the office for about two months.

After the battle of Cerro Gordo, Gen. Santa Anna returned and held the reins of government from June until the occupation of the capital by the Americans in September. Upon the occurrence of that disastrous event he set out for Puebla, and resigned the office and left the country, being succeeded in the Presidency by Don Manuel de la Pena y Pena, president of the Supreme Court of Justice, who established his government first in Canaleja near Toluca, and subsequently in Queretaro,—the capital remaining in the hands of the Americans. Congress, meeting in Queretaro, appointed Don Pedro Maria Anaya Acting-President on the 12th of November, 1847, and he exercised the office until the 7th of the following January, when Don Manuel de la Pena y Pena resumed the office until the 3rd of June, 1848. Then, by virtue of an election, Gen. Jose Joaquin Herrera entered the presidency the second time. The war with the Americans, beginning in his first term, was concluded in his second. The instability of the government and the frequent changes in the administration,—twelve in number pending the war,—are to be taken into account among the causes of the failure of that war on the part of the Mexicans.

The war between the United States and Mexico has been recently pronounced on high authority "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation," and it is difficult to find anyone dissenting from that opinion. It arose out of the admission of the Republic of Texas into the American Union, subject to the subsequent adjustment of all territorial boundaries. But it was at the time assumed on the part of the United States that the southwestern boundary of Texas was formed by the Rio Grande, and not by the Nueces River. The Mexicans claimed the reverse, and (the Bustamante government having repudiated the recognition by Santa Anna of the Independence of Texas) had strenuously objected to the annexation of that Republic, and had continued the war against the Texans in a fitful way, though without doing much damage. They claimed that there was a sufficient casus belli  in the annexation itself.

The United States, on the other hand, assuming that the Rio Grande was the proper boundary of the annexed State, took immediate measures to defend it as such. Gen. Zachary Taylor was sent to Corpus Christi in the summer of 1845, with orders to repel any invasion of the Texan territory that might be attempted by Mexican forces; and in March, 1846, he received positive orders from the government at Washington to cross the disputed territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande. He arrived opposite Matamoras on the 28th of that month. A skirmish took place on the 24th of April, north of the Rio Grande, in which a party of American dragoons fell into a Mexican ambuscade and was captured, sixteen being killed or wounded. In May, General Arista crossed the Rio Grande and engaged in battle with General Taylor at Palo Alto, and was defeated. The next day (May 9) the battle of Resaca de la Palma (Resaca de Guerrero) was fought between the two Generals, with the defeat (as before) of the Mexican General, who retreated in the direction of San Luis Potosi, and was superseded by Gen. Pedro Ampudia.

General Taylor marched his forces across the Rio Grande on the 17th of May, and the invasion of Mexico was begun in earnest. From the 21st to the 24th of September, he was engaged with seven thousand men in the attack upon Monterey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, garrisoned by a force of nine thousand. He met with the same success which had attended his former engagements. General Ampudia was also forced to retire to San Luis Potosi. The brilliant features of this attack were the assault upon Obispado Viejo by General Worth on the first day of the fight, and the storming of the heights above on the following day. The old Episcopal Palace is west of the city, and on a spur of the Cerro de las Mitras. It was built as a place of retirement for the Bishops of Monterey toward the end of the eighteenth century, and now maintains the character given to it during this war by being used as artillery barracks. When this and the heights back of it fell into the hands of the Americans, the surrender of the city was only a question of time.

Upon the defeat of Ampudia, Santa Anna, having then just attained to the chief magistracy of Mexico and left it in the hands of his Vice-President Gomez Farias, took the command of the Mexican forces and set out to check the advance of General Taylor. On the 23rd of February, 1847, the bloody battle of Angostura, as it is called by the Mexicans (known to the Americans as the battle of Buena Vista), was fought, and lost by the Mexican army. Santa Anita returned to San Luis Potosi, whence he was called to the capital to head off the insurrection against Gomez Farias, by the party called derisively the Polkos  because their insurrection at that time was clearly favorable to the movements of the American army, and because James K. Polk was then the President of the United States and head of the American party favorable to the war. It was at this time that the army of Taylor was reduced to about five thousand men, in order to supply Gen. Winfield Scott with forces to carry out his military operations; and the field of war was transferred to the region between Vera Cruz and the capital.

While these events were in progress, an expedition under Gen. John C. Fremont had been made over-land through New Mexico and into California, and under the directions of the United States government the Mexicans of California had been incited to revolt. An American squadron, under Commodore Sloat, arrived off the Californian Monterey on the 7th of July, 1846. San Francisco was occupied the following day, and on the 17th of August Commodore Stockton took formal possession of California. On the 10th of January, 1847, Los Angeles was occupied by the Americans, and the conquest of the territory was completed by Commodore Stockton and Gen, Stephen Kearney.

On the 10th of November, 1846, a force of a thousand Americans had debarked at Tampico and taken the town, it having been abandoned by the Mexicans. On the 26th of December Paso del Norte was captured by a detachment of Fremont's army, and Colonel Doniphan began his march towards Chihuahua, out-flanking the Mexicans in their entrenchments at Sacramento on the 28th of February, 1847, and occupying Chihuahua shortly afterwards.

It was on the 8th of March, 1847, that Gen. Winfield Scott arrived, with two steamers, five gunboats, and an army of over ten thousand men, off Vera Cruz, and landing his troops opposite the Island of Sacrificios at once invested the city, and on the 28th, after the bombardment of the city and San Juan de Ulua for three and a half days, the city surrendered and the Mexican troops laid down their arms. Thereupon the greater part of the American army began an advance upon the City of Mexico by way of Jalapa, and, in general, the route taken by the great Conqueror of the sixteenth century. Santa Anna, with about twenty thousand men, again set out to meet the advancing enemy, and the two armies came together at Cerro Gordo, between Vera Cruz and Jalapa. This famous battle (April 18) resulted in the defeat of the Mexican army and the flight of Santa Anna to Orizaba,—his army, under the command of General Canalizo, retreating to Puebla. Subsequently Santa Anna arrived in the City of Mexico, and by pointing out to the people the perils of the situation, succeeded in raising an army of ten thousand men for the protection of the capital.

The American army advanced leisurely. Jalapa fell into the hands of General Twiggs' division on the 19th of April, and Perote was occupied by General Worth's division on the 22nd. Puebla was taken by General Worth on the 25th of May, and General Scott, following with the main army, made that city his headquarters. Engagements took place on the 8th of June at Puente Nacional, on the road from Vera Cruz to Jalapa, between detachments sent out from Jalapa to reinforce the American garrison at Vera Cruz and some Mexicans defending the road. The Mexicans were defeated.

On the 8th of August Scott marched from Puebla toward the capital. Reaching Ayotla on the 12th, he chose the route south of Lake Chalco, and arrived at San Agustin on the 18th. The next day he attacked the Mexicans in what is now known as the "Pedregal" (stony place), the lava beds south of San Angel and Coyoacan, the battle being known to the Mexicans as "La Padierna." He succeeded in chasing the Mexicans into San Angel. Mexicans attribute this defeat to rivalry between Santa Anna and General Valencia, the commandant at Contreras. A strongly fortified position at San Antonio was also taken by assault by a detachment under General Worth.

Between the American army and the City of Mexico, only a few miles distant, there were a number of strongly fortified positions, defended by the National Guard, composed of Mexicans of high social standing. One of these was the old convent in Churubusco, (still standing). It was attacked by the Americans from all sides,—five thousand or six thousand men under Generals Twiggs, Smith, and Worth. The defenders, numbering about eight hundred, and having six pieces of artillery of different sizes, were under the command of Gen. Pedro Maria Anaya, who had twice been President of Mexico for a few months. The fight was hot until the defenders' ammunition was expended, when, without surrendering, the convent was captured. The reply of General Anaya to General Twiggs, when, upon taking possession of the convent, the latter inquired for the ammunition, has become historic. "Sir," said he, "if there had been any ammunition left, you would not now be here." The battlefield of Churubusco is marked by a monument and the date of the battle (August 20) is annually observed by the Mexicans of that vicinity.

An armistice was proffered by the Americans, and accepted by the Mexicans on the 21st, and negotiations were carried on between commissioners of both nations. The Americans demanded what was finally obtained as the result of the war,—a demand which was indignantly refused by the Mexicans, though the armistice was useful to them in allowing them time to strengthen their position and reinforce their army. On the 8th of September hostilities were again begun, and General Worth led the assault on Casa Mata and Molino del Rey, and after an obstinate resistance by the Mexicans, and the loss of many men, carried both points. The Mexicans fell back to Chapultepec and the western garitas  of the city. At daybreak on the 13th, Chapultepec was attacked from the west by the whole American force under General Pillow, and, though strongly defended, was taken.

The Mexicans disputed the advance of the Americans step by step, and there were encounters at Belen and San Cosme, The incident of the attack by Lieut. U. S. Grant, from the tower of the church of San Cosme, where he had mounted a howitzer, has recently become famous. The Mexican capital was finally occupied by the American troops on the 14th of September. General Quitman took possession of the Ciudadela, and the Stars and Stripes waved over the National Palace, which was occupied by General Scott.

Upon the fall of Churubusco, Santa Anna had fled to Guadalupe, and thence, leaving the command of the army to General Manuel Maria Lombardini, he went to Puebla. He subsequently fled without escort to Tehuacan, and left the Republic without formally resigning the presidency.

The Americans remained in possession of the Mexican capital until after the confirmation by the Mexican Congress, sitting in Queretaro, on the 6th of June, 1848, of the famous treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (so called because signed in the town of that name on the 2nd of February). By the terms of that treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States more than two fifths of her former territory, and received an indemnity of $15,000,000. The boundary between the two nations was fixed as it now is, save as subsequently changed by the Gadsden Purchase. The American army evacuated the capital on the 12th of June, and the Mexican government was re-established there.

It is worthy of record that the famous treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo is unique among treaties, not only because of the generous terms dictated by a conquering army occupying the captured capital of the nation treated with, but because it was signed on the part of the United States by a man who had no authority for so doing, namely, Nicholas P. Trist, and was accepted by Mexico with the full understanding of that fact. The authority with which Trist had been clothed had expired. But when the time was ripe for treaty he assumed the responsibility, and thus saved the treaty. His act was afterwards affirmed by the government of the United States.

A small monument in the American Cemetery at Tlaxpana, a western suburb of the City of Mexico, marks the burial-place of over four hundred American victims of this war between Mexico and the United States.