Truth is uniform and narrow, but error is endlessly diversified . . . In this field the soul has room enough to expand herself, to display all her boundless faculties . . . — Benjamin Franklin

Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober




Mexico Still Struggling

[A. D. 1825.] The first President of Mexico was General Guadalupe Victoria, a staunch old patriot, an uncompromising enemy to Spain. He had early joined the revolutionists, making his headquarters among the mountains of Vera Cruz, whence he sallied with his guerillas to attack the Spanish supply trains on their way from coast to capital. Finally, he became so annoying, that a large force was concentrated upon his little band. Deserted by all his men, he fled to the fastnesses of the hills, taking only his sword and a little food. For thirty months  this incorruptible patriot wandered in the forests, and when an Indian finally found him and guided him to a village, with the welcome news that his party had triumphed, he was worn to a skeleton, and covered with hair like a beast. He was the idol of the people, a stern defender of and believer in a Republic, and he was the first to resent Iturbide's usurpation of power. But the Mexicans were not yet prepared for a Republic; they had been too long accustomed to look abroad for a ruler; they had been too long ruled to be able at once to take the reins of government into their own hands. Without sufficient education to recognize the abilities of the statesman, they instinctively looked to a military leader to guide them. From that period of Mexican history to the present, military prestige  has been necessary to success in Mexican politics!

Though freed from the tyranny of Spain, Mexico soon became embroiled in domestic quarrels that threatened the overthrow of the government her people had fought so hard to elevate. Three parties at first contended for power: the Bourbonists in favor of a constitutional monarchy, with Ferdinand, the King of Spain, at its head; the Republicans, in favor of a federal republic; and another party desiring a monarchy with a native emperor, or a central government ruled over by a dictator. This was the origin of their quarrels; and in later years (even up to a very recent period) we shall see that the troubles of Mexico were nearly all owing to the efforts made by unscrupulous military chieftains to attain to supreme control.

The fortress of San Juan de Ulua, which had held out until this time, was surrendered by the Spaniards in November, 1825. In December, 1827, the law of expulsion was passed against the Spaniards, and symptoms of discontent were beginning to be manifested by leaders of insurgent bands throughout the country.

[A. D. 1828.] The principal event of the last year of Victoria's presidency was the terrible revolt known as the pronunciamieuto  of the Acordada. Don Manuel Pedraza was declared by a majority of the members of Congress to be the next president; but this did not satisfy the creole, or native, party, which was in favor of Guerrero. Santa Anna "pronounced" against him, and marched upon the capital with his troops. A mob secured control of the city, and robbery and murder was carried on for days unchecked, the fury of the rebels being principally directed upon the Spaniards.

Scene in Texas.
SCENE IN TEXAS.


The party of Guerrero triumphed, and in January, 1829, Congress declared him elected president. During this year, 1828, the independence of Mexico was recognized by the United States, and a treaty of peace and commerce was contracted with England. This same year, also, an event occurred which may be said to have been the beginning of that bloody war that subsequently broke out between the United States and Mexico. Three hundred families, under the leadership of Austin, settled in Texas, then a territory of Mexico.

[A. D. 1829.] A law was passed suppressing African slavery in 1829, under Guerrero, though in a certain sense the Indians have continued, under a system of peonage, the slaves of the great landed proprietors to the present day.

In July of 1829 a Spanish squadron from Havana landed troops at Tampico, with the hope of being able to excite their old subjects to arms and recover the country for Spain. But they were defeated in battle by Santa Anna in September, and re-embarked for Havana, with such Spaniards as had been expelled from the country. The vice-president, Bustamente, being in command of a force at Jalapa, intrigued with Santa Anna for the possession of supreme power, and "pronounced" against the president, Guerrero. At the head of troops, Guerrero left the capital to punish the traitor; but his star had commenced its downward journey to the horizon. Bustamente entered the capital in triumph, and Guerrero, after a succession of reverses, was taken prisoner, and condemned to be shot  for taking up arms against the government, of which he had been recognized as the legitimate head. It was thus that distracted Mexico rewarded her heroes! This war-worn patriot, who had given the best years of his life for his country, was foully murdered by the representatives of the government, in the persons of the villain, Bustamente, and the arch-traitor, Santa Anna!

Bustamente did not remain long in power, for the fickle Santa Anna, who had his  eyes constantly on the presidential, or dictatorial, chair, issued a pronunciamiento  against him, and in favor of the banished Paredes, who was recalled, in 1832, to serve out the few months of his unexpired term.

[A. D. 1833.] Santa Anna retired to his estate, near Vera Cruz, but was soon called from his retirement to occupy the long-coveted position of chief ruler, placing himself at the head of a so-called liberal party.

[Illustration] from History of Mexico by Frederick Ober
SANTA ANNA.


This remarkable Mexican was born at Jalapa in 1798, had passed nearly all his life in the army, and was at this time one of the foremost in intrigue as well as indomitable in conflict. Complications ensued with the church, which we will not pause to narrate here, and Santa Anna, after betraying his desire to assume dictatorial powers, again retired to his estate in Vera Cruz. He was a keen politician and student of events, and he left it to his vice-presidents, the celebrated Farias and Barragan, to bear the odium of certain unpopular acts.

[A. D. 1835.] The cloud of war began to settle over the territory of Texas, where the first fighting between American colonists and Mexicans occurred in October, 1835. In December, San Antonio was taken by the Texan general, Houston, and it was to avenge the loss of his troops that Santa Anna gathered over 7000 men and marched for the late scene of conflict. The massacre of the Alamo followed, by which an entire garrison was put to the sword by the order of Santa Anna, who deserves execration for this event alone, had he no other terrible sins to answer for at the bar of God. He later murdered in cold blood a body of Texans who had surrendered to him in good faith, and added another blot to those which already tarnished his fame as a soldier. Defeat soon followed, and he was captured in April, 1836, with the greater portion of his men. The Americans did not retaliate upon him for his atrocities, but set him at liberty in the following year, when, after visiting the President of the United States, he returned to Mexico.

Texas was now lost to Mexico, mainly through her own folly in maintaining civil strife within her borders. Santa Anna returned in disgrace to Vera Cruz, where for a while he hid his hateful presence from the people; but in 1838, during a political revolt, he placed himself at the head of an army, crushed the rebellion, and shot the leader, the brave Mexia.

[A. D. 1838.] In the winter of that year Mexico was threatened from abroad, a French fleet appearing at Vera Cruz to demand satisfaction for the ill-treatment of subjects of that nation, and the payment of long-standing claims. In repelling an attack made on the city by the invaders, Santa Anna, bravely fighting, lost a leg. This circumstance at once raised him to the place of hero in the estimation of the people, and his popularity knew no bounds. The French soon captured the city and castle, and only withdrew from Mexican shores when they had enforced their claims.

Bustamente was again president during this period, which was one of the stormiest in the history of the infant Republic. Revolts appeared in every portion of the country, the most serious of which was that of Yucatan, which province for a while maintained her independence, and even treated with Texas for aid.

[A. D. 1840.] Pronunciamentos  were now the order of the hour. In July, 1840, the capital itself became the scene of conflict between different parties, the rebels even shelling the city, and involving in the destruction of their dwellings unarmed citizens and innocent women and children. Death and destruction stalked hand in hand over the bloody plains of Anahuac.

"A war fit for Cain to be the leader of—

An abhorred, a cursed, a fraternal war."

With what grim satisfaction must the Indian and the Spaniard have witnessed this fratricidal conflict upon the soil that had alternately belonged to their respective ancestors!

The revolutionary spirit had so affected the military class that the intervals of peace scarcely endured for a month, or even for a week. In 1841 these pronunciamientos  culminated in a great revolution, which again placed the wily Santa Anna in the executive chair at the head of a powerful central government. This coup d'etat  was known as the "Plan of Tacubaya." Bustamente retired from power and left the country.

[A. D. 1843.] In place of Congress there was assembled a "Junta of notables," who created a central constitution under the name of the "Bases of Organization." Santa Anna, though not always visible at the head of government, was invested with dictatorial powers. An interval of domestic peace revived in him the desire of reconquering Texas, but owing to quarrels about the amount of money necessary to be appropriated, a decision was never reached.

In November, 1844, General Paredes pronounced  against Santa Anna and his government, and in this revolt so great a number of rebels joined that the unfortunate usurper was defeated at Puebla and made prisoner. He was confined in the Castle of Perote under charge of treason, but finally escaped, under a general amnesty for political offenders, and departed from Mexico on the 29th of May, 1845, for Havana in Cuba.

Freed from this turbulent man, this seditious conspirator against the public peace, the country should have enjoyed a short period of tranquillity; but this was not to be. The seeds of disturbance had been deeply sown, the legitimate harvest was to follow.

In 1821 the Mexican government had granted to a citizen of the United States, Moses Austin, permission to colonize a portion of Texas, and in 1824 foreigners generally were invited into that State by laws specially enacted for the purpose. This immigrant element was the cause of great jealousy on the part of native citizens, and in 1830 military posts were established all over the territory by the Mexicans, greatly to the annoyance of the industrious, prosperous citizens. They took no part in the partisan revolutions which so constantly agitated the central portion of the Republic, but in 1832, jealous of the centralization of Mexican power as against the rights of States, rose in arms against the scattered Mexican garrisons. In common with other Mexican States, in 1835, they resisted the despotic overthrow of the Federal constitution of 1824 by the centralists of the capital. More fortunate than their sister States, they succeeded in maintaining their position. Mexican hold on the territory of Texas was finally loosened, at San Jacinto, in April, 1836, and, though it subsequently made feeble efforts to regain its lost domain, it never succeeded. For seven years Texas maintained herself in a position of independence, recognized by the United States and other powers, until, finally, she was admitted by our Republic into the great sisterhood of States.

The details of her gallant struggle for freedom belong more particularly to the history of our own country. We have to do now only with the events that led up to the final outbreak of war between Mexico and the United States. We have not far to seek for the causes. An ill-governed province of Mexico declares, and maintains itself, independent, desires annexation to the United States, and is finally admitted; not in haste, but after due deliberation. The Mexican minister at Washington declares it an act of aggression, the most unjust to be found in the annals of history," demands his passports, and leaves the country.

Meanwhile, inMexico, the wise and liberal Herrera (during whose administration these events occurred) is ejected from power by the rebel General Paredes, who is for war to the knife. Thus ends the year 1845.