Spanish Empire—Mexico

1820 to 1930
Mexican Independence to Cristeros War

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Mexico

In the early 19th century, Mexico broke its ties with Spain and shortly afterward, the government responsible for declaring Independence was overthrown by a group of Liberals who declared Mexico should be governed as a republic rather than as a constitutional monarchy. The terms on which the Mexican republic was founded, however, lacked consensus or legitimacy so over a century of Civil Wars followed.

The anarchy and conflict which characterized this period of Republican rule in Mexico stands in contrast to almost 300 years of peaceful Spanish governance, yet the reasons for continuing discord and violence are not well understood, and they are hard to discern from reading 'official accounts' of what occurred.

We prefer to stick to basic historical facts when possible, but in this case some over-arching explanation may be necessary, especially regarding the 'secret societies' that manipulated events from behind closed doors. Mature students with some knowledge of political history who would like to better understand the reasons for a century of turmoil in Republican Mexico can read Causes of Political Unrest in Mexico as an introduction.

A summary of Mexican history since declaring Independence from Spain follows. The three periods of Republican history listed below correspond roughly to the three Constitutions of Mexico, enacted in 1824, 1857, and 1917, under which the Mexican Republic has supposedly been governed.

Early Republic 1820-1855 Santa Anna, Farias, Victoria
Reform Period 1855-1911 Alvarez, Benito Juarez, Maximilian of Austria, Porfirio Diaz
Mexican Revolution 1911-1934 Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Calles, Cardenas

Independence and Empire—At the turn of the 19th century, the idea of Mexican independence was only entertained by a small, intellectual class of liberals, centered mainly in Freemason lodges. In 1808, however, the Spanish king was deposed by Napoleon, and all of Spain rose in rebellion. The Spanish people refused to acknowledge the illegitimate government and waged a guerilla war against France, leaving the government of the American colonies in confusion. The crisis in Spain provided an opportunity for Mexican revolutionaries to make a strike for independence while the mother country was in disarray. The first rebellion, known as "Grito de Dolores" was led by Miguel Hidalgo, an apostate priest associated with Freemasonry. He was captured and executed for treason, but unrest continued until Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne of Spain.

The Independence movement in Mexico faltered as long as a 'legitimate' Catholic prince was on the throne, but in 1820 Ferdinand was once again overthrown, this time by a liberal coup d'etat. At that point, conservatives and monarchists began to see independence as a means of preserving Mexico from the chaos and anti-Clericism of the Spanish liberal regime. Agustin Iturbide, the leader of the Spanish army in Mexico had been fighting revolutionaries for ten years, but after the overthrow of King Ferdinand he feared that Mexico would come under the influence of the Spanish Liberal Republicans. He saw independence was the best way of preserving the status quo so he made an alliance with the revolutionary leader Vincente Guerrero to break Mexico's ties with Spain.

Iturbide made himself emperor but since he had no children, the real purpose was to reserve the monarchy and so it could later be bestowed on Ferdinand VII or his descendants. The revolutionaries, on the other hand, wanted power in their own hands and had only agreed to support Iturbide as a temporary strategy. They rebelled against the emperor at the first opportunity and sent him into exile in Europe. The revolutionary leaders appointed themselves heads of state and set about writing a 'Federal' Constitution, favored by their Freemason co-conspirators in the United States. The 'Constitution of 1824' granted a great deal of independence to the states and preserved very little power for the central government.

Soon after the Republican takeover of Mexico's government, the Liberal regime in Spain was toppled, and Ferdinand VII reclaimed the throne. The United States, however, had a vested interest in preventing Spain from reclaiming Mexico, and keeping the Mexican government in disarray, since powerful economic interests sought to annex Mexican territory. President Monroe therefore promulgated the Monroe Doctrine, which forbid European "colonization" in the Americas. This prevented Spain from reclaiming her colonies, even though popular feeling strongly OPPOSED republican government and favored Spanish rule once Ferdinand VII had been restored to the throne. The Monroe doctrine was especially favored by private American and English financial interests who desired to keep access to the markets and resources of Latin America.

Republican Mexico

The Early Mexican Republic (1824 to 1855)—The first thirty years of Republican government in Mexico was utterly chaotic. (Actually, the entire history of Republican Mexico is chaotic, with the sole exception of the rule of Porfirio Diaz 1876-1911, but we'll start with the first 30 years.) The constitution of 1824 granted the central government very little power and the President was entirely subject to congress. But even the congress had limited powers because its leaders were subject to the machinations of the military who could sometimes bring down a government without firing a shot, just by issuing a pronunciemento. This explains why there were over twenty five-different Presidents of Mexico during its first three decades, only two of whom served out their full four years terms.

The individual states in Mexico were granted so much independence by the Constitution of 1824 that local leaders could rule as they wanted without regard to national laws or a central judicial system that could reign in abuses. This allowed local leaders to pass laws favorable to themselves and unfavorable to their political rivals. This division of power was intentional, since the Freemasons who crafted the Constitution of 1824 did not want a strong central government that could reign in regional corruption or protect Mexican territory in the north from Annexation by the United States. Much of the mischief done in the early years of the republic was done by regional rulers and included abuses such as expelling Spanish citizens from Mexico and confiscating their property, taking foreign out loans, interfering in Church affairs, redirecting tithes to government coffers, looting churches, raising local taxes, and tolerating slavery.

After ten years there was a conservative reaction to the abuses of local governments and conservatives altered the constitution to strengthen the presidency and make regional governments subject to national laws. The changes were strongly opposed by several outlying states, most notably Texas, which declared its independence, and defeated a Mexican army led by Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. Unfortunately, the changes to the constitution did little to increase stability, and Mexico's influence over its sparsely populated northern territories weakened since the central government had few resources to invest in defense or colonization. The United States was, of course, always ready to take advantage of its weakened southern neighbor and in 1846, President Polk ordered American troops into a disputed region between Texas and Mexico in order to provoke a conflict. As soon as Mexican troops fired a shot, Americans soldiers quickly occupied all of the territory they hoped to win from the Mexicans. Although the United States defeated all of the forces sent against in Northern Mexico, the Americans were unable to get any Mexican statesmen to cede territory or sign a peace agreement until a naval force was dispatched to Vera Cruz, and an American army occupied Mexico city.

The Reform Era (1855 to 1911)—The disastrous loss of territory, and devastating costs of the Mexican American war doomed the government and eventually led to the overthrow of Santa Anna, a general who had held the office of Presidency eleven times and taken part in every conflict since from the War of Independence to the Mexican-American War. The divisive political sects in the country, which had caused so much turmoil in the first few years of Mexican history, worsened after the conflict with America.

A new twist in the ongoing conflict between conservatives and liberals in Mexico developed in 1855 when Benito Juarez and his henchman issued the "Plan of Ayulta", deposed Santa Anna, oversaw the writing of the Constitution of 1857, and ordered a new round of confiscations directed against the Catholic Church. The anti-Clerical measures in the new constitution were so intolerable that even the liberal President resigned rather than enforce them, and the Reform War broke out in earnest. The United States unofficially intervened on the side of Juarez and his liberals but withdrew its support during the American Civil War.

The crisis eventually led to the occupation of Mexico by French soldiers, invited by the conservative faction which sought to restore a Christian monarchy by placing a Habsburg on the throne of Mexico. The reign of Emperor Maximilian lasted only three years, since he proved too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals. He was deposed and executed in 1867 after the French army withdrew and for a brief time following, Juarez led a liberal government under the terms of the Constitution of 1857.

Unfortunately, the bitter animosity between rival political factions was so great following the Reform War that the government was always on the brink of crisis. In 1876, Porfirio Diaz, a popular general who was respected by both liberals and conservatives was elected president. Although he stepped down briefly after his first term was over, it soon became apparent that he was the only man who could hold the country together, so he was re-elected in 1884, and from that point on reigned as a virtual dictator until 1911.

Diaz was liberal but pragmatic, and did not share the anti-Catholic biases of many of the other "reformers". He kept oppressive anti-Clerical laws on the books, but did not enforce them, so for the first time in 50 years, the Church enjoyed a degree of liberty and prosperity. His first priority was to keep order, so he allowed liberty of opinion, but crushed rebellion. Diaz sought alliances with both liberal businessmen and conservative land-owners, and got along with both Catholics and Freemasons. He welcomed foreign investment, reformed the army and made great improvements in infrastructure, but he made no serious attempt at land reform, and permitted corruption, cronyism, and exploitation of landless peons. The 35 year reign of Porfirio Diaz was certainly the most peaceful and prosperous era since the dawn of the Republic, but such tranquility did not long survive the death of the "dictator".

The Mexican Revolution (1911 to 1934)—Diaz enjoyed a great deal of popular support at the beginning of his reign, but by the early 1900's there was widespread opposition. He decided to retire in 1910 and hold free elections, reneged and was accused of voter fraud. His various opponents, who had been plotting to assume power rose in rebellion and the elderly Diaz was forced to flee to France. This was the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. In the following years, leadership of Mexico changed hands several times, between 'Federalist' supporter of the old Regime and his 'Constitutionalist' opponents. Eventually, however, the government fell into the hands of Carranza, a governor and leader of the 'Constitutionalist' army.

From the beginning the 'Constitutionalist' enemies of Diaz were united in their desire to overthrow him, they had conflicting ideas of the type of government that should replace it. Some of the most famous Revolutionary generals, such as Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata, were radicals. Carranza (by revolutionary standards) was moderate, but the Constitution he proposed in 1917, was strongly anti-clerical. The purpose of taking such a strong stand against the Catholic Church, of course, was to provide a basis for the wholesale confiscation of Church property by the new government. The anti-Catholic provisions were so severe and unpopular that the Cristeros broke out a few years later. After five more years of fighting it was resolved that the government would not enforce all of its anti-Catholic laws.

From the late 1920's until times Mexico has been run as a single party system. The PRI is corrupt and engages in blatant voter fraud, but at least it avoids civil war. The criminal cartels that run drug and human trafficking rings along the American border have nothing to fear from government law enforcement. They are merely the minions of the same criminal mafia that has been running the Mexican government for almost 200 years.


Ignacio Comonfort Miguel Lerdo Andres Quintana Roo
Character/Date Short Biography

Mexican Independence

Miguel Hidalgo
Freemason Priest who was a leader of Mexico's war of independence. Famous for !Grito de dolores!
Agustin Iturbide
Spanish General who changed sides and supported Mexican independence. Later made himself emperor.
Jose Maria Morelos
Revolutionary Priest, led independence movement after the death of Hidalgo, Caught and executed for treason!

Early Republic

Santa Anna
Fought for Mexican independence and against Texas, then served as president on and off, over twenty turbulent years.
Valentin Farias
Liberal anti-Clerical President in alliance with Santa Anna during the early years of the Mexican republic who imposed many "reforms" targeting the Church.
Vincente Guerrero
Leader of Revolutionary liberals. Worked with Iturbide for Mexican independence, then rebelled against him. Seized office of President after political rival was elected.
Lucas Alaman
Conservative Mexican statesman and historian who was influential during the early years of Mexican Independence.

Reform Era

Juan Alvarez
Regional warlord in alliance with Juarez. Entered Mexico city in 1855 with militia, terrorized the population, made himself president, and appointed his successor.
Benito Juarez
Leader of Mexico during the War of Reform. Passed, enforced anti-clerical laws. Supported informally by United States.
Maximilian of Austria
Archduke who was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. Overthrown and executed by Liberal republicans.
Porfirio Diaz
President of Mexico for 35 years. Brought stability, modernization, and foreign capital, but ruled as a dictator.

Mexican revolution

Francisco Madero
Wealthy, liberal reformer who opposed the dictatorship of Diaz. Elected president but assassinated in office.
Emiliano Zapata
Leader of a Rebel band of southern outlaws during Mexican Revolution. Opposed both Huerta and Carranza.
Venustiano Carranza
Constitutionalist leader of Mexican revolution. Served as president after overthrew Huerta until his assassination in 1920.
Victoriana Huerta
Diaz supporter who overthrew President Madero and assumed dictatorial power during Mexican Revolution.
Pancho Villa
Rebel leader of the constitutionalist army in northern Mexico. Governor of Chihuahua. Broke with Carranza.
Plutarco Calles
Violently anti-Catholic President of Mexico who enforced harsh suppression of the Church in Mexico and incited the Cristero War.


AD YearEvent
The popular movement for Mexican 'Independence' was in all cases a reaction AGAINST Republican/Liberal governments in Spain that usurped the legitimate monarchy. Popular sentiment in both Spain and American colonies was strongly anti-republican.
1808 Overthrow of Spanish king by Napoloen leads to Peninsular War in Spain.
1810 Miguel Hidalgo leads revolt against Napoleonic government of Spain.
1814 Restoration of Ferdinand VII puts a stop to independence movement.
1820-23 Military coup in Spain installs unpopular liberal government.
1822 Spanish general Agustin Iturbide leads revolt against Liberal usurpers.
1823 Iturbide proclaimed emperor, then overthrown by republican conspirators.
1823 Monroe Doctrine proclaimed AFTER collapse of Liberal government in Spain to PREVENT return to monarchy favored by most of population.
From the beginning the Mexican government was run by rival Freemason lodges. American-backed Yorkists were radicals who sought to weaken central government and create chaos so that Americans could confiscate Mexican territory. The Scottish rite 'conservatives' wanted to retain central control so they could pillage Mexican property and enrich themselves. Neither side had popular support.
1824 'Federal' Constitution of 1824 cedes much control to regional governments. Guadalupe Victoria elected President.
1827 Spanish peninsulares and prominent monarchists expelled from Mexico.
1829 With backing by 'Yorkists' (American-backed radical criminals), Vincente Guerrero, forces resignation of 'Scottish-Rite' (conventional-conservative criminals) president-elect and seizes control of government .
1829-33 Government in chaos, presidency changes hands nine times during second 4 year term.
1833 Santa Anna gains control of presidency, enacts 'Seven Laws' to strengthen central government.
1836 Texas declares independence, defeats Santa Anna at Battle of San Jacinto.
1846 Mexican American War provoked by border skirmishes. Americans win resounding victories.
1848 United States invades Mexican capital and forces Mexico cessession of northern provinces.
1849 Gold is discovered in California the same month territory ceded to U.S.A. Amazing coincidence!!!
The 'Reform Era' began when Juan Alvarez, a military dictator and murderous thug marched with an army into Mexico city, terrorized the population, and physically took possession of the offices of Government. He installed his liberal cronies, passed radical measures dispossessing his rivals, and called a constitutional convention, under control of his puppet-masters. He then resigned in favor of Juarez, his hand-picked replacement.
1855 Juarez and Alvarez the organize 'Plan of Ayutla': a Liberal overthrow of Santa Anna's 'Conservative' government.
1857 Liberals enact 'Constitution of 1857' including controversial anti-clerical measures confiscating Church and common property.
1857-61 United States intervenes in 'War of Reform' on behalf of liberals.
1861 Benito Juarez elected President, cancels payment on national debt.
1862 French Intervention on behalf of conservatives, installs Maximilian I as Emperor of Mexico.
1867 Maximilian of Austria is tried for treason and shot. Juarez returns to power.
1876-1911 Reign of Porfirio Diaz; Mexico stable and at peace under autocratic leaders.
1910 Diaz legalizes political parties, allows opposition to run for President, then rigs election.
1911 Francisco Madero, backed by "Constitutionalist party" overthrows Diaz.
1913 Victoriana Huerta, leader of "Federalist party" and ally of Diaz assumes control of government.
1914 Carranza, constitutionalist leader, overthrows Huerta with help of U.S. Navy.
1917 Liberal constitution of 1917 is so anti-clerical, even Carranza refuses to enforce.
1924 Atheist Plutarco Calles elected president, brutally enforce anti-Clerical laws.
1926-29 Cristero War: Catholics revolt against brutal oppressions of priests and Church closings.
1929 Calles forms of PRI (Mexican National Party)

Recommended Reading—Mexico

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Noll - A Short History of Mexico   The Regency and Empire to Diaz and Mexico of Today (8)
Ober - Young Folks' History of Mexico   The Great Revolution to Mexico After the Empire (7)

Supplemental Recommendations

Perkins - The Mexican Twins    entire book
Upton - Table of Contents    entire book
Morris - Historical Tales: Spanish American   Conquest of New Mexico to Hobson and the Merrimac (6)
Noll - From Empire to Republic    entire book
Morris - The Story of Mexico   Winning of Freedom to Relations with the United States (11)
- High Lights of the Mexican Revolution    entire book
Ladd - The War with Mexico    entire book
Sabin - Into Mexico with General Scott    entire book