The 19th century for Mexico was a time of great instability and lack of national unity. This, along with the lack of economic development eventually led to the loss of the northern territories and the subsequent invasions by the French and the Americans, which have left Mexico still touched even in the 21st century. How could Mexico have faced its initial problems, fight history and eventually become the world's only Superpower?
Mexico was the most important colony of Spain, it was called the "Virreinato de la Nueva España", which is English for "Viceroyalty of New Spain". It was mostly populated by Native American slaves, some Criollos (sons of Spaniards born in Mexico) and the Peninsulares elitees (Spaniards born in Spain). For three hundred years Peninsulares always ruled above Criollos. This, along with the Bourbonic reforms which pretended to diminish the privileges and the power of the most conservative elitees (mainly the church) eventually led to what would be known as the War of Mexican Independence, orchestrated by the Criollos and Peninsulares which pretended to achieve independence so they could keep their privileges.
The war lasted for ten years, from 1811 to 1821, and ended when the rebel war chief Vicente Guerrero joined its strength to the one of the loyalist leader Agustín de Iturbide. Some days later, the joint army entered Mexico City on September 16th, proclaiming the Independence of the Mexican Empire.
The crown of the newly formed empire was offered to some members of the Spanish Royal Family, all of which refused, so instead, Agustin de Iturbide was crowned Emperor as Agustin I of Mexico. However, a Congress would be established to limit the King's power.
It was a short-lived Empire, however. The lack of money for the royal arcs made forced the king to increase taxes, which angered the population. Besides, the Congress always confronted anything that Agustin wanted to do. This forced Agustin to dissolve the Congress and establish an absolute monarchy.
Just some weeks later, Antonio López de Santa Anna along with many important Army generals proclaimed the Plan of Casa Mata, which deposed the monarchy and re-established the Congress. This Revolution was victorious and a Federal Republic was established in 1822.
In that year, representatives from each province, signed in Mexico City the Acta Constitutiva de la Federación Mexicana or the Constitutive Act of the Mexican Federation. By this act, a country called Estados Unidos Mexicanos or United Mexican States would be formed on the territory of the former Mexican Empire. This federation would also hold control over the territories of Alta California, Baja California and Nuevo Mexico. A Federal District was to be established in Mexico City, which would be the seat of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches. The Executive power was to be held by the President, the Legislative by the Congress of the Union (conformed of an Upper House with two senators by state and a Lower House), and the Judicial by the Supreme Court.
Two years later, elections finally could be held and Guadalupe Victoria, a general of the rebel army who fought during the Independence war won the elections for the period of 1824-1829.
This were five years of stability, but when in 1829 presidential elections were held with two main contenders: Vicente Guerrero and Antonio Gomez Pedraza, former Secretary of Defense. Antonio won the elections, but Vicente Guerrero rebelled. The Guerrero rebellion led to a lot of many more rebellions which tried to depose him and more rebellions who tried to depose whoever deposed the previous president. Stability couldn't be achieved until the 1880's.
The divergence point stats when Vicente Guerrero dies in 1825, so he could not rebel against Pedraza. During the following decades, thanks to political stability, luck and willpower, Mexico becomes the world's only superpower by the 21st century.
Guadalupe Victoria administration (1825-1829)
Mexico faced a lot of problems, the country comprised a territory of about 4,500,000 sq km and was mostly unpopulated. Most of the country's population were illiterate Indians who didn't know what was Mexico, mines were closed after independence, the country could barely produce enough food for itself, no European country recognized its independence. The little money that the federal government had was spent on the irregular army. There weren't any roads or railways between cities, the three main ports of the country, Tampico, Acapulco and Veracruz were almost destroyed. Some states had taxes for products coming from other states, some states wanted independence. And the Spaniards still held the fortress of San Juan de Ulua, which made it even difficult for the government to get tax money.
One of the fist things that Victoria tried to do was to populate the virtually unpopulated northern territories. On 1827, the Congress passed the Indian re-establishment statute, which forced Native Americans from the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan, Yucatan and the Federal District to move to the Territories of Texas, New Mexico and the State of Sonora. Guadalupe also made a formal invitation to Americans to move to Texas.
Meanwhile, the Congress also passed the Immigration act of 1827, which exempted any American or European immigrant of taxes for five years, granted them 350 acres of farmable land, and allowed them to bear any religion, so long as they swore fealty to the Mexican Constitution.
The arrival of the first immigrants in the central states favored crop and livestock production. For the first time in many years, Mexico actually generated a surplus which could be exported and generate money.
That same year, the government hired an English company to build the Mexico City-Veracruz railway and to rebuild the port of Veracruz.
The American government offered 30,000,000 pesos for the Territories of California and Nuevo Mexico. The Congress voted against it, for selling territory was unconstitutional.
On 1828, the federal government issued the construction of a small flotilla of warships, whose mission would be to siege the Fortress of San Juan de Ulua, the last Spanish stronghold in the country, Pedro Sainz de Barragan was sent to siege the fort. The Spanish capitulated on 23 November of 1825.
On 1829, Antonio López de Santa Anna fought the last Spanish host who tried to reconquer the country, in Tampico. Unfortunately, Santa Anna died during the siege of the city.
On 1892, presidential elections were held for the period of 1829-1833, and were won by Antonio Gómez Pedraza
Pedraza Administration (1829-1834)
Antonio Gómez Pedraza had been Secretary of Defense during the previous administration. His first official act was the creation of the Department of the Navy.
Pedraza's government began with the finding of gold in Culiacan and Guerrero, which increased tenfold external and internal migration to those states. The federal government, which now had a little more money than the previous one, tried to re-open the mines who had been closed since 1815. Inter-state customs were abolished, and internal commerce grew.
Foreign investment brought European technologies to farms and mines. Pedraza's liberal reforms helped citizens to create companies and businesses very easily, this created a new class of Mexican entrepreneurs, business owners and aristocrats, who owned mining and building companies. For Europeans, the entirety of North America was seen as a land of opportunities.
Pedraza focused a lot on modernizing the army. A regular and professional army was created. European consultants came to assist the army generals. The first army fortresses were built in Alta California, Veracruz and Texas. With this new Army, Pedraza kept order and fought any rebel army.
Comanches, Apaches and Yaquis attacked Mexican caravans coming from New Mexico to the rest of the country. So the first permanent Army battalion was established in Yuma.
Pedraza's government ended in 1834, with Texan rebels trying to separate from the Union.
The Texan rebellion
In 1834, just some months before 1834 elections, where liberal Anastasio Bustamante was elected president, a group of American colonists which had sworn fealty to the Mexican Constitution and the Mexican government, declared the secession of the State of Texas. Bustamante, who was known for his toughness, sent a 14,000 man army led by General Martín de Cos. Bustamante also declared illegal the entrance of more American colonists.
Cos' host faced the rebel army in Agua Dulce, El Alamo, y Coleto, resulting in a total victory for the Mexican army, forcing Sam Houston to flee north. Besides, the Congress authorized a blockade of all Texan ports.
When Sam Houston saw his defeated army, he sent a letter to the American government asking to be annexed as an American state. The American congress accepted and both countries now considered Texas as their territory.
The Mexican-American conflict stagnated for a couple of months, until General Cos placed troops on the Texas side of the Mexican-American border. On April 8, American troops entered Texan territory. The Mexican army opened fire on them and took them prisoners. The American Congress declared war two days later.
The Mexican-American War (1835)
The strategy of the Mexican army was to hold the Americans on the southern part of Texas, which rivers and forts made it a very defendable spot, and leaving one-fourth of all the soldiers in Tampico, should the Americans decided to land on Veracruz. The American army split in two halves, the first half would advance through New Mexico and the second part would face the Mexicans at Texas. Mexicans planned to focus their efforts on repelling any American army advancing through Texas and letting the other American host advance through the New Mexico desert, hoping that they would have to face a big attrition damage.
After many skirmishes, the first big engagement occurred at Laredo's fortress, which was heavily defended by Mexican cannons. Americans tried long-distance bombing with artillery, while Mexicans tried charging with light infantry, just to retreat early and then charge with heavy cavalry. Their plan worked, and the Mexican army captured 400 men.
After the Battle of Laredo, the American army was forced to retreat to Rio Nueces, where they were chased by the 1st Mexican Army under command of Lieutenant Colonel Jose Urriega until the Fort of Lepantitlan, in San Patricio. When Urriega arrived and pretended to siege the fort, the American army had already sent its 3rd and 4th Dragoon Corps under the command of general Stephen Kearny, to re-inforce the perimeter around the fort,
Mexicans tried to focus their artillery bombardments in a single point of the defense perimeter, so they could break with light cavalry and take the fort quickly. When Kearny realized what Urriega plan was, he made his own strategy. He would weaken on purpose whatever point of the perimeter the Mexicans bombed, they would wait for the Mexican cavalry to break in and take the fort, and then he would send his own cavalry to flank the Mexicans inside the perimeter. Kearny's plan almost worked, but when the American army tried to surround the Mexicans, they were ambushed by the 4th, 5th, and 6th cavalry regiments under command of General Mariano Arista (some 7000 horses against 20,000 from Kearny and 15,000 of Urriega). This cavalry charge made the song "A Degüello" famous, it was played by Mariano Arista, and it ordered cavalry that they should take any prisoner. The battle of San Patricio resulted in a terrible defeat for Americans, of the 20,000 soldiers who defended the fort, only 1,500 escaped, while Mexicans only lost about 2,000 men.
Kearny's defeat was a moral tragedy, and it forced the American government to take more drastic counter-measures by highlighting the small Mexican naval power. On March 29th, the American Congress declared a blockade on all Mexican Atlantic ports.
On April 14th, American ships bombed the city and the port of Veracruz and landed 300 men with artillery to siege the fortress of San Juan de Ulua. The fort was almost undefended so it fell 16 days later.
Veracruz was the main (and the only decent) Mexican Atlantic port, so the blockade wasted even more the already weakened Mexican economy. However, the war effort could be maintained thanks to the support of The United Kingdom, France, Prussia, Austria, Colombia and Peru, who supported Mexico with money, weapons and supplies, perhaps seeing in the United States the danger of a new imperialist country.
Help didn't only come from other governments, though, the San Patricio battalion was a group of Irish soldiers from the American army who defected to the Mexican side, probably seeing a resemblance between the British and the Irish, and the Americans and the Mexicans. Besides, they were catholic, like most Mexicans.
The American host who tried to advance through New Mexico had to face Apache and Comanche raids. Since most of New Mexico was an unpopulated desert, Americans had no way to get supplies. Many died, others just moved to Mexico and some other fled and moved again to the United States. Meanwhile, on the other front of the war, the reinforced Mexican army already numbered 30,000 men, and started moving through Louisiana, facing almost no resistance until Florida. Bustamante offered every southern black slave freedom if they joined the Mexican army, since slavery was prohibited by federal law in Mexico. The loss of their main labor force crippled the southern states economy, and increased tensions with the northern states.
The American army, who had no popular support, could not do anything to stop the occupation of the southern states. The Mexican army was already two states from Washington. Meanwhile, a 2,000 host was heading from Mexico City to San Juan de Ulua.
There were a lot of popular revolts against the American government, which demanded to end the war. The Mexican army headed to Washington facing the remnants of the American army. In Veracruz, San Juan de Ulua had already been taken after a 40 day long siege, but the naval blockade was still there.
On May 18, 1838, the Mexican host began its march to Washington, who was defended by 15,000 soldiers and 5,000 levies. The Mexican army numbered some 30,000 soldiers, including freed black slaves. The plan went as follows: Martin de Cos would come from the west with less than 5000 men, he'd pretend to be surrounded and flee, an by fleeing, he pretended that Americans would force the attack on him and send more re-inforcements, this would give enough time for Arista and Urriega to enter and take the center of the city with the remaining 25,000 soldiers, while they would send cavalry to chase the Americans who were already chasing Cos. By that time, the Congress and the President of the United States had already been evacuated to Boston. The capture of Washington ended the war.
The American Congress decided to make peace before it was too late, and sent a diplomat to Mexico.
The treaty of León
On July 25, 1838, representantives from both the United States of America and the United Mexican States gathered in the city of Leon, some hours north from Mexico City, to sign the treaty which would end the war, this treaty included the following points.
- The United States of America will loose any claim they ever had over the territories of Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Texas.
- The United States of America will grant Mexico the sovereignty over the territories of Idaho and Wyoming.
- The United States of America will give Mexico five million pesos ($5,000,000) as war reparation.
- The United States of America will not ever involve themselves, in any way, with the island of Cuba.
- The United States of America will remove any American ship from Mexican waters, including those from Oregon and Texas, in the next 35 days.
- The United States of America recognize that they are the only causers of the war.
- Mexico will remove all its soldiers from American soil in the next 90 days.
- Mexico will fight any Native American incursion or raid on American soil.
- Mexican products will be able to enter the 'United States without any tax.
- The United States government will grant freedom to any slave who had fought during the war.
The treaty was signed and ratified by both Mexican and American senates.
Anastasio Bustamante (1834-1839) and the territorial organization.
The Treaty of Leon established that the United States could not wield any claim over the territories of Oregon, Utah and Colorado, which made it possible for Bustamante to claim those territories in the name of Mexico. By 1839 Mexico had claimed over 524,000 sq km of land, which were organized as follows.
- Territory of Oregon: Comprising from the 49º parallel to the Territory of Alta California, it included the previous American Territory of Idaho. Its eastern frontier was Montana.
- Territory of Colorado: Its southern and western border was the Territory of New Mexico. Its northern border was the Territory of Wyoming and the American state of Nebraska.
- Territory of Wyoming: It ranged from the Territory of Oregon on the west, the Territory of New Mexico to the South, Kansas on the north and Arkansas on the east.
- Territory of Oklahoma: It was located north from the State of Coahuila y Texas, east from the Territory of New Mexico, south of Kansas and west of Arkansas.
It was also necessary to separate Americans who lived in Coahuila y Texas from Mexicans who lived there too, for American colonists also needed to be represented both on the Congress of the Union, thus, the State of Texas was created (35 votes against, three on the Upper House) and the State of Coahuila y Texas was just renamed to "State of Coahuila"
- Free and Sovereign State of Texas: It was created on the northern half of the former State of Coahuila y Texas, it southern limit would be the '''Nueces River. It was the only state who had Spanish and English as an official language. It can be compared to modern-day Quebec or Cataluña.
Of the five million pesos that the American government had to pay for war reparations, three million were used to build the Acapulco-Mexico City-Guadalajara-Veracruz railway. The other two million were given to the navy, who used it to build three men of war ARM Libertad, ARM Soberanía, ARM Independencia, meaning "Freedom, Sovereignty and Independence" in the English language.