The Consolidation of the Republic
By Jessica Chilián
Photography “Juarez símbolo de la República frente a la intervención francesa” (1972)
Mural. Chapultepec Castle, Cdmx. By Antonio González Orozco.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
The Mexico of Santa Anna
After the overthrow of Iturbide and the drafting of a Constitution in 1824, Mexico entered a stage of crisis that no ruler or group could resolve. Until 1854, two sides fought for power using different names: Yorkers and Scots, Federalists and Centralists, or Liberals and Conservatives. The struggles between them caused permanent political chaos in the country. Elections were not respected and rebellions were one more way to gain power. In its first three decades of independent life, Mexico had more than thirty changes of president and three constitutions, the 1824, the 1836 and the 1843; Governments spent most of their money on supporting the army, and their energies on defending themselves against their enemies.
With the continuous wars many mines closed, agriculture and commerce deteriorated and the industry could not grow. The figure of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna represents this era very well. Due to the lack of other types of organizations, between 1824 and 1829 the Masonic lodges took on the role of political parties. The Yorkinos adopted the liberal ideas introduced by the United States ambassador, Joel R. Poinsett, while the Scots were inclined to maintain the order inherited from the Spanish Colony. In 1833 Valentin Gomez Farias tried to implement liberal reforms. Between 1835 and 1844 Santa Anna and Anastasio Bustamante occupied the presidency of Mexico imminently, without abandoning their centralist and conservative politics. In 1844, a military coup by the Liberals could not consolidate in the face of a greater threat to the Mexican nation: The North American invasion of 1846 – 1848.
The North American Invasions
Since Mexico achieved its independence, the United States tried to buy the province of Texas from it. The Mexican government always refused to sell part of its territory. However, since 1820 thousands of American settlers had settled in Texas, led by Stephen Austin. Under the pretext of being federalists, they rebelled and declared their independence in 1836. Due to strategy errors committed by Santa Anna, they could not be subdued, but Mexico never recognized Texas as an independent country. In 1845 Texas joined the United States. The differences with Mexico around the new border limits gave the US government the opportunity to provoke a war to obtain by arms the territories that it had not been able to buy.
In 1846 the North Americans entered Mexican territory through Matamoros and Monterrey; the troops of Santa Anna faced them in the battle of La Angostura. Other United States forces took New Mexico, Chihuahua, California, and part of Coahuila, and besieged the country’s most important ports, despite Mexican opposition. To achieve the surrender of Mexico, they took Veracruz and, after defeating Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo, they reached the outskirts of the capital in August 1847. The Mexicans offered resistance in the battles of Churubusco, Padierna, Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, but their lack of organization opened the doors to the invaders. With almost three-quarters of the territory taken by the invader, the government of Mexico agreed to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe – Hidalgo in February 1848, for which it lost the northern half of its territory.
The defeat against the United States and the excesses of Santa Anna had devastated the country. The economy and the government were bankrupt. The need for a change that would strengthen the nation was evident to all Mexicans. Some proposed to return to a time of order and firm government. These were known as the Conservatives. Their rivals, the Liberals, proposed a strong civil government that would limit the power of the Church and prevent abuses by the army, that would place greater emphasis on educating the people and modernizing the country according to the North American model. In 1855 the liberal chief Juan Alvarez took up arms and dismissed Santa Anna. In accordance with the Ayutla Plan promulgated by him, a constituent congress was convened, which enshrined individual guarantees, private property, freedom of expression and municipal autonomy as law.
At that time, several laws were passed against the power of the clergy; Privileges for priests and soldiers were abolished and the confiscation of Church property was decreed. The application of these measures led to the uprising of conservative groups in various regions of the Republic. In Mexico City, Felix Zuloaga proclaimed the Plan of Tacubaya, in which the new Constitution was unknown, and convinced at the President Ignacio Comonfort to support him in his demands. The Liberals, led by Juarez and Santos Degollado, opposed it defending the Constitution. As a result, a bloody three-year war broke out during which the Reform Laws were drawn up. Defeated at first, the Liberals managed to change the course of the contest at the Battle of Silao. Conservatives dispersed into guerrillas while advocating for the intervention of a European power.
The French intervention
After the excesses of Santa Anna and the battles of the Reform War, Mexico found itself bankrupt without being able to pay off its debts with the creditor countries. In 1862 the armies of Spain, England and France landed in Veracruz ready to collect their loans. After negotiating with the representative of Mexico, Spain and England withdrew. French forces under General Lorencez advanced towards the capital. Defeated in the Battle of Puebla, they took refuge in Orizaba while waiting for reinforcements to continue the offensive. Meanwhile, Luis Bonaparte, the ambitious nephew of Napoleon I, allied with conservative Mexican groups to impose a European king on the country. The arrival of more French expeditionary troops and Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg tipped the balance in favor of the French and their conservative allies.
The monarchical army occupied the main cities of the country, while the liberal government was in retreat to the border with the United States, Juarez and the republicans never surrendered, and the course of events began to favor them. Maximiliano antagonized his Mexican collaborators by applying some of the ideas proposed by the liberals. The permanence of the French troops was very expensive for the French pocket and, in addition to everything, Prussia, the other European power of the time, maintained a threatening position. The United States, at the end of the civil war, pressured France to withdraw. The withdrawal of the French forces in 1867 was forced. Maximiliano, defenseless, had to turn to his former conservative allies, Generals Miramon and Mejia, but it was too late. Defeated in Queretaro, they were shot at Cerro de las Campanas.
The restored Republic
After the wars of the Reform and the defeat of the second empire, the Republic was consolidated. The conservative groups had been definitively defeated and the danger of a new foreign intervention had been removed. The Mexican State emerged strengthened from the contest; the victory over the French originated a spirit of struggle and patriotic fervor, the power of the Church was weakened and the country seemed to be heading for a time of peace and progress. However, many obstacles remained to be overcome: indigenous groups affected by the abuses of landowners and rulers took up arms in Nayarit, Chiapas and the Yucatan peninsula, while Apache and Comanche tribes ravaged the northern lands. Local chieftains and bandits dominated the countryside.
The government had to quell numerous revolts that provoked its own generals, unhappy with the re-elections of President Juarez. They stood up, among others, Donato Guerra, Jeronimo Treviño, Porfirio Diaz and Vicente Riva Palacio. In addition to all these problems, the external debt, caused by foreign interventions, had increased. The governments of Juarez and Lerdo de Tejada faced these difficulties, opened schools and educational centers, created a civil and a penal code. Many of the army troops were discharged, a large part of the debt was negotiated, the Reform Laws were applied, and there was an attempt to reconcile the civil state with the Church. The Restored Republic was also a time of cultural rebirth, novels, literary magazines, high schools, science institutes and newspapers were dedicated to studying national identity and problems. The network of roads and telegraphs grew and the railroad from Mexico to Veracruz was inaugurated.
The Porfirian pacification
After his exploits against French intervention, Porfirio Diaz was a popular military man, powerful and with political ambitions. When Benito Juarez and Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada were reelected, Diaz rose up against them with the cry of no reelection, first with the Plan de la Noria and then with the Plan de Tuxtepec. He conquered power in 1877 thanks to his victory at the Battle of Tecoac. The elections for president of 1878 were almost a mere formality, as Diaz won with 97% of the votes. The first objective of his government was to pacify the country and eliminate the most powerful political rivals. He did not hesitate to execute those raised against him and exile the most troublesome enemies; he also made changes in the chambers to achieve a docile congress to the executive branch.
He achieved the recognition of the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, the economic powers of that time. Years of relative peace allowed the growth of industry, mining and railways, as well as large estates and the number of laborers. In 1880 Diaz, still faithful to the motto of no reelection, supported Manuel Gonzalez as a candidate for the presidency. Gonzalez was the head of a wasteful government that depleted the country’s monetary reserves; However, during his tenure there were some achievements, such as the creation of the National Bank of Mexico and the growth of the rail network. After this regime, the only viable character for the presidential chair was, again, Porfirio Diaz, who was re-elected with an almost unanimous vote. The power that would rule Mexico for the next 27 years had emerged.
Source: “Viaje por la historia de México”
Author: Luis Gonzalez y González
Publisher: FCE – Fondo de Cultura Económica