Post-Colonial Blues. Independence to Instability

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Post-Colonial Blues. Independence to Instability, the 1820’s to the 1850’s
Readings: See your syllabus for latest readings
Objectives- In this module, you will:
-Analyze the difficulties Mexico and the rest of Latin America had in consolidating a viable
nation-state in the first few decades after Independence.
-Understand the various reasons why the Mexican and other Latin American economies
stagnated during the first few decades after Independence.
-Analyze the consequences of these economic and political difficulties for Mexico and Latin
LectureLooking at Mexico’s role in the global economy during Mexico’s first century as an
independent nation, we need to consider the following timeline:
1820’s~1850’s: Instability and Economic Stagnation
1860’s~1880’s: Pull of the International Economy
1880’s~1910: Heyday of Economic Liberalism (Triumph of Neo-Colonialism)
Here are two very important questions to consider for Mexico for this time period:
1) Why was the process of consolidating the Mexican nation-state so difficult immediately
after independence?
2) Pay close attention to the way Mexico (and the rest of Latin America) is integrated into the
world economy. What are some consequences of the fact that Mexico will consolidate its
position in the world economy as a supplier of raw materials? (especially since by the end of
the colonial period, Mexico’s economy was primary agrarian and its primary export was
silver) Might it contribute to the divisions we are familiar with today, namely, “developed”
vs. “underdeveloped” nations, and “first world” vs. “third world” nations, with Mexico being
labeled an “underdeveloped” or “developing” nation for most of its modern history?
Newly independent Mexico (and most of Latin America) will be marked by much political
instability until the 1850’s
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Political and Economic challenges for Mexico in the 19th Century- big trends
As Mexico and the rest of Latin America became independent in the 1820s, a central question
became: how would they organize their new governments?
-The Generals who fought to liberate their nations often got large landholdings (haciendas) as
-They had enormous “cache” that they would then use to dominate politics for decades.
-The Argentine General José de San Martin had suggested strong institutions, not strong
men, but he ultimately lived the rest of his life in exile.
*Developing strong institutions – strong and transparent political institutions with clear
“rules of the game” so that institutions and the offices are more important than the
officeholders – is fundamental to the development of democracies and to capital accumulation
as well. Mexico would struggle with this during the entire 19th century, and indeed for most
of the 20th century (and even into the 21st century!).
-In terms of who should lead the newly independent nations, Simón Bolivar, the “Great
Liberator” of Venezuela, suggested an “able despotism,” a non-democratic rule by “able”
members of the elite. Why?
Simón Bolívar
-As we’ve seen in our readings on the Colonial period, the criollo (Creole) elite (those
descended from Spain but born in the Americas) wanted equality vis-à-vis their peninsular
counterparts (those born in Spain) and they independence from Spain, but they also favored
the status quo (“the way things are”) in many ways. That is, they wanted to be able to hold
the top rungs of political power and they favored independence so they could manage their
own affairs as a nation and so they could sell their silver and cochineal to whichever nation
offered the best price, but they did not want to lose their privileged positions in society.
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Criollos who favored independence did not, for instance, look kindly on Mexico’s
independence leaders Miguel Hidalgo and José Maria Morelos’ insistence that village lands
be returned to indigenous communities that had lost them over the course of the colonial
period because it would infringe on their own landholdings. They also did not favor a greater
inclusion of Mexico’s indigenous people and people of mixed ethnicities into the political
system because they feared their power would be diluted and that they might be overwhelmed
by the castas (as they called all peoples of color).
-After Independence, the Generals who triumphed militarily ultimately gained control of the
new Latin American governments as well. Agustín de Iturbide, the most important royalist
commander who switched sides as the Independence movement unfolded, even became
Mexico’s Emperor. And even after Mexico’s disastrous experiment with a monarchy,
Mexico’s first three presidents as a republic all came from the military ranks: Guadalupe
Victoria, Vicente Guerrero, and Antonio López de Santa Anna.
Agustin de Iturbide
-The power vacuums created by the Independence movements were ultimately filled by the
rise of military caudillos, or military “strongmen” who used their leadership qualities as well
as their personal charisma to rule for decades (Iturbide and Santa Anna were both charismatic
leaders who become masters at using rituals and celebrations to merge their leadership with
the nation-state). This trend will actually carry over into the 20th century for many Latin
American nations, including Mexico.
-In the first half of the 19th century, Antonio López de Santa Anna will so completely
dominate Mexican politics that he occupies the presidency 11 times!
Antonio López de Santa Anna
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-And in the second half of the 19th century, General Porfirio Diaz, who rises to political
prominence after defeating the French in Puebla on 5 de Mayo, will rule with an iron fist from
1876 until he is deposed during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Some would argue that
caudillo leadership becomes so entrenched that it even becomes part of Mexico’s political
culture during the 19th century and well into the 20th (after the Mexican Revolution of 1910
military figures occupy the presidency until 1946).
-But are soldiers best statesmen? Are the qualities that are needed to win battles and wars the
same as those needed to forge political consensus among different groups and guide their
nations toward a common goal?
-Latin America’s independence leaders will be inspired by the United States and French
independence movements and the new constitutions they put into place (not necessarily in
their entirety but in their broader ideals of Independence, Liberty and Equality), but the
Mexican and Latin American examples demonstrate that “Nescafé democracy” will not be
possible (Nescafé refers to instant coffee- just add water). Importing another country’s
political model, especially to a country with 300 years of colonialism where the Spanish
crown and its bureaucracy left such a legacy of centralized and authoritarian administration, is
not as straightforward as adding hot water to Nescafé.
-Thus, it comes as no surprise that all new constitutions in Latin America (after Mexico’s 10-
month experiment with a monarchy, and Brazil’s, which lasts until 1888) will have three
branches of government: a Legislative branch to write the laws; an Executive branch to carry
out the laws; and a Judicial branch to interpret the laws.
-It also comes as no surprise that in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, the Executive
branch will come to dominate all of the other branches of government. In the first half of the
19th century, Mexico’s presidents will invoke broad “emergency powers” often. When
Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s second president refuses to relinquish those emergency powers,
he is overthrown by Vice-President Bustamante, who then proceeds to rule like a dictator until
Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna overthrows him (and then proceeds to rule in an
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authoritarian fashion himself). In fact, Mexico’s Executive branch will so thoroughly
dominate all of the other branches of government that Porfirio Diaz (president 1876-1910)
will routinely call Mexico’s Congress “mi cabalada” (my stable of horses). And when the
winds of the Revolution of 1910 sweep Diaz away, congressmen under the PRI (the
Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that dominates Mexican politics until 2000) would
routinely be known as “levanta-dedos,” those who “lift their finger”- a jibe at their role as
“yes men” to Mexican presidents until 1997, when for the first time, the PRI no longer had a
majority in Congress.
An equally important question emerging in the aftermath of Independence throughout Latin
America will be: how much change? Now that Independence is an accomplished fact by
1821, those who sought independence will be debating how much change the new national
governments should be pressing forward with.
-Should sovereignty lie with the majority (in Mexico native peoples were still 60% of the
population even after their post-conquest demographic collapse, and the castas, peoples of
mixed ethnicities, were the fastest growing group) or with the minority (the Europeandescended aristocracy who used to be referred to as the criollos during the late colonial period
and who still remained on top after Independence)?
-Remember from our readings on the colonial era, that for the elite1
, the question now became
not liberty and equality, but liberty or equality because they wanted Independence, yes, but
they also wanted to maintain their privileged positions in society. Moving forward over the
next few decades, there would be some social legislation in favor of the majority – the
abolishment of slavery, for example, though in Mexico African slavery was never as
widespread as Brazil (about 200,000 African slaves were imported to Mexico – a few
thousand to work on silver mines during the early colonial period and the rest to work on
sugar plantations mainly in Veracruz – versus about 4.5 million imported to Brazil).2
For the
most part, however, public policy in Mexico would be geared in favor of the elite throughout
the 19th century. They’re the ones who would dominate the political sphere and craft policy,
so naturally, policy would come to reflect their interests.
1 For our purposes, I use the terms “elite,” “oligarchy,” and “aristocracy” interchangeably here because the land
and mine-owning aristocracy stayed at the top of society from the late colonial period through the 19th century. 2 I recommend the film “Black in Latin America: Brazil- a Racial Paradise?”
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(Ppt) Political Instability- some causes and consequences
Breakdown of Central Rule- constant elite infighting to the 1850’s
-After Iturbide’s failed attempts at establishing a monarchy in Mexico, there would be so
much elite infighting (with bullets, not just squabbling) that the presidency will change hands
36 times from the 1820s to 1855, with the average length of presidential rule being seven and
half months! Santa Anna himself occupies the presidential chair eleven different times!
-How much can be accomplished in a mere 7 ½ months? And what happens when a new
group, or faction, overthrows the previous group and writes a new constitution, then a few
months later is promptly overthrown and the “newer” group scraps this constitution, with the
cycle repeating itself? How much long term planning can be done in this context? Indeed,
how much short term planning can be done in this context?
-How can we make sense out of all of this infighting? There will be two broad factions that
will be vying for political power and that will often resort to bullets when ballots are not
enough for them to gain or maintain power: the Centralists (or Conservatives) and the
Federalists (or Liberals)
-Who are they and what do they stand for?
– The Centralists, or Conservatives, wanted to conserve the essence of colonialism. Their
support came from the Church, the Military, and Mexico’s large landholders. The Church and
the Military both wanted to retain their fueros, special privileges that exempted them from the
jurisdiction of civil courts. Both the Church and the Military argued that they should be able
to handle all of their affairs internally even when their members transgressed the law through
Church-run tribunals in the case of the Church, or military tribunals in the case of the
Military. Very importantly, Centralists favored the imposition of a strong central authority:
a monarchy, or strong central government that could hold the country together and dominate
the provinces and emerging states. They also emphasized law and order and favored the
Catholic Church having a monopoly on Mexico’s religious life.
– The Federalists, or Liberals, on the other hand, wanted to remake the Mexican nation.
Inspired by classical Liberalism, they envisioned a different Mexico than the one that 300
years of colonialism had bequeathed the Mexican people. Their support came from the
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middling elements of Mexican society: professionals, lawyers, intellectuals, and smaller
landowners. They called for decentralization of power to the regions and to Mexico’s nascent
states. In addition to a central government that would allow for regional autonomy, they
called for: more democracy; freedom of the press; a strict separation of Church and State; and
the abolition of the Military’s and Church’s special privileges, including the fueros.
-Full-fledged civil wars would be fought over the separation of Church and State in Mexico:
during this time period; again in the 1860s; and again in the late 1920s.
-In terms of their views toward Mexico’s indigenous people: both Conservatives and Liberals
would see them in paternalistic terms. Conservatives will see them as obstacles to the
nation’s development and will argue for moving them out of the way. Liberals will want to
“uplift,” or “civilize” them through paternalistic policies such as privatizing their communal
properties. We will see much more of this in the next era (1850s to 1870s).
-On the perennial intra-elite squabbles that characterized most of Latin America during the
first three decades after Independence, Simón Bolívar quipped: “America is ungovernable,
those who sow Revolution, plow the seas.” It certainly seems to encapsulate Mexico’s
political turmoil during this time period.
Here is one last example of Mexico’s political infighting, its consequences for Mexico’s lack
of political development, and its consequences for Mexico’s territorial integrity:
-In 1833 Antonio López de Santa Anna was elected president again after having deposed
Bustamante for ruling like a dictator. Santa Anna liked deposing presidents and becoming
president, but not being president – he finds the job too boring.
-So he retires to his hacienda in Veracruz, leaving the presidency to his vice-president
Valentín Gómez Farías.
-Gómez Farías, in a typical Liberal fashion, moves to curtail power of the military and the
Church (remember the Liberal emphasis on separation of Church and State). He also moves
to abolish the military and Church fueros.
-In another move against the power of the Church, Gómez Farías also secularizes
education, which was under Church control, moving it out of the Church’s sphere and onto
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the public policy sphere. He also secularizes the California missions, which were run by the
Franciscans. Those properties would now become state property.
-And in one last measure to curb the power of the Church, he declares the mandatory
tithe illegal.
-Predictably, there would be a loud and immediate Conservative backlash. Conservatives
rush to Santa Anna’s hacienda to seek out his help against Gómez Farías’ Liberal measures.
-Santa Anna now rides to the rescue of Conservatives, though he had been pretty Liberal up
this point. He promptly overthrows Gómez Farías and abolishes the Federalist Constitution of
-As president once again, Santa Anna now has a new Constitution written (this is the 1836
Constitution). This new constitution is Centralist and Conservative.
-Santa Anna also rescinds all of Gómez Farías’s Liberal measures.
-Among the many important consequences, this turn of events would trigger the secession of
its northern province of Tejas (Texas), which would in turn lead to Mexico losing half of its
territory to the United States in the next decade (more on this below).
-This turn of events also illustrates the all or nothing nature of Mexican politics in the early
republic. Indeed, the political animosity would be so great, that there would be no spirit of
compromise, especially with the precedents of deposing presidents by force and even
executing deposed presidents as traitors (like Iturbide and Guerrero were).
-Thus Mexico does not develop lasting and stable political institutions during this time
-These issues would not be resolved until second half of 19th century (but certainly not
-In addition to Mexico not developing stable and lasting political institutions, Mexico loses
substantial ground economically as well.
Mexico’s Economic Challenges: Obstacles to Economic Development
Here are some important statistics on how Mexico’s economy contracts during the first
decades after Independence and how its economy loses ground vis-à-vis the U.S. economy.
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Year GNP/capita MX/US
1800 73 274 44%
1845 56 331 20%
1860 41 430 14%
1875 62 755 14%
1895 91 1055 12%
The traditional explanations to Mexico’s economic stagnation during this time period (i.e.
why the Mexican economy had such a difficult time getting its economy going again after
Independence) have been:
• That the Church (which was one of the largest landowners in Mexico) was not productive.
• That Spain mismanaged the economy of New Spain.
• That Mexico’s lands were used inefficiently.
Recent scholarship has debunked them all.
-New Spain was a very dynamic economy and a big producer of silver, cochineal, vanilla,
indigo, and lots of other profitable agricultural products.
-The Haciendas (both under New Spain and in the national period) were very profit oriented.
-The Church, when it owned land, ran it just as efficiently as private hacendados (owners of
Haciendas) did.
So what explanations are left?
1. The legacy of the Wars for Independence
-Destruction of manufacturing, mining, agriculture. The destruction of silver
mines in Mexico had a huge impact on the rest of the Mexican economy, especially when one
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considers that not only was silver the most important export, but the mining regions had
served as “engines” of economic growth throughout the colonial period. To make matters
worse, agricultural fields were destroyed during the violence, leading to increasing prices.
These inflationary pressures would then have repercussions throughout the economy.
-And of course, the human toll of the wars was tremendous. About 500,000 people
died out of a population of about six million. In addition, there would be large numbers of
people dislocated, as is common during bloody conflicts. Lastly, the wars left tens of
thousands of widows and orphans without a provider.
-There was a drastic drop in silver production, Mexico’s “engine of economic
growth.” During the colonial period, silver had accounted for 85% of Mexico’s exports. It
had driven domestic demand. Now, the wars have left this sector in shambles. In 1809
Mexico exported 26 million pesos worth of silver. By the mid-1820s Mexico’s silver exports
were down to 6 million pesos. Its consequences reverberate throughout the economy.
-Mexico’s agricultural output drops by 50%. Fields are destroyed. Prices in cities
skyrocket due to inflation. Its effects reverberate throughout the economy, increasing
poverty, malnutrition, and discontent.
-Manufacturing, Mexico’s third most valuable sector after mining and agriculture,
declined by 50% during the wars for Independence
-Mexico’s public debt also increased significantly during the wars for Independence:
20Million in 1808 During the 19th century, nations will be invaded
35Million in 1814 because of their inability to pay
45Million in 1822 their debts, Mexico, as we will see, is one of them.
-Investor confidence squashed. Given the violence and instability of the wars, there
will be significant capital flight (money taken out of circulation or out of country), which
will aggravate Mexico’s already tenuous economic as well as political situation.
-Investors always take out their money when there is instability (or even “perceived
instability” as we’ll see during the 1997 Asian financial crisis which swept worldwideinvestors began taking their money out of Mexico for reasons that had nothing to do with
Mexico [it was the Thai currency that had collapsed]).
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-When money is taken out of the economy, there is less of a tax base, and governments
have an even more difficult time stabilizing the economy. How are governments to pay for
the army (the biggest federal government expenditure in Mexico during at this time), schools,
and infrastructure in this context?
-Mexico’s governments will have an extremely difficult time generating the revenues they
need to stabilize the nation and stimulate economic growth. Because the army took up the
largest chunk of the government’s revenue, sometimes the government can’t even pay the
army, making it even easier for them to be overthrown, or even invaded by foreign powers.
The result is even more political instability, and for Mexico, it becomes a vicious cycle of
instability that is very difficult to break.
2. Collapse of the credit system
-Personal loans by large landowners, merchants and the Church had been the main lenders in
Mexico. With political instability, investor confidence wanes, lenders hold back money or
take it out of the country. When this happens, the entire economy suffers.
-Mining and textiles also require lots of capital to get them going again, yet lenders are not
lending because of the instability. How are they to be started up again? And even if they got
a loan to rebuild it, who is going to sink their capital into rebuilding something if the political
climate is unstable? Who is going to guarantee their investments?
-And of course, if nations want to buy things like manufactured goods from abroad, they need
to have something to sell. In Mexico’s case, this was silver, the production of which has
contracted significantly. So many imports can Mexico buy?
-If the economy has contracted severely, as Mexico’s has, and there is much less production
than ever before (a much smaller tax base), how are governments going to generate the
revenue they need to function?3
-Given the difficulties in generating revenues, one solution is for governments to borrow
from other nations, or even to open up their economies so foreign investors can bring in their
capital to help generate economic growth.
-Thus begin two enormously important trends for Latin America during this time period:
3 I refer to governments in general here and not just Mexico’s, because all Latin American countries are facing
the same issues during this time period.
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a) Borrowing from abroad to finance the government’s expenditures. What will
happen if a nation accrues a significant foreign debt and then can’t make its payments?
Lending nations, as we’ll see quite a bit, will invade the borrowers to recoup their money.
England will do this routinely during the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the United
States will launch multiple invasions in the region to recoup debts and secure their economic
-In the case of Mexico in the 19th century, France will invade Mexico in the 1830s to
recoup debts. And in the 1860s, Spain, England and France blockade Mexico to recoup debts,
with France then launching a full-fledged invasion, which we’ll discuss more in our next
b) Governments will begin to open up their economies and allow foreign investors
to buy lands and silver mines. This is a trend that begins during this time period, but really
picks up steam in the latter half of the 19th century. In some Latin American countries,
foreign investors will gain so much control over an economy, that if they are ever threatened,
they will appeal to their home country and press for an invasion of the host country.
-For Mexico, once the violence of the Independence wars subsides and the smoke clears,
British investors will slowly begin to move into mining in 1820’s and early 1830’s, acquiring
silver mines in the Real del Monte region of Hidalgo. This trend, as we’ll see, accelerates so
much during the late 19th century that foreigners (English and American investors mainly)
will control the vast majority of Mexico’s underground mineral wealth by 1910.
3. Another obstacle to Mexico’s economic development during the first decades after
Independence was the lack of a truly unified national market. Strong regional markets had
not been integrated, and in areas where they were, growth was hindered by inter-regional
taxes. Internal tariffs were often imposed during this period for revenue purposes. In part,
this “obstacle” to economic development is also a function of geography. There were very
few navigable rivers like the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri rivers in the United States.
4. Mexico’s economic development during this time period was also held back by the
country’s inefficient transport system. Mules and mule driven wagons transported people
and goods along dusty roads. And to boot, there was lots of brigandage, or “highway
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robberies” as we’d call them today. Not until after the 1850s when railroads begin to link
production centers with consumer centers does the country’s national market begin to be fully
integrated (President Juarez in the decade after that will also establish the rurales, a special
armed force to combat the problem of rural brigandage).
6. Mexico’s inefficient economic organization also contributed to the country’s weak
economic performance during the first decades after Independence. Laws to stimulate the
economy were never passed. Nor were banking, credit, and patent laws. There was little or
no enforcement of property rights. Consequently, Mexico’s economic institutions were weak
from the beginning, further hampering Mexico’s ability to grow on a sustained basis.
7. Patronage politics and corruption. Santa Anna and other post-Independence leaders will
pilfer the Mexican treasury and become extremely rich, accumulating huge haciendas and fat
private accounts (Santa Anna, for example, becomes a millionaire and acquires an hacienda
Manga del Clavo that is over 480,000 acres). Lots of money will be spent on lavish parties,
sculptures of themselves, and expensive leg burials (Santa Anna ordered a formal military
burial, complete with a 21 gun salute, for his leg, which he lost in battle). This is one of our
“Colonial legacies” that does not abate in post-Independent Mexico and actually carries over
well into the 20th century (and even into the 21st).
-In addition, there was widespread contraband to avoid the numerous taxes the
government was trying to impose to raise revenues. This too would be an issue that carries
over well into the modern era (only now we call it the “informal economy” to denote its “off
the books” nature).
7. All of these interrelated factors and obstacles posed major problems for Mexico’s ability to
generate revenues. They would have incalculable political ramifications and lead to even
further political instability and further indebtedness. Indeed it becomes a vicious cycle. From
the 1820s to the 1850s Mexico’s governments were always running a budget deficit.
External Threats: Consequences of Political and Economic Instability on Mexico’s
Territorial Integrity
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-Central America secedes in 1823 (they had gained Independence on Mexico’s coattails). The
central government in Mexico City can do little about it.
-Sensing Mexico’s weakness, Spain attempts to re-conquer Mexico in 1829. Gen. Santa Anna
beats them back and is acclaimed as a “hero.”
-One of Mexico’s northern provinces, Tejas (Texas) declares its independence from Mexico
in 1836. Though this is an internal matter, it will lead to a major conflict with the United
States when the U.S. votes to annex Texas (more below), with Mexico eventually losing half
of its territory
War with France 1838. “Guerra de los Pasteles” (Pastry War). France invades Mexico to
recover debts and damage to French property, including price of pastries.
-Some French properties had been destroyed and/or damaged during Mexico’s Independence
wars. The French wanted Mexico to pay $600,000 pesos, which included the price of cakes
that Mexican soldiers had eaten at a French bakery ten years earlier, thus the name of the war.
-The French blockade the port of Veracruz.
-Under pressure, Mexico finally agrees to pay the $600,000 pesos.
-The French say not so fast, the blockade cost $200,000 pesos, which they argue, Mexico has
to pay as well. Now France says Mexico’s debt is $800,000 pesos.
-The fight is on. Santa Anna leads the charge again, where he loses his left leg (the one that
would receive a “proper” state burial later). Though the Mexicans beat back the French, it is
costly for the country.
The United States Invades Mexico, 1846-1848. The context:
-When Mexico declared itself independent from Spain, its northern provinces were sparsely
populated. There were only about 2,500 Mexicans in its northern province of Tejas (Texas).
At that time, Stephen F. Austin was given a concession to further populate this Mexican
province. He was authorized to bring in 300 families in the first year provided they were of
good moral character, professed the catholic faith, and agreed to abide by Mexican law.
-Many influential members of the Mexican elite at the time also argued that opening
Mexico to “white immigrants” would be good for the nation. This was in keeping with the
idea of “Progress,” prevalent throughout Latin America at the time, and something that we
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would see accelerate during the course of the 19th century (some nations like Argentina would
be completely remade by new flows of European immigrants by the end of the 19th century).
-When Mexico opened its northern province of Tejas to foreigners, the influx of
Americans to Mexico was enormous. Land was practically free- 10 cents an acre (and
deferred taxes) compared to $1.25 for inferior land in the U.S.
-Each male immigrant could buy 640 acres for himself.
-320 acres for his wife
-160 acres per child
-80 acres per slave he brought
-By 1827, there were 12,000 US citizens living in Tejas, compared to only 7,000 Mexicans
-By 1835, the American immigrant population (Anglos) reached 30,000, while the Mexican
population had barely budged to 7,800.
-When Mexico closed its border to further immigration in 1830, the influx of Americans to
Tejas continued (there were no iron curtains like today, nor did Mexico have a Border patrol).
Americans continued to come to Mexico illegally.
-The original idea behind inviting American immigrants to Mexico to begin with was to
populate that sparsely populated region, and the assumption was that they would integrate into
Mexican society:
-official transactions were to be in Spanish
-extra land was offered to those who married Mexican citizens
– The reality was that they did not assimilate at all. In fact, they carried the U.S. Constitution
in their pocketbooks
-One major grievance they had was that Tejas was politically appended to Coahuila, Mexico’s
large, long-standing province in the North. The appellate courts were all the way down in
Saltillo, Coahuila. For practical purposes, they argued they were practically without political
-There had also been filibustering expeditions to try to wrest this region from Mexican control
(one led by the American James Long, in Nacogdoches – in East Texas).
-This sort of tensions led the Mexican government to try to reestablish control over that
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-Pres. Guerrero outlawed slavery in 1829. Anglo Texans were bringing that peculiar
institution to the Northern part of Mexico en masse. The law was aimed mainly at them.
-Alarmed by the growing American presence, Mexico passed the Colonization law of
1830: it forbade future immigration from U.S. (it would be largely ignored).
-Mexico also set out to strengthen its northern garrisons to safeguard the region.
-Mexico also encouraged more Mexican migration to the region (which didn’t happen
-Texans saw all of these measures as heavy handed. The clincher for them was Santa Anna’s
annulment of the Federalist (Liberal) 1824 Constitution in 1835.
-Having dissolved the Federalist Constitution, the new Centralist government in Mexico City
wrote a new Centralist Constitution in 1836. Under this new constitution, political power
would now be centralized to Mexico City.
-Because of this new Centralist constitution, that in essence abolished “states’ rights,” Texas
was to have no political voice at all (nor were Mexico’s other provinces like Yucatán).
-As a result, Texas declared itself independent in 1835. They chose David Burnet as the new
President of Texas and Lorenzo de Zavala as Vice President (so it was both Anglos and
Tejanos, each of whom had grievances against Mexico City).
-General (and President) Santa Anna now leads the charge with 6,000 Mexican troops against
the rebel Texans.
-He leads an assault against the rebel Texans at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Everyone
inside the old Franciscan mission is killed.
-A few weeks later, 365 Texans, led by Col. James W. Fannin were captured at Goliad. Santa
Anna charges them with being pirates “foreigners taking up arms against this government”
and orders them all executed.
-Soon calls for revenge “Remember the Alamo and Goliad!” reverberate throughout the
region, rallying support for Texas in the United States.
-Supplies and men start streaming in, mainly from the south – the area where most American
migrants to Texas had come from.
-On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston, with new U.S. reinforcements takes Santa Anna prisoner at
San Jacinto.
-Santa Anna signs two treaties as prisoner: one public and one private.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 17 of 24
-The public treaty: Santa Anna agrees to a cease in hostilities. He also agrees to withdraw
Mexican troops to the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande).
-The private treaty: in return for his release, Santa Anna agrees to receive a Texas mission
in Mexico City to eventually recognize the independence of Texas. (This is one of the reasons
that Santa Anna would later be seen as a traitor in Mexico)
-When word about Santa Anna’s treaties with Sam Houston reaches Mexico City, the
Mexican legislature enacts a law stipulating that any agreement reached by a Mexican
president while being held prisoner shall be null and void.
-Because of all of the internal strife in Mexico, Texas remains independent from 1836-1845.
-In fact, there is so much internal strife in Mexico that even provinces like Yucatan in
southern Mexico are rebelling from Mexico City’s authority and trying to secede.
-Mexico never recognized Texas’ independence, but could do little about it because of all of
Mexico’s economic and political difficulties.
-The United States recognizes Texas’s independence in 1837 and there is talk of annexation in
the U.S Congress.
-But it becomes a sectional conflict in the United States: the annexation of Texas is
opposed by the Northern states because Texas would enter as a slave state, tipping the balance
of power between the North and the South (which it does).
-As Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States’ continental expansion is divinely
inspired, spreads in the United States, the U.S. Congress votes to annex Texas in February of
1845, triggering a war with Mexico.
-Mexico perceives the U.S. vote to annex Texas as an act of aggression and breaks diplomatic
relations with the U.S. Mexican President José Joaquin Herrera agrees to receive U.S.
Minister John Slidell. At same time, the U.S. orders troops moved to border and gulf regions.
-Throughout Mexico’s colonial period, the western boundary of Texas had been the Nueces
River. Moses Austin’s original grant from the Spanish Crown and Stephen F. Austin’s
confirmation of it by the newly independent Mexican government both showed the Nueces as
the western boundary of Texas.
-Now Texas claimed Texas’ border was the Rio Grande (in effect arguing that Texas was
more than two times larger). Texas argued:
-that some US citizens had been allowed to settle between both rivers, and
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 18 of 24
-that when Santa Anna withdrew his troops after his defeat at San Jacinto, he had
withdrawn all the way back to the Rio Grande (see the map below).
(Meyer, Sherman and Deeds)
-The U.S. decides to support Texas’ border claim upon Texas entering the U.S. as the 28th
state. This means that the Mexican cities of El Paso del Norte (today’s El Paso),
Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, and half of New Mexico and Colorado are now claimed by the
United States as its property.
-In addition, U.S. Minister Slidell is instructed to offer 5 million dollars to Mexico for the rest
of New Mexico, and 25 million dollars for the huge Mexican territory of California.
-Slidell also informs Mexico that the 2 million dollars the U.S. argues it is owed because of
the destruction of U.S. property during Mexico’s civil wars will be forgiven as well as part of
this deal.
-The Mexican government does not accept. They argue that none of those territories are for
-But the U.S. has already decided that what it cannot buy, it will force Mexico into selling.
-U.S. President Polk’s strategy is to goad the Mexicans into resisting and negotiate at
cannon’s point.
-In Mexico, there is yet another coup, this time by the very general dispatched to fortify the
border, Gen. Mariano Paredes. President Herrera’s government had been crumbling after
Slidell’s mission to Mexico became public.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 19 of 24
-U.S. President Polk orders General Taylor into the disputed territory on January 13, 1846.
The Mexican General Mariano Arista orders Taylor to retreat. Instead, Taylor penetrates all
the way to the Rio Grande and puts up a U.S. flag, as if taking possession.
-On April 25, 1846, Mexican troops attacked a detachment of U.S. soldiers that were on what
they considered to be Mexican property. General Taylor reports that 11 men have been killed
and 5 wounded.
-Before he had received news of the skirmish, Polk had written in his diary: “I stated to the
cabinet that up to this time, as we knew, we had heard of no open act of aggression by the
Mexican army, but that the danger was imminent that such acts would be committed. I said
that in my opinion, we had ample cause of war…”
-Polk was going to argue for war even without knowledge of the skirmish.
-When word of the attack reached Washington on May 9 (a Saturday evening), Polk would
now have his public excuse to carry out the war with Mexico.
-On the following Monday, Polk submitted his war message to Congress, declaring that: “We
have tried every effort at reconciliation… But now, after reiterated menaces, Mexico has
passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood
upon American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities exist, and that the two nations are
now at war. As war exists, and, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of
Mexico herself…”4
-Mexicans argued that not only had the U.S. taken Texas (Mexico never recognized its
independence, much less its annexation by the U.S.), but the Americans had changed Texas’
traditional boundary to double its size! And when Mexico sought to defend itself against the
additional encroachment by the U.S., the Americans cried that Mexico had invaded the U.S.!
-Back in Mexico City, the Mexican Army launches one more coup, overthrowing President
Paredes and inviting Gen. Santa Anna back to the Presidency (again!) to lead the charge
against the North American aggression.
-The U.S. war with Mexico:
-Gen. Kearny in the West takes New Mexico without firing a shot when Mexican Gen.
Armijo evacuated his 3,000 troops at Santa Fe.
4 Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States. p. 28.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 20 of 24
-They’re surveying the lands as they head West (for future Railroads…) as if occupation is a
done deal
-Gen. Taylor is sent towards Mexico City from the North via land with 6,000 men.
Santa Anna tries to defend at Buena Vista, Chihuahua, but is soundly defeated.
-Gen. Winfield Scott is sent via the Gulf of Mexico to take Mexico City. He shells the port
city of Veracruz for 48 hours despite implorations of foreign consuls to allow women and
children to evacuate. 67 Americans are killed and 1500 Mexicans are killed.
-Mexico City is taken in September of 1847. On the 13th of September, the last Mexican
stronghold at Chapultepec Castle is taken (it had been the Vice-Regal castle now converted
into a military academy during the war). Juan Escutia, the last young cadet there is said to
have wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and flung himself over the side of the castle to
avoid its capture and desecration. He and the other cadets come to be known as the Niños
Heroes (“boy heroes” because of how young they were) and become symbols of Mexican
nationalism and resistance to foreign aggression. You can see this mural below on the ceiling
of Chapultepec Castle:
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 21 of 24
-In the United States, there is an “All Mexico” movement in the U.S. Congress arguing that
now that Mexico has been defeated, the U.S. should acquire all of Mexico.
-But, some congressmen ask, what to do with the Mexicans living in those territories?
-The U.S. can’t absorb “the mongrel race,” says Senator Calhoun.
-The solution is to take only the valuable territories that are sparsely populated: what is
today’s California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.5
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Signed on February 28, 1848 while Mexico is under U.S. occupation, the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo confirms to the U.S. title to Texas as well as title to the huge territories between New
Mexico and California. In the treaty, Mexico “cedes” those territories, but in effect, New
Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California are taken as “spoils of war.” In
return Mexico gets to keep everything south of the Rio Grande, and the U.S. pays $15 million
in cash and assumes $3.25 million in claims against Mexico.
-The treaty also stipulated that Mexicans who stayed in those territories would be able to keep
their lands. There were over 200,000 Mexican people in the areas spanning Texas to New
Mexico to California (“Californios”, “Nuevo Mexicanos”, “Tejanos”). Instead, they became
“foreigners in their native lands.” As the Anglo population swept into those territories,
especially after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Fort, California in late 1848 and early 1849,
5 See Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States, for a full discussion of U.S. internal politics during the war.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 22 of 24
the Mexican population was forced to go through hoops to prove their title to their lands.
Bled dry by lawyers in their efforts to prove their titles, most Mexican landowners ended up
being swindled out of their lands by Anglo newcomers or forced to sell off lands in order to
pay for the lawyers in their efforts to try to keep their lands. The result was that most
Californios, Nuevo Mexicanos, and Tejanos and all of the other Mexicans in those territories
ended up landless.6
-There were also several hundreds of thousands of Native Peoples in those areas -Apache,
Kiowa, Comanche, Kumeyaay…- (150,000 in California alone!), who would fare even worse
as the Anglo population rushed West in the ensuing decades after the Gold Rush (see your
article “Genocide of California’s Natives”).
-Having lost half of its territory to the U.S., there was an emerging nationalism in Mexico, but
also a loss of self-esteem.
-This war bequeathed a legacy of hostility between the two nations that would affect the
bilateral relationship for generations (indeed, for centuries).
-To add insult to injury for Mexico, gold was discovered in California a few months after the
treaty was signed (gold that would be worth much more than the $15 million Mexico received
from the U.S. as part of the treaty).
– The war also contributed to xenophobia on U.S side. It further fueled the idea of Manifest
Destiny, the assertion by many in the U.S. that the U.S. had a God-given right to appropriate
the territory of others in pursuit of its divinely ordained continental expansion.
-The use of force in the acquisition of the California and New Mexico territories that Mexico
had refused to sell the U.S. set the tone for U.S.-Latin America relations for decades to come.
-In the decades following, we would see further expansionist impulses by the U.S. in the
Caribbean, where it would first try to acquire Cuba from Spain, and then after war with Spain
in 1898, the U.S. would keep all of Spain’s remaining imperial possessions: Cuba, Puerto
Rico, Guam and the Philippines; and then in Central America, where it would foment a
rebellion in a Colombian province called Panama and ultimately build and control a transisthmian canal there and then hold a number of protectorates in the area including Nicaragua
in the early 20th century.
6 See Foreigners in the Native Lands by David Weber.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 23 of 24
-On the Pacific side, the U.S. would annex Hawaii in 1898 after U.S. sugar and cattle barons
fomented a rebellion there and overthrew the Hawaiian Queen (and kept Guam permanently
and occupied the Philippines until 1945).
-The U.S. would expand its hegemonic power over the course of the 19th and early 20th
centuries, first in terms of territory, and then in terms of investments and commerce.
-In terms of further U.S. expansion onto Mexico, there was talk in the U.S. Congress about
annexing Baja California, but the final chapter of U.S. territorial acquisition there ends with
the Gadsen Purchase in 1853.
-Having spent the $15 million Mexico received for the California and New Mexico territories,
Santa Anna (in power again!) agreed to sell more Mexican territory: 30,000 square miles –
today’s Southern Arizona and Southern New Mexico- to the U.S for another $10 million.
Known in Mexico as La Mesilla and in the U.S. as the Gadsen Purchase, where a major
railroad line would be built, Santa Anna said he agreed to the sale to keep the U.S. from trying
to take the entire North, including Baja California.
-This sale of additional lands to the U.S. would so alienate Mexicans, Liberals in particular,
that it would lead to the ouster of Santa Anna for the 11th and last time in the Revolution of
Ayutla in 1855.
– Santa Anna and the Conservatives would be thoroughly discredited.
-The Liberals who overthrew Santa Anna – Juan Alvarez, Ignacio Comonfort, Sebastián and
Miguel Lerdo de Tejada and Benito Juarez – represented a new generation of Liberals who
would lead Mexico for the next two decades and usher in a new era for Mexico. That is the
subject of our next lecture.
History of the Modern Americas ©Carlos Alberto Contreras
Page 24 of 24
Suggested Supplementary Readings:
Chavez, Ernesto, ed. The U.S. War with Mexico. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2008. (full of
excellent primary sources for your Primary Source Analysis)
Griswold del Castillo, Richard. The Los Angeles Barrio, 1850-1890. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1979.
Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States. New York:
Hill and Wang, 2007.

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