Thursday, February 16, 2012
Enemy of Monarchy: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
Santa Anna was absolutely effusive in his praise and protestations of loyalty to the first Emperor at this time. Most saw him as one of Iturbide’s top men. At times, there is no doubt that Santa Anna could display considerable military ability and in 1821 he captured the Spanish held port city of Veracruz, a remarkable accomplishment and one for which Iturbide promoted him to the rank of General. Not long after pledging his absolute allegiance and loyalty unto death to Emperor Agustin though, Santa Anna became upset when Iturbide refused to take his side in a personal dispute with another officer. Sensing another wind shift, he changed his coat again and joined the ranks of the liberal supporters of the Plan of Casa Mata to oust the Emperor and make Mexico a republic. In fact, Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria (soon to be famous as Mexico’s first President) were the key originators of the plan. However, though both had originally supported Iturbide, Victoria was known to be a republican whereas the betrayal of Santa Anna was more spontaneous and self-serving.
Not surprisingly, Santa Anna was no more faithful to his new found republican principles than he had been to the idea of monarchy once the Emperor was out of the picture as he was involved in the coups which overthrew President Vicente Guerrero and President Manuel Pedraza as well. However, he still kept up a good public image, winning his greatest fame when Spain attempted to “re-conquer” Mexico with 2,600 soldiers whom Santa Anna defeated at Tampico in 1829. In actuality, Spain could have never made much progress in Mexico with so few troops, and though they did have Santa Anna outnumbered, most of the Spanish soldiers were incapacitated by yellow fever. Nonetheless, the battle was celebrated as a great victory with a medal struck to honor it and Santa Anna rose to the level of a national hero by glorifying himself as the "Hero of Tampico" and the "Savior of Mexico".
General and President Santa Anna crushed these rebellions in San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacan, the Yucatan and Jalisco. The most serious was the rebellion in Zacatecas led by Francisco Garcia who commanded a well armed and organized militia. Santa Anna suppressed them with considerable brutality, defeating them on May 12, 1835, massacring those who surrendered and allowing his troops to pillage the city of Zacatecas for 48 hours. It was also in 1835 that the most significant rebellion, and one of the most crucial events of his life, broke out in the northern province of Texas. Texas rebels had taken control of all the major posts in the region and had defeated and forced the surrender of the Mexican garrison in San Antonio commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, who was the brother-in-law of Santa Anna. The President and Generalissimo was not prepared to let this stain on his family honor go unpunished and he soon set out on an expedition to crush the rebellion, restore Mexican rule and annihilate or drive out all of the Anglo population of Texas.
So far, his forces had been everywhere successful and the vain Generalissimo, who liked to call himself the "Napoleon of the West" became overconfident and sloppy. Allowing himself to be separated from his main army, he camped in an easily isolated area with the enemy out of sight. Texas General Sam Houston seized the opportunity and surprised Santa Anna with a sudden attack at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 which smashed the Mexican army which had been relaxing without so much as a single sentry posted to keep watch for an attack. Santa Anna had been dallying with a local mulatto girl when the Texan attack came. In cowardly fashion, Santa Anna abandoned the field, fleeing for his life and when captured tried to pass himself off as a common soldier before the salutes of his own men gave him away. In exchange for his own life Santa Anna ordered the rest of his army to withdraw from Texas and later signed the Treaty of Velasco which recognized the independence of the Republic of Texas, after which he was released and went to the United States. The government in Mexico, however, declared Santa Anna deposed and refused to recognize the treaty he had signed.
The following year Santa Anna returned to Mexico and was able to recover his reputation when he lost a leg in the 1838 Pastry War with France. Cashing in on his injury he once again overthrew Anastasio Bustamante to become President of Mexico, acting as usual more as a dictator than a democratic executive. Those who went along with him thought a dictatorship would at least solve the problem of chronic instability that had stagnated all progress in Mexico virtually since independence. However, Santa Anna was never a stabilizing force. His harsh policies and high taxes led to the establishment of the Yucatan republic (which was aided by the Republic of Texas Navy and Marine Corps) as well as the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande based in Laredo, Texas in a region which was still claimed by both countries. Having seen the loss of Texas when Santa Anna had been in power before, opposition rallied as the fear grew that more losses were coming. The duplicitous dictator was forced out of power once again, Santa Anna was captured and went into exile in Venezuela and later Cuba.
In 1846, following the American annexation of Texas which prompted the U.S.-Mexican War, Santa Anna offered his services to his homeland and promised that he had no political aspirations. It was a lie of course, and the government should have known better as the sitting president was Gomez Farias who Santa Anna had already betrayed once. However, with the war going badly, Santa Anna was allowed to return though unbeknownst to the Mexican people, the duplicitous Santa Anna was simultaneously negotiating with the United States as well, promising to give up vast tracts of Mexican territory in exchange for a considerable bribe. Loyal to no one, once Santa Anna was allowed through the U.S. blockade and given command of Mexican troops by his own government, he declared himself President of Mexico again and began fighting the United States as hard as he could. It was to no avail however and the Mexican forces were steadily pushed back and defeated until the United States occupied Mexico City itself. Santa Anna was overthrown, the southwest was sold to the United States and in 1851 the old Caudillo went into exile again.
Always a survivor, in 1853 Santa Anna was back again as part of a rebellion by Mexican conservatives which restored him to power. Santa Anna, as usual, spent most of his time feathering his own nest and sold additional territory to the United States. He tried to keep favor with the conservatives by showing favor to the Church, restoring some relics from the imperial past but also making himself dictator with the title of "His Most Serene Highness". Even he seemed to possibly realize that political instability was ruining Mexico. Even simple relations with foreign governments were often impossible since by the time diplomats arrived in Europe the government which had sent them had usually been overthrown. Many began to seek a change in the form of government rather than simply the occupants of the National Palace.
Santa Anna was in exile in Cuba during the confrontation between the radical liberals and the pro-Church party as well as the ultimate liberal victory which saw Benito Juarez become President of Mexico and enact a new constitution. However, Gutierrez de Estrada had gone on with his mission even after Santa Anna was overthrown, as he personally believed nothing but a monarchy would save Mexico. With Spain having frittered away the opportunity, he turned to France and was finally able to obtain the support of Emperor Napoleon III. He was also joined by some of the most respected generals who had served with Santa Anna in the war with Texas such as Adrian Woll and Juan Almonte. As we know, with the backing of France, they ultimately offered the Crown of Mexico to HIRH Archduke Maximilian of Austria.