The “blame America” crowd will say that this was part of a concerted effort to keep Mexico weak, impoverished and helpless. Others will no doubt say that this was the work of ideologues who believed they were helping Mexico, who wanted to push for policies which were long established in the United States to work their “magic” on Mexico. Things like an American-style constitution, republicanism, states rights, separation of church and state were all things American agents pushed for in Mexico. Now, if these were all inherently bad ideas that brought Mexico to ruin after slowly adopting them over time, one would have to wonder why the United States, which had them longer, is not in the same condition as Mexico? All the same, whether these ideas were good ones or not (and, just for the record, almost all of them were not), America would still not be responsible unless the United States alone forced Mexico to embrace them against the will of the Mexicans themselves, assuming they have free will of course which seems to be up for debate at the moment.
All of these schemes failed and Spain had been doing a good job at keeping Mexico within the empire until bitter divisions in Spain itself caused the traditional conservatives in Mexico, led by Agustin de Iturbide, to make common cause with their former republican, revolutionary enemies, to break away from the Kingdom of Spain. The result was the short-lived First Mexican Empire. In explaining why this empire was so short-lived, the “blame America” crowd point to the U.S. envoy to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina, a man with extensive experience in Europe, particularly the Russian Empire and South America. He actually had accepted the rank of general and fought against the Spanish in Chile. He was also a Freemason, a strong supporter of the Monroe Doctrine and firmly convinced that liberal republicanism was the answer to the woes of Latin America. Was he truly to blame for the downfall of Iturbide? Hardly. If a single American envoy was sufficient to bring down the First Mexican Empire, any strong gust of wind could have done the same. His influence was damaging to be sure, but not decisive.
|The embrace of Iturbide & Guerrero|
Poinsett did not create the division between Guerrero and Iturbide, he did not create the many factions that forced Iturbide to take strong measures to rule the country, he did not introduce Freemasonry to Mexico (a false claim often repeated, it had existed in Mexico since at least the previous century), he did not force Iturbide to raise taxes on his core supporters, he did not win the battles for Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna against the forces of Iturbide and he did not force the officials to abandon Iturbide when Santa Anna approached. He certainly had nothing to do with the Central American republics breaking away nor was he holding a gun to the head of Iturbide, forcing him to recall Congress and present them with his abdication. Indeed, many have puzzled ever since why Iturbide gave up and went into exile when he did when so many Mexicans demonstrably remained supportive of him. Poinsett certainly did not help the situation, he was certainly not impartial and what influence he did have was negative. However, it would absolutely absurd to credit him with bringing down the abortive monarchy of Iturbide rather than the long-standing animosities and rivalries of men like Guerrero, Victoria and Santa Anna.
As it happened, Austin, Colonel Travis of Alamo fame and General Sam Houston all had at least one thing in common with Santa Anna; they were all Freemasons. In any event, the United States was hardly out to ‘take down’ Santa Anna. Poinsett, still around at the time of Santa Anna’s defeat by the Texans, had previously been an ardent supporter of his. He lived in the United States for a time and when Mexico and the United States went to war over the Republic of Texas voting to join the U.S. it was the American government that plucked Santa Anna from exile and returned him to Mexico. The idea was that he would arrange a peace favorable to American interests. Instead, he led the war against the United States but ultimately failed. Yet, even this, the one time the United States actually dominated Mexico, controlling its ports and occupying its capital, might have been avoided if not for the inadvertent aid the Mexicans themselves gave the Americans.
|Battle of Buena Vista|
Had it not been for the internal divisions of Mexico, Santa Anna might well have defeated the Americans and won the war. Similarly, it was Santa Anna, restored to power by the clerical party, who sold more land to the United States (the Gadsden Purchase) before he was overthrown by the group that soon coalesced around Benito Juarez. In the next major fight, which was probably the most decisive in Mexican history, the United States was more involved than probably at any other point and this was the fight between Benito Juarez and the French-backed Emperor Maximilian, each of whom offered very distinct visions of how Mexico should be organized and what the future of the country would be. The United States was, from the outset, very clearly on the side of Juarez and absolutely opposed to Emperor Maximilian and French Emperor Napoleon III. However, because this struggle coincided with the American Civil War, there was nothing the United States could do about it until late 1865 and forward. From that point though, the U.S. did everything short of massive military intervention which proved unnecessary anyway.
If, therefore, Mexico is in a terrible state because of the downfall of Iturbide and Maximilian in turn, it cannot be the responsibility of the United States of America. The U.S.A. had next to nothing to do with Iturbide, preexisting forces obviously brought him down as his reign lasted less than a year. Likewise, with Maximilian and his downfall, the United States certainly helped Juarez but it is an obvious, logical fact that this was only possible because Juarez was there to help. His faction and the conservative faction had been battling for decades. Juarez had won, then the French came in to support the conservatives and Juarez lost, then the French withdrew and America helped Juarez to win. But, that is the point; that the U.S. helped Juarez and those Mexicans who followed him, not that the U.S. took down Maximilian themselves and gave Mexico a republic and forced them to submit to it. On the contrary, despite his efforts to totally sell out Mexico and effectively make the country a U.S. protectorate (which offer was turned by the U.S. by the way), Juarez is still upheld by the vast majority of Mexicans as a great, national hero; the plucky, little Indian who defeated the “evil” Austrian Emperor and his French invaders.
|The surrender of Maximilian|
The bottom line for all of this is the issue of free will, which exists for nations as well as individuals. The people who push this line, as stated at the outset, generally fall into two categories; they either wish to blame America as a justification for open borders or because they think Mexicans are simply irresponsible people who cannot be held accountable for their own decisions. It is certainly not my position that America has been blameless in all of this, far from it. The difference is that America is to blame for what America does, not for what Mexico does and the state of Mexico is the responsibility of Mexicans, not Americans just as the state of the United States of America is the responsibility of Americans and not Mexicans. It is all the more pertinent if America has been consistently in the wrong in the entire history of U.S.-Mexico relations. “The Devil made me do it” is not a valid defense, just ask Eve, and, to quote a line from a famous film, “Who’s the more foolish; the fool or the fool that follows it?”