19th century

Independence did not, however, produce prosperity or political stability. The new government inherited large debts and an economy devastated by war. In 1822, with European princes understandably reluctant to accept the throne, Iturbide crowned himself emperor; when he was deposed a year later, Mexico became a federal republic with an elected president and congress. During the years which followed, governments succeeded one another with bewildering frequency as rival leaders backed by irregular armies competed for power.

The dominant figure during this period was Antonio López de Santa Anna, a Creole army officer who became a national hero in 1829 by leading the Mexican army which repelled a Spanish invasion at Tampico . Elected president in 1833, Santa Anna tired of everyday politics and retired to his hacienda, leaving the vice-president, Gómez Farías to run the country. When the latter introduced controls on the church and reduced the size of the army, Santa Anna overthrew him and replaced the 1824 constitution, extending the presidential term from four to eight years and increasing the power of the central government. This provoked conflict with the northern state of Texas, where settlers from the United States resisted. In 1835 Santa Anna led 6000 troops into Texas in a campaign celebrated for the Battle of the Alamo. An old Franciscan mission outside San Antonio, the Alamo was defended by Texans including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. The mission was stormed and all the defenders killed. A few weeks later the Mexican army was defeated by Sam Houston at San Jacinto and Santa Anna was taken prisoner. After securing his release by signing a treaty agreeing to Texan Independence, he returned to the capital where he denounced the treaty as extracted under compulsion. With Texas's independent status therefore not recognized by Mexico, the vote of the United States Congress in 1845 to annex Texas led to war in 1846. Within months US forces, their artillery proving too much for their opponents, had captured northern Mexico. In 1847 American troops seized Veracruz and occupied the capital. Peace talks resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico lost 55% of her territory, including the present US states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah in addition to Texas.

Santa Anna returned to the presidency in 1853 and promptly sold another strip of territory to the US for US$10 million, before being overthrown in 1855 by a group of liberal leaders who launched a programme of reforms including the Ley Juárez, which reduced the privileges of the church and the army, and the Ley Lerdo, which ordered the sale of property held by the church and Indian communities. Opposition from the army and the Church, which threatened to excommunicate anyone swearing allegiance to the 1857 Constitution, led to a military coup and the resignation of President Comonfort. For the next three years civil war raged between the Conservatives, based in the capital, and the Liberals, led by Benito Juárez and based in Veracruz . In December 1860 the Liberals won a decisive victory, after which Juárez was elected president. With the economy ruined, Juárez proclaimed a two-year moratorium on payments of the foreign debt. This led to a joint military occupation of Mexican ports by the creditor powers, Britain, France and Spain, which proved to be a cover for a French invasion. With the French occupying Mexico City, Juárez was forced to retreat north again in 1863, and the following year the Austrian Archduke Maximilian arrived to take the throne offered by a group of Mexican conservatives. Within three years Maximilian was dead, executed by firing squad on the orders of Juárez: abandoned by the French armies who were needed in Europe, he had alienated Mexican conservatives by refusing to return church lands or declare Catholicism the state religion. Returning once again to Mexico City, Juárez was re-elected president in 1867 and 1871, but died shortly afterwards.

From 1876 to 1911 Mexican politics were dominated by Porfirio Díaz who was president for the entire period except for 1880-1884. The Porfiriato, as it is known, was a period of rapid economic growth, much of it financed by foreign capital. Foreign companies built 15,000 miles of railroads, enabling Mexican goods to be exported and lands farmed by peasants to be seized and used for commercial crops. This was accompanied by a rapid growth in mining and manufacturing, based around the northern city of Monterrey. These changes led to the growth of a large middle class, but the fruits of economic growth were badly distributed. Peasants were hit particularly hard, often losing access to land farmed by their families for generations: by 1910 half of all peasants had become sharecroppers or wage labourers working on giant haciendas, such as those of Luis Terrazas who owned over three million hectares of land. Some estimate that by 1910 US citizens owned over 20% of the country's land. This economic and social change was accompanied by political repression as elections were carefully controlled, the press censored and the army used to maintain order.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Cancún & Yucatán Peninsula Handbook

Take a plunge off Mexico's Caribbean coastline and marvel at the coral and plants that have been...

Belize, Guatemala & Southern Mexico Handbook

Blessed with a tropical climate, abundant wildlife and a varied landscape, it's easy to understand...

Central America Handbook

The Central America isthmus is home to exuberant swathes of rainforest and a tapestry of cultures....
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!
Read more...