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1821-2xxx - México Independiente

The spread of late eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophy, together with the egalitarian example of the American and French revolutions, motivated Mexican-born whites (criollos) to seek greater autonomy and social status within the colonial system. Discrimination against criollos in the granting of high offices had long been a source of contention between Spain and Mexico City. In 1808 the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Napoleon Bonaparte and the forced abdication of the Spanish king, Charles IV, disrupted Spain's faltering authority over Mexico. Rejecting the puppet regime installed by France, the incumbent viceroy allied himself with the criollos and declared an independent junta ostensibly loyal to Charles IV. Allies of the Napoleonic regime responded by staging a coup and installing a new viceroy, an action that set the stage for war between criollos and Spanish loyalists.

On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a criollo parish priest, issued the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), a call to arms against Spanish rule that mobilized the Indian and mestizo populations and launched the Mexican war of independence. After a brief siege of Mexico City by insurgents in 1814, Spanish forces waged a successful counteroffensive that had nearly annihilated the rebels by 1820. However, the tide turned in favor of the criollos in February 1821, when a loyalist officer, Augustín de Iturbide, spurned the newly established constitutional monarchy in Spain and defected with his army to the rebels. Under the conservative Plan of Iguala, the rebel army agreed to respect the rights of Spanish-born whites (peninsulares) and to preserve the traditional privileges (fueros) and land titles of the Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish, now outmaneuvered politically as well as militarily, lost the will to continue the war and recognized Mexican independence in September 1821.

Empire and Early Republic

Upon the withdrawal of Spain, Iturbide declared himself emperor of Mexico and Central America. Within months, however, his imperial regime was bankrupt and had lost the support of the criollo elite. In February 1823, Iturbide was overthrown by republican forces led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Mexican empire was dissolved when the United Provinces of Central America declared their independence in July 1823.

Clashes between the conservative and liberal parties dominated politics during the early republic. Conservatives, who advocated a centralized republic governed from Mexico City and the maintenance of clerical and military fueros, had the support of the Roman Catholic Church and much of the army. Liberals, on the other hand, advocated federalism, secularism, and the elimination of fueros. Under the federal republic in effect from 1824 to 1836, Mexico was ruled by a series of weak and perennially bankrupt liberal governments. General Santa Anna and his allies fashioned a centralized republic that held power from 1836 to 1855. Although nominally a liberal, Santa Anna was primarily a nationalist who dominated Mexico's politics for two decades. Santa Anna's efforts to assert Mexican government authority over Anglo-American settlements in Texas spurred that region's secession from Mexico in 1835. Excesses committed by a punitive Mexican expedition against Texan garrisons at the Alamo and Goliad provoked strong anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States and galvanized U.S. public support for Texan independence. In April 1836, Texan forces defeated and captured Santa Anna at San Jacinto. During a brief captivity, the Mexican general signed a treaty recognizing Texan independence from Mexico.

Mexican-American War, Civil War, and French Intervention

The United States provoked a conflict over the boundaries of Texas, leading to war between the United States and Mexico in April 1846. Two U.S. Army columns advancing southward from Texas quickly captured northern Mexico, California, and New Mexico, repelling Santa Anna's forces at Buena Vista. An amphibious expeditionary force led by General Winfield Scott captured the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz after a brief siege and naval blockade. Scott's forces subdued Mexico City in September 1847, following a series of pitched battles along the route inland to the Mexican capital and its surrounding bastions. In the ensuing Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, U.S. withdrawal was contingent on Mexico's ceding of the territories of New Mexico and Upper California (the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming) and its acceptance of the incorporation of Texas into the United States.

In 1855 Santa Anna was ousted and forced into exile by a revolt of liberal army officers. A liberal government under President Ignacio Comonfort oversaw a constitutional convention that drafted the progressive constitution of 1857. The new constitution contained a bill of rights that included habeas corpus protection and religious freedom and mandated the secularization of education and the confiscation of Catholic Church lands. It was strongly opposed by conservatives and church officials who objected to its anticlerical provisions. Seeking to avoid armed conflict, President Comonfort delayed its promulgation and instead decreed his own moderate reform agenda known as the Three Laws. However, in January 1858, after unsuccessful efforts by Comonfort to craft a political compromise, the factions took up arms, and the government was forced from office. A three-year civil war between conservative and liberal armies, known as the War of the Reform, engulfed the country. After initial setbacks, the liberals, led by the prominent Zapotec Indian politician and former vice president Benito Juárez, gained the upper hand. In January 1861, the liberals regained control of Mexico City and elected Juárez president.

In January 1862, the navies of Spain, Britain, and France jointly occupied the Mexican Gulf coast in an attempt to compel the repayment of public debts. Britain and Spain quickly withdrew, but the French remained and, in May 1863, occupied Mexico City. Drawing on the support of the Mexican conservatives, Napoleon III installed Austrian prince Ferdinand Maximilian von Habsburg as Mexican Emperor Maximilian I. By February 1867, a growing liberal insurgency under Juárez and the threat of war with Prussia had compelled France's withdrawal from Mexico. Maximilian was captured and executed by Juárez's forces shortly thereafter. Juárez was restored to the presidency and remained in office until his death in 1872.

Porfirio Díaz Era

From 1876 until 1910, governments controlled by the liberal caudillo Porfirio Díaz pursued economic modernization while maintaining authoritarian political control. In contrast to his liberal predecessors, Díaz established cordial relations with the Catholic Church, an institution he considered central to Mexican national identity. The Díaz years, known as the "Porfiriato" saw heavy state investment in urban public works, railroads, and ports-all of which contributed to sustained, export-led economic growth. The Porfiriato governments encouraged foreign investment in export agriculture and the concentration of arable land in the form of haciendas. Although the urban middle class experienced substantial improvements in quality of life, Mexico's peasant majority found its livelihood threatened by the loss of communal lands to the haciendas. In response to growing unrest in the countryside, Díaz created the Rural Guard, a paramilitary force that became notorious for its repressive tactics.

Mexican Revolution and Aftermath

By the turn of the century, opposition to Díaz had spread among dissident liberals who sought a return to the principles of the constitution of 1857. Following Díaz's fraudulent re-election in 1910, several isolated rural revolts coalesced into a nationwide insurrection. Unable to regain control of several rebellious state capitals, Díaz resigned the presidency in May 1911 and fled to France. A provisional government under the liberal reformer Francisco I. Madero was installed but failed to maintain the support of radical peasants led by Emiliano Zapata, who was conducting a rural insurgency in southern Mexico. Amid general unrest, a counterrevolutionary government under Victoriano Huerta assumed power in February 1913. Huerta's authority was undermined when U.S. Marines occupied Veracruz in response to a minor incident.

Following Huerta's resignation in July 1914, fighting continued among rival bands loosely allied with Venustiano Carranza and Francisco "Pancho" Villa. U.S. support for Carranza prompted Villa to retaliate by raiding several U.S. border towns. In response, the United States dispatched troops under General John J. Pershing on an unsuccessful expedition into northern Mexico to either kill or capture Villa. Carranza negotiated a cease-fire among several of the warring Mexican factions in December 1916 and restored order to most of the country by accepting the radical constitution of 1917. Rural violence continued in the south, however, until the assassination of Zapata by Carranza's forces in November 1920. The Mexican Revolution exacted a heavy human and economic toll; more than 1 million deaths were attributed to the violence.



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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:01:09 ZULU