1 – THE ORIGINS
This is the Vice-royalty of New Spain, a Spanish colony since Hernán Cortés so thoroughly destroyed the Aztec Empire in 1521. It was ruled through an elite of nobility and Catholic clergy, who held most of the land and enjoyed enormous privileges. In 1810, when the liberal ideas of the age began to be felt in Mexico, village priest Miguel Hidalgo climbed his church tower and let his bells ring out to raise the revolt. A bloody war of independence broke out, which lasted until 1821.
Augustín de Iturbide was a lieutenant in the Spanish army at the outbreak of the revolt. He rose, as these things go in times of turmoil, quickly to the rank of general. In 1820 he changed sides and joined the rebels, taking his loyal army with him. A little later, in 1821, he succeeded in ousting the Spanish. He may have been a doughty soldier, but he was not much of a negotiator: he let them leave with the value of their land holdings in hard currency.
In 1822, by lack of European royal applicants, he was crowned constitutional emperor of an independent but bankrupt nation. When he was overthrown in turn in 1823, Mexico became a republic, and a long succession of revolutions followed, mainly due to the antagonism of two parties; the conservative party, in which the Church and the landowners were united, and the liberals.
The man in the picture left is President Santa Anna. When he was in office war broke out with the United States. Mexico lost, and with it, by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, more than half of it’s territory. This was one of the reasons for the violent resentment that the possibility of the establishment a strong Mexican Empire raised in the United States. As General U.S. Grant himself put it, in his letter of September 1, 1865 to President Johnson: “All agree that, besides a yielding of the long proclaimed Monroe doctrine, non-intervention in Mexican affairs will lead to an expensive and bloody war hereafter or a yielding of territory now possessed by us”.
Here is another president: Ignacio Comonfort. He was in office when a Constitutional Congress, assembled in 1857, set to work to put an end to the power and the privileges of the conservative church party, their biggest punch being the nationalisation of 200 million dollars’ worth of property held by the Church (which would, measured by the relative share of GDP, today amount to almost $ 700 billion).
Immediately a group of conservative generals staged a coup. Anti-constitutional forces led by Felix Zuloaga took control of the capital, and the feeble Comonfort set aside the constitution he had just sworn so solemnly to support. Then he changed his mind again, and, having thus lost the trust and the support of either side, could do nothing else but resign.
Benito Juárez was President of the Supreme Court upon whom, by the constitution, the office of President of the Republic devolved in the absence or default of the person elected. While the Church party took possession of the national palace and declared General Zuloaga president, he organized the constitutional government at Guanajuato.
Zuloaga was soon replaced by this guy: General Miguel Miramón. Now, it would be logical to suppose that the rebellion by which the Church party had lifted Miramón into power would be maintained by the wealth that that same party was trying to protect. Not so. When the usual practices of extortion and theft (committed by both parties!) weren’t enough any more to sustain the war, Miramón, with neither scruples nor fear of the consequences did two incredibly irresponsible things: first, he ordered his men to break into the house of the British Legation and steal £ 152,000 sterling, belonging to English bondholders. The second thing was to prove even more fateful: he turned to a Mr. Jecker, a Swiss banker of ill repute, for money.
©2010, M.S.F. Wick