Term Paper: Santa Anna Dictatorship

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[. . .] "[footnoteRef:17] Mary Petite described him as a man of extravagant tastes and outlandish ego, vanity and corruption, who owned a silver chamber pot, a gold-covered saddle and a $7,000 sword -- and enormously expensive item for that time and place. About the only consistent political conviction he ever showed, as Henderson contended, was extreme hostility to democracy, whether in Mexico or Texas.[footnoteRef:18] [15: "Protagonist on a National Stage," p. 101.] [16: Henderson, p. 77.] [17: Wasserman, p. 18.] [18: Henderson, p. 78.]

Santa Anna was the real cause of the Texas War of Independence in 1836, since he abrogated the 1824 constitution when he named himself dictator. At first the Texans imagined that he would be a liberal and a federalist, unlike the previous regime, and would curb the power of the Church and the aristocracy, but Santa Anna soon disabused them of that notion.[footnoteRef:19] Nor was he even personally courageous in fighting, but instead ran away from the Battle of San Jacinto in disguise as a common soldier.[footnoteRef:20] Oscar Jaquez Martinez does not defend his conduct in the Texas War, either, although he notes that Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco under duress and the Mexican Congress repudiated it. Both Texas and the U.S. always insisted that this dubious agreement recognized the independence of Texas with its border and the Rio Grande rather than the Neuces River, but nothing in Santa Anna's subsequent record indicates that he ever accepted this construction of events.[footnoteRef:21] [19: Henderson, p. 75.] [20: Mary Deborah Petite, 1836 Facts about the Texas War of Independence (Perseus Books, 1999), pp. 54-55.] [21: Treaty of Velasco, 1836 in Oscar Jaquez Martinez (ed), U.S.-Mexico Borderlands: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1996), p. 17.]

Santa Anna was decidedly unmerciful in war, particularly toward those he regarded as rebels, traitors and insurgents, and these were the lessons he had learned fighting against the pro-independence movement of Father Miguel Hidalgo as early as 1810. During his dictatorship of 1835-37, he was hardly in the capital at all and in any case day-to-day politics and administration bored him. He preferred to be leading troops in the field, combatting the rebels in Zacatecas and Texas. As even Fowler concedes, although he had once had the support of the liberals and federalists in Zacatecas, including current and future vice president Gomez Farias, that did not prevent him from taking ruthless measures when they dared to revolt against him. His destruction of the province was so brutal that it left it with a legacy of hatred toward him that never ended.[footnoteRef:22] He also profited personally from taking over the local silver mine and sharing the proceeds with his officers and cronies. In Texas, according to Timothy Fehrenbach, he ordered all rebels and executed on the spot, including 400 North American prisoners at Goliad.[footnoteRef:23] Santa Anna had already been doing this for decades, and in Texas he was attempting to exterminate the North Americans, yet at San Jacinto his army was defeated in twenty minutes while he was sleeping in his tent. [footnoteRef:24]. [22: Fowler, p. 158.] [23: Timothy R. Fehrenbach, Fire and Blood (De Capo Press, 1995), p. 383.] [24: Fehrenbach, p. 384.]

As David Weber notes, the defenders of the Alamo had not expected to die, but rather that they would be relieved in due course by Sam Houston's army. Santa Anna's forces really were not all that superior since he had only 600 troops there on the first day of the battle and 2,400 by the end, but almost all illiterate Indian conscripts who did not even speak Spanish.[footnoteRef:25] Mexican historians from the 1840s onward condemned Santa Anna for running the army based on patronage and corruption rather than ability. Typically, Santa Anna wrote about the battle in a way that furbished his own image and minimized the losses he suffered, and dismissed the Alamo as an inglorious victory against a weak opponent.[footnoteRef:26] He noted that he gave the Yankees an opportunity to surrender, which was characteristic of Mexican kindness and his own, but they stubbornly refused. After the Battle of San Jacinto, his many critics assailed him for losing too many troops and the Alamo and being delayed there so long, but he replied that for these armchair strategists it was always "easy enough, from a desk in an office, to pile up charges against a general out in the field."[footnoteRef:27] As for his tendency to devastate the countryside and execute prisoners, Santa Anna explained that the guerillas we constantly harassing his army, and that most of them were not even from Texas but freebooters and filibusters sent by the United States, so he had dealt with them that way.[footnoteRef:28] [25: "Their Decision Irrevocably Sealed their Fate" (1837) in David J. Weber (ed), Foreigners in their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican-Americans (University of New Mexico Press, 2003), p. 109.] [26: "Their Decision Irrevocably Sealed their Fate," p. 110.] [27: "Their Decision Irrevocably Sealed their Fate," p. 111.] [28: "The Alamo" in William Dirk Raat (ed), Mexico from Independence to Revolution, 1810-1910 (University of Nebraska Press, 1982), p. 90.]

Fehrenbach does not blame Santa Anna alone for the defeats that Mexico suffered, since its entire ruling class was corrupt and decadent, dependent on British capital and foreign experts, and had "fed off the material and intellectual capital stored up under the crown, without replenishing either."[footnoteRef:29] Walter Borneman concurred that the chronic problems of Mexico, regardless of who happened to be in charge, were "an empty national treasury, fractious internal friction, a civil war in Yucatan, and continued border strife over Texas."[footnoteRef:30] In Mexico, the real power at that time was in the hands of the army, the Catholic Church and the aristocratic landowners, and no government successfully challenged this oligarchy, nor would Santa Anna even have made the attempt. He and his supporters certainly believed that that the annexation of Texas was only the opening move of U.S. imperialism, and they were correct that Sam Houston's goal had always been annexation to the United States, but only North-South conflict over adding another slave state prevented this in 1836-45.[footnoteRef:31] [29: Fehrenbach, p. 386.] [30: Walter R. Borneman, Polk: The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America (NY: Random House, 2009), p. 193.] [31: Borneman, p. 194.]

When James K. Polk was elected president of the United States in 1844, Santa Anna was still determined to reconquer Texas, although John Eisenhower claimed that the fractious nature of the Mexican polity and the caudillo's own personal and political flaws ensured that this would not be possible. Gen. Mariano Paredes led a revolt against his and Santa Anna quickly fled to Vera Cruz, almost being killed by Indians along the way before a village priest distracted them by ringing a church bell. He was arrested and imprisoned in Mexico City, and "beset on all sides by creditors" before being exiled to Havana in June 1845.[footnoteRef:32] John Eisenhower is more charitable towards him than most historians, however, and offered the opinion that "it is difficult to find a man who could have represented the country better than he did, given the state of confusion and poverty."[footnoteRef:33] He agrees with most other Santa Anna scholars that the dictator was greedy, corrupt, opportunistic, and that his Spanish Army training made him a natural conservative authoritarian and royalist.[footnoteRef:34] To finance all his reforms, as well as the army, he levied extensive new taxes on the Catholic Church, industry, merchants and professionals, as well as sales taxes and luxury taxes, which were difficult to collect and increased his unpopularity with the elites. As usual, he was also charged with massive corruption and embezzlement of state funds, which Fowler regards as his greatest political and moral failing. Nevertheless, he denies that Santa Anna was a natural tyrant or despot, but rather an "arbitrator, a mediator, a guarantor of peace and order."[footnoteRef:35] [32: Eisenhower, p. 7.] [33: Eisenhower, p. 8.] [34: Eisenhower, p. 10.] [35: Fowler, p. 220.]

For Fowler, the Santa Anna regime of 1841-45 and his 1843 constitution (Bases Organicas) was about the best and most stable government that Mexico ever had between independence and the rise of Benito Juarez. Santa Anna favored a centralist republic with a powerful executive, which was necessary to rebuild the army, take back Texas and defend the nation against North American aggression. He allowed for a Senate, but only wealthy merchants, landowners and industrials were permitted to serve in it, and only citizens making over 200 pesos a year were allowed to vote. In opposition to liberal ideology, Roman Catholicism would also be the official religion of the state.[footnoteRef:36] By European and North American standards of the 19th Century, this definitely situates Santa Anna firmly on the conservative side of the political spectrum, but he never claimed to be a democrat and doubted that the masses yet had the education and capacity to participate in political affairs. More than any other ruler… [END OF PREVIEW]

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