Mexico: After the Conquistadors

The Spanish were quick to colonize their vast new territory. Haciendas were set up with Indian slaves to keep them in production. Mexican mines yielded unprecedented amounts of gold and silver, making Mexico the most prosperous of Spanish colonies in the New World.

The first yearnings of independence in Mexico began in 1807 when Napoleon invaded Spain. Mexico’s elite was divided into two; Liberals who wanted a democratic Mexico, and Conservatives, who wanted Mexico ruled by a monarch who would maintain the status quo. The commonality was clear: Mexico needed her independence.

Mexican War of Independence

The Mexican War of Independence was an uprising against colonial rule. In the Spanish caste system peninsulares, full-blood Spanish individuals, were ranked highest. This group was followed by the criollos whose blood line was mostly Spanish.

On September 16th 1810 in the town of Dolores a criollo priest called Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared independence from Spain. This “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores” marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. Hidalgo was executed in 1811 and is now hailed as the Father of the Nation.

Jose Maria Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero were all important revolutionary figures. Ultimately Colonel Agustin de Iturbide turned the fortunes of the cause by switching sides and joining the movement for independence. Mexican independence was attained in 1821 on September 27.

The Mexican-American War

U.S President James Polk disputed with Mexico over establishing the U.S Mexican border along the Rio Grande rather than the Nueces River. The subsequent invasion by U.S forces into Mexico City ended with a last battle fought at the Castillo de Chapultepec. Six, young military cadets were the last to die defending the Mexican flag.

Polk had achieved expanding the American borders, but relations between the two countries were heavily affected. An American president would not set foot in Mexico until 1947 when Harry S Truman visited the Castillo de Chapultepec and laid a wreath at the foot of the war monument dedicated to the boy heroes, Los Ninos Heroes. Mexico also sold the area encompassing the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico for $15 million to the U.S.

Mexico’s government underwent a series of upheavals and revolts, and the country fell into civil war from 1857-1861. The two camps created their own governments, with the Conservatives ruling from Mexico City and the Liberals from Veracruz. The Liberals were ultimately victorious, and the famous president Benito Juarez began his administration from Mexico City.

Ever turbulent, Mexico found itself again in turmoil when the French invaded in 1862. French forces were defeated at the Battle of Puebla, which is now celebrated as the Mexican independence day of Cinco de Mayo. However, the French eventually conquered Mexico and set Emperor Maximilian I on the throne. Benito Juarez kept his administration functioning during these years of occupation, and in 1867, his forces captured and executed Maximilian. Juarez remained in power until he died in 1872.

From 1876-1911, Porfirio Diaz held the post of president of Mexico, during which time the country experienced a rare period of peace and prosperity.

The Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and lasted until 1920. The revolution began as an uprising against Porfirio Diaz and progressed to a complex and multi-sided civil war.

Diaz came to power in 1876 as a liberal but he became autocratic. Diaz furthered industry, economy and modernization but he did so at the expense of the working class, who then revolted.

The rebellion was launched by the famous revolutionary figures Franciso I. Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. They wanted true democracy, ruling government to be held within bounds of law and well defined and upheld rights for Mexicans. Eventually Diaz’s regime collapsed, but revolutionary leaders differed significantly enough in their political beliefs that a cohesive organization of the new government proved impossible. A twenty-year struggle for control ensued, in which it is estimated that 900,000 people died.

The revolution resulted in the establishment of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and Mexico finally came to rest when the National Mexican Party was formed in 1929; it convinced the revolutionary generals to dissolve their armies into the collective Mexican Army. It later became the PRI (Partido Revolutionario Institucional), the “stool with three legs”: workers, peasants, and bureaucrats. The PRI retained control of Mexico until 2000.