Santa Anna and the
Santa Anna is the first of three towering Mexican political figures who would leave a preponderant imprint on their country’s nineteenthcentury historical experience. His contributions, corrosive perhaps, were quite at variance with those of his successors, Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz, but they were no less pronounced for he, too, was an event-making man. His intelligence, resolution, and temperament, his sins and ambitions, charted the course Mexico was to follow from the early 1830s to the middle 1850s. Mexican history from 1833 to 1855 constantly teetered between simple chaos and unmitigated anarchy. Victories were only slightly less barren than defeats. The country needed an “Era of Good Feelings” like that to the north but instead entered a phase of intense mutual recrimination. Nobody seemed willing to admit that some measure of compromise was essential to the system of government that had been inaugurated in 1824. Between May 1833 and August 1855 the presidency changed hands thirty-six times, the average term being about seven and a half months. Santa Anna occupied the presidential chair on eleven different occasions, and his whim was Mexico’s imperative. Even when he was out of office he was a powerful force to be reckoned with and a constant danger to the incumbent regime and to anyone aspiring to the succession.
Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón was born on February 21, 1794. His schooling in Veracruz left much to be desired, but the criollo youth showed no real flair for books anyway. Shortly after his sixteenth birthday he joined the army and within a year received his baptism of fire in a small engagement against a band of pro-Hidalgo rebels. For the next decade the young royalist cavalry