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The Americas

Central American Colonial Settlements

 

Mexican (First) Empire
AD 1822 - 1823

The process of establishing the viceroyalty of New Spain out of the conquered empire of the Aztecs took until 1535. Charles I of Spain created the 'Council of the Indies' in 1524. This meant that, in 1527, the administration of New Spain could be taken out of the hands of the somewhat unreliable conqueror of Mexico City, Hernan Cortes. In 1535 the first viceroy of New Spain was appointed within the Spanish Colonies.

Spain's conquest and occupation by the France at the start of the nineteenth century badly damaged the Spanish throne's prestige and credibility when it came to the colonies in the Americas. New Spain itself was almost penniless by 1815, although reforms did improve the situation to an extent.

What they did not do was halt the increasing rebellions and a sense amongst Europeans who were living in the Americas that independent rule of the colonies was now the preferred option. What is now Mexico was born out of New Spain in a gradual process of opposition from the point at which the first rebellion began in 1810.

Full independence came in 1821 when all of Central America was freed from Bourbon Spanish control. The last viceroy of New Spain in Mexico signed the 'Act of Independence' on 28 September 1821, handing power to the leader of the rebellion, military leader Agustín de Iturbide.

Initially the idea was to establish a separate dominion which would have its own legislative body but would recognise the king of Spain as its head of state. When he refused to recognise Mexican independence and also blocked it from approaching any other member of the Bourbons to ask them to become head of state, Iturbide's own supporters promoted the idea of him becoming the head of a constitutional monarchy. The official coronation date was 21 July 1822.

Agustín de Iturbide had built a strong and relatively stable military coalition during the Mexican War of Independence. However, in the lead up to it he had been accused of various excesses against rebellious civilians, and was known to hold strong views against their anti-monarchists leanings.

His accession as emperor of Mexico was seen by many as a power grab, while others viewed it as a practical solution to the fact that no one more qualified would take on such a role (certainly not any members of the European nobility, while the nobility in Mexico could find no one who would engender the necessary level of support). Modern opinion seems to support the 'practicality' view, noting that he went out of his way to set up a system which would accept a European noble as head of state rather than him as emperor.

On 3 October 1821, the captaincy general of Guatemala (Chiapas, plus today's Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) was also joined to Mexico, and subsequently to the empire. Mexico therefore originally encompassed not only modern Mexico and the states of Guatemala, but also Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, plus areas of Colorado and Wyoming and all of Central America except modern Panama (part of Gran Colombia) and Belize.

However, northernmost California was part of Russian America and was entirely out of Mexican control, despite claims to the contrary. In 1823, the component states of Guatemala all departed from the Mexican empire, leaving it much diminished in terms of territory.

Aztec Hero

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Baranov, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies in America, K T Khlebnikov (The Limestone Press, 1973), from Russians in Alaska, Lydia Black (University of Alaska Press, 2014), from France, Mexico and Informal Empire in Latin America, Edward Shawcross (Springer International, 2018), and from External Link: Russian assimilation of America and Alaska (in Russian).)

1822 - 1823

Agustin / Augustin

First constitutional emperor of Mexico. Abdicated. Executed.

1823 - 1824

Having tried to run the country as he had previously run his military forces as a Spanish officer within the troubled Spanish empire, Agustín de Iturbide is forced to abdicate the throne in the face of increasing opposition. A republic is declared.

Emperor Augustin
Augustin de Iturbide, a former Spanish general of the Independence War, was selected by congress to be the first emperor of Mexico

Despite being threatened with death should he ever return to Mexico, he does so in 1824 in an attempt to calm growing instability in the country. He is immediately arrested and is soon executed. All the countries of the former captaincy general of Guatemala leave Mexican control, forming the federal republic of Central America.

With a republic having been declared in Mexico, a constitution is drawn up which places an elected president as the head of state. Opposing points of view about how the government should be organised lead to constant strife in the new republic, however, continuing the instability which Agustín de Iturbide had attempted to calm prior to his arrest. The period of Mexican republics is a turbulent one.

Mexican Republics
AD 1824 - 1864
Incorporating the First Mexican Republic / United States of Mexico (1824-1836), Centrist Republic of Mexico (1836-1846), & Second Mexican Republic (1846-1864)

Independence for Mexico was achieved in 1821 when all of New Spain was freed from Bourbon Spanish control. Power was handed to the leader of the rebellion, General Agustín de Iturbide. When the king of Spain refused to recognise Mexican independence, and also blocked Mexican leaders from approaching other Bourbon nobles to request that they become head of state, Iturbide's own supporters promoted the idea of him becoming the head of a constitutional monarchy.

Iturbide's accession as the titular head of the Mexican empire on 21 July 1822 was immediately followed by members of the nobility conspiring against him (one of whom was former coalition ally General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna). He imposed high taxes, abolished some former colonial taxes to enhance his popularity, and lived lavishly, thereby adding fuel to the fire.

Worse was to come in 1823, when all of the countries of the former captaincy general of Guatemala left Mexican control to form the federal republic of Central America. Mexico's now-diminished empire lasted all of a year or so, before opposition to Iturbide - including military actions in which Santa Anna was involved on the republican side - forced his abdication and a republic could be declared.

The new state was known alternatively as the 'First (Federal) Mexican Republic' or the 'United States of Mexico'. A republican constitution was drawn up with an elected president as the head of state, but actually getting a president into office could be a feat in itself (see 1828-1829, below). Opposing points of view about how the government should be organised led to constant strife, driven on by severe financial instability.

In 1835, Santa Anna approved a radical amendment (enacted in 1836) which ended the federal 'First Republic' and replaced it with the unitary 'Centrist Republic of Mexico'. His 'Seven Laws' failed to prove operational though, and were abandoned in 1841 when Santa Anna became a full-blown dictator. Even that did not work, so that in 1846 he was removed from power and the 1824 constitution was re-imposed, this time for the Second (Federal) Mexican Republic. Heirs and claimants to the lost Mexican throne are shown below with a shaded background.

Aztec Hero

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Mick Baker, from Baranov, Chief Manager of the Russian Colonies in America, K T Khlebnikov (The Limestone Press, 1973), from Russians in Alaska, Lydia Black (University of Alaska Press, 2014), from France, Mexico and Informal Empire in Latin America, Edward Shawcross (Springer International, 2018), from Spain in the Americas (National Geographic supplement, National Geographic Society, February 1992), and from External Links: Russian assimilation of America and Alaska (in Russian), and Texas State Library and Archives Commission (3 December 2022).)

1824 - 1864

Prince Agustin Jeronimo

Heir and titular Mexican emperor upon his father's death.

1824 - 1829

Guadalupe Victoria

President, 'United Mexican States'.

1828 - 1829

The 1828 election generates a good deal of political turmoil. Conservative urban white elites are generally pitched against the darker-skinned populations of the smaller towns and countryside.

The moderate candidate, Manuel Gómez Pedraza, defeats the liberal, Vicente Guerrero, in the indirect presidential election for state legislatures, but Guerrero's supporters force the new president-elect to resign, which nullifies the election.

Stephen Austin, Texan settler
Stephen Austin had led the second and more successful American colonisation of Texas in 1825, trying to honour his contract with the Mexican government, but many other colonists and new arrivals from the United States did not respect Mexican laws and customs

1828 - 1829

The 1828 election generates a good deal of political turmoil. Conservative urban white elites are generally pitched against the darker-skinned populations of the smaller towns and countryside.

The moderate candidate, Manuel Gómez Pedraza, defeats the liberal, Vicente Guerrero, in the indirect presidential election for state legislatures, but Guerrero's supporters force the new president-elect to resign, which nullifies the election.

Guerrero himself is inaugurated president in April 1829, before being forced out of office by conservatives in December 1829 and later kidnapped, tried, and judicially murdered. He is replaced by a triumvirate of acting presidents until 1830.

1829

Vicente Guerrero

President (Apr-Dec only). Forced out. Murdered.

1830 - 1832

Anastasio Bustamante

Acting president.

1832 - 1833

Manuel Gómez Pedraza

President (to Apr).

1833

Valentín Gómez Farías

President (Apr-May only). Liberal.

1833 - 1836

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

President. Suspended constitution to become dictator.

1835 - 1836

General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna suspends the 1824 constitution and the 'First (Federal) Mexican Republic', and civil war erupts in Mexico in opposition to his hard-line form of centralist dictatorship under the 'Centrist Republic of Mexico'. The country begins to fragment, with Texas declaring itself an independent republic. Alta California also rebels, along with a host of other regions.

Map of Central America in the 1830s
The Federal Republic of Central America (lost to Mexico in 1823) lasted until 1841, by which time Mexico had grabbed much of Chiapas and the republic itself dissolved into the separate nation states known today, while British troops occupied eastern Belize (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1836 - 1855

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Dictatorial military president. Resigned & fled to Colombia.

1836

Santa Anna's troops massacre the American garrison at the Alamo to ensure that Mexico retains most of Texas, but the north-eastern core becomes independent. Defeat and capture at the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836 does not help Santa Anna's cause. He is forced to recognise Texan independence.

He also does not retain permanent control of Mexico, despite repeated attempts to do so, but over the course of his two decades in politics he is usually to be found in control of the country as a whole.

1840 - 1843

Mexico takes advantage of the civil war in the federal republic of Central America and grabs eastern Chiapas. However, elsewhere in Mexico in 1840, further fragmentation occurs when Rio Grande and Yucatan both declare themselves to be independent republics. The Rio Grande republic rejoins Mexico in the same year, but Yucatan holds out until December 1843.

Coffee revolution
The coffee revolution was to an extent inspired by improved production methods by countries such as El Salvador, although supplies to Europe may have been occasionally interrupted by the frequent Central American revolutions

After defeating Mexico in battle it negotiates a level of self-rule in return for rejoining the republic, by which time (since 1841) Santa Anna has assumed the role of full-blown dictator of Mexico (albeit with an exile to Cuba and 'elected' breaks in which others are nominally in office as president of Mexico).

1845 - 1848

The USA annexes the remaining disputed territory of Texas, triggering the Mexican-American War in 1846. Yucatan again proclaims its independence but suffers an internal revolt of its Mayan people. Mexico accepts defeat in the war in 1848, permanently losing Texas as a result.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico also loses Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, and a new, permanent border is drawn along the Rio Grande.

Santa Anna's days as dictatorial ruler are also numbered, with the country re-introducing a federal form of government and restoring the 1824 constitution for the Second (Federal) Mexican Republic. That same government provides help to Yucatan and it rejoins the republic.

General Santa Anna storms the Alamo
General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón - or more generally, Santa Anna - was a key figure in Mexico's tangled politics between 1821 and his resignation and escape in 1855, but he will always be best remembered for storming the Alamo in Texas

1853 - 1855

Martín Carrera

Interim president (15 Aug-Sep).

1855 - 1856

Juan Álvarez

Interim president (Oct onwards).

1856 - 1858

Ignacio Comonfort

President (provisional from 19 Dec 1857).

1858

Félix María Zuloaga

President (Jan-23 Dec only). Returned in 1859.

1858 - 1859

Manuel Robles Pezuela

Acting president (Dec-21 Jan only).

1859

José Mariano de Salas

Acting president (21-23 Jan only).

1859

Miguel Miramón

Interim president (23 Jan only).

1859 - 1860

Félix María Zuloaga

Acting president (23 Jan-13 Aug). Former president.

1860

José Ignacio Pavón

Acting president (13-15 Aug only).

1860

Miguel Miramón

Interim president for a second time (15 Aug-Dec).

1860 - 1862

Félix María Zuloaga

Interim president. Last republican head of state.

1861 - 1864

The country is invaded and occupied by France during the Franco-Mexican War (or French Intervention), with material support from Spain via Cuba, and by Britain. The invasion is successful, establishing a new empire in Mexico, but the British and Spanish quickly pull out when they realise this is France's aim.

French Zouaves in the Crimea
This illustration of French Zouaves (light infantry, generally drawn from North Africa) in the Crimea was published in The Charleston Mercury on 21 November 1861

With the end of the Mexican republic of 1848 in sight in 1864, Prince Agustin Jeronimo, son of the late 'First Mexican' emperor, approves the adoption of his nephews, Agustin and Salvador, by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. Maximilian himself is the new ruler of the country under the banner of the Second Mexican empire.

Mexican (Second) Empire
AD 1864 - 1867

Mexico was born out of the Spanish colonial structure of New Spain. The first rebellion against colonial rule began in 1810, while Spain itself was a subject state of Napoleon Bonaparte's French First Empire. Mexican independence came in 1821 when all of Central America was freed, and the last viceroy of New Spain in Mexico signed the Act of Independence on 28 September 1821.

Following a union of territories on 3 October 1821, Mexico originally encompassed not only modern Mexico, but also Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, plus areas of Colorado and Wyoming and all of Central America except modern Panama (part of Gran Colombia) and Belize.

The formation of a Mexican 'First Empire' in 1822 lasted for all of a year before being replaced by a republic. Between 1845-1848 the USA was busy annexing the remaining disputed territory of Texas, while the other North American territories had already been lost in all but name.

The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 continued this pattern, with Mexico acknowledging the loss of Texas. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico also gave up its claims on Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, and a new, permanent border was drawn along the Rio Grande.

Then the country was invaded by imperial France in 1862 under the pretence of collecting overdue loans. Ferdinand Maximilian, a Habsburg archduke from Austria, was established on the throne of a second Mexican empire in 1864 by conservative elements who wanted to introduce a permanent monarchy. He had as his consort Charlotte (or Carlotta), daughter of Leopold I of the Belgians.

This empire was almost as short-lived as its predecessor, being beset by constant conflict and with the populace viewing their emperor as a French puppet. Benito Juarez, the last of the republican-era presidents, managed to reclaim his country and restore the republic of Mexico just three years later.

Aztec Hero

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A Concise History of Austria, Steven Beller (Cambridge University Press, 2006), from The Diplomacy of the Mexican Empire, 1863-1867, Arnold Blumbeg (Krueger, 1987), from History of Mexico, Volume VI 1861-1887, Hubert Howe Bancroft (The History Company, 1887), from Maximilian and Carlota: Europe's Last Empire in Mexico, M M McAllen (Trinity University Press, 2015), and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Austria, the Official Travel Guide.)

1864 - 1867

Maximilian

Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. Executed.

1864 - 1867

Maximilian attempts to govern a country which is far from united, with many elements wanting him removed altogether. He also alienates his more conservative supporters with his more liberal ideas. He attempts to pass sweeping liberal reforms for the country, but the USA refuses to recognise his government.

Following the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865 the USA starts supporting the Mexican opposition, notably the republican forces. The French begin to lose heart, withdrawing their forces in 1866.

Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico
Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria accepted the offer of 1863 by a Mexican delegation (on the right here) to become emperor of Mexico, with the meeting taking place at Miramare Castle near Trieste in Italy

1867

Prince Agustín de Iturbide y Green

Grandson of Agustin. Maximilian's heir in modern Mexico.

1867

The war against the emperor's governance comes to an end, with the republicans restored to power. Maximilian is executed by firing squad upon the orders of Benito Juarez in an attempt to dissuade any further foreign efforts to colonise Mexico.

Shortly before being captured, Maximilian sends his two adopted heirs to safety where they form a Mexican royal family in exile. Any claim to Maximilian's lost throne is inherited by Prince Agustín de Iturbide y Green, although the claim is not pursued to any great extent in modern Mexico.

 
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