Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

A colourful political figure in Texas history, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, Vera Cruz, Mexico to middle class Spanish parents, on 21 February 1794. His father at one time served as a subdelegate for the Spanish province of Vera Cruz. After a limited schooling, young Santa Anna worked for a merchant of Vera Cruz, until June 1810, when then aged 16, he started his long career in the army as a cadet in the Vera Cruz infantry regiment under the command of Joaquín de Arredondo. As a young military officer, Santa Anna supported Emperor Agustin de Iturbide, and at one time even courted the emperor's sister.

Santa Anna spent five years fighting insurgents and policing the Indian tribes of the Provincias Internas. While still in his teens, he displayed valour during a campaign in Texas in 1811, where an Indian arrow wounded him in his left arm, leading to a swift promotion. Commissioned to first lieutenant in 1812, Santa Anna was posted to a grenadier battalion whose responsibility was to protect the Vera Cruz-Mexico City road from rebel attacks. The Texans remembered Santa Anna as a particularly ruthless opponent. In 1816 he was promoted to captain. Around this time, he began to thirst for power and all the pleasures that accompanied it. He used, abused and killed those who stood between him and his desires. He nurtured his instincts into a gift for political intrigue.

In March 1821, he was in command of a royalist detachment defending Orizaba against rebel forces led by José Miranda. Miranda urged him to come over to the insurgent side but Santa Anna made a bold sally from the city and broke the siege. On 29th March, a large force loyal to Augustin de Iturbide, who had switched sides on 24th February, arrived on the scene. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Santa Anna made the first of many betrayals that would characterise his career. Ironically, his change of allegiance coincided with a royalist promotion to lieutenant colonel for his victory over Miranda. As soon as Iturbide agreed to accept him at the rank to which he had been promoted, Santa Anna rallied to his cause. He used politics like a game of chess, emerging as a leading political figure. In 1828 he used his military influence to lift the losing candidate into the presidency, being rewarded in turn with appointment as the highest-ranking general in the land. His reputation and influence were further strengthened by his critical role in defeating an 1829 Spanish effort to re-conquer their former colony. A Spanish general named Barradas landed a force of 2700 men at Tampico and a third of them promptly died of tropical diseases. Guerrero, then serving as president, sent Santa Anna to repeal the invasion. Though the exhausted and disease-riddled Spaniards were all too ready to surrender, Santa Anna announced that he had won an epic victory and found himself acclaimed the hero of Tampico. Next it was Iturbide's turn. The short-time emperor had made the error of hurting Santa Anna's vanity by mildly reprimanding him for using the title Political Boss, to which he had no right. An angry Santa Anna, who had previously made no complaints about Iturbide dissolving congress, now proclaimed himself a champion of liberty and set himself against him. Santa Anna was lucky enough to gain the support of such true liberals as Vicente Guerrero and Iturbide was forced to abdicate in March.

In 1833 Santa Anna was overwhelmingly elected President of Mexico, and retired to his hacienda at Magna de Clavo, near Vera Cruz, to enjoy his passion of cockfights, bullfights and other diversions. Though Santa Anna dearly loved honours and titles, he found the day-to-day business of governing boring and irksome. Unfortunately, what began as a promise to unite the nation soon deteriorated into chaos. From 1833 to 1855 Mexico had no fewer than thirty-six changes in presidency; Santa Anna himself directly ruled eleven times. He soon became bored in his first presidency, leaving the real work to his liberal vice-president, Valentín Gómez Farías, who soon launched an ambitious reform of church, state and army. In 1835, when the proposed reforms infuriated vested interests in the army and church, Santa Anna seized the opportunity to reassert his authority, and led a military coup against his own government. He determined that Mexico was not ready for democracy and pronounced himself dictator.

Santa Anna's discarding of Mexico's 1824 constitution and substitution of a much more centralised and less democratic form of government sparked the Texas revolution, for it convinced both Anglo colonists and many Mexicans in Texas that they had nothing to gain by remaining under Mexican rule. When the revolution came in 1835, Santa Anna personally led the Mexican counter-attack, enforcing a "take-no-prisoners" policy at the Alamo and ordering the execution of those captured at Goliad. After taking the Alamo, he moved against the forces being massed by Sam Houston, pushing them back toward eastern Texas. There, Santa Anna's force was suddenly overwhelmed and destroyed by a smaller Texan force at San Jacinto. At the start of the campaign Santa Anna had amazed his subordinates with his attention to detail and micro-management. That day, though, he could not be bothered, and left the army leaderless in the afternoon while he (supposedly) retired to his tent with the voluptuous mulatto slave Emily Morgan (the "Yellow Rose of Texas") plus his personal opium chest. He neglected to post guards and the army settled into a siesta, then the Texans struck, allowing Sam Houston to win a crushing victory. Santa Anna, taken prisoner by Houston, in silk pyjamas, promptly signed a treaty guaranteeing the independence of Texas. Brought before Houston, Santa Anna is said to have given the secret distress signal of the Master Mason. He denied having done anything wrong at the Alamo or Goliad -- but offered to make an example of Gen. Urrea, who carried out the executions. (Two years later, Urrea would launch a coup against Santa Anna, briefly controlling two states in northern Mexico.) Feeling edgy, Santa Anna asked for - and received - some of the familiar painkiller he saw being administered to the wounded Houston. They had a mellow conversation for the rest of the afternoon, the two men basically dividing up North America while stoned on opium. Santa Anna agreed to have the Mexican army retreat, and recognise an independent Texas with its border at the Rio Grande. (The Nueces River would have been more logical, having long been the Mexican state border for Coahuila y Texas. It may simply have been harder to find on a map.) Finding him so useful, Houston defied popular opinion, complied with his Masonic oath, and let Santa Anna live. Retreating to Mexico, Santa Anna retired to his hacienda in disgrace.

Santa Anna was down but not finished. Corresponding with US President James K. Polk, he persuaded him that he was the only man who could solve the dispute over Texas. Polk, sufficiently hoodwinked, ordered American warships to allow safe passage for Santa Anna to land at Vera Cruz. No sooner had he set foot on shore than Santa Anna double-crossed Polk and began to organise resistance against the US. When war began, the president of Mexico was Santa Anna's former vice president, Valentín Gómez Farías. Gómez Farías promptly named Santa Anna generalissimo of Mexico's armed forces. During the war, Santa Anna remained true to form. Using his superb organising ability, he raised an army of 18,000 despite a depleted treasury and came within a whisker of defeating General Zachary Taylor at Buena Vista. Again his vanity resulted in a crucial defeat against the army of Winfield Scott marching on Mexico City. Wanting to hog all the glory, Santa Anna pulled his forces out so another general would not get credit for a successful defence of the capital.

In 1838 a ludicrous skirmish took place which became known as the Pastry War. A French baker in Mexico City claimed his shop had been looted and demanded compensation from the Mexican government. The French government, which was trying to pressure Mexico into a trade agreement backed him up and a bombardment of Vera Cruz ensued. Santa Anna, who was among the defenders, lost his right leg below the knee in the engagement. Though a body part may have been lost, honour had been regained. Employing his skills at self-promotion to the hilt, Santa Anna became the hero of Vera Cruz and the San Jacinto debacle was forgotten. His personal heroism in battle, which resulted in having several horses shot out from under him and the loss of half of his left leg, became the basis of his subsequent effort to secure his power by creating a cult of personality around himself.

On October 6, 1841, Santa Anna rode into Mexico City in a luxurious carriage drawn by four white horses and assumed power as dictator, and insisted on being called "Your Serene Highness." This time he ruled in person, with his greed equalled only by his extravagance. In 1842 he arranged for an elaborate ceremony to dig up the remains of his leg, parade with it through Mexico City, and place it on a prominent monument for all to see. To raise money, he raised taxes massively and sold phoney mining shares to foreign investors, but the increased revenues were frittered away by such extravagances as outfitting a uniformed private army and holding an endless round of fiestas, most of them in his own honour. The farce came to end in 1842 when the treasury dried up and the army was unable to collect its pay. Alamán, the only man who could control Santa Anna, died in June. Without Alamán to restrain him, Santa depleted the treasury with his wild extravagances. In 1854 a junta of liberals - including an up-and-coming young politico named Benito Juárez - drove him out of office. Santa Anna went into hiding in the rugged mountains of his native state. Apprehended by government troops, he was exiled to Cuba and forbidden from re-entering Mexico.

During the Mexican-American War he was restored to power in a secret deal with the US but then turned against the US and returned to exile after the Americans took Mexico City. The conservatives came into power in January 1853 and their leader, Lucas Alamán, wanted a European prince to rule over Mexico. Until a selection could be made, Mexico would need a military dictator to keep order and Alamán felt that Santa Anna was the only figure with enough experience to do the job. In February Santa Anna was recalled and again took control, sold territory to the United States including that area known as the Gadsden Purchase, and exiled again in 1855. In 1864 he tried to get the US to back him against the Emperor Maximilian, the French puppet ruler of Mexico, while also offering his services to Maximilian. Both sides turned him down. He also demanded a large pension on grounds of past services to the nation. It was refused. He returned again in 1867, when Juárez was in power. Juárez, who had once been jailed by Santa Anna, returned the favour before again sending Santa Anna into exile.

Santa Anna travelled to America and stayed for a short while in New York, still looking for get-rich-quick schemes, to regain power. One of these was to try to make a rubber substitute from chicle, a gum harvested from Sapota trees. He approached an inventor named Thoms Adams who bought a ton of chicle, but despite his best efforts couldn't produce anything suitable. During this time, Santa Anna returned once again to Mexico, leaving Adams to continue his experiments. Noticing that Santa Anna had chewed the chicle, Thomas Adams thought that he might produce gumballs with the rest of the chicle. He wrapped up some gum balls and sent them to the local drug-store owner to sell. They sold fast, and Adams made a batch of chicle sticks, wrapped in tissue paper and named them Adams' New York No. 1. Before long, Adams had created a gum-making machine, and began adding flavours to his products, and chewing gum was born. By the 1880s, Adams had a business with 250 employees, while Santa Anna had remained penniless.

In 1874 Santa Anna was allowed to return to Mexico for the last time, where he died in poverty two years later on 20th July, 1876, aged 82.

The dominant figure in Mexican politics for much of the 19th century, Antonio López de Santa Anna left a legacy of disappointment and disaster by consistently placing his own self-interest above his duty to the nation. He was not without courage, was a superb organiser, and his colossal ego and reckless extravagance undoubtedly served him well in a macho society that didn't look favourably on those endowed with puritan values of modesty and thrift. As for the numerous betrayals and double-crosses that marked his career, they could be only be explained as the actions of one with a keen sense of real politics. The only real contribution he made to the world he would never see or benefit from - that was Adams' chewing gum.

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