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Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

As originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly

February 1860


"The mere thought of the changes that have occurred there bewilders the mind; and the inhabitants of orderly countries, whether that order be the consequence of despotism or of constitutionalism, wonder that society should continue to exist in a country where government appears to be unknown."

by Charles Creighton Hazewell

A certain immortal fool, who had, like most admitted fools, great wisdom, once said, that the number of truces between the Christians and Saracens in Palestine made an old man of him; for he had known three of them, so that he must be at least one hundred and fifty years old. The saying occurs in a romance, to be sure, but one which is not half so romantic as the best-accredited decade of Titus Livius, and is quite as authentic as most of what Sir Archibald Alison says, when he writes on the United States.

What Palestine and the Crusades were to the witty son of Witless, Mexico and her politics are to moderns, not even excepting the predestined devourers of the Aztec land, who ought to know something of the country they purpose bringing within the full light of civilization through the aid of slaughter and slavery. There are some myriads of "Americans of the North" yet living, and who entertain not the remotest idea of dying, who remember Mexico as a Spanish dependency quite as submissive to Viceroy Iturrigaray as Cuba is now to Captain -General Serrano; and who have seen her both an Empire and a Republic, and the theatre of more revolutions than England has known since the days of the Octarchy. The mere thought of the changes that have occurred there bewilders the mind; and the inhabitants of orderly countries, whether that order be the consequence of despotism or of constitutionalism, wonder that society should continue to exist in a country where government appears to be unknown.

Less than fifty years cover the time between the appearance of Hidalgo and that of Miramon; and between the dates of the leaderships of the two men, Mexico has had an army of generals, of whom little is now known beyond their names. Hidalgo, Morelos, Mina, Bravo, Iturbide, Guerrero, Bustamente, Victoria, Pedraza, Gomez Farias, Paredes, and Herrera, -- such are the names that were once familiar to our countrymen in connection with Mexican affairs. We have now a new race of Mexican chiefs, -- Alvarez, Vidaurri, Haro y Tamariz, Degollado, and Miramon. Some of these last-named chiefs might, perhaps, be classed with those first named, from years and services; but whatever of political importance they have belongs to the present time; and the most important man of them all, Miramon, is said to be very young, and was not born until many years after the last vestiges of the vice-regal rule had been removed. Santa Ana, but for his shifting round so often, -- now an absolute ruler, and then an absolute runaway, yet ever contriving to get the better of his antagonists, whether they happen to be clever Mexicans or dull Americans, -- might be called the isthmus that connects the first generation of leaders with that which now misleads his country. Santa Ana's public life synchronizes with the independence of Mexico of foreign rule, and his career can hardly be pronounced at an end. It would be of the nature of a newspaper coincidence, were he to know his "last of earth" at the very time when, by all indications, Mexico stands in greater danger of losing her national life than she has known since the day when Barradas was sent to play the part of Cortes, but proved himself not quite equal to that of Narvaez. Santa Ana owed much of his power to his victory over the Spaniards in 1830, though pestilence did half the work to his hand; and perhaps no better evidence of the hatred of the Mexicans for Spanish rule can be adduced, than the hold which he has maintained over their minds, in consequence of the part he took in overthrowing that rule, and in rendering its return impossible.

Provoked by the anarchy which has so long existed in Mexico, American writers, and writers of other countries, have sometimes contrasted the condition of that nation with the order that prevailed there during the Spanish ascendancy, and it is not uncommon to hear Americans say that the worst thing that ever happened to the Mexicans was the overthrow of that ascendancy. They forget that the causes of Mexican anarchy were of Spanish creation, and that it must have exhibited itself, all the same, if Mexico had not achieved her independence. The shock caused by the seizure of the Spanish throne by Napoleon I. led to that war against the Spaniards in Mexico which prematurely broke out in 1810, and which was of the nature of a Jacquerie, but which would have been completely successful, had Hidalgo been equal to his position. It had been intended that the blow should be struck against the Gachupines, -- European Spaniards, or persons of pure Spanish blood, -- who were partisans of Spain, whether Spain were ruled by Bourbons or Bonapartes; and it was to have been delivered by the Creoles, who remained faithful to the House of Bourbon. Circumstances caused the Indian races to commence the war, and this was fatal to the original project, as it led to the union of both Spaniards and Creoles against the followers of Hidalgo. The army with which Calleja overthrew the forces of Hidalgo was an army of Creoles. It was composed of the very men who would have been foremost in putting down the Spaniards, if the Indians had remained quiet. From that time dates the disorder of Mexico, which has ever since continued, though at intervals the country has known short periods of comparative repose.

In 1811 Morelos was the most conspicuous of the insurgent chiefs, and the next year he was successful in several engagements; and it was not until the end of 1815 that he fell into the hands of his enemies, by whom he was shot, sharing the fate of Hidalgo. During the four years that he led the people, efforts were made to settle the controversy on an equitable basis that would have left the King of Spain master of Mexico; but the pride of the Spaniards would not allow them to listen to justice. They acted in Mexico as their ancestors had acted in the Netherlands. It is the chief characteristic of the Spaniard, that, in dealing with foreigners, he always assumes a Roman-like superiority, without possessing the Roman's sense and shrewdness. The treatment of the Capuans by the Romans, as told by Livy in his narrative of the Hannibalian War, might be read as a history of the manner in which the Spaniards ever treat "rebels"; and never did they behave more cruelly than they behaved toward the Mexicans in the last days of the viceroys. This fact is to be borne in mind, when we think of the sanguinary character of Mexican contests; for that character originated in the action of the Spaniards during their struggles with the Patriots. The latter were not faultless, but they often exhibited a generosity and a self-denial that promised much for the future of their country, which promise would have been realized but for the ferocious tone of the warfare of the old governing race. The Spaniards were ultimately beaten, but they left behind them an evil that marred the victory of the Patriots, and which has done much to prevent it from proving useful to those who obtained it at great cost to themselves and their country.

The defeat and death of Morelos proved fatal, for the time, to regular opposition on the part of the Patriots, and it was not until the arrival of Mina in Mexico that they renewed the war in force. This was in April, 1817; and Mina was defeated and put to death in seven months after he landed. At the beginning of 1818, the viceroy Apodaca announced to the home government, "that he would be answerable for the safety of Mexico without a single additional soldier being sent out to reinforce the armies that were in the field." Had he been a wise man, the event might have justified this boast; but as he was neither wise nor honest, and as he sought to restore the old state of things in all its impurity, his confidence was fatal to the Spanish cause. The Spanish Constitution of 1812 had been proclaimed in Mexico in the autumn of that year, and its existence kept the Liberal cause alive. So long as the Patriots had any power in the field, Apodaca, though an enemy of the Constitution, dared not seek its destruction; but after the overthrow of Mina, when he believed the Patriot party was "crushed out," he plotted against the Constitution, and resolved to restore the system that had existed down to 1812. Not a vestige of Liberalism was to remain. He selected for his chief tool the once famous Agustin de Iturbide, who turned out an edged tool, so sharp, indeed, that he not only cut the viceroy's fingers, but severed forever the connection between Mexico and Spain. Iturbide had eminently distinguished himself in the royal army, and to him it was owing that Morelos had been defeated. He was brave, ambitious, and able, and he possessed a handsome person and elegant manners. He was appointed to head an army in Western Mexico, on condition that he should "pronounce" in favor of the restoration of absolute royal authority. He accepted the command; but on the 24th of February, 1821, he astonished his employer by proclaiming, not the plan upon which they had agreed, but what is known as the Plan of Iguala, from the town where the proclamation was made. This plan provided that Mexico should be independent of Spain, and for the erection of the country into a constitutional monarchy, the throne of which should be filled by Ferdinand VII., or by one of his brothers, -- or by some person chosen from among reigning families, should the Spanish Bourbons decline the invitation. The monarch was to be called Emperor, a title made fashionable and cheap by Bonaparte's example. Perfect equality was established, and all distinction of castes was abolished.

Saving that the Catholic religion was declared the national religion, the twenty-four articles of this Plan were of a liberal character, and leave an impression on the mind highly favorable to their author. Viewing it in the light of thirty-nine years, and seeing that republicanism has not succeeded in Mexico, even a democrat may regret that the Plan of Iguala did not become the constitution of that country.

The simple abolition of Spanish rule would have satisfied the mass of the inhabitants, who cared little for political institutions, but who knew the evils they suffered from the tyranny of a class that did not number above one-eightieth part of the population. For the time, the Plan was successful: the clergy, the military, the people, and the old partisans of independence all supported it; and O'Donoju, who had arrived as successor to Apodaca, recognized Mexican independence. The victors entered the capital September 27, 1821, and established a provisional Junta, which created a regency, with Iturbide for President. On the 24th of February, 1822, a Congress assembled, which contained three parties, the representatives of those which existed in the country: -- 1. The Bourbonists, who desired that the Plan of Iguala should be adhered to in all its details; 2. The Iturbideans, who wished for a monarchy, with their chief as Emperor; and, 3. The Republicans, who were hostile to monarchical institutions as well as to Spanish rule. It is possible that the first party might have triumphed, had Spain been under the dominion of sagacious men: for the clergy must have preferred it, not only because it was that polity under which they were sure to have most consideration, but because the whole power of Rome might have been brought to bear in its behalf, and that the clergy never would have seriously thought of resisting: -- and the influence of the clergy was great over the mass of the people. But the Spanish government would not ratify the treaty made by O'Donoju, or abandon its claim on Mexico. This left but two factions in the Congress, and their quarrel had a sudden termination, for the moment, in the elevation of Iturbide to the imperial throne, May 18th, 1822. This was the work of a handful of the lowest rabble of the capital, the select few of a vagabondage compared with whom the inhabitants of the Five Points may be counted grave constitutional politicians. The legislature went through the farce of approval, and the people acquiesced, -- as they would have done, had he been proclaimed Cham. Had Iturbide understood his trade, he might have reigned long, perhaps have established a dynasty; but he did what nearly every Mexican chief since his time has done, and what, to be just, nearly every revolutionary government has sought to do: he endeavored to establish a tyranny. He dissolved the Congress, substituting a Junta for it, composed of his own adherents. The consequence was revolt in various parts of the empire. Santa Ana, then Governor of Vera Cruz, "pronounced" against the Emperor; and Echavari, who was sent to punish him, played the same part toward Iturbide that Iturbide had played toward Apodaca: he joined the enemies of the imperial government. As Iturbide had triumphed over the vieceroy by the aid of men of all parties but that of the old Spaniards, so was he overthrown by a coalition of an equally various character. He gave up the crown, after having worn it not quite ten months, and was allowed to depart, with the promise of an annual pension of twenty-five thousand dollars. Seeking to recover the crown in 1824, he was seized and shot, -- a fate of which he could not complain, as he was a man of bloody hand, and, as a royalist leader, had caused prisoners to be butchered by the hundred.

The Republicans were not triumphant, but their conduct showed that they were not much better qualified to rule than were the Imperialists. They made a Federal Constitution, -- that which is commonly known as the Constitution of 1824, -- which was principally modelled on that of the United States. This imitation would have been ridiculous, if it had not been mischievous. Between the circumstances of America and those of Mexico there was no resemblance whatever, and hence the polity which is good for the one could be good for nothing to the other. One fact alone ought to have convinced the Mexican Constitutionalists of the absurdity of their doings. Their Constitution recognized the Catholic religion as the religion of the state, and absolutely forbade the profession of any other form of faith! In what part of our Constitution they found authority for such a provision as this, no man can say. It has been mentioned, reproachfully, that our Constitution does not even recognize God; yet on a Constitution modelled upon ours Mexican statesmen could graft an Established Church, with a monopoly of religion! Just where imitation would have been more creditable to them than originality, they became original. It has been said, in their defense, that the Church was so powerful that they could not choose but admit its claim. This would be a good defense, had they sought to make a Constitution in accordance with views admitting the validity of an Ecclesiastical Establishment. The charge against them is not, that they sanctioned an Establishment, but that they sought to couple with it a liberal republican Constitution, and thus to reconcile contradictions, -- an end not to be attained anywhere, and least of all in a country like Mexico.

The factions that arose in Mexico after the establishment of the Republic were the Federalists and the Centralists, being substantially the same as those which yet exist there. The Federalists have been the true liberals throughout the disturbances and troubles of a generation, and, though not faultless, are better entitled to the name of patriots than are the men by whom they have been opposed. They have been the foes of the priesthood, and have often sought to lessen its power and destroy its influence. If they could have had their will any time during the last thirty-five years, the priests would have been reduced to a condition of apostolic simplicity, and the Church's vast property been put to uses such as the Apostles would have approved. Guadalupe Victoria would probably have been as little averse to the confiscation of ecclesiastical property as was Thomas Cromwell himself. The fear that a firm and stable federal government would interfere with the privileges of the Church, and would not cease such interference until the change had been made perfect, which implied the Church's political destruction, is one of the chief reasons why no such government has ever had an existence in Mexico. The Church has favored every party and faction that has been opposed to order and liberty. Royalism, centralism, despotism, and even foreign conquest has it preferred to any state of things in which there should be found that due union of liberty and law without which no country can expect to have constitutional freedom. Had it ever been possible to establish a strong central government in Mexico, it is very probable the Church would have been one of its firmest pillars. The character and organization of that institution, its desire to maintain possession of its property, and its aversion to liberty of every kind, would all have united make such a government worthy of the Church's support, provided it had supported the Church in its turn. The ecclesiastical influence is everywhere observable in the history of Mexico, from the beginning of the struggle for independence. The clergy were supporters of independence, not because they wished for liberty to the country, but that they might monopolize the vast power of their order. They hated the Spaniards as bitterly as they were hated by any other portion of the inhabitants of Mexico. But they never meant that republicanism should obtain the ascendancy in the country. A powerful monarchy, an empire, was what they aimed at; and the government which Iturbide established was one that would have received their aid, could it have brought any power to the political firm the clergy desired to see in existence. It may be assumed that the clergy would have preferred a Spanish prince as emperor, for they were too sagacious not to know that the best part of royalty is that which is under ground. Kings must be born to their trade to succeed in it; and a brand-new emperor, like Iturbide, unless highly favored by circumstances, or singularly endowed with intellectual qualifications, could be of little service to the clerical party. He fell, as we have seen; but the clerical party remained, and, having continued to flourish, is at this time, it is probable, stronger than it was in 1822. It is owing to this party that the idea has never been altogether abandoned that Mexico should resume monarchical institutions; and every attempt that has been made to favor what in this country is known as consolidation has either been initiated by it or has received its assistance. That we do not misrepresent the so-called clerical party, in attributing to it a desire to see a king in Mexico, is clear from the candid admission of one of its members, who has written at length, and with much ability, in defense of its opinions and actions. "Had it been given to that party which is taxed with being absolutist," he says, "to see such a government in Mexico as the government of Brazil, (not to take examples out of the American continent,) their earnest desires would have been accomplished. It is therefore wrongfully that that party is the object of the curses lavished upon it." This is plain speaking, indeed, -- the Brazilian government being one of the strongest monarchies in the world, and deriving its strength from the fact that it seeks the good of its subjects. The blindest republican who ever dreamed it was in the power of institutions to "cause or cure" the ills of humanity must admit, that, if Bourbon rule in Mexico could have produced results similar to those which have proceeded from Braganza rule in Brazil, it would have been the best fortune that the former country could have known, had Don Carlos or Don Francisco de Paula been allowed to wear the imperial crown which was set up in 1822. With less ability than Iturbide, either of those princes would have made a better monarch than that adventurer. It is not so much intellect as influence that makes a sovereign useful, the man being of far less consequence than the institution. Even the case of Napolean I. affords no exception to this rule; for his dynasty and his empire fell with him, because they lacked the stability which comes from prescription alone. Had Marlborough and Eugene penetrated to Paris, as did Wellington and Blucher a century later, they never would have thought of subverting the Bourbon line; but the Bonaparte line was cut off as of course when its chief was defeated. The first king may have been a fortunate soldier only, but it requires several descents to give to a man the flavor of genuine nobility. If it be objected to this, that it is an admission of the power which is claimed for flunkeyism, we can only meet the charge by saying that there is much of the flunkey in man, and that whoso shall endeavor to construct a government without recognizing a truth which is universal, though not great, will find that his structure can better be compared to the Syrian flower than to the Syrian cedar. The age of Model Republics has passed away even from dreams.

We have called the party in Mexico which represents a certain fixed principle the clerical party; but we have done so more for the sake of convenience, and from deference to ordinary usage, than because the words accurately describe the Mexican reactionists. Conservative party would, perhaps, be the better name; and the word conservative would not be any more out of place in such a connection, or more perverted from its just meaning, than it is in England and the United States. The clergy form, as it were, the core of this party, and give to it a shape and consistency it could not have without their alliance. Yet, if we can believe the Mexican already quoted, and who is apparently well acquainted with the subject on which he has sought to enlighten the English mind, the party that is opposed to the liberals is quite as much in favor of freedom as are the latter, and is utterly hostile to either religious or political despotism. After objecting to the course of those Mexicans who found a political pattern in the United States, and showing the evils that have followed from their awkward imitation, he says, -- "No wonder, then, that some men, actuated by the love of their country, convinced of the danger to Mexican nationality from such a state of things, seeing clearly through all these American intrigues, and determined to oppose them by all the means in their power, should have formed long ago, and as soon as the first symptoms of anarchy and the cause of them became apparent, the centre of a party, which, having necessarily to combat the so-called 'Liberal party,' or, in other words, the American army, is accused of being a retrograde, absolutist, clerical party, bent on nothing but the re-establishment of the Inquisition and the 'worst of the worst times.' Nothing, however, is less true. That party contains in its bosom the most enlightened and the most respectable part of the community, men who have not as yet to learn the advantages and benefits of civil and religious liberty, and who would be happy indeed to see liberty established in their country; but liberty under the law, rational and wise liberty, liberty compatible with order and tranquillity, liberty, in a word, for good purposes, -- not that savage, licentious, and tyrannical liberty, the object of which is anarchy, so well answering the private ends of its partisans, and, above all, the iniquitous views of an ambitious neighbor......For the present, no doubt, their object is limited to obtain the triumph over their enemies, who are the enemies of Mexico, and to put down anarchy, as the first and most pressing want of the country, no matter under what form of government or by what means. In pursuance of such an object, the clergy naturally side with them; and hence, for those who are ignorant of the bottom of things in Mexican affairs, the denomination given to this party of 'Clerical party' supported by military despotism; whereas the 'Anarchical party' is favored with the name of 'Liberal Constitutional party.' It is, however, easy to see that those two parties would be more exactly designated, the one as the Mexican party, the other as the American Party."

If this delineation of the Conservative party be a fair one, -- as probably it is, after making allowance for partisan coloring, -- it is easy to see, that, while the clergy are with it, they are not of it; and also, that it would be involved in a quarrel with the priesthood in a week after it should have succeeded in its contest with the Liberals. Where, then, would be the restoration of order, of which this Mexican writer has so much to say? The clergy of Mexico are too powerful to become the tools of any political organization. They use politicians and parties, -- are not used by them. The Conservative party, therefore, is not the coming party, either for the clergy or for Mexico. It answers the clergy's purpose of making it a shield against the Liberals, whose palms itch to be at the property of the Church; but it never could become their sword; and it is a sword, and a sharp and pointed one, firmly held, that the clergy desire, and must have, if their end is to be achieved. The defensive is not and cannot be their policy. They must rule or perish. Hence the victory of the Conservatives would be the signal for the opening of anew warfare, and the clergy would seek to found their power solidly on the bodies of the men whom they had used to destroy the Liberals. They have pursued one course for thirty-eight years, and will not be moved from it by any appeals that shall be made to them in the name of order and of law, appeals to which they have been utterly insensible when made by Liberals. Indeed, they will not be able to see any difference between the two parties, but will hate the Conservatives with most bitterness, because standing more immediately in their way. A combat would be inevitable, with the chance that the American Eagle would descend upon the combatants and swoop them away.

If anarchy were a reason for the formation of a league in Mexico, composed of all the conservative men of the country, it ought to have been formed long ago. Anarchy was organized there with the Republic, and was made much more permanent than Carnot made victory. Unequivocal evidences of its existence became visible before the Constitution was in a condition to be violated; and when that instrument was accepted, it appeared to have been set up in order that politicians and parties might have something definite to disregard. The first President was Guadalupe Victoria, an honest Republican, whose name has become somewhat dimmed by time. With him was associated Nicolas Bravo, as Vice-President. It was while Victoria was President that the masonic parties appeared, known as the Scotch masons and the York masons, or Escoceses and Yorkinos, which were nothing but clubs of the Centralists and the Federalists. The President was of the Yorkinos or Federalists, and the Vice-President was of the other lodge. Bravo and his party were for such changes as should substitute a constitutional monarchy, with a Spanish prince at its head, for the Constitution of 1824. Bravo "pronounced" openly against Victoria, -- a proceeding of which the reader can form some idea by supposing Mr. Breckinridge heading a rabble force to expel Mr. Buchanan from Washington, for the purpose of calling in some member of the English royal family to sit on an American throne. Through the aid of Guerrero, a man of ability and integrity, and very popular, the Liberals triumphed in the field: but Congress elected his competitor, Pedraza, President, though the people were mostly for Guerrero. This was a most unfortunate circumstance, and to its occurrence much of the evil that Mexico has known for thirty years may be directly traced. Instead of submitting to the strictly legal choice of President, made by the members of Congress, the Federalists set the open example of revolting against the action of men who had performed their duties according to the requirements of the Constitution. Guerrero was violently made President. That the other party contemplated the destruction of the Constitution is very probable; but the worst that they, its enemies, could have done against it would have been a trifle in comparison with the demoralizing consequences of the violation of that instrument by its friends. Yet the Presidency of Guerrero will ever have honorable mention in history, for one most excellent reason: Slavery was abolished by him on the anniversary of Mexican independence, 1829, he deeming it proper to signalize that anniversary "by an act of national justice and beneficence." Will the time ever come when the Fourth of July shall have the same double claim to the reverence of mankind?

Guerrero perished by the sword, as he had risen by it. The Vice-President, Bustamente, revolted, and was aided by Santa Ana. His popularity was too great to allow him to be spared, and when he was captured, Guerrero was shot, in 1831. Of the many infamous acts of which Santa Ana has been guilty, the murder of Guerrero is the worst. Possibly it would have ruined him, but for his services against the Spaniards, at about the same time. He was now the chief man in Mexico, and became President in 1833. The next year he dissolved Congress, and established a military government. The Constitution of 1824 was formally abolished in 1835, and a Central Constitution was proclaimed the next year, by which the States were converted into Departments. Santa Ana kept as much aloof from these proceedings as he could, and sought to add to his popularity by attacking Texas, where he reaped a plentiful crop of cypress.

The triumph of the Centralists was the turning-point in the fortunes of Mexico, as it furnished a plausible pretext for American interference in her affairs, the end of which is rapidly approaching. The Texan revolt had no other justification than that which it derived from the overthrow of the Federal Constitution; but that was ample, and, had it not been for the introduction of slavery into Texas, the judgment of the civilized world would have been entirely in favor of the Texans. In 1844, when our Presidential election was made to turn upon the question of the annexation of Texas to the United States, the grand argument of the annexationists was drawn from the circumstance that the Mexicans had abrogated the Federal Constitution, thereby releasing the Texans from their obligations to Mexico. This was an argument to which Americans, and especially democrats, those sworn foes of consolidation, were prone to lend a favorable ear; and it is certain that it had much weight in promoting the election of Mr. Polk. Had the Texan revolt been one of ambition merely, and not justifiable on political grounds apart form the Slavery question, the decision might have been different, if, indeed, the question had ever been introduced into the politics of this country. The sagacious men who managed the affairs of the Democratic party knew their business too well to attempt the extension of slaveholding territory in the gross and palpable form that is common in these shameless days. But Texas, as an injured party that had valiantly sustained its constitutional rights, was a very different thing from a province that had revolted against Mexico because forbidden by Mexican authority to allow the existence of slavery within its borders. There was much deception in the business, but there was sufficient truth and justice in the argument used to deceive honest men who do not trouble themselves to look beyond the surface of things. For more than twenty years our political controversies have all been colored by the triumph of the Mexican Centralists in 1835-6; and but for that triumph, it is altogether likely that our territory would not have been increased, and that the Slavery question, instead of absorbing the American mind, would have held but a subordinate place in our party debates. It may, perhaps, be deemed worthy of especial mention, that the action of the Centralists of Mexico, destined to affect us so sensibly, was initiated at the same time that the modern phase of the Slavery question was opened in the United States. The same year that saw the Federal Constitution of Mexico abolished saw our government laboring to destroy freedom of the press and the sanctity of the mails, by throwing its influence in favor of the bill to prevent the circulation of "incendiary publications," that is, publications drawn from the writings of Washington and Jefferson; and the same year that witnessed the final effort of Santa Ana to "subdue" Texas to Centralization beheld General Cushing declaring that slavery should not be introduced into the North, thus "agitating" the country, and winning for himself that Abolition support without which his political career must have been cut short in the morning of its existence. Such are the coincidences of history!

From the time of the victory of the Centralists until the commencement of the war with the United States, Mexico was the scene of perpetual disturbances. Mexia, a rash, but honest man, made an attempt to free his country in 1838, but failed, being defeated and executed by Santa Ana, who came from the retirement to which his Texan failure had consigned him, as champion of the government. After some years of apparent anarchy, Santa Ana became Dictator, and in 1843 a new Constitution, more centralizing in its nature than its immediate predecessor, was framed under his direction. At the beginning of 1845 he fell, and became an exile. His successor was General Herrera, who was desirous to avoid war with the United States, on which account he was violently opposed by Paredes, with success, the latter usurping the Presidency. Aided by our government, Santa Ana returned to Mexico, and infused new vigor into his countrymen. On his return, he avowed himself a Federalist, and recommended a recurrence to the constitution of 1824, which was proclaimed. Paredes had fallen before a "revolution," and was allowed to proceed to Europe. He was a monarchist, and at that time the friends of monarchy in Mexico had some hopes of success. It is believed that the governments of England and France were desirous of establishing a Mexican monarchy, and their intervention in the affairs of Mexico was feared by our government. Two things, however, prevented their action, if ever they seriously contemplated armed intervention. The first was the rapid success of our armies, coupled as it was with the exhibition of a military spirit and capacity for which European nations had not been prepared by anything in our previous history: and the second was the potato-rot, which brought Great Britain to the verge of famine, and broke up the Tory party. The ill feeling, too, that was created between the English and French governments by the Montpensier marriage, and the discontent of the French people, which led to the Revolution of 1848, were not without their effect on affairs. Had our government resolved to seize all Mexico, it could have done so without encountering European resistance in 1848, when there was not a stable Continental government of the first class west of the Niemen, and when England was too much occupied with home matters, and with the revolutions that were happening all around her, to pay any regard to the course of events in the Occident. But the Polk administration was not equal to the work that was before it; and though members of the Democratic party did think of acting, and men of property in Mexico were anxious for annexation, nothing was done. The American forces left Mexico, and the old routine of weakness and disorder was there resumed. Perhaps it would be better to say it was continued; for the war had witnessed no intermission of the senseless proceedings of the Mexican politicians. Their contests were waged as bitterly as they had been while the country enjoyed external peace.

Several persons held the Presidential chair after the resignation of Herrera. Organic changes were made. The clergy exhibited the same selfishness that had characterized their action for five-and-twenty years. An Extraordinary Constituent congress confirmed the readoption of the Constitution of 1824, making such slight changes as were deemed necessary. Santa Ana again became President. Some of the States formed associations for defense, acting independently of the general government. After the loss of the capital, Santa Ana resigned the Presidency, and Pena y Pena succeeded him, followed by Anaya; but the first soon returned to office. Peace was made, and Santa Ana again went into exile. Herrera was chosen President, and for more than two years devoted himself to the work of reformation, with considerable success, though outbreaks and rebellions occurred in many quarters. President Arista also showed himself to be a firm and patriotic chief. But in 1852 a reaction took place, under favor of which Santa Ana returned home and became President for the fifth time, and Arista was banished. The government of Santa Ana was absolute in its character, and much resembled that which Napoleon III. has established in France, -- with this difference, that it wanted that strength which is the chief merit of the French imperial system. It encountered opposition of the usual form, from time to time, until it was broken down, in August, 1855, when the President left both office and the country, and has since resided abroad. The new revolution favored Federalism. Alvarez was chosen President, but he was too liberal for the Church party, being so unreasonable as to require that the property of the Church should be taxed. Plots and conspiracies were formed against him, and it being discovered that the climate of the capital did not agree with him, he resigned, and was succeeded by General Comonfort. Half a dozen leaders "pronounced" against Comonfort, one of them announcing his purpose to establish an Empire. Government made head against these attacks, and seized property belonging to the Church. Some eminent Church officers were banished, for the part they had taken in exciting insurrections. At the close of 1857, Comonfort made himself Dictator; but the very men who urged him to the step became his enemies, and he was deprived of power. Zuloaga, who was one of his advisers and subsequent enemies, succeeded him, being chosen President by a Council of Notables. Comonfort's measures for the confiscation of Church property were repealed. The Constitution of 1857 placed the Presidential power in the hands of the Chief Justice, on the resignation of the President, whence the prominence of Juarez lately, he being Chief Justice when Comonfort resigned. Assembling troops, he encountered Zuloaga, but was defeated. The Juarez "government" then left the country, but shortly after returned. Insurrections broke out in different places, and confusion reigned on all sides. General Robles deposed Zuloaga, and made an honest effort to unite the Liberals and Conservatives; but the Junta which he assembled elected Miramon president, a new man, who had distinguished himself as a leader of the Conservative forces. Miramon reinstated Zuloaga, but accepted the Presidency on the latter's abdication, and has since been the principal personage in Mexico, and, though he has experienced occasional reverses, has far more power than Juarez. At the close of the year 1859, the greater part of Mexico was either disposed to submit to the Miramon government, or cared little for either Miramon or Juarez.

It is impossible to believe that the Juarez government is possessed of much strength; and the gentleman who lately represented the United States in Mexico (Mr. Forsyth) is of opinion that it is powerless. Nevertheless, our government acknowledges that of Juarez, and has made itself a party to the contests in Mexico. In his last Annual Message, president Buchanan devotes much space to Mexican affairs, drawing a deplorable picture thereof, and recommending armed intervention by the United states in behalf of the Liberal party. "I recommend to Congress," says the President, "to pass a law authorizing the President, under such conditions as they may deem expedient, to employ a sufficient military force to enter Mexico for the purpose of obtaining indemnity for the past and security for the future." This force, should Congress respond favorably to the Presidential recommendation, is to act in concert with the Juarez government, and to "restore" it to power. In return for such aid, that government is to indemnify the Americans, and to provide that no more Americans shall be wronged by Mexican governments. Does the President believe this theory of Mexican settlement will be accepted by the world? If yes, then is he a man of marvellous faith, considering the uncommonly excellent opportunities he has had to learn what the political settlements of Mexico really mean. If no, then he has a meaning beneath his words, and that meaning is the conquest of Mexico. We do not charge duplicity upon President Buchanan, but it is vexatious and humiliating to be compelled to choose between such charge and the belief of a degree of simplicity in him that would be astonishing in a yearling politician, and which is astounding in a man who has held high office for well-nigh forty years. Let us suppose that Congress should kindly listen to President Buchanan's recommendation, -- that a strong fleet and a great army should be sent to the aid of the Juarez government, and should establish it in the capital of Mexico, and then leave the country and the coasts of "our sister Republic," -- what would follow? Why, exactly what we have seen follow the Peace of 1848. The Juarez government could not be stronger or more honest than was that of Herrera, or more anxious to effect the rehabilitation of Mexico; yet Herrera's government had to encounter rebellions, and outrages were common during its existence, and afterward, when men of similar views held sway, or what passes for sway in "our sister Republic." So would it be again, should we effect a "restoration" of the Liberals. In a week after our last regiment should have returned home, there would be rebellions for our allies to suppress. If they should succeed in maintaining their power, it would be as the consequence of a violation of their agreement with us; and where, then, would be the "indemnity" for which we are to fight? If they should be overthrown, as probably would be their fate, where would be the "security" for which we are to pay so highly in blood and gold? It is useless to quote the treaty which the Juarez government has just made with our government, as evidence of its liberality and good faith. That treaty is of no more value than would be one between the United States and the ex-king of Delhi. Nothing is more notorious than the liberality of parties that are not in power. There is no stipulation to which they will not assent, and violate, if their interest should be supposed to lie in the direction of perjury. Have we, in the hour of our success, been invariably true to the promises made in the hour of our necessities? A study of the treaty we made with France in 1778, by the light of after years, would be useful to men who think that a treaty made is an accomplished fact. The people of the United States have to choose between the conquest of Mexico and non-intervention in Mexican affairs. There may be something to be said in favor of conquest, though the President's arguments in that direction -- for such they are, disguised though they be -- remind us strongly of those which were put forth in justification of the partition of Poland; but the policy of intervention does not bear criticism for one moment. Either it is conquest veiled, or it is a blunder, the chance to commit which is to be purchased at an enormous price; and blunders are to be had for nothing, and without the expenditure of life and money.

We had purposed speaking of the condition of Mexico, the character of her population, and the probable effect of her absorption by the United States; but the length to which our article has been drawn in the statement of preliminary facts -- a statement made necessary by the general disregard of Mexican matters by most Americans -- warns us to forbear. We may return to the subject should the action of Congress on the President's recommendation lead to the placing of the Mexican question on the list of those questions that must be decided by the event of the national election of the current year.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1860; Mexico.

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