Writing Politics in Mexico (1821-1865)

Unstable government structures defined the early to mid-nineteenth century in Mexico. From the 1820s to the 1860s, Mexico experienced rule under the Spanish Monarchy, republicanism, dictatorships, and Emperor Maximilian I. These regime changes were met with varied public opinion. Although Mexico City may have been independent by September 27, 1821, the people of Coahuila still recognized the Cadiz Constitution and Fernando VII as sovereign for the purposes of land claims. With unpredictable calamities afflicting Mexico a few decades after its independence, Santa Anna was forced to issue a decree in hopes of controlling radical insurgents but only weakened his dictatorship instead. Some officials, frustrated by this instability, welcomed the European emperor, who was met with mixed public reception (to say the least). This section illustrates how although the issuance of official written documents intended to create stability and predictability, larger forces quickly undermined them.

Personal Account of Mexican Independence in Coahuila

Mexican Independence celebrates the Treaty of Cordoba on September 27th, 1821, but independence within Mexico didn’t disperse evenly. This 8-page hand-written document recounts Francisco Vidaurri’s recollection of his hacienda in Monclova, Coahuila through the Cadiz Constitution on December 17th, 1821. During the time, Northern Mexicans like Viduarri struggled with indigenous groups raiding and growing independence movements in Central Mexico. Indigenous groups primarily interacted with Northern Mexican settlers for their mutual benefit, but when they raided, it was to claim political legitimacy in the region (1). While the Treaty of Cordoba gave Mexico City independence, the citizens of Coahuila, like Vidaurri, still saw Spain as sovereign. Vidaurri even refers to his hacienda as “the Nation” to spite Mexican independence. While Mexico City gained independence from the Treaty of Cordoba, Coahuila was hesitant to reject Spanish bureaucracy and sought to strengthen their claim over the land like indigenous groups had previously.

The 1855 Mexican Law Decree

The original version of this proclamation was printed in ink onto a large, paper poster on February 13, 1855 in Mexico and likely would be prominently displayed in public spaces. Santa Anna, president of Mexico at the time, issued this decree to change the prison system regarding pardons, making punishment for crimes far more severe. Why this mid-19th century change? The answer may point us to a series of calamities undermining Santa Anna's rule, including Indian troubles in Yucatán and the revolt of Álvarez (2). These sources of instability, together with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, weakened support for the dictatorship, thus forcing Santa Anna to attempt to control political opponents and insurgents through the prison system. His efforts failed. Santa Anna was deposed August 5, 1855.

Letter from Emperor Maximilian I to Teodosio Lares

This one-page letter was handwritten in Spanish with ink on a watermarked page by Maximilian, the Hapsburg archduke of Austria, to Teodosio Lares on December 31, 1865. Lares headed the 1863 assembly that invited Maximilian I to become emperor (3). Maximilian I was crowned emperor of Mexico during the French invasion (1861-1867). In this letter, Maximilian gives Lares a leading position in the new judicial system. This correspondence signals how the French-appointed emperor was interested in maintaining positive relationships with Mexican elites and vice versa. In short, not all Mexicans rejected the French invasion of Mexico. Despite Lares' collaboration with the French invaders, and despite the execution of Maximilian I in 1867, Lares was not executed for treason. Instead, he was pardoned by President Benito Juárez (4).

(1) Arrieta, Olivia. “Religion and Ritual Among the Tarahumara of Northern Mexico.” Wicazo Sa Review vol. 8, no. 2 (1992). (13-14; 15-16) https://www.jstor.org/stable/1408992?seq=1.

(2) Johnson, Richard A. “Santa Anna’s Last Dictatorship, 1853-1855.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 41, no. 4 (1938): 281–311. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30240535.

(3) Hamnet, Brian, “Teodosio Lares (Mexico, 1806-70).” Law and Christianity in Latin America, 135. New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2021.

(4) Hamnet, Brian, “Teodosio Lares (Mexico, 1806-70).” Law and Christianity in Latin America, 139. New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2021.