Caudillo of Veracruz

Caudillo politics are a defining characteristic of Santa Anna’s career, and of nineteenth century Latin America at large. Spanish colonists originally used the word “caudillo” to refer to a “leader.” After the War of Independence, the term became a more specific label for land-owning, military leaders whose victories proved valuable to their nation. Caudillo politics emerged in post-colonial societies that had not established a governmental order of succession. When political turmoil presented gaps in leadership, caudillos, like Santa Anna, used their fame, following, and military force to take power (32).

Presidential Pardon of the Zacatecas Federalist Civic Militia, Miguel Barragán (contributor) and José María Tornel y Mendívil (contributor),1835-05-23.

Several Mexicans hailed Santa Anna as a hero after his 1835 victory against Federalist rebels of Zacatecas (33). At the time, the political tide was turning to centralism and popular opinion was that federalism, a system that allowed for state sovereignty, failed to bring stability to Mexico (34).

Through this decree, acting president Miguel Barragán pardons the Zacatecan rebels from capital punishment, after their defeat. However, the rebellion cost Zacatecas the territory of Aguascalientes, as the city separated to become its own state (35).

Santa Anna’s defeat of the Zacatecan uprising is one example of how he gained credibility as a criollo. After the battle, the people of Aguascalientes and several other Mexicans hailed him as the “Hero of the mother country” (36).

Achievements of historic proportions established Santa Anna’s prestige as a caudillo. For example, he played a large part in facilitating the Treaty of Córdoba (1821), in which a Spanish official agreed to terms for ending the Mexican War of Independence (37). At the legendary Battle of Tampico (1829), Santa Anna stifled Spain’s attempt to reconquer Mexico, and attained one of the most celebrated Mexican victories of the early nineteenth century (38). Historians have noted that Santa Anna’s ambition to distinguish himself from other caudillos resulted in a military record “so outstanding that, when the occasion arose, there was no alternative to his bid for power” (39).

"Battle of Tampico, Waged against the Spanish by General Santa-Anna, September 10, 1829", C. Aiyon (editor), circa 1840s.

This scene shows several fallen soldiers at the legendary battle of Tampico (1829). Notice the soldiers at the bottom right. To who or what are they pointing to? What figures in the scene might represent Santa Anna, and why?

A month into Spain’s invasion of Tampico, Santa Anna defeated them. During that time, the Spanish army faced disease and a lack of food. Both sides navigated a hurricane, but it proved most devastating against the already weakened Spanish army. Santa Anna ordered a victorious assault after the storm, which resulted in the surrender of Brigadier Isidro Barradas, the leader of the Spain’s reconquest expedition (40).

It is noteworthy that many of Santa Anna’s victories took place in his home province of Veracruz. In the culture of his time, a power base was essential to caudillo status (41). Santa Anna’s base was particularly advantageous, as the port of Veracruz allowed him to control customs to finance his uprisings and withhold goods from the national government (42). The trade economy also financed the development of two major roads from Veracruz to Mexico City; this path between Mexico’s coast and interior presented a strategic military advantage against foreign invaders (43). Furthermore, as a veracruzano, Santa Anna had developed an immunity to Yellow Fever, whereas foreigners were at a high risk of catching the disease when stationed in his province (44).

"View of the City of Veracruz", D. José Martorell y Alsina (lithographer), 1821.

This 1821 lithograph includes an index that assigns numbers to buildings at the Port of Veracruz. “Castle of San Juan de Ulúa,” labeled no. 1, is a fortress that has famously defended Mexico against Spanish, French, and American invasions. Citing the role of this fortress in four decisive victories, a variety of Mexican decrees have assigned the epithet of “Cuatro Veces Heroica” to Veracruz (45).

Although Santa Anna’s career included notorious defeats, he persistently rebounded from them. For example, he had a comeback victory at the Battle of Veracruz during the “French-Pastry” war, shortly after a shameful campaign in the Texas Revolution. Santa Anna lost his leg in battle when defending the port of Veracruz against French invasion (1838), a sacrifice and victory that returned valor to his reputation (46). By retaining his caudillo status, Santa Anna was a contender for political leadership in the many instances when Mexico’s government fell in disarray during its early national period (47).

(Left) "The victory of Tampico and the martyr of Cuilapa," cover, 1900. (Right) "The War of Texas and Heroic Veracruz", cover, 1900. eriberto Frías (author), José Guadalupe Posada (illustrator / ilustrador), and Maucci Hermanos (publisher).

“La Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano” is a series of educational booklets for children about Mexico’s history. In these two booklets, dating to 1900, the author represents Santa Anna with hindsight into his place in history.

Both book covers highlight epic battles led by Santa Anna. The cover on the left illustrates the Battle of Tampico, while the one on the right shows Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution. How does each cover visually describe Santa Anna’s opponents? What similarities and differences do you notice between the two illustrations?

Notice that the booklet on the right is titled “The War of Texas,” with the subtitle “The Heroic Veracruz.” In the background, masts of ships peek behind the main scene, representing an incoming French fleet. What two battles do you think the author juxtaposes within this one booklet? Why would the booklet address the battles together instead of separately?

(32) Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 3-4, 125.

(33) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, 160.

(34) Michael Costeloe, The Central Republic in Mexico, 1835-1846 : Hombres de Bien in the Age of Santa Anna, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 185.

(35) Mariana Terán Fuentes, “Por un beso a Santa Anna. La separación de Aguascalientes del estado de Zacatecas, 1835-1846,” Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México 56 (julio-diciembre 2018), 78, 95.

(36) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, 378.

(37) Ibid 50-51.

(38) Ruth R.Olivera and Liliane Crété, Life in Mexico Under Santa Anna, 1822-1855 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 123. Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 318-19.

(39) Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 317.

(40) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, 122.

(41) Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 125.

(42) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, 11.

(43) Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 125.

(44) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, 9.

(45) These four victories include Spain’s attempt to reconquer Mexico in 1829, the French Pastry War in 1836, US intervention in 1847, and the US occupation of Veracruz in 1914. José Peña Fentanes, Veracruz cuatro veces heroica (México: Editorial Citlaltépetl, 1970), 3-6. Margarita De Orellana, “Porque Es Cuatro Veces Heroica La Ciudad De Veracruz,” Artes de México Veracruz 450 Aniversario, No. 116 (1969): 29-30.

(46) Fowler, Santa Anna of Mexico, xxii.

(47) Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America, 4.