This book by Timothy J. Henderson, a professor of history at Auburn University, Montgomery, Alabama, examines the political and social history of Mexico before and during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
The Mexican government was a mess after winning independence from Spain in 1821. A little-known fact about Mexico is that it had an emperor before the well-known Emperor Maximilian - Agustin de Iturbide - but he was deposed shortly after being crowned and followed by several presidents. One was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who was president many times and famous for the Alamo massacre.
Mexico was a mess thanks to its class and racial system; the upper class would not share power with anyone else. Very few Mexicans were literate, and the upper class considered the lower classes to be rabble and troublemakers who needed to be controlled. Regional problems plagued the country as well. The states did not want to cooperate with the central government in Mexico City. Many had their own armies or militias and did not want them to serve in the national army.
Many Mexican countrymen saw the central government as corrupt. Bribery was usually necessary to get things done, and corrupt officials wasted money on themselves - or used it to bribe soldiers or keep other classes or races in line. Most of the available money was spent on the army, in spite of which the army did not have proper weapons or other necessary materials. Generals squandered the money on themselves or friends. The Mexican government also owed huge debts to foreigners or their governments. One source of money many thought of tapping was to heavily tax the Catholic Church and take its property away. Most bishops were of the upper class, and some were seen to be corrupt. Many overlooked the good that the Church did.
Some Americans came to Texas as colonists. Some, like Stephen Austin, did it the legal way, while most others did it by becoming illegal immigrants. Mexico had neither enough solders to patrol its northern border nor enough Mexican citizens to colonize Texas. Austin tried to work with the Mexican government, but he later became frustrated because he found that he had to bribe officials, which did not ensure that he saw positive results.
Austin also worked with others to get Texas made a separate Mexican state instead of being combined with another one. As he became even more disillusioned with the Mexican government when he was imprisoned, he teamed up with others, like Sam Houston in 1835-36, to gain Texas’ independence from Mexico. Texans thought they would have help from the United States toward this end, but that did not happen as quickly as they had thought or hoped.
Texans also hoped to be annexed by the United States quickly, too, but the U.S. was not ready for that. Many Northerners thought Texas would be admitted as a slave state, rocking the balance between free and slave states. Instead, Texas remained a republic from 1836 to 1844, when the U.S. finally agreed to annex it. Mexico agreed to allow Texas to be independent, but only if it did not join the U.S. The powers that were in Texas, though, refused to accede to this and became part of the U.S.
A dispute over where the southern boundary of Texas lay developed around 1845. The U.S. said it was the Rio Grande River, while Mexico said it was the Neuces River, which is barely west of San Antonio, and that the rest of the boundary went north to the Red River. By so declaring, the Mexican government indicated that it would only allow Texas to claim the northeastern portion of the present-day state. The U.S. refused to consent and sent an army under General Zachary Taylor.
The Mexicans dispatched an army to drive out the invaders but failed, despite being the larger of the two armies. The Mexican army still did not have up-to-date weapons, and its soldiers were criminals and other undesirables. General Santa Anna came out of retirement to lead the Mexican nation its army, but he was also unable to defeat the American army, which eventually won the war. Mexico was forced to give up claims to Texas and the present-day states of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and portions of other states, thereby losing a large chunk of its own territory.
Henderson discusses the idea of America’s manifest destiny, which included American prejudices against non Anglo-Saxons and non-Protestants – essentially all Mexicans. America considered itself superior in many ways to Mexico and other Latin American countries, and Henderson says this continues even today, causing problems in relations with Mexico and other Latin American nations ever since. Note the immigration issues being discussed in the U.S. Congress and at state levels. Many Americans also show such prejudice against Mexicans even if they are in the U.S. legally. The Klu Klux Klan is becoming more active again, but instead of focusing attention on African-Americans, Jews, and white Catholics, they are now against Mexicans and others from Latin America. Henderson book digs down to some of the roots of this problem.
Timothy J. Henderson is a co-editor of The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (2002), and author of The Worm in the Wheat: Rosale Evans and Agrarian Struggle in the Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley of Mexico, 1906-1927 (1998). His present book is highly recommended to those interested in the history of Mexico after its independence from Spain, Texas’ independence, the Mexican-American War, and U.S.-Mexican relations.