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Antonio López de Santa Anna

Antonio López de Santa Anna was the dominant figure in Mexican politics for much of the 19th century. He placed his own self-interest above his duty to Mexico.

Born in 1794, Santa Anna started his long army career at age 16. He fought for the Spanish against Mexican independence. Along with many other army officers, he switched sides in 1821 to help Augustin de Iturbide become head of independent Mexico.

Mexico was a highly splintered nation for much of its first century of independence. In 1828 Santa Anna used his military influence to make the losing candidate into the president. In reward, he became the highest-ranking general in the land.

In 1833 Santa Anna was elected President of Mexico with his promise to unite the nation. Instead, from 1833 to 1855 Mexico had thirty-six changes in presidency. Santa Anna himself ruled eleven times. The first time he left the real work to his vice-president, who tried to reform the church, state, and army. When the proposed reforms angered the army and the church, Santa Anna regained power by leading a military coup against his own government.

Santa Anna rejected Mexico's 1824 constitution and made the government less democratic. This step was a major cause of the Texas revolution, because it convinced both Anglo colonists and many Mexicans in Texas that they had no reason to remain under Mexican rule. Santa Anna personally led the Mexican forces in the Texas revolution. In the end, his carelessness allowed Sam Houston to win a crushing victory at the battle of San Jacinto.

Although he failed to stop the Texas revolution, Santa Anna defeated a French invasion force at Vera Cruz in 1838. His personal heroics in battle resulted in him losing half his leg. In a big ceremony, he dug up his leg and paraded it through Mexico City.

The United States took advantage of Mexico's continuing problems, defeating them in the Mexican-American War. As the commander of Mexican forces, Santa Anna was mainly to blame. Nevertheless, he remained the most powerful individual in Mexico until 1853, when he sold to the United States millions of acres in what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico. This was not a popular act, so he was soon removed from office. He died in 1876.


Source: Antonio López de Santa Anna
© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA Credits

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