Mexican History

Mexican history
Figure 1.--This old postcard taken in the early-20th century shows a rural Mexican family. The older boys are wearing the traditional white Mexican clothing, while the younger children don't wear any clothing. The Revolution brought change to Mexico, but the country has been unable to develop a modern economy furnishing the average person with a decent standard of living. Millions of Mexicans have crossed the northrrn border illegally to find jobs in the United States.

The Toltec people of the Central Valley of Mexico developed corn. Although not immediately as important as the potato, it is today with the 20th century development of synthetic fertilizer the single most important food crop. This made possible the modern expansion of the world population. The Native Americans the Spanish Conquistadores encountered were the Maya and Aztec. The Aztec in particular were a chillingly blood thirsty people, exceeding the Spanish in their lust for war, but not in their abiity to wage war. The Spanish Conquistadores wanted gold, but it was corn that was Mexico's great contribution to human society. European diseases descimated Native American populations. Mexico languished as a Spanish colony for over 300 years. Mexico under Spanish rule was an essentially feudal country. It achieved independence from Spain (early 19th century), in part because of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars--the Peninsula Campaign. A weakened Spain could not hold on to its colonies. A war with the United states resulted in the loss of the sparsely populated north. The Diaz dictatorship introduced a degree of modernization, but did not address deep-seeded social problems. Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. (20th century). The Revolution brought the Partido Rvolucinario Institucional (PRI) to power (1920s). The PRI brought a degree of social justice, but not economic prosperity. Coruption flowing from one-party rule as well as an emphasis on state corportations that proved both inefficent and ineffective account for much of Mexico's economic failure. This failure has meant that millions of Mexicans have crossed the border to seek decent paying jobs in the United States. The PRI governed Mexico with a thin veneer of democracy for 80 years. Mexico held its first truly democratic election and the PRI was voted out of power (2000). Today millions of Mexicans still can not make a decent living in their own country and countinue to cross the northern border to work illegally in the United States. There does not seem to be a serious domestic discussion as to why the country cannot prosper economically. Many Mexicans seem nore intent on blameing America and free enterprise for their country's economic failure.

Native American Civilizations

Native first Native Americans crossed from Siberia to North America along the Bearing Sea land bridge formed during the Ice Age. These Ice Age migrations appear to hace occurred about 15,000 years ago, although historians debate this. There appear to have been several waves of migrations. These people were nomadic hunters. The first advanced civilization was theOlmecs. For many years archeologistzs studying Ntive American civilizations saw the Maya as the "mother culture" of Mexican pre-Colomvian civilizations. Gradually scholars armed with improved dating techniques and improved archeoligical methods have come to see the Olmecs as much more important than had earlier been believed. The Olmecs are best known for their huge carved stone heads. The Olmecs established themseves along the western Gulf of Mexico (Veracruz and Tabasco) (about 1000 BC). The Olmecs worshipped a jaguar God. They built the first cities in what is now Mexico. They are best known for the massive stone heads they sculpted, one of the few surviving artifacts. The Olmec mysteriously disappeared (about 400 BC). The Olmec provided the cultural base for subsequent Native American peoples--the Teotihuacan, the Zapotecs and Mixtecs (Monte Alban), the Maya (Yucatan), the Toltecs, Aztecs, and many other smaller civilizations. The Toltec people of the Central Valley of Mexico developed corn. Although not immediately as important as the potato, it is today with the 20th century development of synthetic fertilizer the single most important food crop. This made possible the modern expansion of the world population. The Native Americans that the Spanish Conquistadores encountered were the Maya and Aztec. The Aztec in particular were a chillingly blood thirsty people, exceeduing the Spanish in their lust for war, but not in their abiity to wage war. The Spanish Conquistadores wanted gold, but it was corn that was Mexico's great contribution to human society. Native Americans were stone age peoples. Nontheless they accomplished major advances. The most important achievement in Mexico was the development of corn, but there were other impressive accomplishments in various fields, including architecture, art, astronomy, engeneering, mathematics, pottery, and textiles. The Maya were the technolgically most advanced, especially in mathematics and astronomy. The Maya calendar was the most accurate in the world until the 20th century. These accomplished, however, were to a degree oveshadowed by the prevalence of human sacrifice. And here the war-like Aztecs escalated human sacrifice to unprecented levels. The Aztecs were the dominant civilization in central Mexico when the Spanish arrived.

The Conquest (1519)

The voyages of Columbus and the other European Voyages of Discovery had profound consequences for both Europe and the world. Following on Columbus' voyages, Spain rapidly beagan estalishing colonies. At first Columbus and the Spanish did not realize that they had chanced upon an entirely new continent--the Americas. They thought it ws India and thus called it the Indies and the Caribbean Islands have become known to us as the West Indies. Spanish colonization was at first in the Caribbean and extrodinarily brutal. The native Americans on the islands were for the most part exterminated. Next the Spanish looked to the mainland where rumors described natin American civilizations of vast wealth. This led to Diego Cortez's Conquest of Mexico. The gold and silver flowing from the Americas made Spain a European super-power and financed the Great Armada. European diseases descimated Native American populations and was a major factor in the conquest.

New Spain (16th-19th centuries)

Mexico or New Spain became the most valuable of Spain's many colonies. The fertile agricultural areas and productive mines generated great wealth for Spain. It was in effect the crown jewel of the Spainish empire. The colony was heavily exploited by the Spanish through explotation of the mineral wealth as well as heavy taxes. The Spanish ruled directly. There were no colonial legislatures permitted as was the case for the english in North America. The Spanish monarchy distributed land to the Conquistadores and subsequent settlers in the form of encomiendas which eventually evolved into haciendas. The Native Americans, both the tribes that fought against and with the Soanish, were enslaved. Eventually this envolved into a feudal system with the Native Americans becomes serfs (peones). Spain abolished slavery for Native Americans (1548), but not for Africans. The Crown charged the Spanish settlers granted land with corverting for the Native Americans and careing for them. A hierarchial caste system developed in New Spain and the other Spanish colonies. The ruling class was the Espanoles (appointed officials and settlers actually born in Spain), criollos (individuals of Spanish ancestry born in Mexico), mestizos (mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry), and at the bottom of the social structure, the indigenes (Native Americans). Mexico languished as a Spanish colony for over 300 years. Mexico under Spanish rule was an essentially feudal country. Gradually more and more Native Americans becane serfs as their land was absorbed by the hacienda system. Most into the 20th century were uneducated and iliterate. Spanish regultions discouraged economic development. Industry or even agriculture that competed with Spanish exports were prohibited or otherwise restricted. Much of the popultion lived in poverty in sharp contradt t the busteling economy in the English colobies to the north where living standards actually surpassed those of the mother country.

Yaqui Wars (1533-1929)

The Yaqui Wars were a series of armed conflicts between first New Spain (the Spanish Empire) and subsequently the inepedent Mexican republic against the native American Yaqui Tribe and their allies. Mexico with its large Native American population fought quite a number of Indian wars. Many of the best Known Native American peoples were defeated relatively quickly as were the Aztecs in Meico's Central Valley. The ame was true if the Inca, although a rump Inca Empire survkived for some time by hiding in the Amazonian jungles. The Maya of all the major civilizations resisted the longest--finlly ending with the Caste War. The Yaqui lovated in the Yaqii River Valley, resisted the longest--essentilly from the arrival of the Spanish to the ealy-20th century--some 400 years. And unlkike the Inca and Maya did not survive by disapparing in to remote jungle citidels. The Yaqui stood and defended their Yaqui River himeland. Although driven out of their himeland periodically into the surounding mountins or deported to far-away Yucatan, they continued to return fighting it out with the Mexicans. The Mexicans finlly ended the Wars only with machine guns, poison gas, and air power. Over the years there were a serious of Mexican campaigns and terrible masacres. The greatest dvantage theYaqui had was that they lived in northern Mexico, primarily the arid state of Sonora. The lack of well-watered gricultural land and histile Native Americans meant that the Yaqui did not have to fight off large numbers of settllers. It was the same reason that so few Mexicans settled the Southwest. The problem for the Yaqui began when silver was discovered in the Yqui River Valley (1684). Later the Mexican Government began selling ff Yaqui land and then taxing them. Gradually minor incidents grew in size nd frw=equency. It was not until the Yaqui united neigboring tribes (Mayo, Opata, and Pima) that really serious fighting occured. The Yaqui suceededed in driving out the settlers (1742). This was the beginning of a bloody sea-saw struggle continuing into the 20th century.

Struggle for Independence (1810-21)

Mexico achieved independence from Spain in part because of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars--the Peninsula Campaign. Napoleon replaced the Spanish Bourbons with his brother Joseph (1808). An invading French army supported Joseph. The Spanish resisted the French and the Peninsula Campaign became once of the most destructive and brutal of the Napoleonic era. Spain was devestated and a weakened Spain could not hold on to its colonies. The Mexican elite began to discuss how to govern the colony. New Spain had been ruled from Spain, but this now meant a French monarchy. The Spanish Viceroy attempted to maintain control, but was replaced by European-born Spaniards. Father Miguel de Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest disturbed by the abject poverty of the people, issued his Grito de Dolores--the Cry of Doloraes (1810). He called on the Mexican people to support King Fernando VII (held captive by Napoleon) by revolting against the Spainards who had overthrown the Viceroy. He attracted peasants and other Mexicans who formed the first Mexican Army. It was large, perhaps 90,000 men, but poorly trained and armed. They attacked and killed forces of Spanish Peninsulares and Criollo elites they encountered. This continued until they encountered a force of disciplined Spanish troops. Hidalgo's forces were decisively defeated at the Battle of Calderón Bridge (1811). His army desintegrated, most were either killed or fled. Hidalgo was captured and executed by a firing squad a few months later. The independence movement he inagurated, however, continued the struggle. Vicente Guerrero and the royalist Agustin de Iturbide signed the Treaty of Cordoba creating an independent Mexico (1821). Although it was Itubide who actually achieved independence, it is Hildalgo because of his social message that is seen as the father of the country and Seprember 16, the day Hidalgo issied the Grito de Dolores that is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day.

Iturbide and Santa Ana

Much of the early history of indepedent Mexico was dominated by two of the rebel leaders--Agustin de Iturbide and Santa Ana. Independent Mexico after Iturbide's attempt at empire was establish as a federal republic with the states having significant powers. He desired to estanlished a centralized state and sought to create adictatorship. His goal was probably a monarchy. He saw himself as a military genius--the Napoleon of the West. His efforts to bring the states under central control led to a revolt in Texas where Americans had begun to settle and eventually a war with the United States. The War resulted from Santa Ana's desire to regain control of Texas and the American desire to expand west.

Mexican-American War (1846-48)

The Mexican War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico. It is one of the most important wars fought by the United States because of the vast area of land annexed, about one-third of Mexio. It has, however, been given relatively little attention by American historians, possibly because it does not fit well into America's self image. Assessments of the War vary among both Mexican and American historians and among American historians. And these assessments have varied over time. The War began when Mexican units attacked U.S. troops in dispured territory between Mexico and Texas (April 25, 1846). Ther initial fighting took plasce in northern Mexico when General Zacrarry Taylor attacked across the Rio Grande. A small American force took New Mexico and California. When Mexico refused to make peace the United States invaded Mexico at Vera Cruz. The forced commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott moved inland and occupied Mexico City (September 14, 1847). A peace treaty was signed a few months later at Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2, 1848). Mecico recognized the U.S. annexation of Texas and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. Mexian historians have always seen the Mexican War as naked agression by the United States. Some American historians in recent years have also come to this conclusion. This is considerable truth in this, but a strong jigoist element in Mexico desiring to retake Texas has to be considered. One often ignored question is why so few Mexicans moved into the northern territories. One reason the United States prevailed in the War was that so few Mexicans lived in California and New Mexico. The War is also notble because of the roles played by key figures in the coming American Civil War.

Attempt at Reform

Santa Ana was exiled again after the War with the United States. Ignacio Comonfort resigned the the presidency in favor of Mexico's greatest heros--Benito Juarez. Juarez was a humble mestizo priest from of Oaxaca, a southern state wih a large Native American population. Juarez launched liberal reforms including a major land reform program to break up haciendas and distribute small plots to the peones. Conservatives led by the hacienda owners were outraged. The result was the War of Reform (1858 to 1861). Juarez emerged victorious in the War, but the country was bankupted. President Juarez's government was forced to default on foreign loans.

French Intervention (1863-67)

European Governments in retaliation to Juarez's default on foreign loans seized the customs house at Vera Cruz where they could use import duties to pay off loans. The French went a steo further. France was the major lender and the expanonist-minded Napoleon III decided to establish a French colony. He attempted to seize the country and convinced the Austrian Archduke Maximilian rto accept a Mexican throne. Napoleon's choice of an Austrian prince may seem curious, but some historians believe Maximilian's father may have actually been Napoleon II. Backed by French troops, Maximillian was able to establish control over most of the country, but was unable to completely defeat the Juaristas. Maximilian was at first supported by the Mexican conservatives who had fought against Juarez in the War of Reform. They assumed an Austrian archduke would persue conservative policies. The conservatives were, however, disappointed with Maximilian. Unlike his brother, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Mazimilian had a liberal outlook. Not only did he refuse to repeal Juarez's reforms, but instituted further reforns of his own. This cost him the support of the only group of Mexicans who had championed him. Juraez continued to resist Maximilian and the effort to maintain him in power became increasingly expensive for Napoleon III. The end of the United States Civil War (1865) meant increasing American oposition to the French intervention in Mexico. When Napoleon abandoned him by withdrrawing French troops, Maximilian was doomed. He refused, however, to abandon his supporters. Juarez retook Mexico City (1867). Maximilian made a stand at Querétaro, north of Mexico City. Afer a seige he was captured and shot by a firing squad on Juarez's orders (June 19, 1867).

The Porfiriato (1876-1911)

General Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) was a mestizo from Oaxaca. He opposed Santa Ana, fought for Juarez in the War of Reform, and with his brother fought against Emperor Maximilian. He was one of Juarez's more effective generals. He ran unsuccessfully against President Juarez (1871). He claimed electoral fraud and decided to use force and overthrow the government (1876). He introduced a dictatorship which ruled Mexico for nearly 40 years. is iron-fisted rule, which lasted almost 40 years which Mexicans refer to as the Porfiriato. He and his Cientificos ruled Mexico under the banner of "Liberty, Order, and Progress". Díaz had a very specific interpretation of these terms. Liberty was extended to supportive landowners, industrialists, and entrpreneurs to make money. Order was enforced through a policy of pan y palo (bread and club). Progress was rapid economic development. Díaz negotiated arrangements with foreiners in which he and his associates profited personally. Any opposition or even criticism was supressed, often brutally. The Díaz dictatorship introduced a degree of modernization. Mexico in 1910 had a much more developed infrastructure than that of the country he had seized control of in 1876. It was, however, still an underdeveloped country. Díaz did not address Mexico's deep-seeded social problems. Ans a key area that he did not invest in was Mexico's human capital. Mexico was still a country with a small middle-class and a largely illiterate rural peasantry living in essentially feudal conditions. The Mexican Revolution was the first of the great 20th century peasant revolutions. When the Revolution came, it was a surprise to everyone--not the least to Mexicans. Díaz was astonished that the efete little teetoteling lawyer could suceed in overthrowing him. When departing for Mexico he warned, "Madero has unleashed a tiger, let us see if he can control him."

The Revolution (1910-20)

Mexico's Revolution came a century after independence. Francisco Madero became president after the Diaz tried to reverse the results in the 1910 election, eventually having to flee the country. Madero had received the support of the charismatic Emiliano Zapata who was conducting an uprising in the South. Madero did, however, last long as president. He was arrested and shot under orders of his own general, Victoriano Huerta. This launched the bloody phase of the Mexican Revolution. Huerta was forced to fight the Revolution on many fronts. He benefitted from a strong central position, but faced a formidable if tenuous alliance including Venustiano Carranza, General Álvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata (in the south) and Pancho Villa (in the north). These are many od the the most esteemed names in Mexican history and noth Carranza and Obregon went on the be presidents. The Mexican Revolution was the bloodiest period in Mexicam history since the Conquest. Huerta was eventually defeated. Carranza assumed the presidency. Both Villa and Zapata refused to recognize Carranza. They with their Armies of the North and South drove on Mexico City. Carranza and Obregon with their forces fled the capital. The Villistas and Zapatistas held racous celebrations after reaching Mexico City. They did not, however, have the organizational skills to organize an effective government. Carranza and Obregon retreated to Veracruz, Mexico's major port. There they reorganized and reupplied and launched a new offensive to retake the capital. In the fighting that followed, Obregon largely destroyed Villa's cavalry at Celaya (1915). Obregon lost his right arm, but won the battle. Celaya was actually a series of engagements which cnstitute the most massive battle ever fought in Latin America. Obregon commanded a modern force with artillery and machine guns. As Villa's calvlry was the major force of his army, Villa never seriously threatened the government again, although he was a continuing irritation in the North. Carranza called for a Constitutional convention (1916). He was elected the first president under the new Mexican Constitution of 1917. The Government finally dealt with Zapata. After a vicious anti-guerilla campaign weakened his forces, Zapata was lured into a trap by a government soldier and shot. Carranza tried to hold power by backing the election of a supporter (1920). When it became clear that Obregon would win the election, Carranza attempted a coup. Obregon escaped and organized a military campaign against Carranza. As Obregon approached the capital, Carranza fled, trying to reach the port of Veracruz where he could leave the country, the traditional route for failed Mexican leaders, There Obregon's forces arrested and shot him. A freustrated Villa in the North attempted to punish the United States for supporting Carranza. Villa killed several Americans in Mexico and then crossed the border to attack some U.S. towns. President Wilson ordered an incursion into northern Mexico to arrest Villa. This failed, but Villa finally decided to end his political career and became a rancher in Parral. He still had a following among the poor and was assassinated (1923). This meant of all the major figures of the Revolution, only Obregón still survived.

PRI Era (1928-2000)

The Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI) was founded by Plutarco Elias Calles. Calles became president after Obregón was assassinated (1928). (Historians differ on whether this was a Calles plot.) The PRI resolved the problem of sucession which had plagued Mexico since the foundation of the Republic. Sucession was determined by the dedazo (the big finger)--the outgoing president appointing the PRI candidate. And that candidate through the power of the PRI machine and varying degrees of voter fraud always won the election. It was hardly democratic, but brought stability. The gratest of the PRI president was General Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40). Cardenas instituted many major reforms, including widespread land reform, strengthened unions, and nationalized the largely foreign-owned petroleum industry. These reforms are highly regarded in Mexico. They did bring a degree of social justice. They did not, however, result in economic development. Mexico remained a Third World country with endemic levels of poverty. The reasons for Mexico's economic failure is complicated and not fully understood. Coruption flowing from one-party rule as well as an emphasis on state corportations that proved both inefficent and ineffective account for some of Mexico's economic failure, but it is a much more complex question. The land reform resulted in the Ejido system. This did prevent the loss of land by Native American groups, it did not result in a more productive agricultural system. And without this Mexici did not geneate the capital needed for development. Organized labor was strengthened, but became dominated by the PRI. The nationalization of the oil industry took it out of the hands of foreigners, but mismanagement and corruption by a state corporation disipated its benefit to the nation. In addition, nationalization discouraged foreign investment. Other factors are the lack of the rule of law and continuing support for Socialist, big-government sollutions. While the PRI brought stability, even its supporters can not claim that it succeeded in establishing a modern econommy providing a decent living to the Mexican people. This failure has meant that millions of Mexicans have crossed the border to seek decent paying jobs in the United States. The PRI governed Mexico with a thin veneer of democracy and law for 80 years. The middle class did expand during the PRI-era and increasingly they as well as dusatisfied working-class Mexicans began to demand real elections. The government violently suppressed a left-wing student protest in Mexico city (1968). Security forces killed hundreds of protestors, the actual number is unknown. New problems including Central Amerirican migrants and the illegal drug trade have brought new problems. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has brought economic gains, but has promted both nativist opposition (Native American guerillas in Chiapa) and left-wing criticism. The country was shocked by the assasination of PRI candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio (1994). A further shock came during the vote counting. When it became apparent that the PRI candidate had lost, the PRI simply turned off the electricity on the TV coverage. When the lights had returned the computers had been reset and PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo had won. The country was so outraged that the PRI could not commit eldectiral fraud on the same scale. President Zedillo vowed to change Mexican politics and kept his commitment. The result was the defeat of the PRI and the election of Vicente Fox (2000).

Democratic Era

Mexico held its first truly democratic election and the PRI was voted out of power (2000). Today millions of Mexicans still can not make a decent living in their own country and countinue to cross the northern border to work illegally in the United States. There does not seem to be a serious domestic discussion as to why the country cannot prosper economically. Many Mexicans seem nore intent on blameing America and free enterprise for their country's economic failure.






CIH






Navigate the Children in History Web Site:
[Return to the Main Mexican page]
[Return to the Main Latin American history page]
[[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class] [Royalty]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]



Navigate the HBC Mexican pages
[Mexican choirs] [Mexican Scouts] [Mexican school uniforms] [Mexican communions]





Created: 4:02 AM 12/13/2007
Last updated: 5:22 AM 11/21/2014