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Anasazi. Pre-Columbian Indians of the southwest who built the pueblo cities and cliff dwellings.
Stephen Austin (1793-1836). Son of Moses Austin (1761-1821) who gained Spanish permission to settle in Texas. Stephen continued his father's work, establishing settlements between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. In 1830 Austin went to Mexico City to plead self-government for Texas; he wound up in prison for 18 months.
Aztecs. Their civilization was built in the 12th century on Mayan and Toltec foundations. They developed irrigation for agriculture, intricate metal work, and massive buildings erected by slave labor. They had a pantheistic religion which latterly involved human sacrifice.
Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858). Benton was a Senator from Missouri from 1821 to 1851. He was a strong advocate of western development and he financed John Fremont's early expeditions. He was Polk's close associate in the Senate.
Hernan Cortez (1485-1547). Cortez was sent by Velazquez, the conqueror of Cuba, to explore Mexico. Cortez spent four months at Veracruz before marching on Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. He befriended Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, but eventually took the empire by force, combing it for gold. Cortez and his sub-commanders explored the Pacific coast of Mexico, Yucatan and Central America. He died in his native Spain.
Davy Crockett (1786-1836). Crockett was a frontiersman active in western Tennessee. He was a U.S. Congressman in 1827-1831 and in 1833-1835 from that state. He was killed at the Alamo.
Jefferson Davis (1808-1889). Davis was a son-in-law of Zachary Taylor until the death of his young bride. He led the Mississippi volunteers with distinction during the Mexican War. He rose to power as the Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857. He was a Senator from Mississippi until that state seceded from the Union. The President of the Confederacy throughout the Civil War (1861-1865), he was captured and confined until 1867, but he was never prosecuted.
John C. Fremont (1813-1890). Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Thomas Benton, began a varied career as an explorer, leading several expeditions to the west, particularly California. He led a small body of men in the California phase of the Mexican War, got into a dispute with Stephen Kearny, and was subsequently court-martialed for exceeding his authority. Fremont was the Republican candidate for President in 1856 but lost. Despite his court-martial he was a General in the Union army in the Civil War but was removed from command. He was Governor of Arizona from 1878 to 1883.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885). Grant served under Taylor and Scott in the Mexican War as a quartermaster. Unsuccessful in civilian life, he quickly rose to power in the Civil War, conquering Vicksburg in the west and becoming the commander-in-chief of the Union Army. He was victorious in 1865. Running as a Republican he was elected 18th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1869 to 1877. His administration was marred by bitter partisan politics and corruption. In need of money, Mark Twain arranged for him to write his memoirs, which were finished just before his death. As a general and as a writer, but not as a politician, he may be the equal of Julius Caesar.
Miguel Hidalgo (1753-1811). The Mexican War of Independence began as a social revolution under Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. At the age of 60, in 1810, this Catholic priest led the Indians and down-trodden in a series of revolts, leading to an attempt by 80,000 peons to take Mexico City which failed. Hidalgo's efforts were carried on by Jose Maria Morelos, who also failed. Independence was finally achieved by Augustin de Iturbide in 1821.
Sam Houston (1793-1863). Houston led 800 Texans to victory over the Mexican army at San Jacinto in 1836. He was elected President of the Republic of Texas from 1836 to 1838, and again in 1841 to 1844. After Texas became a state Houston was elected Governor of Texas from 1859 to 1861, but he was removed from office for refusing to join the Confederacy.
Benito Juarez (1806-1872). A full-blooded Zapotec Indian, Juarez fought against foreign occupation of Mexico under the emperor Maximilian. As the leader of the liberals from 1855 to 1872, with several terms as president, Juarez was particularly concerned with educating the Indians and reducing the financial holdings of the Catholic church. His domestic reforms, which freed Mexico from the most flagrant remnants of colonialism, and his leadership against the French make him one of the great figures of Mexican history.
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870). Lee was chief-of-staff to Winfield Scott during the Mexican War; he was a brilliant reconnaissance officer. He rose to prominence in the Civil War as a Virginian fighting for the Southern cause. The victor at the second battle of Bull Run (1862) and Chancellorsville (1863), he failed in his strategy to penetrate the north, most notably at Gettysburg. As the commander of the Confederate forces he surrendered to Grant, a fellow junior officer in the Mexican War, at the Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, ending the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, after the Mexican War was declared; but he nonetheless introducing a series of "spot resolutions," which questioned the legality of the war. He did not stand for reelection. In 1858 he gained prominence in Illinois in Senatorial campaign debates with Stephen Douglas over the issue of slavery. He was the first Republican elected to the Presidency in 1860, serving as the 16th President from 1861 to 1865 throughout the Civil War. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth.
Mexico City. Founded on the site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire which was itself founded in 1325. Once an island in a lake, Mexico City is now the largest city in the western hemisphere.
Mexico. In the 300 year colonial period which followed the conquest by Cortez, Mexico was part of the vice-royalty of New Spain. Mexico broke away from Spain at the same time as the South America colonies. Two insurrections, one led by Hidalgo in 1810 and the other led by Morelos in 1814, were crushed, but guerrilla leader Guerrero and Augustin de Iturbide, a former Spanish officer, negotiated a status quo independence from Spain in 1821. A federal constitution modeled after that of the United States was adopted in 1824.
In 1833 a liberal revolt placed Santa Anna in power; he was in and out of power for the next thirty years. As a result of the war with the United States of 1846-1848, Mexico lost the northern half of her land, which was sparsely populated.
In 1857 a new constitution was promulgated as the basis for La Reforma ("The Reform"), led by Benito Juarez, in an effort to abolish the remnants of colonialism. After an attempt by France to establish a monarchy in Mexico, Jaurez became the president of Mexico. In 1876 Porfirio Diaz established a long conservative reign, which lasted until 1910.
In 1910-1917, the Great Revolution, led by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata and others, changed the country permanently, and a revolutionary party, the PRI, was established in 1929 which was only unseated in 2000 by Vicente Fox. The PRI instituted a wide range of social and economic reforms, placing a heavy emphasis on economic growth, especially petroleum production, following World War II.
Mormons, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This evangelical religious sect was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith in upper New York. Smith claimed to have received divine revelations which included a visionary pre-Columbian history of the Americas to AD 60. The Mormon text has an almost supernatural correlation with the much later discoveries of Mayan civilization in Central America.
The Mormons were persecuted in the east and Smith was murdered. Brigham Young became the leader, transferring the movement to the Great Salt Lake in 1847, in what would become the state of Utah. A brigade of Mormons fought for the United States in the Mexican War, following Kearny to California and establishing a Mormon presence in San Bernadino and San Diego.
James K. Polk (1795-1849). Polk was a Congressman from Tennessee from 1825 to 1839. He was associated with Andrew Jackson. The first dark horse candidate for President, he was elected as a Democrat in 1844 as the 11th President (1845-1849). A fervent believer in manifest destiny, he almost completed the continental United States by obtaining the Oregon Territory from Britain in 1845 and the southwest from Mexico in 1848. (Leaving only the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 for completion.) He reestablished the Independent Treasury System.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876). As a young military officer Santa Anna instigated the revolt against Iturbide's empire, turning the new state of Mexico into a republic. Santa Anna dominated Mexican history for the next thirty years. He had four separate terms as President: 1833-1836, 1841-1844, 1846-1847, 1853-1857. An incredibly energetic opportunist, he was the classic Latin American caudillo, the strongman who is at once the leading military figure, the president of the country, and the leading business man.
Winfield Scott (1786-1866). Scott rose to prominence in the War of 1812. He was the supreme commander of the U.S. Army from 1841 to 1861, spending his time between Washington and West Point, where his textbook on military tactics was studied by Grant and others, for whom Scott's expedition against Mexico City, which ended the Mexican War, was a post-graduate course in the application of strategy and tactics. He was dismissed by President Polk after the war to render him harmless in the Presidential race of 1848 which was won by Zachary Taylor. Scott ran as the first Republican candidate for President in 1852 but lost. He was the supreme commander at the beginning of the Civil War, but he resigned in 1861.
South America. For 300 years Central and South America were ruled by Spain and Portugal. The larger Spanish area was divided into four vice-Royalties: New Spain (Mexico and Central America), New Granada (Columbia and Venezuela), Peru, and Rio de la Plata (Argentina). Portugal ruled Brazil. In this colonial period conditions were feudal and the Catholic church was supreme. Slavery was extensive, especially in Brazil, and the Indians were exploited, though intermarriage with the Spanish was extensive.
In the Wars of Independence (1810-1824), Simon Bolivar and San Martin led armies which liberated South America. The former Spanish colonies broke up into smaller nations. Brazil gained independence without violence or breaking into smaller pieces. Unfortunately, the subsequent history of South American is one of commercial exploitation by Britain and the United States, with revolutions, dictatorships, and reform movements alternating in rapid succession in each nation.
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850). Taylor served in Indian military campaigns until, at the age of 60, he assumed command of the initial army fighting the Mexican War. Despite the attempts of President Polk, Taylor, who was a Whig, became the 12th U.S. President, following Polk. He was a fair and judicious President until his death in office in 1850, caused by eating too many cucumbers at a Washington social gathering.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Thoreau is one of the major writers and philosophers of America. An early environmentalist, his book WALDEN (1854) chronicles his experiment in living alone in the country to escape the materialism and frustrations of society. ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE (1849), written to justify his protest against the Mexican War, condemns profit-seeking, industry, and urban civilization. Read and put into practice by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Thoreau is the inspiration of the protest movement of the sixties and of today.
Tenochtitlan. According to legend, the Aztec gods told their followers to settle where they saw an eagle on a cactus holding a snake. This sign occurred on an island in Lake Texcoco, and so it became the Aztec ritual and political center, renamed Mexico by Cortez. The sign is in the center of the Mexican flag.
Pancho Villa (1878-1923). Villa, of peasant upbringing, joined Madera's uprising against the dictator Diaz in 1909. Villa formed a military band-- the Division of the North-- in the Great Revolution. He was initially allied with Caranza but later joined up with Zapata. Villa crossed and recrossed the Rio Grande border with America with impunity; a punitive expedition under General Pershing sent into Mexico by President Wilson failed to capture him. He was assassinated in 1923.
Emiliano Zapata (c. 1879-1919). After the overthrowal of Diaz in 1910, Zapata led an independent Indian movement fighting for agrarian reform. He occupied Mexico City three times. He was assassinated by an agent of Caranza.
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