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fighter on both sides of the Mexican independence movement, installer and overthrower of Presidents, and the President who led Mexico to defeat in the war with the United States
Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, Vera Cruz province, on February 21, 1794. Although his parents were by no means wealthy, they did have enough money to send him to school for a few years. He was expected to become a merchant like his father, but at age 15 he decided to join the Spanish Army instead, and was appointed cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz Infantry Regiment under the command of Joaquín de Arredondo. He received his first wound, an Indian arrow in his left arm or hand, in 1811. In 1813 he served in Texas against the Gutiérrez/Magee expedition, and at the battle of Medina he was cited for bravery.
Like most of his fellow officers in the Royalist army, Santa Anna remained loyal to Spain for a number of years and fought against the movement for Mexican independence. In 1821, however, he and several of his fellow officers switched sides to help install Agustin de Iturbide as head of an independent Mexico, for which he was rewarded with the rank of general. Santa Anna switched sides again in 1823, and led the coup that ousted Agustin in favor of General Guadalupe Victoria.
In 1828, Santa Anna used his military influence to overturn the re-election of Victoria and have the losing candidate, Vicente Guerrero, installed as President instead. While Mexico was engaged in the election turmoil, Spain decided to try and regain Mexico and sent an army, which was met and defeated by Santa Anna at Tampico in 1829. His role in helping Mexico retain its independence made Santa Anna a national hero, and the following year Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante called on the hero to help him stage a coup against Guerrero, who was subsequently executed. Santa Anna turned against Bustamante in 1832, and led a revolution that resulted in Manuel Pedraza becoming President.
In April 1833, Pedraza convened the National Congress, which then elected Santa Anna President. Santa Anna had little desire for politics, however, and he left the day-to-day task of governing to Vice-President Valentin Gómez Farias. But, when Farias tried to institute reforms that angered both the military and the church, Santa Anna led a miliary coup against his own government and retook the reins of power, in 1834. He then dissolved Congress and established dictatorial rule.
Santa Anna's rule led many Mexican states to revolt, and on March 2, 1836, American settlers in Mexican territory north of the Rio Grande declared their independece and established the Republic of Texas. On March 6, Santa Anna annihilated a band of Texas rebels at the Alamo, but he was subsequebtly defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21. Texas leader Sam Houston agreed to let Santa Anna go free on May 14, after Santa Anna signed a treaty recognizing Texas's independence. The Mexican National Congress refused to validate the treaty, however, and Santa Anna was forced to step down as President.
After several months in exile in the United States, Santa Anna was allowed to return to Mexico in 1837, and he "retired" to his home in Vera Cruz. In 1838, the Mexican government called upon Santa Anna's military leadership to fight off an invasion by the French, who were demanding financial compensation for losses suffered by French citizens. His army was able to fend off the French Army at Vera Cruz in 1839, but Santa Anna lost his left leg to cannon fire during the battle. Although Mexico was ultimately forced to give in to France's demands, Santa Anna made sure that Mexico saw him as a hero who gave up his leg while trying to defend his country.
Santa Anna became President again in October 1841, when opponents of Bustamante, who had regained the presidency during the war with France, asked him to take over. With an empty treasury and the nation in disarray, Santa Anna deemed it necessary to again assume a dictatorial rule. As had happened before, his rule led to mass dissent and revolt, and in 1844 he was forced to step down and flee to Cuba or risk being killed.
When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, Santa Anna sent a letter to U.S. President James Polk in which he promised to sell New Mexico and California to the U.S. for 30 million dollars if he regained the presidency of Mexico. Polk believed him, and agreed to let Santa Anna leave Cuba through a naval blockade. What Polk did not know was that Santa Anna had also promised Mexican President Farias that he would drive out the Americans if allowed to return to Mexico, and that Farias had agreed. Once back in country, however, Santa Anna reneged on both agreements. After declaring himself President, Santa Anna refused to let the United States have the territory he had promised to sell. On February 22, 1847, an army of 4,500 led by U.S. General Zachary Taylor landed at Buena Vista and defeated an army of 20,000 led by Santa Anna. Taylor's army went on to sweep through northern Mexico, while General Winfield Scott led another army through the heart of Mexico. The war effectively ended when Mexico City fell to Scott on September 13, 1847; Santa Anna resigned the presidency three days later, and fled the country in October.
Santa Anna spent the next few years in exile, first in Jamaica and then in Colombia. In April 1853 he was again invited by rebels to retake the government, but was overthrown for the final time in 1855. In 1864, Santa Anna, then living in Staten Island, New York, tried to get the U.S. to back him against Maximilian I, while simultaneously offering his services to the French-installed ruler; he was turned down by both sides. Finally allowed to return to Mexico under a general amnesty in 1874, Santa Anna spent the rest of his life living in near poverty and obscurity. He died in Mexico City on June 20, 1876.
This page was last updated on 02/20/2017.