General Santa Ana’s super-congress
From what I’m reading, the U.S. government is creating a fourth branch of government… a “super-congress”.
What’s so great about Super Congress? Well, they will be able to pass laws super-fast without having to be too accountable to the public. “This ‘Super Congress’…isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but would be granted extraordinary new powers.” Any new laws they approve will be fast-tracked through both chambers of “Little Congress” (our current House + Senate), where regular “little” lawmakers could not amend their laws, only give each an up or down vote. And those “little” votes are less powerful than today’s votes. The proposed Super Congress only ever needs 51% to pass any law, and they don’t need presidential approval (i.e. vetos have no effect on them).
I knew I’d heard of something like this before, and I was right: the second of the Siete leyes (Seven laws) imposed on Mexico in 1835 by General Santa Ana.
At 1824, after a brief flirtation with monarchy, Mexico wrote a very good constitution. Unfortunately, not only was the country starting out broke after a twelve-year struggle for independence and the short-lived monarchy, it was also had to balance the social aspirations of the majority with a conservative monied class, that was unwilling to pay taxes. As the country slowly imploded, Antonio López de Santa Ana had become an accidental populist leader. Although elected as a “liberal” in 1833, he was unwilling to force through radical reforms and resigned (ostensibly for health reasons) which elevated the radical liberal vice-president, Valentín Gómez Farías, to the Presidency.
Gómez Farías, although he was a physician, wasn’t so radical that he’d introduce something even vaguely close to universal health care, but he did try curbing corporate power and raising corporate taxes (which in Mexico of the 1830s, the only corporation that mattered was the Catholic Church), which, together with some educational and social reforms led the social conservatives and the corporate interests to combine in seeking to undermine his presidency. Forced to resign under threat of a coup, Santa Ana returned to the presidency via “constitutional” means… Gómez Farías was forced to step down, and the interim president signed the congressionally approved Siete Leyes on 23 October 1835, then resigned. Opening the way for Congress (under that 1824 Constitution) to appoint Santa Ana to the Presidency… again.
The “Seven Laws” had a huge impact on United States history — they internally reorganized Mexico, effectively turning a federal republic into a centralized one. For those in the Texas part of the Coahuila y Tejas, who had been working for some way to remain part of Mexico while meeting the demand for more autonomy for their region (either as a separate state or as an autonomous region within Coahuila) — like Stephen Austin — it forced many into supporting the separatist cause.
Under the Siete leyes, Mexico theoretically was still operating under the 1824 Constitution, and were not, in themselves innovations, as “clarifications”. These laws had much in common with recent laws proposed (and passed) in various U.S. states, in that they were designed to restrict voting rights (under the Siete Leys by imposing financial and literacy requirements on voters) and, while guaranteeing the same freedoms and rights of citizenship enumerated in the Constitution, codified a political system which would guarantee conservatives a permanent majority, and limit the right to change the political status quo.
The one innovation worth noting was the second of the seven laws, which created a body called the Supremo Poder Conservador… five individuals with “super-legislative powers”… and a bit more, since they could over-ride court decisions as well as legislative ones. They were — if I’m not mistaken (and I can’t find the answer at 3 AM, but will try tomorrow) — elected from the Congress — serving two-year terms, answerable only to “God, and the people”.
The war in Texas and the lesser known rebellion in the Yucatan (which very nearly became a British protectorate) aside, this did nothing to straighten out the financial mess the country was in. Where Gómez Farías had managed to get through some economic reform (forcing the church to sell off some properties, at least put them on the tax rolls, and taxes on property sales were also an important source of state revenue), including downsizing the military, the Supremo Poder Conservador and General Santa Ana — politically dependent on the Church and military establishment — reversed the policies and put Mexico ever more at the mercy of its creditors and bond-holders. Which, would, in a few years, mean the loss of a third of the nation’s territory.
Sources: Huffington Post; Daily Kos; Liberal Propaganda; Red Escolar, Efermides (Octubre); Siete Leyes Constitucionales de 1836 (Librería virtual de Tlahui); Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico (Grabman, Editorial Mazatlán, 2008); Lone Star Nation (Brands, Doubleday, 2004), The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Anna (Crawford, ed., State House Press, 1988)