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Antonio Lopéz de Santa Anna: the accidental feminist

26 August 2016

On 20 July 1848, at Seneca Falls, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton read to the approval of the first Women’s Rights Convention the “Declaration of Sentiments”.  Among the complaints of women in the United States was that the laws made by men “made her, if married, civilly dead”.

Santa_Anna-1The Women’s Rights Convention was less than five months after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been signed, ceding to the United States among others the future states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.  While a good part of the American annexation was “thanks”, in large part to General Santa Anna’s not-so-brilliant generalship, it was — as Santa Anna would later claim in his memoirs — a necessary separation, given the difficulty of managing territory too far from the Mexican heartland to be effectively managed.   Or, the Mexican patriarch was having his revenge on gringo patriarchy.

When the Mexicans withdrew, they left behind something women in the “old” United States had never enjoyed, and exactly what Mrs. Stanton had complained about in Seneca Falls:  under Mexican law, a married woman was not “civilly dead”.  She might be wounded, but still lived and breathed.

The rights of Mexican women were, like everywhere else, restricted, of course: but, in Mexico (and most civil law nations) a married woman did not completely lose her identity, nor her economic rights.  Unlike English Common Law (which was the basis of the United States legal codes), when a woman married, there was “coverture”:  she surrendered all her legal rights and assets to her husband.  Under Roman Law, and the later Spanish and Mexican codes, married women maintained there separate identity in the law (one reason a married woman does not legally assume her husband’s surname), although a husband could make financial decisions on behalf of his wife in most instances.  The exception was when the marriage contract specifically separated the assets brought into a marriage (usually a dowry).   Otherwise, all assets were “community property”… the community being the husband and wife.

What Mrs. Stanton and her posse were decrying as an injustice in 1849 had never been part of the legal code in the Stantonnew territories (nor in Louisiana, which had Spanish marriage laws, although the territory had briefly returned to French control before being annexed by the United States*) .  If you want to know How The West Was Won,  it was that several of the new territories, but simply adopting the existing marriage laws, made settlement more attractive to single women, which made it more probable that the single men would stick around.  A few, like Utah and Wyoming… neither seeing it likely to have the 60,000 male voters required to apply for statehood,  saw in the Mexican marriage laws that preserved a woman’s identity as an independent economic person, a shortcut to statehood:  both granting women the vote in 1870.

* As Stanley Kowalski said (slightly incorrectly, but close enough) in A Streetcar Named Desire:  “Now we got here in the state of Louisiana what’s known as the Napoleonic code. You see, now according to that, what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband also, and vice versa.”



Matsuda, Mari J.  “The West and the Legal Status of Women: Explanations of Frontier Feminism” (Journal of the West 24 (1985): 47-56

Lopéz de Santa Anna, Antonio.  The Eagle (Austin, State House Press, 1988)

Declaration of Sentiments (1849)

Allesandri Rodríguez, Arturo.  “De los Régimines Matrimoniales en Genera”l.  Cuadernos Juridicos y Sociales IX (Santiago: Universidad de Chile, nd).


Mexico in the middle

25 August 2016

I don’t know why this should be — other than they were smart enough to hire Franc Contreras — but some of the best coverage of Latin America comes not from the other Americas to the north, but from China.

From CCTV America:


Mad Max for Mex? … and the Russians are coming!

20 August 2016

Continuing the saga of the French intervention:

To save the “Latin” people, [Napoléon III’s] choice [for a Mexican Emperor] would fall on a German-speaking prince: Archduke Maximilian von Hapsburg of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

Will work for title.

Will work for title.

It is fairly simple to understand Napoléon’s reasons for backing the Mexican monarchists. Making sense of the belief that Maximilian was the right person to assume the Mexican crown is a bit more difficult. Although he could claim direct descent from the first Carlos, and had none of the obvious mental or physical defects that plagued another ancestor, Carlos the Second, he lacked the energy of the Bourbon Carlos III.  Given tendency to neglect affairs of state while pursuing scientific and artistic interests he might, at best, follow in the tradition of the hapless Carlos IV.

As the second son, Maximilian’s prospects for any sort of meaningful position disappeared when his older brother, the Emperor Franz Josef had a son in 1858. No longer the next in line for the throne, Max tried to find something meaningful. His birth entitled him to command the Austrian navy, but Austria had very little need for a navy Maximilian’s only important naval assignment had been a visit to Brazil. , where he was supposed to be married off to a Brazilian princess, and — with any luck — have a son who might be in line to inherit the Brazilian throne1. That ended tragically when the Brazilian princess died on the voyage back to Austria. But, based on his visit, and having been the fiance of a Brazilian, Maximilian decided he was an expert on the Americas. He’d even written a book about his adventures and had no trouble finding a publisher.

His next assignment, meant to keep him occupied, had been as viceroy of Austrian-ruled northern Italy. The several different nations that had existed on the Italian peninsula at the beginning of the century had been consolidating throughout the century, and a sense that Italy should be ruled by Italians had turned to guerilla warfare against the Austrians by the time Maximilian arrived in 1857. Although he and his wife Charlotte had managed to make themselves personally popular with the local elites, learning Italian, inviting Italians to join his government and encouraging Italian artists and writers, his subjects saw him as well-meaning, but inept. Not having the stomach to crack down on the dissidents, and ignoring growing threats to his realm (Austria and the largest of the Italian States, Sardinia, would go to war in 1860), the Austrian government wanted to replace him. But, as the Emperor’s brother, he couldn’t just be recalled, but something had to be done about the Italian problem.

CarlotaMoreover, Franz Josef recognized that his brother had “issues”. Specifically, he couldn’t control money—he was continually overspending his extremely generous allowance from the Imperial treasury on building projects or by buying up artwork—and he seemed to have trouble dealing with stress. Maximilian had what appeared to be nervous breakdowns or just become uncommunicative when forced to make difficult decisions. And, it was whispered, there was something physically wrong. Although he had been married since 1857 to his cousin, Charlotte of Belgium, there were no children from the marriage and it was rumored they slept in separate beds.

Charlotte, the daughter of the ambitious king of Belgium, Leopold, granddaughter of the last queen of France and Queen Victoria of England’s first cousin was not happy being only the sister-in-law of the Emperor of Austria, and at most expected to breed a few spare aristocrats. She believed she should be at least a queen. An empress would be even better.

Charlotte longed to be a queen; Franz Josef wanted his brother eased out of the Austrian ruling circles; Napoléon III wanted a patsy. And there was one more European player: Pope Pius IX. The Pope was fighting his own war against Italian guerrillas. The once important Papal States held on only because the French Army was stationed in Rome, and would soon disappear from the map. Although considered a liberal and political reformer, when it came to the Church, Pius was dead-set against any regime that might curtail the Church’s traditional rights. The French revolution having nearly destroyed the Church, and only the first Emperor Napoleón had saved it; France, and another Napoleón had to come to the Pope’s rescue when the short-lived Roman Republic ran Pius out of his own kingdom. The Mexican Republic and the Juárez government had radically reduced the Church’s power, not only separating Church and State but seizing the Church’s properties. Having seen monarchs as the defenders of the faith, and France willing to commit troops to the Church’s defense, the Pope was more than willing to assist Napoléon III’s scheme.

PiusThe Mexican conservatives wanted a strong central government that would restore them to power. The Pope and Eugenia wanted to strengthen the Church. Charlotte wanted a crown. Franz Josef wanted his younger brother eased out of Italy and out of a possible future as ruler of Austria. Napoleón III wanted to make money out of his occupation of México. Maximilian wanted an election!

The French occupation was much more expensive and bloody than Napoleón expected. Winfield Scott had invaded with ten thousand men, and the United States Army of the 1840s was considered one of the world’s worst by the standards of the time. The French Army in the 1860s was the world’s best, and four thousand soldiers should have been more than enough. The army bogged down attempting to capture Puebla, which Archbishop Labastida had assured Napoleón was overwhelmingly conservative and would welcome the French without a fight. On 5 May 1862, Mexican troops, led by Ignacio Zaragoza surprised themselves and beat the best army in the world.2 The French replaced their commander and sent thirty thousand reinforcements. It would take them another year to subdue Puebla, and then only after fierce house-to-house combat.

Although Juárez would declare Cinco de Mayo a holiday in commemoration of Zaragoza’s surprise victory in the first battle of Puebla, its real importance was in the United States. In May 1862, the United States’ civil war was going very badly for the Union. France and England had been giving serious consideration to granting the Confederacy full diplomatic recognition and even mulling over the possibility of providing military support. With the Mexican Republic forcing the French to commit more and more troops to Mexico, they couldn’t send men and equipment to the Confederates. Prussia, and Russia, both rivals to England and France, offered support to the Union, and the Russians even sent a naval fleet to protect San Francisco and New York, and to keep the British from even considering giving naval support to the Confederacy. With the possibility of a Russian confrontation with the British or French only a decade after the two had been at war in the Crimea, with the possibility of the Prussians joining in on the Russian side, ended any consideration of military intervention in the American civil war.

The few, the proud, the dead.

The few, the proud, the dead.

And, although the Battle of Puebla is better known, perhaps more important was the action in the small village of Camarón de Tejada (in present day Veracruz State), in the build-up to the French re-invasion of Puebla. On 30 April 1863, the rag-tag Mexicans gave the French invaders a taste of what they could expect in the way of resistance to the invaders. A French Foreign Legion detachment was annihilated by villagers armed with a mixture of weapons from the previous thirty years of warfare and ordinary farm tools. The Foreign Legion was (and still is) an elite “Special Forces” unit recruited from foreigners who need or want to change their identity and become French citizens. The angry Mexicans cornered sixty-four of the elite fighters in a barn, set fire to it and shot the invaders who refused to surrender. They wiped out all but four of the Legionnaires. The French officer had an artificial hand; the French Foreign Legion preserves the hand as a precious relic. The Legionnaires are probably the only fighting force to celebrate a defeat. Every 30 April, the Legion—with solemn military pomp—displays their fallen leader’s artificial hand and holds a parade in honor of the Poles, Italians and other non-Frenchmen who were slaughtered by Mexican villagers while fighting to install an Austrian emperor for the greater glory of France.

With still more troops, the French were finally able to claim control. Only after Zaragoza died of typhoid were they able, in March 1863, to capture the supposedly conservative, pro-church Puebla, and the city was nearly destroyed in house to house combat. Once more, President Juárez had to ask for emergency power, and once more, Congress had fled the capital. With the foreigners in control of most of the major cities, the French organized Maximilian’s elections, with voting limited to “notables”. Not surprisingly, Maximilian was elected Emperor of México.

1 When the first Napoléon invaded the Iberian peninsula, the entire Portuguese government fled to Brazil. At the end of the French occupation, the Brazilians declared independence, but kept the monarchy. Emperor Pedro’s only son died as an infant.  As in most European monarchies, a male heir, even if only a nephew, takes precedence over female heirs.

2 Some discount the Mexican victory, giving credit not to Zaragoza, but to either a timely rainstorm or “Montezuma’s Revenge”. Both sides suffered from dysentery, but Zaragoza’s military tactics are still considered a classic defensive strategy.

What a tangled web we weave, when debts we seek to retrieve

17 August 2016

In revising Gods, Gachupines and Gringos I have been filling in the “back-story” on some of the more inexplicable events in Mexican history, one of which was the selection of an Austrian archduke by a French Emperor to be the would be ruler of Mexico. 

The concept of monarchism itself doesn’t always make much sense to those of us outside those few countries that still have monarchs (and not even to most people in those countries), and why anyone thought Maximilian Hapsburg was ideal for the job still doesn’t make sense, but I’ll get there … eventually.  In the meantime, how the whole fantastical idea came together warrants a longer explanation than I gave in the first edition. 

Better call Benito!

Better call Benito!

After thirty years of mismanagement, foreign invasion and civil war, México had a bankruptcy lawyer as president. The Church land sales hadn’t brought in nearly the funds needed—with the Reform War, the government had been forced to sell land for whatever it could get. Like any lawyer representing an honest debtor, Juárez sought to negotiate with his creditors for more time.

The new government was willing to acknowledge the debts that it inherited from the past governments, but it was going to have to stop payments for the next two years. The United States would wait. They were on the verge of their own civil war and in no position to collect, nor could not afford an unfriendly nation on their border.


In The United States the Civil War was seen by many as “God’s punishment” for their own recent invasion of México, which was only one factor in its willingness to write down, or defer repayment of old debts. More importantly, the United States wanted to end the rebellion by economically isolating the Confederacy, which depended almost entirely on cotton exports for its revenue. Although the United State Navy could effectively blockade southern ports, the Confederates had access to their French and British buyers exporting cotton overland from Texas to Mexican ports. A friendly government in Mexico, was essential to the Lincoln Administration’s war aims.

England and France, both supporting the Confederacy, along with Spain and Prussia, were less forgiving. The four European powers “demanded” that México reform its government (which was the whole point of the new Republic under the 1857 Constitution) and pay off the debts incurred by the previous governments: immediately. Doing both at once was impossible.

The IMF's spiritual godfather, Jean-Baptiste Jecker.

The IMF’s spiritual godfather, Jean-Baptiste Jecker.

Most of the French debt was in the form of bonds, held by a Swiss banker, Jean-Baptiste Jecker. Like a modern “vulture fund1” manager, Jecker was not concerned about how the debt was repaid, or who collected it. That he was Swiss was of minor consideration. He took on a partner, the Duc de Morny, conveniently the step-brother of the French Emperor, Napoléon III 2. Should Jecker’s bonds be considered part of the French debt, and France, together with England and Spain, were to force Mexico to pay off those old bonds, Morny (and his step-brother) would turn a nice profit… all they had to do was make Jecker a French citizen. Done.

With Prussia — for unrelated reasons, friendly to the United States (and, seeing an economically stable México as a potential customer for its own growing manufacturing sector) — pulling out, the three remaining powers agreed to cooperate in the standard 19th century way of international bill collecting: taking over a few ports and pocketing the customs duties. While it would slow the recovery, the Mexicans — being in no position to militarily resist — agreed, withdrawing their naval and land forces from Veracruz and allowing a joint expedition to occupy the port in December 1861.

With the return of the yellow fever season, the Mexicans offered to temporarily move the foreign troops to a healthier climate, a move seen by theEnglish and Spanish negotiators as evidence that the Juárez government had been negotiating in good faith and doing the best they could under the circumstances.

Humiliating the Mexican government, or economically punishing them further, really wasn’t in their own interest anyway. Spaniards, after the restoration of relations in the late 1830s, had been returning to México and were again active in the business community. English-owned mines and haciendas were again showing profits. If this honest government collapsed there was no telling when they would be repaid, or if their citizens would be safe. The British and the Spanish sailed home, only to realize their governments had been used, out-smarted by Napoléon III.

Claude Raines and Gayle Sondergaard recreate (and simplify) French geopolitical machinations in the 1939 MGM production "Juarez"

Claude Raines and Gayle Sondergaard recreate (and simplify) French geopolitical machinations in the 1939 MGM production “Juarez”

Like his famous uncle, Napoleón III had ambitious plans to expand French power. With conquering swaths of Europe out of the question, he had focused on establishing colonies in Indochina and Africa. México was a tempting target for several reasons. The Pastry War had made France a laughingstock in Europe; Mexican silver mines and farms appeared to be a good investment; the United States, in the middle of its own civil war, was in no position to interfere and, for years, Paris had been the favorite refuge of Mexican exiles, both relics of the brief Iturbide empire, and “ultramontanists” — the extremist Catholics who pined for the old days when Church and State were one and the people unquestioningly obeyed their betters. The most prominent of the latter was the Archbishop of Mexico City himself, Pelagio Labastida. Having failed, despite his best efforts (and massive financial support) to prevent the Liberals from imposing Ocampo’s reforms, Labastida had exiled himself to Paris in 1857. He had his own connections to Napoléon III, having become a favorite of the ultramontane, Spanish-born Empress Eugenia3.

Others, like Juan Almonte, Morelos’ son who had made a name for himself as Santa Anna’s second-in-command, but had never given up his father’s dream of a racially egalitarian state, made the argument that a foreigner—not criollo, not mestizo, not indigenous—owing allegiance to no one but the state was the only way to create social equality. And, there were the rich criollos who simply craved stability, if it preserved their own fortunes.

A toutes les gloires de la France.

A toutes les gloires de la France.

And, the French textile industry needed cotton. A new Confederate States would be an ideal supplier. A convergence of interests — Napoléon’s brother’s financial investments, the Emperor’s own ambitions, the needs of French industry, the Empress’ religious convictions, the pan-European interest in stabilizing Mexico — made it worth calling in the Mexican exiles. Inventing the term “Latin America”, Napoléon could claim he was not looking at conquest, but that the powerful French military machine had a duty to protect those “Latin” (as in formerly ruled by Spain, which had been under the Roman Empire and was Roman Catholic, i.e., spoke a language descended from Latin) against the perfidious middle-class traditions and Protestantism of the English-speaking Americas: the United States and Great Britain in particular. Beefing up his military force in Veracruz, he began looking for a suitable candidate to act as his tool in Mexico. To save the “Latin” people, his choice would fall on a German-speaking prince.

1 A vulture fund buys up “bad debt”… usually bonds… at a discount, and pressure the issuer to repay the debt at the original value, or at least at something much higher than the “vulture” paid for the debts.

2 THE Napoleón abdicated in 1815. Napoleon II was the famous Napoléon’s four-year old son, “technically” the Emperor for a few days, while the Bourbon family, thrown out in 1794, figured out which of their surviving relatives was the next king. Another revolution in 1830 threw out the Bourbons, but kept the monarchy, putting a Bourbon cousin, Louis Philippe d’Orleans, on the throne. A THIRD revolution threw out the monarchy in 1848. Louis Napoleón, a nephew of the first Napoleon, did Santa Anna one better. He had staged a failed coup, he made a political comeback to be elected President of France in 1852, then overthrew his own government, making himself Emperor Napoleón III. México was not the only unstable country in the early 19th century.

3 Eugenia had a somewhat dubious background for an aristocrat. Her mother was a Scottish barmaid, who married an elderly Spanish nobleman. He died bankrupt, but, he left a title to his daughter noble enough among the older aristocratic families of Europe for whom the Bonaparte family were seen as upstarts and poseurs, to make her husband’s assumption of the title of Emperor acceptable.

Music for the occasion

7 August 2016

One of Don Porfirio’s favorites:

Carlos IV, we hardly knew ye

6 August 2016

In updating Gods, Gachupine, and Gringos, I’ve had to rethink some of my opinions.  I was too dismissive of Carlos IV in my first edition, describing him a a particularly clueless monarch.  While he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, whether by accident or design, he managed to have a huge impact on culture and science that needs to be mentioned. 

A draft from GGG, the reboot:

Carlos IV and family, 1800.  Franciso Goya.

Carlos IV and family, 1800. Franciso Goya.

Carlos the First gave México a Spanish government and instituted effective rule. Carlos the Second was an incompetent, but the bureaucracy was able to survive. Carlos the Third reorganized México, sending both Viceroy Bucarelli and Inspector Galvez to reorganize the colony. The reign of Carlos IV would mark the end of Spain’s dominance in the America.

The Spanish Empire was at its greatest extent during his reign, and Mexican cultural activity was at its height. The sheer size of the realm when Carlos came to the throne was still uncertain. The Malspina Expedition of 1789-1791 attempted to get some sense of what exactly was out there. As much concerned with discovering where the exact boundaries of the Empire were as anything, the expedition included a cadre of scientists, looking first for whatever natural resources might have been overlooked, who, in the course of things, discovered numerous new plant and animal species both in the Americas and in the Pacific. Hearing rumors from the Spanish Ambassdor to Moscow about Russian colonies somewhere north of New Spain, a side expedition was launched from Acapulco to find out what the Russians were up to in the Americas. Alaska turned out to be much further north of California than anyone realized, and the Russian fur trading posts were no threat, but the expedition did map the north Pacific, brought back samples of plants and animals unknown to science at the time, and… at least the first scientific mention of a man-like hairy creature the indigenious Alaskans said was sighted now and again, but greatly to be feared. Although he didn’t take the stories seriously, we have the expedition’s science officer, Moziño Suárez, to thank (or blame) for first describing the mysterious Sasquatch or Big Foot.

Alexander Douglas Studio

Alexander Douglas Studio

While the Malspina Expedition of 1794-98 expanded our knowledge of geography and biology, a smaller expedition of 1799 had a much greater impact on science, and on México itself. Aboard the Pizzaro was a young Prussian nobleman and geologist, who had been thwarted in his attempts to join a French expedition the previous year, Alexander von Humbolt.

Humbolt’s voyages throughout Spanish-America would turn out to be one of the most important contributions to science, and to our general understanding of the world ever. Although a geologist, between Humboldt and his assistant, Aimée Bonpland, their research laid the foundations for all modern earth sciences, biology (including theories later refined by Charles Darwin) and ecology. As well as studies of economics, anthropology, and political science he committed to paper during his stay in México City in 1803. His Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain , published just as México achieved independence would have a profound impact on the furture nation, mostly because when it was published in 18091, it opened the eyes of business interests in Europe and the new United States to the natural wealth of México specifically and Latin America in general.

1803 was also the year Carlos sent out an new expedition of conquest … but, not, like those of Isabella, of people or territory. The Balmis Expedition had one mission… to conquer smallpox. The deadly disease that had started the holocaust in the Americas at the time of the Conquest was still the world’s worst disease, and was devastating the colonies. One of Carlos’ America’s adviser, José Flores, a doctor from Chiapas, suggested not only inoculating the army ( George Washington had tried to have all Continental soldiers inoculated during the American Revolution, and Carlos’ orders to inoculate his own army was a relatively simple matter of giving an order) but of inoculating as many people in the Empire as possible.

balmis_historia-256x180Carlos signed his decree on 28 June 1802. It gave Dr. Francisco Xavier Balmis absolute authority, putting not just a single ship under his command, but ordering all civil, military and clerical officials throughout the Spanish Empire to obey the doctor’s orders. With no way to keep the vaccine fresh available at the time, the crew included 22 Spanish orphans under the care of the only woman on the voyage, Isabel de Zenada y Gomez. Her job was to vaccinate the children one by one. Smallpox vaccine is another disease, cowpox, that raises a small blister but is otherwise harmless. As each child became infected, pus from the infection was used to inoculate the next child, and so on. ho, one by one, were vaccinated, the harmless infection that then resulted passed to the next child and so on.

Although smallpox itself would not be completely eradicated until the 1970s, the Balmis expedition was the world’s first public health campaign, and was largely successful in reducing smallpox outbreaks to an occasional, but still to be dreaded, regional problem, instead of a chronic one throughout the world.


Carlos was honored by the “City of Palaces” (as Humboldt described México City) with a monumental sculpture … considered one of the greatest of its kind ever… designed by Manuel Tolsa, the architect and artist responsible for many of those palaces that grace central México City today. Unusually for a statue commemorating a king, Carlos is not carrying a sword, but a roll of paper… his decree authorizing the Balmis Expedition. Despite everything that would go wrong during his reign, and the contempt the Mexicans would feel towards Carlos (the only thing that saved the statue from being destroyed after independence was fondness for the horse on which Carlos sits. The model for the horse, at any rate, was a particularly handsome Mexican horse), the King does deserve credit for doing a few worthwhile things during his otherwise disastrous reign.

1 Although a German, Humboldt wrote in French (possibly influenced by his close relationship with Bonpladt, who today is assumed to have been his lover, as well as his scientific partner), had been translated into English in 1816 … while México was still in the middle of its own war of Independence.

Get around, get around, I get around…

5 August 2016

In a city of five million cars , the best way to get around is by bicycle:


I’m still in the learning stages of how to put videos together.  Not much I can do about the crappy sound quality.