The Federalist Republic, 1824-36

The Federalist Republic, 1824-36

After the fall of the empire, a provisional government was installed consisting of Bravo, Victoria, and Pedro Celestino Negrete. Delegates were elected to the Constitutional Congress that entered into session on November 27, 1823. The congress had two major factions: the federalists, who feared control from a conservative Mexico City and were supported by liberal criollos and mestizos; and the more conservative centralists, who preferred the rule of tradition and drew their allegiance from the clergy, conservative criollos, the landowners, and the military.

Although the federalist forces largely prevailed in writing the new constitution, the centralists won three major concessions. The constitution of 1824, which was strongly influenced by the United States constitution and Mexico's legislative relationship with Spain since 1810, established the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) as a federal republic composed of nineteen states and four territories (see Constitutional History, ch. 4). Power was distributed among executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Legislative power was wielded by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, while executive power was exercised by a president and a vice president elected by the state legislatures for four-year terms. In spite of the liberal outlook of the constitution, certain traditional privileges were maintained: Roman Catholicism remained the official religion, the fueros were retained by the military and clergy, and in national emergencies the president could exercise unlimited powers.

During the administration of Mexico's first president, Guadalupe Victoria, economic conditions worsened as government expenditures soared beyond revenues. Declining economic conditions convinced the criollos that there was more behind the economic decline than bad management by peninsulares . One of the government's major burdens was the assumption of all debts contracted during the late colonial period and the empire, a substantial sum. The government's ability to service the debt was severely constrained by the costs of maintaining a 50,000-strong standing army and the insufficiency of revenues generated by tariffs, taxes, and government monopolies. To cover the shortfall, Victoria accepted two large loans on stiff terms from British merchant houses. The British had supported independence movements in Spanish colonies and saw the loans as an opportunity to further displace Spain as the New World's dominant mercantile power.

Mexico's financial crisis was overshadowed in 1827 by a conservative rebellion led by Vice President Bravo. The revolt was quickly suppressed by generals Santa Anna and Guerrero, but political tensions remained high as the presidential elections of 1828 approached. The September 1828 elections pitted General Guerrero as the liberal candidate for the federalists against conservative Manuel Gómez Pedraza, who had served as secretary of war in Victoria's bipartisan cabinet. The voting results from the state legislatures showed Gómez Pedraza to be the winner in ten of the nineteen states, but the liberals refused to turn over the government, claiming that Gómez Pedraza had used his authority over the army to pressure the states into voting in his favor. A period of confusion ensued as two rival governments and their respective military factions battled over the presidential succession. The liberals finally emerged victorious after Gómez Pedraza abandoned the presidential palace under sustained pressure from rebels commanded by Santa Anna and Lorenzo de Zavala.

President Guerrero took power over a liberal government shrouded in questionable legality and dependent upon the loyalty of the military. Immediately upon assuming office, Guerrero experienced his first major crisis when the Spanish attempted to retake Mexico. A Spanish force of 3,000 soldiers under the command of General Isidro Barradas landed at Tampico in July 1829. Guerrero sent Santa Anna to dislodge the Spanish force in August, but the Mexican general could not launch an effective assault and instead dug in for a siege. Cut off from supplies and weakened by disease, the Spanish surrendered to the Mexicans in October. In the aftermath of the Spanish withdrawal, Santa Anna was widely hailed as the savior of the republic.

With the Spanish threat gone, Guerrero enacted several liberal reforms, including the abolition of slavery in September 1829. His forceful style of governing, made possible by his retention of emergency presidential powers obtained during the Spanish invasion, gave the conservatives renewed cause to rebel. In early 1830, the conservative vice president, Anastasio Bustamante, led a successful military-backed revolt against Guerrero and installed himself as Mexico's third president. While attempting to flee the country in January 1831, Guerrero was captured and executed by government soldiers on Bustamante's orders. Bustamante's conservative government was highly unpopular and repressive. In early 1832, Santa Anna denounced Bustamante in Veracruz, occupied the city, and appropriated its custom revenues. Santa Anna's defiance spurred additional revolts throughout the states, leading to the eventual collapse of the conservative government and the return of the liberals.

The highly popular Santa Anna was elected president under the liberal banner in early 1833. Instead of assuming office, however, he withdrew into semiretirement and delegated the presidency to his vice president, Valentín Gómez Farías. The liberal Gómez Farías government was strongly reformist, to the detriment of traditional church and military privileges. Among its reforms, the new administration decreed that payment of tithes would no longer be compulsory, and it transferred to the nation the right to make ecclesiastical appointments. In addition, Gómez Farías reduced the size of the army and eliminated its fueros .

Gómez Farías's far-reaching reforms drew a characteristically strong response from conservative elites, the army, and the church hierarchy. Under the banner of religión y fueros , the inevitable conservative backlash gained strength throughout the winter of 1833. In April 1834, Santa Anna abandoned the liberal cause and deposed Gómez Farías. The renowned general promptly dismissed congress and assumed dictatorial powers, bringing an end to liberal rule under the federal republic.


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