December 30, 1853: Gadsden Purchase Signed in Mexico

 

Grandson of Revolutionary War hero Christopher Gadsden, creator of the Gadsden flag, James Gadsden was a southern firebrand from South Carolina.  In 1831 he supported Nullification and in 1850 he called for the secession of South Carolina on the admission of California into the Union as a free state.  In 1851 he sponsored efforts in California to split the state with southern California becoming a slave state.  Dying in 1858 he did not live to see the creation of the Confederacy or the destruction of it and slavery.

Along with his political activities Gadsden from 1840-1850 was president of the South Carolina Railroad.  He envisaged a southern transcontinental railroad linking Charleston, South Carolina to the Pacific at San Diego.  A major problem for such a railroad was that the land in the New Mexico Territory, including most of what would become Arizona, was thought to be unsuitable for the construction of the railroad.  Land south of the Gila river and west of the Rio Grande in what is today southern Arizona looked much more promising.

James Gadsden, the most unlikeliest of men for the role of diplomat, was appointed by President Franklin Pierce, ever sympathetic to southern firebrands, to attempt to negotiate a treaty with Mexico for the purchase of such land.  Santa Anna was in what would turn out to be his last term as President\Dictator of Mexico.  The negotiations began on the wrong foot when Gadsden bluntly told Santa Anna that the northern Mexican provinces would eventually secede from Mexico anyway, so he might as well sell the land to the US now.  However, Santa Anna needed money.  After considerable haggling, Santa Anna agreed to sell 38,000 square miles of desert to the US for the southern railroad.  (more…)

Published in: on December 30, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 30, 1853: Gadsden Purchase Signed in Mexico  
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American Aid to Benito Juarez

One of the more interesting periods in American-Mexican relations was during the occupation of Mexico by Napoleon III beginning in 1862, followed by the imposition of Maximilian I of Austria as Emperor of Mexico through a rigged plebiscite in 1864.  From the beginning, the Lincoln administration looked askance at the French attempt to transform Mexico into a French colony.  In the midst of Civil War all Lincoln could do was to convey his best wishes to Mexican President Benito Juarez who was carrying out a guerilla war against the French occupation.

After the War President Andrew Johnson sent General Phil Sheridan to the Rio Grande as a sign of American displeasure with the French occupation.  Secretary of State Seward, fearing a war with France, opposed attempts to pressure France or to supply the Juaristas.  Generals Grant and Sheridan, recalling with ire the desire by Emperor Maximilian to have an alliance with the Confederacy, clandestinely supplied the Juaristas with funds and weapons, Sheridan noting in his journal the supplying of 30,000 rifled muskets.  3,000 Union veterans went south of the border to join Juarista armies. Johnson privately approved all of this, even clandestinely meeting with an ambassador from Juarez, while publicly merely indicating that the US wanted France to withdraw from Mexico, and that what happened after this was a purely internal Mexican matter. (more…)

October 16, 1909: So Close to the United States

 

 

Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.

Porfirio Diaz

Of all the colorful figures that populate Mexican history, few are more colorful than Porfirio Diaz.   The scion of a devout Catholic family with ambitions to become a priest, he left the seminary to volunteer for service in 1846 in the Mexican War.  Finding life congenial as a soldier, he never returned to the seminary.  In 1846 he first met Benito Juarez and became a Liberal under his influence and example.  His career until he became President intermingled politics with the military, and he served in both the Reform War and the struggle against the French, in which he became one of the chief commanders of President Juarez.  He came to the Presidency in 1877 after leading a successful rebellion, one of several rebellions he led during his career.  He would in effect rule Mexico until the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a period known as the Porfiriato.  Mingling corruption with brute force, Diaz gave Mexico an authoritarian government that spurred rapid economic development.  Diaz remained officially an anti-clerical Liberal, but privately he was a Catholic, and under his regime the anti-clerical laws were largely a dead letter.  After the chaos that was the hallmark of Mexico in the Nineteenth Century, Diaz gave the country stability and peace.  He was a dictator but a shrewd, competent one, skillful at balancing factions and always aware that public opinion was perhaps more important in a dictatorship than in a republic.  In many ways he strikes me as a precursor of Francisco Franco, although the differences in the regimes they led are as pronounced as the similarities. (more…)

Published in: on October 16, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Aztec Eagles

In June of 1942 Mexico declared war on Japan and Germany.  The Mexican government had been clandestinely cooperating with the US war effort before this open declaration of hostilities, which was precipitated by a German U-Boat sinking the Mexican tanker Portero de Llano.  Many Mexicans crossed the border to enlist in the US Armed Forces during the War.  The Mexican military was eager to play a part in the struggle, but only one Mexican military unit would see service beyond the borders of Mexico during the War. (more…)

Published in: on April 9, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Aztec Eagles  
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Juarez

Ah the Golden Age of Hollywood! Hollywood made lots of  “historical films” during this period, usually filled with historical howlers. Juarez is one of the more accurate “historical films” of this era, the biggest howler being the complete absence of the extreme anti-clericalism of Juarez and his Liberals.  Also, the Mexican Conservatives were not the cardboard reactionary villains they are depicted as being in the film.  Alas, Emperor Maximilian was as idealistic and wooden headed as he is portrayed in the film. As one can see from the trailer, the film, released in 1939, had a definite anti-Axis theme, with Napoleon III, brilliantly portrayed by Claude Rains, as an unlikely stand-in for Hitler.

Paul Muni gives a dead-on portrayal of President Benito Juarez of Mexico.  Bette Davis, as usual, is incandescent as the Empress Carlotta as she begins her descent into madness.  Brian Aherne gives a competent portrayal of Emperor Maximilian, for which he received an oscar nomination.

 

The US opposed French intervention in Mexico from the start, but could do little in the midst of the Civil War, although Lincoln gave verbal encouragement to Juarez.  With the US distracted, the French took control of Mexico in 1862-63 and placed the Austrian Archduke Maximilian on the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximilian in 1864.  After the war in 1865 a 50,000 man army under Phil Sheridan was dispatched to the Mexican border to threaten intervention against the French and to provide arms to the Juaristas. Napoleon III took the hint and the French withdrew in 1866. The Mexicans under Juarez triumphed in 1867.  Maximilian died bravely on June 19, 1867 before a Mexican firing squad, and a very odd interlude in Mexican history was at an end.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 29, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Juarez  
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January 11, 1917: Zimmermann Telegram Sent

 

 

I assume that there must be a greater example of diplomatic folly than the Zimmermann Telegram, but I cannot think of it at the moment.  Believing that the entry of the US into the Great War was inevitable with the planned resumption by Germany of unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral shipping, the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann on January 11, 1917 sent the following telegram in code to the German ambassador to Mexico Heinrich von Eckardt:

“We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.” Signed, ZIMMERMANN

The sheer madness of this cannot be overstated.  Mexico was still in the throes of the Mexican Revolution and posed no threat to the US.  The US had recently demonstrated that it could dispatch military forces into Mexico with impunity.  Threatening the physical integrity of the US converted a far off European conflict into a direct threat against the US.  If the US did intervene in the Great War, an additional conflict with Mexico would barely resister in regard to the immense military mobilization that the US would undergo.

 

(more…)

Published in: on January 11, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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Gadsden Purchase

Grandson of Revolutionary War hero Christopher Gadsden, creator of the Gadsden flag, James Gadsden was a southern firebrand from South Carolina.  In 1831 he supported Nullification and in 1850 he called for the secession of South Carolina on the admission of California into the Union as a free state.  In 1851 he sponsored efforts in California to split the state with southern California becoming a slave state.  Dying in 1858 he did not live to see the creation of the Confederacy or the destruction of it and slavery.

Along with his political activities Gadsden from 1840-1850 was president of the South Carolina Railroad.  He envisaged a southern transcontinental railroad linking Charleston, South Carolina to the Pacific at San Diego.  A major problem for such a railroad was that the land in the New Mexico Territory, including most of what would become Arizona, was thought to be unsuitable for the construction of the railroad.  Land south of the Gila river and west of the Rio Grande in what is today southern Arizona looked much more promising.

James Gadsden, the most unlikeliest of men for the role of diplomat, was appointed by President Franklin Pierce, ever sympathetic to southern firebrands, to attempt to negotiate a treaty with Mexico for the purchase of such land.  Santa Anna was in what would turn out to be his last term as President\Dictator of Mexico.  The negotiations began on the wrong foot when Gadsden bluntly told Santa Anna that the northern Mexican provinces would eventually secede from Mexico anyway, so he might as well sell the land to the US now.  However, Santa Anna needed money.  After considerable haggling, Santa Anna agreed to sell 38,000 square miles of desert to the US for the southern railroad.  (more…)

Published in: on September 20, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (6)  
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Viva Cristo Rey

I will make it my personal mission to see that as many people view this movie as possible when it is released. A movie retelling the heroic struggle of the Cristeros deserves all the support it can get, and I hope it is a box office smash. The story of the Cristeros is the tale of the attempt by the Mexican government to crush the Catholic Church. Mexico had a long history of anti-clerical political movements prior to the revolution of 1910. However, the Mexican Revolution brought to the fore radical elements that pushed through the Constitution of 1917 with its anti-clerical articles 3, 5, 27 and 130.

In his encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque, the first of three encyclicals he wrote condemning the persecution of the Church in Mexico, Pius XI decribed the war against the Church waged by the Mexican government:

In the first place, let us examine the law of 1917, known as the “Political Constitution” of the federated republic of Mexico. For our present purposes it is sufficient to point out that after declaring the separation of Church and State the Constitution refuses to recognize in the Church, as if she were an individual devoid of any civil status, all her existing rights and interdicts to her the ac quisition of any rights whatsoever in the future. The civil authority is given the right to interfere in matters of divine worship and in the external discipline of the Church. Priests are put on the level of professional men and of laborers but with this important difference, that they must be not only Mexicans by birth and cannot exceed a certain number specified by law, but are at the same time deprived of all civil and political rights. They are thus placed in the same class with criminals and the insane. Moreover, priests not only must inform the civil authorities but also a commission of ten citizens whenever they take possession of a church or are transferred to another mission. The vows of religious, religious orders, and religious congregations are outlawed in Mexico. Public divine worship is forbidden unless it take place within the confines of a church and is carried on under the watchful eye of the Government. All church buildings have been declared the property of the state. Episcopal residences, diocesan offices, seminaries, religious houses, hospitals, and all charitable institutions have been taken away from the Church and handed over to the state. As a matter of fact, the Church can no longer own property of any kind. Everything that it possessed at the period when this law was passed has now become the property of the state. Every citizen, moreover, has the right to denounce before the law any person whom he thinks is holding in his own name property for the Church. All that is required in order to make such action legal is a mere presumption of guilt. Priests are not allowed by law to inherit property of any kind except it be from persons closely related to them by blood. With reference to marriage, the power of the Church is not recognized. Every marriage between Catholics is considered valid if contracted validly according to the prescriptions of the civil code.

 9. Education has been declared free, but with these important restrictions: both priests and religious are forbidden to open or to conduct elementary schools. It is not permitted to teach children their religion even in a private school. Diplomas or degrees conferred by private schools under control of the Church possess no legal value and are not recognized by the state. Certainly, Venerable Brothers, the men who originated, approved, and gave their sanction to such a law either are totally ignorant of what rights pertain jure divino to the Church as a perfect society, established as the ordinary means of salvation for mankind by Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer and King, to which He gave the full liberty of fulfilling her mission on earth (such ignorance seems incredible today after twenty centuries of Christianity and especially in a Catholic nation and among men who have been baptized, unless in their pride and foolishness they believe themselves able to undermine and destroy the “House of the Lord which has been solidly constructed and strongly built on the living rock”) or they have been motivated by an insane hatred to attempt anything within their power in order to harm the Church. How was it possible for the Archbishops and Bishops of Mexico to remain silent in the face of such odious laws? (more…)