June 22

This Day in History

Old West

Jun 22, 1876:

General Santa Anna dies in Mexico City

Embittered and impoverished, the once mighty Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna dies in Mexico City.

Born in 1792 at Jalapa, Vera Cruz, Mexico, Santa Anna was the son of middle-class parents. As a teen, he won a commission in the Spanish army and might have been expected to live out an unspectacular career as a middle-level army officer. However, the young Santa Anna quickly distinguished himself as a capable fighter and leader, and after 1821, he gained national prominence in the successful Mexican war for independence from Spain. In 1833, he won election to the presidency of the independent republic of Mexico by an overwhelming popular majority. His dedication to the ideal of a democratic role proved weak, though, and he proclaimed himself dictator in 1835.

Santa Anna's assumption of dictatorial power over Mexico brought him into direct conflict with a growing movement for independence in the Mexican state of Texas. During the 1820s and 1830s, large numbers of Euro-Americans had settled in the area of Texas, and many of them remained more loyal to the United States than to their distant rulers in Mexico City. Some viewed Santa Anna's overthrow of the Mexican Republic as an opportunity to break away and form an independent Republic of Texas that might one day become an American state.

Determined to crush the Texas rebels, Santa Anna took command of the Mexican army that invaded Texas in 1836. His forces successfully defeated the Texas rebels at the Alamo, and he personally ordered the execution of 400 Texan prisoners after the Battle of Goliad. However, these two victories planted the seeds for Santa Anna's defeat. "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad" became the rallying cries for a reinvigorated Texan army. Lulled into overconfidence by his initial easy victories, Santa Anna was taken by surprise at San Jacinto, and his army was annihilated on April 21, 1836. The captured Santa Anna, fearing execution, willingly signed an order calling for all Mexican troops to withdraw. Texas became an independent republic.

Deposed during his captivity with the Texan rebels, Santa Anna returned to Mexico a powerless man. During the next two decades, however, the highly unstable political situation in Mexico provided him with several opportunities to regain-and again lose-his dictatorial power. All told, he became the head of the Mexican government 11 times. Overthrown for the last time in 1855, he spent the remaining two decades of his life scheming with elements in Mexico, the United States, and France to stage a comeback.

Although he was clearly a brilliant political opportunist, Santa Anna was ultimately loyal only to himself and he had an insatiable lust for power. While Santa Anna played an important role in achieving Mexican independence, his subsequent governments were also at least partially responsible for the loss of the Southwest to the United States. He died in poverty and squalor in Mexico City at the age of 82, no doubt still dreaming of a return to power.

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