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A GLORIOUS DEFEAT by Timothy J. Henderson


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Review by Edward Coffman

If Americans think of the Mexican War of a hundred and sixty years ago, they remember the acquisition of what is much of the western United States and, perhaps, that it was won with a series of American victories on the battlefield. Those who are really interested have available shelves of books covering the war and the Manifest Destiny impulse that brought it about but they would be hard put to find a book presenting the Mexican side of the war. In this brief history, Timothy J. Henderson provides such a book.

Beginning with Mexico’s gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Henderson traces the internal turbulence that followed over the next three decades. Unlike its northern neighbor, Mexico was unable to develop its economy or maintain an effective stable government. The sectional issue which was evolving rapidly during this period in the United States was a ripple compared to the deep divisions which kept Mexico from establishing a strong national government. Social elites put their wealth and privileges above national interest and feared “the rabble.” Those of European descent feared Indians who made up much of the population and were not happy with the attempted dominance of the relative newcomers. Local communities did not want to cede power to the central government. Then there were the differences between clerical and anti-clerical groups and between liberals and conservatives. No strong leader able to satisfy all factions and sustain an effective and honest government came to power. The one leader who was in and out of power throughout this period was Santa Anna, whose major asset was charisma but overwhelmingly balanced against that were his defects of a vain, dictatorial, corrupt leader who was ever more interested in increasing his personal wealth than in building the economy and a stable nation.

During those years, not surprisingly, there were several open revolts as governments came and went. Those that resulted from the American immigration into the province of Texas soon developed in the mid-1830s into the most troublesome of those revolts and ultimately the war with the United States. Even during the war, Mexican factionalism and civil strife which continued stifled general support of that war. Although the Mexican Army was larger than the U. S. Army, it proved to be much less effective in battle as it suffered defeat after defeat in the pitched battles culminating in the victorious entry into the capital Mexico City. Henderson describes and analyzes the course of the campaigns in California, northern and central Mexico in one of the seven chapters in this book.

It is a comment on the state of the national government, that when Winfield Scott’s army occupied Mexico City, he had difficulty finding a government to surrender to him. “The war, in the end,” as the author concludes “only caused a farther unraveling of an already broken nation.” 224 pages • 5 1/2" x 8 1/4"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Timothy J. Henderson is an associate professor of history at Auburn University, Montgomery.

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