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Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (21 February 1794 – 21 June 1876), often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, was a Mexicanmarker political leader who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government, first fighting against the independence from Spainmarker, and then supporting it, rising to the ranks of general and president at various times over a turbulent 40-year career. He was President of Mexico on seven non-consecutive occasions over a period of 22 years.

Early years

Santa Anna was born in Xalapamarker, Veracruzmarker, New Spain, on February 21, 1794; he was the son of a respected Spanish colonial family, Antonio López de Santa Anna and Manuela Pérez de Lebrón, who belonged to the criollo middle class, and wealthy enough to send their son to school. His father served for a time as a sub-delegate for the Spanish province of Veracruz, New Spain for the Royal Army. In June 1810, he was sent to the Fijo de Vera Cruz infantry regiment under the command of Joaquín de Arredondo. Santa Anna spent the next years battling insurgents and policing the Native American tribes of the internal provinces (political divisions of Mexico). Like most criollo officers in the Royalist army, he remained loyal to Spainmarker, and for a number of years fought against the movement for Mexican independence. He became a cadet at the age of only sixteen.

Military career

In 1810, the same year that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla started Mexico’s first attempt to gain independence from Spain, Santa Anna joined the colonial Spanish Army under Joaquín de Arredondo, who taught him much about dealing with Mexican nationalist rebels. In 1811, Santa Anna was wounded in the left arm by a native Chichimec arrow during the campaign under the command of the Colonel Joaquin Arredondo in town Amoladeras, district of Rayón state of San Luis Potosí. In 1813, he served in Texasmarker against the Gutiérrez/Magee Expedition, and at the Battle of Medina, in which he was cited for bravery. He was promoted quickly. He became the second lieutenant in February, 1812, and the first lieutenant before the end of that year. In the aftermath of the rebellion the young officer witnessed Arredondo's fierce counter-insurgency policy of mass executions, and historians have speculated that Santa Anna modeled his policy and conduct in the Texas Revolution on his experience under Arredondo.

During the next few years, in which the war for independence reached a stalemate, Santa Anna erected villages for displaced citizens near Veracruzmarker. He also pursued gambling, a vice that would follow him all through his life.

He was promoted to captain in 1816. His job consisted mainly of occasional campaigns to suppress Native Americans or to restore order after a tumult had begun. Mexico reached Oregon in the north and Panama in the south. It was a territory too vast for the Spanish Crown to control. In 1821, Santa Anna declared his loyalty for "El Libertador": the future Emperor of Mexico, Agustín de Iturbide. He rose to prominence by quickly driving the Spanish forces out of the vital port city of Veracruz that same year. Iturbide rewarded him with the rank of general. Santa Anna, with his important rank exploited his situation for personal gain. He acquired a large hacienda and at the same time continued his gambling.

The era of coups

Santa Anna was never really obedient to Iturbide, who was never popular and needed the military to maintain his power. Santa Anna’s normal loyalty would be to ally with the wealthy and privileged, but his immediate concern was to be on the winning side in any battle. Switching allegiances never troubled him. Santa Anna declared himself retired, "unless my country needs me".

In 1822 Santa Anna went over to the camp of military leaders supporting the plan to overthrow Iturbide. In December 1822 Santa Anna and the general Guadalupe Victoria signed the Plan de Casa Mata to abolish the monarchy and transform of Mexico into a republic. In May 1823, following Iturbide's resignation, Victoria became the first president of Mexico. Assistance provided by Santa Anna, in the overthrow of Iturbide gave the other leaders reason to trust him, despite his well known propensity for switching sides in an opportunistic manner.

By 1824, Guerrero sent Santa Anna to be the governor of the state of Yucatánmarker. On his own initiative, Santa Anna prepared to invade Cubamarker, which remained under Spanish rule, but he possessed neither the funds nor sufficient support for such a venture.

In 1828, Santa Anna, Vicente Guerrero, Lorenzo Zavala and other politicians staged a coup against the elected President Manuel Gómez Pedraza. On 3 December 1828 the army shelled the National Palace, the election results were annulled and Guerrero took over as president.

In 1829, Spain made its final attempt to retake Mexico in Tampicomarker with an invading force of 2,600 soldiers. Santa Anna marched against the Barradas Expedition with a much smaller force and defeated the Spaniards, many of whom were suffering from yellow fever. The defeat of the Spanish army not only increased Santa Anna’s popularity but also consolidated the independence of the new Mexican republic. Santa Anna was declared a hero, and from then on he styled himself "The Victor of Tampico" and "The Savior of the Motherland". His main act of self-promotion was to call himself "The Napoleon of the West".

In December 1829 Vice-President Anastasio Bustamante rebelled against President Guerrero, had him executed, and on January 1, 1830 took the presidency. In 1832 a rebellion started against Bustamante with the idea of installing Manuel Pedraza, whose election in 1828 recognized the rebels as legitimate. The rebels offered the command to Gen. Santa Anna. In August 1832 Bustamante temporarily appointed Melchor Múzquiz to the post of president and moved against the rebels and defeated them at Gallinero, Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato and Puebla marched to meet the forces of Santa Anna, who were approaching the town of Pueblamarker. After two more battles Bustamante, Pedraza and Santa Anna signed the agreement Zavaleta (21-23 December 1832) upon which the president was Manuel Pedraza, and Bustamente went into exile. Santa Anna accompanied the president on Jan. 3, 1833, joining with him in the capital.

At the pinnacle of power

Pedraza President convened Congress, which, however, elected Santa Anna as President on April 1 1833. President Santa Anna appointed as Vice-President, Valentín Gómez Farías, and largely left the governing of the nation to him. Farias began to implement liberal reforms, mostly aimed against the army and the church. Such reforms as abolishing tithing as a legal obligation, and the seizure of church property and finances prompted Mexican Conservatives to turn to Santa Anna (ironically liberal) to take power into his own hands. At their behest, Santa Anna denounced the administration of Vice-President Farias, and forced him and his main supporters to flee to the United States, and formed a new Catholic, centralist, conservative government which replaced the 1824 constitution with the new constitutional document, entitled "The Seven Laws" (Constitution of 1836). Santa Anna dissolved the Congress and began the centralization of power, and the regime began to turn into a centralized dictatorship backed by the military.

Several states went into open rebellion: Coahuila y Tejas (which was to become the Republic of Texasmarker), San Luis Potosímarker, Querétaromarker, Durangomarker, Guanajuatomarker, Michoacánmarker, Yucatánmarker, Jaliscomarker, Nuevo Leónmarker, Tamaulipasmarker and Zacatecasmarker. Several of these states formed their own governments, the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Republic of Yucatan, and the Republic of Texas. (Only the Texans defeated Santa Anna and retained their independence). Their fierce resistance was possibly fueled by reprisals Santa Anna committed against his defeated enemies. The New York Post editorialized that "had [Santa Anna] treated the vanquished with moderation and generosity, it would have been difficult if not impossible to awaken that general sympathy for the people of Texas which now impels so many adventurous and ardent spirits to throng to the aid of their brethren".

The Zacatecan militia, the largest and best supplied of the Mexican states, led by Francisco Garcia, was well armed with .753 caliber British 'Brown Bess' muskets and Baker .61 rifles. After two hours of combat, on May 12, 1835, the Santa Anna's "Army of Operations" defeated the Zacatecan militia and took almost 3,000 prisoners. Santa Anna allowed his army to ransack Zacatecas for forty-eight hours. After defeating Zacatecas, he planned to move on to Coahuila y Tejas to quell the rebellion there, which was being supported by American settlers (AKA "Texians").

Texas Revolution

Like other states discontented with the central Mexican authorities, the Texas department of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas went into rebellion in late 1835 and declared itself independent on March 2, 1836. Santa Anna marched north to bring Texas back under Mexican control. On March 6, 1836, at the Battle of the Alamomarker, Santa Anna's forces killed 187-250 Texan defenders and later executed over 350 Texan prisoners at the Goliad Massacre (March 27, 1836).

Following the defeat, the Texans were reorganized under Sam Houston. Santa Anna was soon defeated by Houston's soldiers at the Battle of San Jacintomarker on April 21, 1836, with the Texan army shouting "Remember Goliad, Remember the Alamo!" A small band of Texan forces captured Santa Anna, dressed in a dragoon private's uniform and hiding in a marsh, the day after the battle on April 22.

Acting Texas president David G. Burnet and Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco "in his official character as chief of the Mexican nation, he acknowledged the full, entire, and perfect Independence of the Republic of Texas." In exchange, Burnet and the Texas government guaranteed Santa Anna's life and transport to Veracruz. Before Santa Anna could leave Texas, 200 angry volunteer soldiers from the United States threatened to remove him from his boat and kill him as it left the port of Velasco. Back in Mexico Citymarker, a new government declared that Santa Anna was no longer president and that the treaty with Texas was null and void.

While captive in Texas, Joel Roberts Poinsett — U.S. minister to Mexico in 1824 — offered a harsh assessment of General Santa Anna's situation, stating:
Say to General Santa Anna that when I remember how ardent an advocate he was of liberty ten years ago, I have no sympathy for him now, that he has gotten what he deserves.

To this message, Santa Anna made the reply:

Say to Mr. Poinsett that it is very true that I threw up my cap for liberty with great ardor, and perfect sincerity, but very soon found the folly of it. A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty. They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of a Catholic clergy, a despotism is the proper government for them, but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one. [832698]

Redemption, dictatorship, and exile

After some time in exile in the United Statesmarker, and after meeting with U.S. president Andrew Jackson in 1837, he was allowed to return to Mexico aboard the USS Pioneer to retire to his magnificent hacienda in Veracruzmarker, called Manga de Clavo.

In 1838, Santa Anna discovered a chance to redeem himself from his Texan loss, when Frenchmarker forces landed in Veracruz, Mexico in the Pastry War, a short conflict which began after Mexico rejected French demands for financial recompense for losses suffered by some French citizens. The Mexican government gave Santa Anna control of the army and ordered him to defend the nation by any means necessary. He engaged the French at Veracruz and, as the Mexican resistance retreated after a failed assault, Santa Anna was hit in the leg and hand by cannon fire. His ankle was shattered and this resulted in the amputation of his leg, which he ordered buried with full military honors. Santa Anna famously used a cork leg after the amputation, but it was captured and kept by American troops during the Mexican-American War. It is on display at the Illinois National Guard Museum in Springfieldmarker. The Mexican government has repeatedly asked for its return. Despite Mexico's capitulation to French demands, Santa Anna was able to use his wound to re-enter Mexican politics as a hero. He never allowed Mexico to forget him and his sacrifice in defending the fatherland.

Soon after, Santa Anna was once again asked to take control of the provisional government as Bustamante's presidency turned chaotic. Santa Anna accepted and became president for the fifth time. Santa Anna took over a nation with an empty treasury. The war with France had weakened Mexico, and the people were discontented. Also, a rebel army led by Generals Jose Urrea and José Antonio Mexía was marching towards the Capital, at war against Santa Anna. The rebellion was crushed in Pueblamarker, by an army commanded by the president himself.

Santa Anna's rule was even more dictatorial than his first administration. Anti-Santanista newspapers were banned and dissidents jailed. In 1842, a military expedition into Texas was renewed, with no gain but to further persuade the Texans of the benefits of American annexation.

His demands for ever greater taxes aroused ire, and several Mexican states simply stopped dealing with the central government, Yucatánmarker and Laredomarker going so far as to declare themselves independent republics. With resentment ever growing against the president, Santa Anna once again stepped down from power. Fearing for his life, Santa Anna tried to elude capture, but in January 1845 he was apprehended by a group of Indians near Xico, Veracruzmarker, turned over to authorities, and imprisoned. His life was spared, but the dictator was exiled to Cubamarker.

Mexican-American War

Santa Anna in 1847
In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Santa Anna wrote to Mexico Citymarker saying he no longer had aspirations to the presidency, but would eagerly use his military experience to fight off the foreign invasion of Mexico as he had in the past. President Valentín Gómez Farías was desperate enough to accept the offer and allowed Santa Anna to return. Meanwhile, Santa Anna had secretly been dealing with representatives of the United States, pledging that if he were allowed back in Mexico through the U.S. naval blockades, he would work to sell all contested territory to the United States at a reasonable price. Once back in Mexico at the head of an army, Santa Anna reneged on both of these agreements. Santa Anna declared himself president again and unsuccessfully tried to fight off the United States invasion. (However, his actions did inspire the Sea shanty, "Santianna".)

In 1851, Santa Anna went into exile in Kingston, Jamaicamarker, and two years later, moved to Turbacomarker, Colombiamarker. In April 1853, he was invited back by rebellious conservatives, with whom he succeeded in retaking the government. This reign was no better than his earlier ones. He funneled government funds to his own pockets, sold more territory to the United States (see Gadsden Purchase), and declared himself dictator for life with the title "Most Serene Highness". The Ayutla Rebellion of 1854 once again removed Santa Anna from power.

Despite his generous payoffs to the military for loyalty, by 1855 even his conservative allies had had enough of Santa Anna. That year a group of liberals led by Benito Juárez and Ignacio Comonfort overthrew Santa Anna, and he fled back to Cuba. As the extent of his corruption became known he was tried in absentia for treason and all his estates confiscated. He then lived in exile in Cuba, the United States, Colombiamarker, and St. Thomasmarker.

In 1869, 74-year-old Santa Anna was living in exile from Mexico in, of all places, Staten Island, New York. He was trying to raise money for an army so he could go back and take Mexico City. During his time in New York Citymarker he is credited as bringing the first shipments of chicle, the base of chewing gum, to the United States, but he failed to profit from this, since his plan was to use the chicle to replace rubber in carriage tires, which was tried without success. The American assigned to aid Santa Anna while he was in the United States, Thomas Adams, conducted experiments with the chicle and called it "Chiclets," which helped found the chewing gum industry. His plan was to sell Mexican chicle to America as a substitute for then-expensive rubber, so he invited Adams to visit him. Adams took a chance and bought a ton of chicle from him, but he had no luck making it into a rubber substitute.

Santa Anna was a passionate fan of the sport of cockfighting. He would invite breeders from all over the world for matches and is known to have spent tens of thousands of dollars on prize roosters.

In 1874 he took advantage of a general amnesty and returned to Mexicomarker. Crippled and almost blind from cataracts, he was ignored by the Mexican government when the anniversary of the Battle of Churubuscomarker occurred. Santa Anna died in Mexico City two years later, on June 21, 1876, penniless and heartbroken.

Personal life

Santa Anna was a devoted collector of Napoleonic artifacts, and also considered himself the "Napoleon of the West." His nickname, though, was "The Eagle." While it is understood that Santa Anna considered himself "Napoleon of the West" he did so only after the Telegraph and Texas Register referred to him as such.

Santa Anna married Inés García in 1825 and fathered four children—Guadalupe, Maria del Carmen, Manuel and Antonio. One month after García's death in 1844, the 50-year-old Santa Anna married 15-year-old María Dolores de Tosta. The couple rarely lived together, with Tosta residing primarily in Mexico City.While they were married until the end of his life they rarely lived together. They had no children, leading biographer Will Fowler to speculate that the marriage was either primarily platonic or that Tosta was infertile. Several women claimed to have born Santa Anna illegitimate children, and in his will Santa Anna acknowledged four: Paula, Merced, Petra, and Jose. Biographers have identified three more: Pedro Lopes de Santa Anna, Angel and Agustina Rosa Lopez de Santa Anna.


Santa Anna held the office 11 times:

  • May 16, 1833 – June 3, 1833
  • June 18, 1833 – July 5, 1833
  • October 27, 1833 – December 15, 1833
  • April 24, 1834 – January 27, 1835
  • March 20, 1839 – July 10, 1839
  • October 10, 1841 – October 26, 1842
  • March 4, 1843 – October 4, 1843
  • June 4, 1844 – September 12, 1844
  • March 21, 1847 – April 2, 1847
  • May 20, 1847 – September 15, 1847
  • April 20, 1853 – August 9, 1855

In popular culture

  • Santa Anna is one of the main characters in the 2004 movie The Alamo, portrayed by Emilio Echevarría. In the 1960 film, directed by John Wayne, he was played by Ruben Padilla.
  • In the King of The Hill episode "The Final Shinsult", the artificial leg is on display at the museum, and later in the episode, stolen then returned to Mexico only to be a decoy. Cotton is seen trading it for a driver's license at the end of the episode.
  • Santa Anna is also referred to as a military leader in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro.


  1. Edmondson (2000), p. 378.
  2. Lord (1961), p. 169.
  3. Santa Anna's Leg Took a Long Walk
  4. Fowler, p. 92
  5. Fowler, p. 229
  6. Fowler, p. 229
  7. Fowler, p. 92


Further reading

  • José Manuel Villalpando César, Las balas del invasor, Miguel Angel Porrua; ISBN
  • Roberts, Randy & Olson, James S., A Line in the Sand, Simon & Schuster; ISBN
  • Jackson, Jack & Wheat, John, Almonte's Texas, Texas State Historical Assoc.; ISBN
  • Anderson, Fred & Cayton, Andrew, The Dominion of War, Viking Press; ISBN
  • Crawford, Ann F.; The Eagle: The Autobiography of Santa Anna; State House Press; ISBN
  • Santoni, Pedro; Mexicans at Arms-Puro Federalist and the Politics of War; TCU Press; ISBN
  • Borroel, Roger (2nd edition, 2002), The Texas Revolution of 1836, La Villita Publications, ISBN 1-928792-09-X
  • Fowler, Will, Santa Anna of Mexico, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-803211-20-1
  • Parkes, Henry Bamford. "A History of Mexico", Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA. 1938.
  • Suchlicki, Jaime. "Mexico: Montezuma to the Rise of Pan", Potomac Books: Washington DC, 1996.
  • Mabry, Donald J., “Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna”,, November 2, 2008.

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