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 Mexican political
leader who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government,
first fighting against the independence from Spain, and then
supporting it, rising to the ranks of general and president at
various times over a turbulent 40-year career.
President of Mexico on seven non-consecutive occasions over a
period of 22 years.
was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, 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.
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
the internal provinces (political divisions of
). Like most criollo officers in the Royalist
army, he remained loyal to Spain, and for a
number of years fought against the movement for Mexican independence.
became a cadet at the age of only sixteen.
In 1810, the same year that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
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
Texas 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
on his experience
next few years, in which the war for independence reached a
stalemate, Santa Anna erected villages for displaced citizens near
He also pursued gambling
, a vice that would follow him all through
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
Guerrero sent Santa Anna to be the governor
of the state of Yucatán. On his own initiative, Santa Anna prepared to
invade Cuba, 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
Spain made its final attempt to retake Mexico in Tampico 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
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
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
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
states went into open rebellion: Coahuila y Tejas (which was to become the
Republic of Texas), San Luis
Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo
León, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas.
Several of these states formed their own
governments, the Republic of
the Rio Grande
, the Republic of
, and the Republic of
. (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
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
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
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 Alamo, Santa Anna's forces killed 187-250 Texan defenders
and later executed over 350 Texan prisoners at the Goliad Massacre (March 27,
Following the defeat, the Texans were reorganized under Sam Houston
. Santa Anna was soon defeated by Houston's
soldiers at the Battle of San Jacinto 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.
and Santa Anna signed the
Treaties of Velasco
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 City, a new government declared that Santa Anna was no
longer president and that the treaty with Texas was null and
While captive in Texas, Joel
— U.S. minister to Mexico in 1824 —
offered a harsh assessment of General Santa Anna's situation,
- 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. 
Redemption, dictatorship, and exile
some time in exile in the United States, 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 Veracruz, called Manga de Clavo.
Santa Anna discovered a chance to redeem himself from his Texan
loss, when French 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
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 Springfield.
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
José Antonio Mexía
marching towards the Capital, at war against Santa Anna.
rebellion was crushed in Puebla, 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.
demands for ever greater taxes aroused ire, and several Mexican
states simply stopped dealing with the central government, Yucatán and Laredo going so far
as to declare themselves independent republics.
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,
Veracruz, turned over
to authorities, and imprisoned. His life was spared,
but the dictator was exiled to Cuba.
Santa Anna in 1847
In 1846, the United States declared
war on Mexico
. Santa Anna wrote to Mexico City 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.
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
Santa Anna went into exile in Kingston, Jamaica, and two years later, moved to Turbaco, Colombia.
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
), 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, Colombia, and St. Thomas.
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.
his time in New York
City 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
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
he took advantage of a general amnesty and returned to Mexico.
and almost blind from cataracts, he was ignored by the Mexican
government when the anniversary of the Battle of
Santa Anna died in Mexico City two
years later, on June 21, 1876, penniless and heartbroken.
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
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
- Edmondson (2000), p. 378.
- Lord (1961), p. 169.
- Santa Anna's Leg Took a Long Walk
- Fowler, p. 92
- Fowler, p. 229
- Fowler, p. 229
- Fowler, p. 92
- 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.