Mexico has long since been a relatively unstable country, and this sample paper seeks to explain why this is the case. This sample history paper explores the causes of Mexican political instability in the years following the independence of the country from Spain in the 19th century
Mexico’s political instability after its independence from Spain
The instability that plagued Mexico in the half century following independence had a variety of disparate causes. Changes in social philosophies and economic development always follow a Latin revolution. Mexico discovered its independence wasn’t altogether positive. Factors that led to the political chaos that defined this period of the nation’s history included:
- The rise of caudillismo
- Lingering effects of Mexico’s colonial legacy
- Regional differences and variations
- Diminished power of the Catholic Church
This combination of factors created a situation characterized by political fluctuation and volatility in the decades following independence. No single factor brought this disequilibrium into being, but the combined effects of these various social, economic, and political trends created a situation marked by serious levels of turmoil and discord.
The years following independence were a dark time in the history of the political development of Mexico, and times so chaotic rarely have a single cause, but rather a multitude of interlocking factors, the most important of which we will delve into below.
Mexican military and the road to economic freedom
One of the most important causes of Mexican political turbulence in the era following independence was the stranglehold of the nation’s military over the nation’s government, a lasting result of Mexico’s colonial legacy.
As Michael P. Costeloe states, this was due to the fact that “the emancipation achieved by Iturbe was believed to be both insecure and vulnerable. For the next thirty years, if not longer, many Mexicans thought that the recolonization of their country was always possible, if not probable…” (5).
The uncertain nature of Mexican independence created a reliance on military leaders and strongmen, or caudillos, who were viewed as the best defense against foreign powers seeking to impose their will on the new nation. Mexicans soon learned the road to democracy was often hindered by economic development.
This led to a destabilized and vulnerable nation as the demands of the military created stressors on the country’s economy and tax structure. In fact, the economic consequences of severe militarization were one of the most important contributing factors to the political instability of Mexico during this time period.
Cost of freedom outweigh citizen’s needs
The economic troubles of the new nation, compounded by increasing and serious monetary demands of the military, were one of the main causes of Mexico’s political discord following independence.
As Donald Fithian Stevens writes, “Instability coincided with revenue shortfalls…Of a total of nineteen years for which data are available, almost 75 percent fit the expected pattern of high instability in years of low revenue collections, and greater stability in years where more taxes were collected” (16).
The economic causes of political turbulence in Mexico cannot be understated, as the government’s inability to properly raise and distribute revenue clearly had a major impact on the political development of the new nation, in many cases directly leading to instances of turmoil and instability.
A government that cannot raise revenue cannot effectively serve its people, which is exactly what we see occur in Mexico in the years following independence. In fact, these economic woes may in well be the most important factor in Mexico’s political instability, despite the emphasis on certain other aspects of history amongst many historians when focusing on Mexico during this time period.
Caudillismo regime and creating a lasting economy in Mexico
While caudillismo certainly created disarray in Mexican political life, it did so more because of the economic implications it had for the fledgling nation rather than due to any inherently unstable aspects of the military rule.
As Stevens states, “Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, president of Mexico on eleven distinct occasions, has been the principal scapegoat for the trials of the young nation. One man’s flawed character has been blamed for Mexico’s problems as if Santa Anna’s personal weaknesses infected the entire nation…the contagion has been called caudillismo” (2).
While military rule certainly has many downsides, they generally do not include chaos and instability, at least to the extreme degree we see in post independence Mexico. For example, China’s military is a significant governing force. But the military hasn’t caused instability in the Chinese economy.
It is far more likely that the economic pressures experienced by the new state, combined with a wide variety of extremely important social factors, had more impact on the instability of the Mexican nation than the impact of military leaders. Indeed, the societal factors that created the instability of the Mexican state cannot go unmentioned in any discussion of the contributing factors to political chaos at the time.
Attachment to colonization and fight for freedom following independence
The highly regional and provincial nature of Mexican society during this time period was another extremely important cause of political instability.
As Costeloe perceptively states, “the characteristic feature of the Age of Santa Ana was undeniably regional diversity and tension. Regionalism and diversity of economic and other interests had, of course, existed in colonial times…but in the highly regulated colonial society, the two great unifying forces of Crown and Church had been sufficient to hold the pieces together” (10).
The highly localized nature of Mexican society made governing such a swath of disparate peoples a herculean task under the best of circumstances, let alone for a newly formed national government in economic crisis and still living under the threat of intervention from foreign powers.
The regional fabric of Mexico was an exacerbating factor in nearly every issue faced by the Mexican state during this time period. This problem was made even acuter by the waning influence of the Catholic Church following independence.
Love of the Catholic Church and papal powers declining
While the protestant movement was a world away, Martin Luther’s position on the Catholic Church caused the pope and religious leaders to lose power internationally. The role of the Church was central in Mexico’s political and social life prior to independence, and the declining influence of the institution created a vast swath of societal issues that exacerbated the political tensions of the time period.
Costeloe states that “the decline in the power and influence of the Roman Catholic Church after independence was an equally important factor in the erosion of the former appearance of cohesion, and the clergy’s attempts to protect their status, wealth, privileges, and influence were to be a source of much of the political turmoil” (10).
The deterioration of the clout and consequence of the Church in the years following independence intensified the regional differences of the nation to a significant degree. Without the commonly held fabric of the church, the insular and far-flung nature of Mexico’s widely varied regions became more apparent and threatened to tear apart the new state.
The role of the church also became one of the most important dividing issues between liberals and conservatives, and aggravated much of the conflict between them, further fueling the fires of chaos in Mexican political life.
Economic stability in Mexico caused by liberal and conservative bickering
The divide between liberals and conservatives was yet another contributing factor to the political instability of the time period, and one that was in large part related to the declining power of the church.
As Leslie Bethell states, “the Church took its place as the main issue between liberals and conservatives” (35).
Clearly, the declining power of the Church inflamed not only regional differences but political disputes as well. The myriad consequences of the waning leverage of the Church on various aspects of social and political life in post-independence Mexico are strong evidence for this being one of the most important factors in the political instability of the state during this time period.
The importance of the Church to Mexican socioeconomic life and the consequences of its lessened power following independence cannot be overstated. Many Mexicans didn’t want to live in a country that lacked a strong centralized Catholic Church. This, among other factors, led to immigration to other countries during the early years of government.
Conclusion and summary
A variety of different factors led to the heightened political instability that characterized Mexico for the half century following independence. These included fear of recolonization, the powerful role of the military, economic issues with taxation and revenue collection, regional tensions, and the decline of the Catholic Church, which together formed a nearly insurmountable obstacle for the young nation.
The environment of turbulence and chaos that these elements created defined the nation for generations and the effects of this political instability continue to be felt even in the present day. The assortment of reasons for the political volatility of Mexico following independence is a fascinating example of the potentially devastating consequences of political, social, and economic divisions.
Like what you read? Check out this essay on Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American civil rights leader.
Bethell, Leslie. Mexico Since Independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Costeloe, Michael P. The Central Republic in Mexico, 1835-1846: ‘Hombres de Bien’ in the Age of Santa Anna. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Stevens, Donald Fithian. Origins of Instability in Early Republican Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.