African American history remembers many tragedies. But their history is rich in culture, and they have celebrated many historical significances. This sample history paper explores North America’s first black president.
Clarifying who was North America’s first black president
Many Americans believe President Barack Obama was the first American black president. And, while he this may be true for the United States, North America celebrated this moment in history more than 180 years before Obama took his oath of office. Mexican revolutionary fighter Vicente Guerrero was the first Black elected as president in North America (Penrice, “North America’s first black president”).
Dr. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., Founding Chair of the Chicano Studies Department at California State University at Los Angeles said:
“Guerrero is well known as the third president of Mexico, but his African roots are not well known due to ignorance of the African presence in Mexico” (Penrice, “North America’s first black president”).
And, since blacks historically weren’t given credit for their involvement in the revolution and bringing the end of the Spanish tyranny, Guerrero wasn’t acknowledged until the turn of the 20th Century (Penrice, “North America’s first black president”).
“Despite the fact that Guerrero is a national hero, with statues in his likeness, a state named in is honor and Mexican towns like Vicente Guerrero in Baja, California bearing his name, his African roots are only now becoming widely acknowledged” (Penrice, “North America’s first black president”).
Born 1782 in the village of Tixtla, Guerrero was the son of African-Mexican Pedro Guerrero and Mexican Indian Guadalupe Saldaña (Vincent, 2001). Raised in the Acapulco region of Mexico, Guerrero’s parents were supporters of the Spanish royal family and believed Mexico benefited from the monarchy (Vincent, 2001).
But Guerrero proved to be an anti-colonialist supporter from an early age and wanted to help remove racism and injustice from his country. While working as a gunsmith, Guerrero joined the Revolution in November 1810 (Vincent, 2001). His military leadership was recognized by military commanders, and he was quickly promoted to lieutenant in the Army (Sprague, 1939).
Vincente Guerrero’s involvement in the Mexican Revolutionary War
Guerrero was renowned for organizing forces in southern Mexico and leading successful campaigns. Many of his accomplishments include battles in the regions of Ajuchitán, Santa Fe, Tetela del Río, Huetamo, Tlalchapa, and Cuautlotitlán. But one particular battle sticks out for the rest. After fighting the Spanish troops for more than 10 years, his father pleaded with him to visit the Viceroy of New Spain (Sprague, 1939).
Guerrero’s father was fearful he would die and wanted his son to surrender and come home. But Guerrero is attributed as saying:
“Compañeros, this old man is my father. He has come to offer me rewards in the name of the Spaniards. I have always respected my father but my Motherland comes first. My Motherland comes first,’ is the motto for the southern state of Guerrero, named after him after his death.” (Tuck, 2001)
His troops never doubted his loyalty after this moment, and he is attributed as being one of the most loyal residents in Mexico’s history (Tuck, 2001). But the stand-off between Guerrero and his father wasn’t the only highlight of his career. He is responsible for winning nearly 500 of the battles fought during the revolution (Sprague, 1939). While he admittedly used guerilla warfare tactics to win the war, Guerrero soon became involved with the inner workings of leadership and soon politics.
Guerrero’s new war and politics
Guerrero’s success as war veteran didn’t easily transfer to his presidency. After winning its independence from Spain, Mexico’s politics became stormy and most leaders weren’t able to find the peaceful eye of the storm. To help aid the reconstruction of Mexico’s leadership, Guerrero collaborated with fellow rebel leader Agustín de Iturbide. The two freedom fighters devised a method to bring Spanish loyalists and Mexican supporters together on the same tea.
Iturbide and Guerrero created the Army of the Three Guarantees – known in Spanish as Ejército de las Tres Garantías (Vincent, 2001). Three Guarantees allowed for Mexico to become an independent constitutional monarchy and abolished racialized class system and declared Catholicism as the state religion (Vincent, 2001). Guerrero supported Iturbide as the new Mexican leader, and Iturbide soon became the first Mexican Emperor (Vincent, 2001). But the political peace and friendship between the two men soon ended.
New government fails to honor poor
Iturbide did not honor his word to Congress and started favoring elite, Spanish landowners over the minority, particularly Indians and blacks. The Emperor tried to convince Guerrero this was best for the country’s economics and would help rebuild a shaky society (Vincent, 2001). Iturbide believed the rich and powerful landowners would bring prosperity and strength to Mexico, but Guerrero believed a country based on oppression would soon fall (Vincent, 2001). He told his closest allies and supporters of Iturbide:
“A free state protects the arts, industry, science, and trade; and the only prizes virtue and merit: if we want to acquire the latter, let’s do it cultivating the fields, the sciences, and all that can facilitate the sustenance and entertainment of men: let’s do this in such a way that we will not be a burden for the nation, just the opposite, in a way that we will satisfy her needs, helping her to support her charge and giving relief to the distraught of humanity: with this we will also achieve abundant wealth for the nation, making her prosper in all aspects.” (Vincent, 2001)
These philosophies were new and represented changing beliefs after the Revolution. These new leaders supported the Plan of Casa Mata (Vincent, 2001). This new plan abolished the monarchy, created a republic that favored public opinion and the right to vote, and instituted freedoms and equality (Vincent, 2001). Iturbide soon fled the country in March 1823, and Mexico’s 1824 Constitution was passed by Congress after most of the Emperor’s supporters fell to new modern views of equality and focused on the minority (Vincent, 2001).
Guerrero’s rocky start as Mexico’s president
Victoria was elected the first President of Mexico and took command of Mexico’s First Federal Republic October 31, 1829 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Victoria was immediately succeeded by Guerrero, Mexico’s Second President and North Americas First Black President (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Guerrero took office April 1, 1829, and served until his term expired on December 17, 1829 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). He was a member of the Liberal Party and conserved with Vice President Anastasio Bustamante (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
However, Guerrero was never elected by Mexican citizens; in fact, he was appointed by Congress after President-Elect Manuel Gómez Pedraza resigned before taking office (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Pedraza technically was the second elected president but never had the chance to take office. Some history scholars argue, since Guerrero wasn’t elected and only took office after the resignation, this means he is not Mexico’s Second President (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). But, whether he is second or third, the designation of First Black President in North America is not debated (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
The President’s failed re-election
After serving the rest of his full term, Guerrero, unsuccessfully, ran against presidential hopeful Manuel Gómez Pedraza in 1828 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). But Mexico was facing economic troubles after the Revolution, and the people wanted a new leader. Pedraza won the popular vote by a landslide and was noted to become the most popular government leader since Iturbide’s takeover, but his popularity must like the Emperor’s, was mostly due to his support of the prestigious, upper-class (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
War veterans who fought during the Revolutionary War feared another corrupt government leader who might oppress the lower class and minorities protested the election and demonstrated against Pedraza on December 3, 1828 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). The protests were formalized by the Mexican Army and led by Santa Anna (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Fearing for his life and knowing he couldn’t successfully lead the government, Pedraza fled Mexico and moved to Europe (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Congress appointed Guerrero to take his place until a new president was chosen (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
Unworthy end to Guerrero’s heroic presidency
During his brief term as President, Guerrero made sweeping changes to help the working classes and the rights of indigenous peoples. Several policies he instigated including taxes for the rich, protection for small businesses, abolition of the death penalty, and advocacy for villages to elect their own councils of representatives (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). He was a strong advocate for social equality and signed his correspondence as “Citizen Guerrero” (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
Guerrero’s fight against slavery and ideals of freedom were ahead of the times and pre-dated the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.. The Former President’s most significant accomplishment was the abolition of slavery on September 16, 1829 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). In an Executive Order, Guerrero declared every man and woman was free and slavery was a crime against nature (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
New President threatened political stability and international relations
Mexico’s Second President soon became the leader who threatened ties with the United States. Texas, which was part of Mexico’s territory, threatened to wage war if they lost the economic benefits brought through slavery. Guerrero tried to appease the region in hopes of solidifying ties with his neighbors by making Texas an exception the slave-ban (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). But the upper-classes and ambitious military leaders were not pleased with his decisions, and they accused him of siding with blacks because of his heritage (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
Eventually Guerrero’s top cabinet Ministers and military commanders were threatened and soon resigned; the President himself even received death threats (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). And opponents soon waged a coup to remove Mexico’s black President. Guerrero was removed from office in 1830 (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). However, he started seeking support from previous allies and residents in the Southern Mexican states.
This was not enough, and the Former President’s enemies used his own initiatives to develop a plot and capture him (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Guerrero was kidnapped, arrested, and taken into custody in Oaxaca for trial (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013). Court officials found him guilty of committing crimes against Mexico and sentenced him to the death penalty. Guerrero was executed February 14, 1831 for trying to bring freedom to a corrupt nation (Meyer, Sherman, and Deeds, 2013).
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