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Mexico: War with the United States, 1846
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > History and Traditions of the Armed Forces > War with the United States, 1846


In spite of his military talents, Santa Anna is most remembered for his defeats that led to the cession of roughly one-half of Mexican territory to the United States under the 1848 peace settlement was born when young cadets, among the last defenders of Chapultepec, reputedly threw themselves over the ramparts to their deaths rather than surrender to Scott's troops.

The internal disorder that followed Mexico's defeat depleted the country's treasury and destroyed much of its commerce and agriculture. Mounting unpaid foreign debts created a pretext for Britain, France, and Spain to land troops at Veracruz in 1861. Dreaming of expanding his influence to the New World, the French ruler, Napoleon III, sent an expeditionary force inland to capture Mexico City in early 1862. Although initially defeated at the bloody Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, the French, aided by Mexican conservative troops, eventually succeeded in installing the Habsburg archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph as the second emperor of Mexico. By late 1862, the legitimate government of Benito Juárez was left with control of only a small enclave along the border with Texas.

General José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz had played a decisive role in the early victory of Juárez's forces at Puebla and commanded troops in the republican stronghold of Oaxaca until it was captured by the French in 1865. After escaping from a French military prison, Díaz commanded republican troops in the final campaigns leading to the surrender of Maximilian's remaining forces at Querétaro in 1867. After Juárez was returned to the presidency, Díaz managed to slowly parlay his military prowess into political strength.

Díaz's allegiance to Juárez ended soon after the restoration of the republic when the newly reinstalled president discharged two-thirds of the 60,000- to 90,000-member army. During the next several years, Díaz championed the cause of the dismissed troops and unsuccessfully challenged Juárez in the 1867 and 1871 presidential elections. The presidential succession after Juárez's death finally provoked Díaz to move against the government by issuing the 1876 Plan of Tuxtepec. Using recruits and funds gathered in the United States, Díaz defeated the government troops and, in November of that year, assumed the presidency, a position he would hold for all but four of the next thirty-four years.

Established as the national caudillo, Díaz based his power on military might as he ruthlessly eliminated those who challenged his authority. When the United States and Mexico came close to war in 1877 over raids into United States territory by Mexican bandits and cattle rustlers, Díaz halted the brigandage and averted war by sending in federal army troops and the rurales, the feared paramilitary corps composed largely of criminals that also served as a counterweight to the regular military's power. Díaz resumed the practice of forced conscription and used his troops to brutally suppress antigovernment riots in Mexico City. Although state governorships were regularly offered to loyal officers, Díaz rotated the command of the army's military zones as a means of preventing generals from acquiring a local power base.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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