High Lights of the Mexican Revolution - J. L. McLeish

Don Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna

Renegade Mason

When General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of the Mexican Scottish Rite issued a pronunciamiento against his brother-Mason, the Emperor Iturbide, many Mexican Masons approved his act as one of purest patriotism. The leaders of York Rite Masonry—Don Vincente Guerrero, Don Guadalupe Victoria, and Don Nicolas Bravo—speedily led their armies to the support of the revolting young commandante at Vera Cruz. In consequence the empire collapsed completely. Another Mason, occupied the Hall of the Montezumas. He was Don Guadalupe Victoria, first president of the newly born Republic of Mexico.

Now we must not blind ourselves to the true motives which served as an incentive to Santa Anna in espousing the cause of liberalism as against absolutism. Young and inexperienced as he was at that time, Santa Anna had already formulated future plans for "a career" in the drama of Mexican politics. As profound a student of history as he was of men, he had set up as his idol and model, another great Mason, the Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte. Already he was dreaming of the time when he, too, might wield a scepter. First must be crushed forever, all such "dangerous" men as Augustin de Iturbide, General Guerrero, and other able soldiers who had been sorely tested in the crucible of their country's needs and not found wanting. The leniency of the Mexican Congress in allowing the deposed emperor to depart into exile with a substantial pension was not at all pleasing to the intriguing Santa Anna. He had in mind the ever-present possibility that the fickle Mexicans might recall their Liberator General. To forfend any such dire happening for himself, Santa Anna persuaded the puppet legislators in the Mexican capitol to pass a decree of death upon Iturbide, effective the moment he might again set foot upon Mexican territory. In this case Santa Anna was gifted with remarkable foresight. He knew that the arrogant clergy, having nothing to look for from the Republic, would cajole the unfortunate Iturbide into making another dash for his throne, preferring to depend upon a certain amount of tolerance under absolutism, than fare so desperately as they must under men like Victoria, Guerrero and Bravo, patriots true and tried. At the behest of the priests he had hitherto despised, Iturbide hearkened to the supposed voice of his people. He landed at Soto la Marina, to be forthwith dropped from a living perpendicular to a dead level by the bullets of republican rifles.

A great many of the Mexican Scottish Rite Masons had become thoroughly disgusted with the treacherous politics being played by General Santa Anna and his satellites. When a few years, later, President Guerrero of the York Rite was ruthlessly assassinated, a number of Masons from both factions concluded that the time was ripe in Mexico for the establishment of a new Masonic rite. Thus was established "The Mexican National Rite," composed of both Scottish and York Rite Masons, openly declaring the intent that among Masons must prevail peace and harmony, as the strength of the institution; and whenever and wherever necessary, war must be waged upon the clergy, the common foe of all Masonic bodies. These pioneers of the new Rite, ultimately numbering in its ranks such eminent Mexicans as Ocampo, Arteaga, Farias, Lerdo de Tejada, Juarez, Perez, Escobedo, Corona and Porfirio Diaz, well understood the innate selfishness and Machiavellian unscrupulousness of Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Nor had they any inclination to lend Masonry and its intricate machinery, even then a controlling factor in the national scheme, to the purely personal purposes of the Scottish Rite general. As early as 1833 the leaders of the Mexican National Rite fearlessly declared their public policy for all future time: "absolute freedom of thought and speech; the freedom of the press; the abolishment of all the peculiar privileges claimed by the Catholic clergy and the military caste as a heritage; the suppression of monastic institutions; the curtailment of monopolies; the protection of Liberal Arts and industries; the development of libraries and free schools; the abolition of capital punishment and colonial expansion."

Compare, if you will, this enlightened Mexican Masonic allocution of 1833 with the splendid Laws of Reform of 1858; you will find a marked similitude. Nor do I mean to detract from the guerdon of praise due the greatest of all the Inspectors General of the Mexican National Rite, Don Benito Juarez, who after years of untold disappointments, and unparalleled sacrifices, eventually consummated the Laws of Reform in Mexico,—essentially Masonic laws.

Santa Anna, utterly unabashed by the silent rebuke administered him by his brethren when they formed their National Rite, leaving him without its pale, plunged more feverishly into the maelstrom of Mexican politics, being still supported by many of his Scottish Rite satellites. Right well did he play the game: five times President of the Republic, almost as many times military dictator; when his star was in the ascendant seeing Mexico abased at his feet; more times than once a hated exile, yet unwilling even from afar to lose his iron grip upon his country, with unblushing effrontery this daring political adventurer presumed to dictate as to who might sit in the high place at Mexico City, or else to threaten a new and more formidable revolution.

There was a mysterious something about the personality of this daring, dashing, southland soldier-schemer, an inherent dramatic instinct for staging coup d'etat so dear to the Latin heart; a fascinating something in the very unusual characteristics contributing to his striking personality, that gave him a following even at times most desperate, and for many long years. In all his troubled, stormy career Santa Anna only once met his master, a man of finer, nobler mold, a man of equally iron will and far higher ideals. This was Don Benito Juarez, a man so imbued with true Masonic charity that he could forgive the unforgiveable, and pardon Santa Anna for attempting to strike a vital blow at the one thing Juarez loved better than all other things on earth, the Republic of Mexico.

When the need was, even as the Mason Santa Anna scrupled not at all to manipulate the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for the furtherance of his ambitions, so not at all did he scorn to call to his aid the powerful hierarchy of Rome, when the Mexican clergy seemed to wield the balance of power, as was often the case. To do so, Santa Anna must of course make concessions. Such were:

  • Church property and Church revenues shall be inviolable. There shall be restoration in toto of the special privileges of the clergy and military caste.
  • Reaffirmation of the Roman Catholic religion as the one and only religion of Mexico. Censorship of the Press and Public Expression.
  • The confining of immigration to individuals from Catholic countries.
  • The abolition of the Institute of Sciences in Oaxaca.

This last was the one liberal college in all Mexico, a college numbering in its faculty and among its sponsors some of the most active adherents of the Mexican National Rite.

Whenever he needed support from the Roman hierarchy Santa Anna rigidly enforced the "Plan of Tacubaya," outlined above. This was and is now, with restrictions, "the platform" of Mexican clericalism. There were times in the Dictator's heyday of power, when it suited him to compel even the arrogant Catholic clergy to yield to his whims, even at considerable sacrifice of their own personal dignity. One of these occasions is not without humor.

At the battle of Vera Cruz when Santa Anna was opposing the French he lost a leg. Having achieved ultimate success, and wishing to humble the priests, whom at heart he hated, he sent orders to Mexico City that preparations be made forthwith for the reception of his limb with full church ceremonials, and solemn interment in the Catholic cemetery of St. Paul. Of course the Archbishop of Mexico was horrified; he protested: "There is no precedent for religious services over a leg, your Serene Highness; it is not to be thought of." "Let us establish a precedent in that case, Your Reverence. Mine was a Christian leg; it deserves a Christian burial. So mote it be," quoth the facetious Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Therefore it happened that upon the 27th day of September, 1842, the Archbishop of Mexico, the clergy, the Mexican army and the hoi polloi turned out en masse to participate in the unusual ceremonial of the interment of General Santa Anna's leg. After the choir boys had sung their masses, the priests mumbled their prayers, the higher dignitaries invoked due blessings, and a firing squad given martial salute, a certain Don Ignacio Sierra y Rosa indulged in a flowery oration, and dedicated a very costly monument to the defunct limb, so concluding an historic farce.

Rome never forgets; never forgives. Exactly two years after this drollest of funeral ceremonies, the Archbishop of Mexico placed the ban of the church upon Santa Anna's demand of a forced loan of $4,000,000, and even the Army revolted. For a while the Clergy held smugly aloof, awaiting results. Tacitly if not openly, they were quite ready to abandon him by whose grace they had been permitted to return to Mexico and help plunder the poor natives. When the mobs in the capitol arose, it was their priests who led them to the cemetery of St. Paul and helped them overturn the stately monument to Santa Anna's leg. What remained of the "Christian Limb" was kicked and tossed about the purlieus of the city until even the callous mob wearied of its sordid sport.

With Santa Anna's absence from the scene the Mexican National Rite slowly gathered strength. From its Institute of Sciences in Oaxaca is sent out a small army of educated young men, ready and willing when the time should come to flock to the defense of Liberalism as against Clericalism in Mexico. While students like Juarez and Diaz and young Perez were being trained for the inevitable battle between Church and State, a few brilliant Catholic statesmen like Don Gutierrez Estrada sought to stem the propagation of democratic thought by boldly proclaiming in the Mexican Senate that racially and temperamentally the people were quite incapacitate for self-government, that continuance under republican rule must eventually mean reversion to the old vice regal system or subservience to some other foreign power, if not old Spain.

For this the professors of the Institute of Sciences had their answer. They pointed out how the Catholic church in Mexico held in fee simple property amounting to more than $250,000,000, or one-half of the landed estate of the nation: an annual income of approximately $8,000,000. Of how the monastic orders and church functionaries were maintained by an army of nearly fifty thousand men. As to the monasteries themselves they were the shame of Mexico, even in days when lewdness was viewed more tolerantly than as civilization advanced. Even the Pope protested from distant Rome, but the Mexican clergy paid him scant heed. They were swollen with pride and easy living. Behind them they had the Spanish land owners, the subsidized army, all that wealth and entrenched privileges can give. When need was, they had to lead their armies the most dashing soldier of the time—the reckless, daredevil, conscienceless Santa Anna, the renegade Mason, who when not permitted to manipulate the greatest utilitarian brotherhood in the world for his own selfish advantages, turned to its age-old enemy, the Catholic church, and smilingly offered to crush the brothers he had sworn to defend.

The long series of civil wars might have been precipitated earlier before ever Juarez, Diaz, Escobedo, Perez, and the patriots of 1858 were ready, had it not been for the sudden break with the United States, over the taking into the Union of Texas, regardless of the claim of ownership to that vast territory still made by Mexico. Of course such a soldier as Santa Anna was needed to lead the Mexican armies against the invader. Of course the clergy could play their part and did. I quote from the official report of Major General Casey of the United States Army, in the "Christian World," Volume XXIV, page 47:

"On the 20th of August the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco were fought. At the latter place the principal point of attack was a fortified convent, and the American army lost 1000 men in killed and wounded by the obstinate resistance. This was caused by the presence of more than two hundred deserters from the American army, composed mostly of Catholic Irish, who had been persuaded to desert at the instigation of the Mexican Catholic priests. Fifty of these men were afterwards captured and hung, the drop of the gallows falling just as the American flag went up on the castle of Chapultepec."

Of the same incident Rev. William Butler says in his "Mexico in Transition":

"The sectarian treachery of the Irish deserters might have proved to be overwhelming. It might have involved the destruction of the whole American force, which was so small comparatively. As it was, it cost them nearly one-seventh of their whole number. Nor should it be forgotten that this was not the first time. A few months before, a similar act of treachery had occurred in General Taylor's command at Monterey, by the same class of men deserting and crossing the river to join their co-religionists on the other side and help them fight the Americans. . . . On some occasions yet to come, the celebrated order may need to be repeated as a precaution, "put none but Americans on guard tonight."

In short the war against the United States, even the duplicity and guerilla tactics of the veteran Santa Anna could not prevail against the hardier, bulldog tenacity of the Americans led by such generals as Scott, Taylor, Pillow and Twiggs. A succession of Mexican reverses at Santa Fe, Matamoras, Monterey, Bracito, San Luis Potosi, Vera Cruz, Cerra Gordo, and Churubusco found Santa Anna at bay, with the Mexican Capital threatened on every side by the soldiers of the northland. On the eve of the fall of Chapultepec, the key to Mexico City, Santa Anna fled with his staff, but, determined to wreak vengeance on the gringoes, stole stealthily upon Puebla, where the American Colonel Childs, with a small force stood guard over eighteen hundred sick and wounded Americans. So fierce was the resistance that the fleeing dictator was prevented from putting into effect the wholesale massacre he had had in mind. Lane's reinforcements led him to continue his flight.

In the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, consummating peace between the United States and Mexico, Santa Anna had but little voice. His successive reverses in the war had taken much from the prestige of his name, and the Mexicans were content to allow him the obscurity of exile for five years.

In 1853 the fickle people permitted him to return, and he at once proclaimed himself dictator. His very first official act was the same mistake which ultimately led to the downfall of his great successor, Diaz, permission for return of the Jesuits to Mexico, from which they had been banished. When he realized that his tenure of office was foredoomed, Santa Anna dispatched the Catholic Estrada to Europe to negotiate for the coming of Maximilian, so hoping to perpetuate the power of the Jesuits, who had led to his undoing, and thus strike a fatal blow to the aspirations of Juarez and the liberal party. There came sudden depositions, a trial for high treason, a sentence of death by hanging,—Santa Anna was in desperate straits indeed. A greater Mexican than he, however, Don Benito Juarez, now his master; a man of finer, nobler mold, a man of equally iron will, and far higher ideals, a man so imbued with true Masonic Charity, that he could forgive the unforgiveable, found it in his heart to commute the traitor's sentence and pardon Santa Anna.

And so Santa Anna ceased to trouble Mexico. Greater men than he now strutted upon the Mexican stage to continue the duel al muerte between Church and State, between the Jesuits and the Freemasons.