Olmec head


1500 BCE Jan 1 - 400 BCE
, Veracruz

The Olmecs were the earliest known major Mesoamerican civilization. Following a progressive development in Soconusco, they occupied the tropical lowlands of the modern-day Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has been speculated that the Olmecs derived in part from the neighboring Mokaya or Mixe–Zoque cultures.

The Olmecs flourished during Mesoamerica's formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. They were the first Mesoamerican civilization, and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. Among other "firsts", the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies. The aspect of the Olmecs most familiar now is their artwork, particularly the aptly named "colossal heads". The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America's most striking.



100 BCE Jan 1 - 750
, Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in a sub-valley of the Valley of Mexico, which is located in the State of Mexico, 40 kilometers (25 mi) northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Teotihuacan is known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas, namely Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the first millennium (1 CE to 500 CE), Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Americas, considered as the first advanced civilization on the North American continent, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth-largest city in the world during its epoch.

The city covered eight square miles (21 km2), and 80 to 90 percent of the total population of the valley resided in Teotihuacan. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and its vibrant, well-preserved murals. Additionally, Teotihuacan exported fine obsidian tools found throughout Mesoamerica. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BCE, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 CE. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries CE, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 CE. Its collapse might be related to the extreme weather events of 535–536.

Teotihuacan began as a religious center in the Mexican Highlands around the first century CE. It became the largest and most populated center in the pre-Columbian Americas. Teotihuacan was home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate the large population. The term Teotihuacan (or Teotihuacano) is also used to refer to the whole civilization and cultural complex associated with the site.

Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented. Evidence of Teotihuacano presence is found at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The later Aztecs saw these magnificent ruins and claimed a common ancestry with the Teotihuacanos, modifying and adopting aspects of their culture. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is the subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi, or Totonac ethnic groups. Other scholars have suggested that Teotihuacan was multi-ethnic, due to the discovery of cultural aspects connected to the Maya as well as Oto-Pamean people. It is clear that many different cultural groups lived in Teotihuacan during the height of its power, with migrants coming from all over, but especially from Oaxaca and the Gulf Coast.After the collapse of Teotihuacan, central Mexico was dominated by more regional powers, notably Xochicalco and Tula.

Mayan Ball Game

Classical Maya Civilization

250 Jan 1 - 1697
, Guatemala

The Maya civilization of the Mesoamerican people is known by its ancient temples and glyphs. Its Maya script is the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in the pre-Columbian Americas. It is also noted for its art, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. The Maya civilization developed in the Maya Region, an area that today comprises southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. It includes the northern lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula and the highlands of the Sierra Madre, the Mexican state of Chiapas, southern Guatemala, El Salvador, and the southern lowlands of the Pacific littoral plain. Today, their descendants, known collectively as the Maya, number well over 6 million individuals, speak more than twenty-eight surviving Mayan languages, and reside in nearly the same area as their ancestors.

The Archaic period, before 2000 BC, saw the first developments in agriculture and the earliest villages. The Preclassic period (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD) saw the establishment of the first complex societies in the Maya region, and the cultivation of the staple crops of the Maya diet, including maize, beans, squashes, and chili peppers. The first Maya cities developed around 750 BC, and by 500 BC these cities possessed monumental architecture, including large temples with elaborate stucco façades. Hieroglyphic writing was being used in the Maya region by the 3rd century BC. In the Late Preclassic a number of large cities developed in the Petén Basin, and the city of Kaminaljuyu rose to prominence in the Guatemalan Highlands. Beginning around 250 AD, the Classic period is largely defined as when the Maya were raising sculpted monuments with Long Count dates. This period saw the Maya civilization develop many city-states linked by a complex trade network. In the Maya Lowlands two great rivals, the cities of Tikal and Calakmul, became powerful. The Classic period also saw the intrusive intervention of the central Mexican city of Teotihuacan in Maya dynastic politics. In the 9th century, there was a widespread political collapse in the central Maya region, resulting in internecine warfare, the abandonment of cities, and a northward shift of population. The Postclassic period saw the rise of Chichen Itza in the north, and the expansion of the aggressive Kʼicheʼ kingdom in the Guatemalan Highlands. In the 16th century, the Spanish Empire colonised the Mesoamerican region, and a lengthy series of campaigns saw the fall of Nojpetén, the last Maya city, in 1697.

Maya cities tended to expand organically. The city centers comprised ceremonial and administrative complexes, surrounded by an irregularly shaped sprawl of residential districts. Different parts of a city were often linked by causeways. Architecturally, city buildings included palaces, pyramid-temples, ceremonial ballcourts, and structures specially aligned for astronomical observation. The Maya elite were literate, and developed a complex system of hieroglyphic writing. Theirs was the most advanced writing system in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Maya recorded their history and ritual knowledge in screenfold books, of which only three uncontested examples remain, the rest having been destroyed by the Spanish. In addition, a great many examples of Maya texts can be found on stelae and ceramics. The Maya developed a highly complex series of interlocking ritual calendars, and employed mathematics that included one of the earliest known instances of the explicit zero in human history. As a part of their religion, the Maya practised human sacrifice.

Tulan Toltecs 900CE


950 Jan 1 - 1150
, Tulancingo

The Toltec culture was a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture that ruled a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico, during the Epiclassic and the early Post-Classic period of Mesoamerican chronology, reaching prominence from 950 to 1150 CE. The later Aztec culture considered the Toltec to be their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tōllān (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization. In the Nahuatl language the word Tōltēkatl (singular) or Tōltēkah (plural) came to take on the meaning "artisan".

The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec Empire, giving lists of rulers and their exploits. Modern scholars debate whether the Aztec narratives of Toltec history should be given credence as descriptions of actual historical events. While all scholars acknowledge that there is a large mythological part of the narrative, some maintain that, by using a critical comparative method, some level of historicity can be salvaged from the sources. Others maintain that continued analysis of the narratives as sources of factual history is futile and hinders access to learning about the culture of Tula de Allende. Other controversies relating to the Toltec include the question of how best to understand the reasons behind the perceived similarities in architecture and iconography between the archaeological site of Tula and the Maya site of Chichén Itzá. Researchers are yet to reach a consensus in regards to the degree or direction of influence between these two sites.

From the Conquest of México series. Depicts the 1521 Fall of Tenochtitlan by Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. | ©Anonymous

Spanish Conquest of Mexico

1519 Feb 1 - 1521 Aug 13
, Mexico

The Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, also known as the Conquest of Mexico, was one of the primary events in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. There are multiple 16th-century narratives of the events by Spanish conquistadors, their indigenous allies, and the defeated Aztecs. It was not solely a contest between a small contingent of Spaniards defeating the Aztec Empire but rather the creation of a coalition of Spanish invaders with tributaries to the Aztecs, and most especially the Aztecs' indigenous enemies and rivals. They combined forces to defeat the Mexica of Tenochtitlan over a two-year period. For the Spanish, the expedition to Mexico was part of a project of Spanish colonization of the New World after twenty-five years of permanent Spanish settlement and further exploration in the Caribbean.

The capture of Tenochtitlan marked the beginning of a 300-year colonial period, during which Mexico was known as "New Spain" ruled by a viceroy in the name of the Spanish monarch. Colonial Mexico had key elements to attract Spanish immigrants: (1) dense and politically complex indigenous populations (especially in the central part) that could be compelled to work, and (2) huge mineral wealth, especially major silver deposits in the northern regions Zacatecas and Guanajuato. The Viceroyalty of Peru also had those two important elements, so that New Spain and Peru were the seats of Spanish power and the source of its wealth, until other viceroyalties were created in Spanish South America in the late 18th century. This wealth made Spain the dominant power in Europe, rivalling England, France, and (after its independence from Spain) the Netherlands.

Silver Mining in New Spain

Silver Mining

1546 Jan 1
, Zacatecas

The first major vein of silver was found in 1548 in a mine called San Bernabé. This was followed by similar finds in mines called Albarrada de San Benito, Vetagrande, Pánuco and others. This brought a large number of people to Zacatecas, including craftsmen, merchants, clerics and adventurers. The settlement grew over the space of a few years into one of the most important cities in New Spain and the most populous after Mexico City. The success of the mines led to the arrival of indigenous people and the importation of black slaves to work in them. The mining camp spread southwards along the course of the Arroyo de la Plata, which now lies underneath Hidalgo Avenue, the old town's main road. Zacatecas was one of the richest states in Mexico. One of the most important mines from the colonial period is the El Edén mine. It began operations in 1586 in the Cerro de la Bufa. It principally produced gold and silver with most of its production occurring in the 17th and 18th centuries. Spain's silver mining and crown mints created high quality coins, the currency of Spanish America, the silver peso or Spanish dollar that became a global currency.

1580 Codex depicting a Battle at San Francisco Chamacuero in the Current State of Guanajuato

Chichimeca War

1550 Jan 1 - 1590
, Bajío

The Chichimeca War (1550–90) was a military conflict between the Spanish Empire and the Chichimeca Confederation established in the territories today known as the Central Mexican Plateau, called by the Conquistadores La Gran Chichimeca. The epicenter of the hostilities was the region now called the Bajío. The Chichimeca War is recorded as the longest and most expensive military campaign confronting the Spanish Empire and indigenous people in Mesoamerica. The forty-year conflict was settled through several peace treaties driven by the Spaniards which led to the pacification and, ultimately, the streamlined integration of the native populations into the New Spain society.

The Chichimeca War (1550-1590) began eight years after the two-year Mixtón War. It can be considered a continuation of the rebellion as the fighting did not come to a halt in the intervening years. Unlike in the Mixtón rebellion, the Caxcanes were now allied with the Spanish. The war was fought in what are the present-day Mexican states of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Queretaro, and San Luis Potosí.

Spanish Conquest of Yucatán

Spanish Conquest of Yucatán

1551 Jan 1 - 1697
, Yucatan

The Spanish conquest of Yucatán was the campaign undertaken by the Spanish conquistadores against the Late Postclassic Maya states and polities in the Yucatán Peninsula, a vast limestone plain covering south-eastern Mexico, northern Guatemala, and all of Belize. The Spanish conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula was hindered by its politically fragmented state. The Spanish engaged in a strategy of concentrating native populations in newly founded colonial towns. Native resistance to the new nucleated settlements took the form of the flight into inaccessible regions such as the forest or joining neighbouring Maya groups that had not yet submitted to the Spanish. Among the Maya, ambush was a favoured tactic. Spanish weaponry included broadswords, rapiers, lances, pikes, halberds, crossbows, matchlocks, and light artillery. Maya warriors fought with flint-tipped spears, bows and arrows and stones, and wore padded cotton armour to protect themselves. The Spanish introduced a number of Old World diseases previously unknown in the Americas, initiating devastating plagues that swept through the native populations.

The polities of Petén in the south remained independent and received many refugees fleeing from Spanish jurisdiction. In 1618 and in 1619 two unsuccessful Franciscan missions attempted the peaceful conversion of the still pagan Itza. In 1622 the Itza slaughtered two Spanish parties trying to reach their capital Nojpetén. These events ended all Spanish attempts to contact the Itza until 1695. Over the course of 1695 and 1696 a number of Spanish expeditions attempted to reach Nojpetén from the mutually independent Spanish colonies in Yucatán and Guatemala. In early 1695 the Spanish began to build a road from Campeche south towards Petén and activity intensified, sometimes with significant losses on the part of the Spanish. Martín de Urzúa y Arizmendi, governor of Yucatán, launched an assault upon Nojpetén in March 1697; the city fell after a brief battle. With the defeat of the Itza, the last independent and unconquered native kingdom in the Americas fell to the Spanish.

Acapulco in 1628, Mexican terminus of the Manila galleon

Manila galleon

1565 Jan 1 - 1811
, Manila

The Manila galleons were Spanish trading ships which for two and a half centuries linked the Spanish Crown’s Viceroyalty of New Spain, based in Mexico City, with her Asian territories, collectively known as the Spanish East Indies, across the Pacific Ocean. The ships made one or two round-trip voyages per year between the ports of Acapulco and Manila. The name of the galleon changed to reflect the city that the ship sailed from. The term Manila galleon can also refer to the trade route itself between Acapulco and Manila, which lasted from 1565 to 1815.

The Manila galleons sailed the Pacific for 250 years, bringing to the Americas cargoes of luxury goods such as spices and porcelain in exchange for New World silver. The route also fostered cultural exchanges that shaped the identities and culture of the countries involved. The Manila galleons were also known in New Spain as La Nao de la China ("The China Ship") on their voyages from the Philippines because they carried mostly Chinese goods, shipped from Manila.

The Spanish inaugurated the Manila galleon trade route in 1565 after the Augustinian friar and navigator Andrés de Urdaneta pioneered the tornaviaje or return route from the Philippines to Mexico. Urdaneta and Alonso de Arellano made the first successful round trips that year. The trade using "Urdaneta's route" lasted until 1815, when the Mexican War of Independence broke out.

Comanche raids of Texas

Spanish Texas

1690 Jan 1 - 1821
, Texas

Spain claimed ownership of the territory of Texas in 1519, which comprised part of the present-day U.S. state of Texas, including the land north of the Medina and Nueces Rivers, but did not attempt to colonize the area until after locating evidence of the failed French colony of Fort Saint Louis in 1689. In 1690 Alonso de León escorted several Catholic missionaries to east Texas, where they established the first mission in Texas. When native tribes resisted the Spanish invasion of their homeland, the missionaries returned to Mexico, abandoning Texas for the next two decades. The Spanish returned to southeastern Texas in 1716, establishing several missions and a presidio to maintain a buffer between Spanish territory and the French colonial Louisiana district of New France. Two years later in 1718, the first civilian settlement in Texas, San Antonio, originated as a way station between the missions and the next-nearest existing settlement. The new town soon became a target for raids by the Lipan Apache.

The raids continued periodically for almost three decades, until Spanish settlers and the Lipan Apache peoples made peace in 1749. But the treaty angered the enemies of the Apache, and resulted in raids on Spanish settlements by the Comanche, Tonkawa, and Hasinai tribes. Fear of Indian attacks and the remoteness of the area from the rest of the Viceroyalty discouraged European settlers from moving to Texas. It remained one of the provinces least-populated by immigrants. The threat of attacks did not decrease until 1785, when Spain and the Comanche peoples made a peace agreement. The Comanche tribe later assisted in defeating the Lipan Apache and Karankawa tribes, who had continued to cause difficulties for settlers. An increase in the number of missions in the province allowed for peaceful Christian conversions of other tribes.

France formally relinquished its claim to its region of Texas in 1762, when it ceded French Louisiana to the Spanish Empire. The inclusion of Spanish Louisiana into New Spain meant that Tejas lost its significance as essentially a buffer province. The easternmost Texas settlements were disbanded, with the population relocating to San Antonio. However, in 1799 Spain gave Louisiana back to France, and in 1803 Napoléon Bonaparte (First Consul of the French Republic) sold the territory to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson (in office: 1801 to 1809) insisted that the purchase included all land to the east of the Rocky Mountains and to the north of the Rio Grande, although its large southwestern expanse lay within New Spain. The territorial ambiguity remained unresolved until the Adams–Onís Treaty compromise in 1819, when Spain ceded Spanish Florida to the United States in return for recognition of the Sabine River as the eastern boundary of Spanish Texas and western boundary of the Missouri Territory. The United States relinquished their claims on the vast Spanish territories west of the Sabine River and extending into Santa Fe de Nuevo México province (New Mexico).

During the Mexican War of Independence of 1810 to 1821 Texas experienced much turmoil. Three years later the Republican Army of the North, consisting primarily of Indians and of citizens of the United States, overthrew the Spanish government in Tejas and executed Salcedo. The Spanish responded brutally, and by 1820 fewer than 2000 Hispanic citizens remained in Texas. The Mexican independence movement forced Spain to relinquish its control of New Spain in 1821, with Texas becoming in 1824 part of the state of Coahuila y Tejas within the newly formed Mexico in the period in Texas history known as Mexican Texas (1821-1836).

The Spanish left a deep mark on Texas. Their European livestock caused mesquite to spread inland, while farmers tilled and irrigated the land, changing the landscape forever. The Spanish provided the names for many of the rivers, towns, and counties that currently exist, and Spanish architectural concepts still flourish. Although Texas eventually adopted much of the Anglo-American legal system, many Spanish legal practices survived, including the concepts of a homestead exemption and of community property.

Mexican War of Independence

Mexican War of Independence

1810 Sep 16 - 1821 Sep 27
, Mexico

Mexican Independence was not an inevitable outcome, but events in Spain directly impacted the outbreak of the armed insurgency in 1810 and its course until 1821. Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Spain in 1808 touched off a crisis of legitimacy of crown rule, since he had placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne after forcing the abdication of the Spanish monarch Charles IV. In Spain and many of its overseas possessions, the local response was to set up juntas ruling in the name of the Bourbon monarchy. Delegates in Spain and overseas territories met in Cádiz, Spain, still under Spanish control, as the Cortes of Cádiz, and drafted the Spanish Constitution of 1812. That constitution sought to create a new governing framework in the absence of the legitimate Spanish monarch. It tried to accommodate the aspirations of American-born Spaniards (criollos) for more local control and equal standing with Peninsular-born Spaniards, known locally as peninsulares. This political process had far-reaching impacts in New Spain during the independence war and beyond. Pre-existing cultural, religious, and racial divides in Mexico played a major role in not only the development of the independence movement but also the development of the conflict as it progressed.

In September 1808, peninsular-born Spaniards in New Spain overthrew Viceroy José de Iturrigaray (1803–1808), who had been appointed before the French invasion. In 1810, American-born Spaniards in favor of independence began plotting an uprising against Spanish rule. It occurred when the parish priest of the village of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, issued the Cry of Dolores on 16 September 1810. The Hidalgo revolt began the armed insurgency for independence, lasting until 1821. The colonial regime did not expect the size and duration of the insurgency, which spread from the Bajío region north of Mexico City to the Pacific and Gulf Coasts. After Napoleon's defeat, Ferdinand VII succeeded to the throne of the Spanish Empire in 1814 and promptly repudiated the constitution, and returned to absolutist rule. When Spanish liberals overthrew the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820, conservatives in New Spain saw political independence as a way to maintain their position. Former royalists and old insurgents allied under the Plan of Iguala and forged the Army of the Three Guarantees. Within six months, the new army was in control of all but the ports of Veracruz and Acapulco. On September 27, 1821, Iturbide and the last viceroy, Juan O'Donojú signed the Treaty of Córdoba whereby Spain granted the demands. O'Donojú had been operating under instructions that had been issued months before the latest turn of events. Spain refused to formally recognize Mexico's independence and the situation became even more complicated by O'Donojú's death in October 1821.

Coat of arms of the First Mexican Empire.

First Mexican Empire

1821 Jan 1 - 1823
, Mexico

The Mexican Empire was a constitutional monarchy, the first independent government of Mexico and the only former colony of the Spanish Empire to establish a monarchy after independence. It is one of the few modern-era, independent monarchies that have existed in the Americas, along with the Brazilian Empire. It is typically denominated as the First Mexican Empire to distinguish it from the Second Mexican Empire.

Agustín de Iturbide, the sole monarch of the empire, was originally a Mexican military commander under whose leadership independence from Spain was gained in September 1821. His popularity culminated in mass demonstrations on 18 May 1822, in favour of making him emperor of the new nation, and the very next day congress hastily approved the matter. A sumptuous coronation ceremony followed in July.

The empire was plagued throughout its short existence by questions about its legality, conflicts between congress and the emperor, and a bankrupt treasury. Iturbide dissolved the congress in October 1822, replacing it with a junta of supporters, and by December of that year had begun to lose support of the army, which revolted in favor of restoring congress. After failing to put down the revolt, Iturbide reconvened congress in March 1823, and offered his abdication, upon which power passed to a provisional government which ultimately abolished the monarchy.

The Comanche were famous for their horsemanship. | ©George Catlin, 1835.

Comanche–Mexico Wars

1821 Jan 1 - 1870
, Chihuahua

The Comanche–Mexico Wars was the Mexican theater of the Comanche Wars, a series of conflicts from 1821 to 1870. The Comanche and their Kiowa and Kiowa Apache allies carried out large-scale raids hundreds of miles deep into Mexico killing thousands of people and stealing hundreds of thousands of cattle and horses. The Comanche raids were sparked by the declining military capability of Mexico during the turbulent years after it gained independence in 1821, as well as a large and growing market in the United States for stolen Mexican horses and cattle.

When the US Army invaded northern Mexico in 1846 during the Mexican–American War, the region was devastated. The largest Comanche raids into Mexico took place from 1840 to the mid-1850s, after which they declined in size and intensity. The Comanche were finally defeated by the United States Army in 1875 and forced onto a reservation.

Military action in Pueblo Viejo during the Battle of Tampico, September 1829

First Mexican Republic

1824 Jan 1 - 1835 Jan
, Mexico

The First Mexican Republic was a federated republic, established by the Constitution of 1824, the first constitution of independent Mexico. The republic was proclaimed on November 1, 1823 by the Supreme Executive Power, months after the fall of the Mexican Empire ruled emperor Agustin I, a former royalist military officer-turned-insurgent for independence. The federation was formally and legally established on October 4, 1824, when the Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States came into force.

The First Republic was plagued through its entire twelve-year existence by severe financial and political instability. Political controversies, ever since the drafting of the constitution tended to center around whether Mexico should be a federal or a centralist state, with wider liberal and conservative causes attaching themselves to each faction respectively. The First Republic would finally collapse after the overthrow of the liberal president Valentín Gómez Farías, through a rebellion led by his former vice-president, General Antonio López de Santa Anna who had switched sides. Once in power, the conservatives, who had long been critical of the federal system and blamed it for the nation's instability, repealed the Constitution of 1824 on October 23, 1835, and the Federal Republic became a unitary state, the Centralist Republic. The unitary regime was formally established on December 30, 1836, with the enactment of the seven constitutional laws.

López de Santa Anna in a Mexican military uniform

Age of Santa Anna

1829 Jan 1 - 1854 Jan
, Mexico

In much of Spanish America soon after its independence, military strongmen or caudillos dominated politics, and this period is often called "The Age of Caudillismo". In Mexico, from the late 1820s to the mid-1850s the period is often called the "Age of Santa Anna", named for the general and politician, Antonio López de Santa Anna. Liberals (federalists) asked Santa Anna to overthrow conservative President Anastasio Bustamante. After he did, he declared General Manuel Gómez Pedraza (who won the election of 1828) president. Elections were held thereafter, and Santa Anna took office in 1832. He served as president 11 times. Constantly changing his political beliefs, in 1834 Santa Anna abrogated the federal constitution, causing insurgencies in the southeastern state of Yucatán and the northernmost portion of the northern state of Coahuila y Tejas. Both areas sought independence from the central government. Negotiations and the presence of Santa Anna's army caused Yucatán to recognize Mexican sovereignty. Then Santa Anna's army turned to the northern rebellion.

The inhabitants of Tejas declared the Republic of Texas independent from Mexico on 2 March 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. They called themselves Texans and were led mainly by recent Anglo-American settlers. At the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Texan militiamen defeated the Mexican army and captured General Santa Anna. The Mexican government refused to recognize the independence of Texas.

The Fall of the Alamo depicts Davy Crockett swinging his rifle at Mexican troops who have breached the south gate of the mission.

Texas Revolution

1835 Oct 2 - 1836 Apr 21
, Texas

The Texas revolution began in October 1835, after a decade of political and cultural clashes between the Mexican government and the increasingly large population of Anglo-American settlers in Texas. The Mexican government had become increasingly centralized and the rights of its citizens had become increasingly curtailed, particularly regarding immigration from the United States. Mexico had officially abolished slavery in Texas in 1829, and the desire of Anglo Texans to maintain the institution of chattel slavery in Texas was also a major cause of secession. Colonists and Tejanos disagreed on whether the ultimate goal was independence or a return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824. While delegates at the Consultation (provisional government) debated the war's motives, Texians and a flood of volunteers from the United States defeated the small garrisons of Mexican soldiers by mid-December 1835. The Consultation declined to declare independence and installed an interim government, whose infighting led to political paralysis and a dearth of effective governance in Texas. An ill-conceived proposal to invade Matamoros siphoned much-needed volunteers and provisions from the fledgling Texian Army. In March 1836, a second political convention declared independence and appointed leadership for the new Republic of Texas.

Determined to avenge Mexico's honor, Santa Anna vowed to personally retake Texas. His Army of Operations entered Texas in mid-February 1836 and found the Texians completely unprepared. Mexican General José de Urrea led a contingent of troops on the Goliad Campaign up the Texas coast, defeating all Texian troops in his path and executing most of those who surrendered. Santa Anna led a larger force to San Antonio de Béxar (or Béxar), where his troops defeated the Texian garrison in the Battle of the Alamo, killing almost all of the defenders.

A newly created Texian army under the command of Sam Houston was constantly on the move, while terrified civilians fled with the army, in a melee known as the Runaway Scrape. On March 31, Houston paused his men at Groce's Landing on the Brazos River, and for the next two weeks, the Texians received rigorous military training. Becoming complacent and underestimating the strength of his foes, Santa Anna further subdivided his troops. On April 21, Houston's army staged a surprise assault on Santa Anna and his vanguard force at the Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican troops were quickly routed, and vengeful Texians executed many who tried to surrender. Santa Anna was taken hostage; in exchange for his life, he ordered the Mexican army to retreat south of the Rio Grande. Mexico refused to recognize the Republic of Texas, and intermittent conflicts between the two countries continued into the 1840s. The annexation of Texas as the 28th state of the United States, in 1845, led directly to the Mexican–American War.

The Mexican-American War | ©Don Troiani

The Mexican-American War

1846 Apr 25 - 1848 Feb 2
, Mexico

The Mexican–American War was a conflict between the United States and Mexico that began in April 1846 and ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848. The war was fought mainly in what is now the southwestern United States and Mexico, and resulted in a victory for the United States. Under the treaty, Mexico ceded around half of its territory, including present-day California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, to the United States.

U.S.S. Saratoga which helped defeat a conservative squadron at the Battle of Antón Lizardo

Reform War

1858 Jan 11 - 1861 Jan 11
, Mexico

The Reform War was a civil war in Mexico lasting from January 11, 1858 to January 11, 1861, fought between liberals and conservatives, over the promulgation of Constitution of 1857, which had been drafted and published under the presidency of Ignacio Comonfort. The constitution had codified a liberal program intended to limit the political, economic, and cultural power of the Catholic Church; separate church and state; reduce the power of the Mexican Army by elimination of the fuero; strengthen the secular state through public education; and economically develop the nation.

The first year of the war was marked by repeated conservative victories, but the liberals remained entrenched in the nation's coastal regions, including their capital at Veracruz giving them access to vital customs revenue.

Both governments attained international recognition, the Liberals by the United States, and the Conservatives by France, Great Britain, and Spain. Liberals negotiated the McLane–Ocampo Treaty with the United States in 1859. If ratified the treaty would have given the liberal regime cash but also would have granted the United States perpetual military and economic rights on Mexican territory. The treaty failed to pass in the U.S. Senate, but the U.S. Navy nonetheless helped protect Juárez's government in Veracruz.

Liberals thereafter accumulated victories on the battlefield until Conservative forces surrendered on December 22, 1860. Juárez returned to Mexico City on January 11, 1861 and held presidential elections in March. Although Conservative forces lost the war, guerrillas remained active in the countryside and would join the upcoming French intervention to help establish the Second Mexican Empire.

French troops enter Mexico City

Second French intervention in Mexico

1861 Dec 8 - 1867 Jun 21
, Mexico

The second French intervention in Mexico, was an invasion of the Second Federal Republic of Mexico, launched in late 1862 by the Second French Empire, at the invitation of Mexican conservatives. It helped replace the republic with a monarchy, known as the Second Mexican Empire, ruled by Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine which ruled colonial Mexico at its inception in the 16th century.

Mexican monarchists came up with the initial plan to return Mexico to a monarchical form of government, as it had been pre-independence and at its inception as an independent country, as the First Mexican Empire. They invited Napoleon III to aid in their cause and help create the monarchy, which would, in his estimations, lead to a country more favorable to French interests, but which was not always the case.

After the administration of Mexican President Benito Juárez placed a moratorium on foreign debt payments in 1861, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain agreed to the Convention of London, a joint effort to ensure that debt repayments from Mexico would be forthcoming. On 8 December 1861, the three navies disembarked their troops at the port city of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. However, when the British discovered that France had an ulterior motive and unilaterally planned to seize Mexico, the United Kingdom separately negotiated an agreement with Mexico to settle the debt issues and withdrew from the country; Spain subsequently left as well. The resulting French invasion established the Second Mexican Empire (1864–1867). Many European states acknowledged the political legitimacy of the newly created monarchy, while the United States refused to recognize it.

The intervention came as a civil war, the Reform War, had just concluded, and the intervention allowed the Conservative opposition against the liberal social and economic reforms of President Juárez to take up their cause once again. The Mexican Catholic Church, Mexican conservatives, much of the upper-class and Mexican nobility, and some Native Mexican communities invited, welcomed and collaborated with the French empire's help to install Maximilian of Habsburg as Emperor of Mexico. The emperor himself, however proved to be of liberal inclination and continued some of the Juárez government's most notable liberal measures. Some liberal generals defected to the Empire, including the powerful, northern governor Santiago Vidaurri, who had fought on the side of Juárez during the Reform War.

The French and Mexican Imperial Army rapidly captured much of Mexican territory, including major cities, but guerrilla warfare remained rampant, and the intervention was increasingly using up troops and money at a time when the recent Prussian victory over Austria was inclining France to give greater military priority to European affairs. The liberals also never lost the official recognition of the Union part of the United States, and the reunited country began providing materiel support following the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. government asserted that it would not tolerate a lasting French presence on the continent. Facing defeats and mounting pressure both at home and abroad, the French finally began to leave in 1866. The Empire would only last a few more months; forces loyal to Juárez captured Maximilian and executed him in June 1867, restoring the Republic.

Battle of Puebla

Battle of Puebla

1862 May 5
, Puebla

The Battle of Puebla took place on 5 May, Cinco de Mayo, 1862, near Puebla de Zaragoza during the Second French intervention in Mexico. French troops under the command of Charles de Lorencez repeatedly failed to storm the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe situated on top of the hills overlooking the city of Puebla, and eventually retreated to Orizaba in order to await reinforcements. Lorencez was dismissed from his command, and French troops under Élie Frédéric Forey would eventually take the city, but the Mexican victory at Puebla against a better equipped force provided patriotic inspiration to the Mexicans.

President Benito Juárez

Restored Republic

1867 Jan 1 - 1876
, Mexico

The Restored Republic was the era of Mexican history between 1867 and 1876, starting with the liberal triumph over the Second French Intervention in Mexico and the fall of the Second Mexican Empire and ending with Porfirio Diaz's ascension to the presidency. The liberal coalition that had weathered the French intervention disintegrated after 1867, to the point of resulting in armed conflict. Three men dominated politics in this era, two from Oaxaca, Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz, and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. Lerdo's biographer summed up the three ambitious men: "Juárez believed he was indispensable; while Lerdo regarded himself as infallible and Díaz as inevitable." Liberals split between moderates and radicals. There was also a generational split between older, civilian liberals like Juárez and Lerdo, and younger, military leaders, such as Díaz.

Juárez was seen by his supporters as the embodiment of the struggle for national liberation, but his continuation in office after 1865, when his term as president ended, led to accusations of autocracy, and opened the door to liberal rivals challenging his hold on power. With the exit of the French in 1867, Juárez built a political machine to keep himself and his supporters in power. It was a politically unstable time, with multiple rebellions in 1867, 1868, 1869, 1870, and 1871 In 1871, Juárez was challenged by General Porfirio Díaz under the Plan de la Noria, which objected to Juárez's hold on power. Juárez crushed the rebellion. Following Juárez's 1872 fatal heart attack, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada succeeded him as president. Lerdo also built a powerful political machine aimed at keeping his faction in power. When Lerdo ran for a second term, Díaz once again rebelled in 1876, under the Plan de Tuxtepec. A year-long civil war ensued, with Lerdo's government troops waging war against the guerrilla tactics of Díaz and his supporters. Political opposition to Juárez and Lerdo grew in the period and gravitated to support of Porfirio Díaz. Díaz found success in the 1876 civil war against Lerdo and began the next political era, the Porfiriato.

President Gen. Porfirio Díaz


1876 Jan 1 - 1911
, Mexico

The Porfiriato is a term given to the period when General Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico as president in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coined by Mexican historian Daniel Cosío Villegas. Seizing power in a coup in 1876, Díaz pursued a policy of "order and progress," inviting foreign investment in Mexico and maintaining social and political order, by force if necessary. Díaz was an astute military leader and liberal politician who built a national base of supporters. He maintained a stable relationship with the Catholic Church by avoiding the enforcement of constitutional anticlerical laws.

The country's infrastructure was greatly improved through increased foreign investment from Britain and the United States, and a strong, participatory central government.Increased tax revenue and better administration dramatically improved public safety, public health, railways, mining, industry, foreign trade, and national finances. Díaz modernized the army and suppressed some banditry. After a half-century of stagnation, where per capita income was merely a tenth of the developed nations such as Britain and the US, the Mexican economy took off and grew at an annual rate of 2.3% (1877 to 1910), which was high by world standards.

As Díaz approached his 80th birthday in 1910, having been continuously elected since 1884, he still had not put in place a plan for his succession. The fraudulent 1910 elections are usually seen as the end of the Porfiriato. Violence broke out, Díaz was forced to resign and go into exile, and Mexico experienced a decade of regional civil war, the Mexican Revolution.

Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata

Mexican Revolution

1910 Nov 20 - 1920 Dec 1
, Mexico

The Mexican Revolution was an extended sequence of armed regional conflicts in Mexico from approximately 1910 to 1920. It has been called "the defining event of modern Mexican history". It resulted in the destruction of the Federal Army and its replacement by a revolutionary army, and the transformation of Mexican culture and government. The northern Constitutionalist faction prevailed on the battlefield and drafted the present-day Constitution of Mexico, which aimed to create a strong central government. Revolutionary generals held power from 1920 to 1940. The revolutionary conflict was primarily a civil war, but foreign powers, having important economic and strategic interests in Mexico, figured in the outcome of Mexico's power struggles; the United States involvement was particularly high. The conflict led to the deaths of around three million people, mostly combatants.

Although the decades-long regime of President Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911) was increasingly unpopular, there was no foreboding in 1910 that a revolution was about to break out. The aging Díaz failed to find a controlled solution to presidential succession, resulting in a power struggle among competing elites and the middle classes, which occurred during a period of intense labor unrest, exemplified by the Cananea and Río Blanco strikes. When wealthy northern landowner Francisco I. Madero challenged Díaz in the 1910 presidential election and Díaz jailed him, Madero called for an armed uprising against Díaz in the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Rebellions broke out first in Morelos, and then to a much greater extent in northern Mexico. The Federal Army was unable to suppress the widespread uprisings, showing the military's weakness and encouraging the rebels. Díaz resigned in May 1911 and went into exile, an interim government was installed until elections could be held, the Federal Army was retained, and revolutionary forces demobilized. The first phase of the Revolution was relatively bloodless and short-lived.

Madero was elected President, taking office in November 1911. He immediately faced the armed rebellion of Emiliano Zapata in Morelos, where peasants demanded rapid action on agrarian reform. Politically inexperienced, Madero's government was fragile, and further regional rebellions broke out. In February 1913, prominent army generals from the Díaz regime staged a coup d'etat in Mexico City, forcing Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez to resign. Days later, both men were assassinated by orders of the new President, Victoriano Huerta. This initiated a new and bloody phase of the Revolution, as a coalition of northerners opposed to the counter-revolutionary regime of Huerta, the Constitutionalist Army led by Governor of Coahuila Venustiano Carranza, entered the conflict. Zapata's forces continued their armed rebellion in Morelos. Huerta's regime lasted from February 1913 to July 1914, and saw the Federal Army defeated by revolutionary armies. The revolutionary armies then fought each other, with the Constitutionalist faction under Carranza defeating the army of former ally Francisco "Pancho" Villa by the summer of 1915.

Carranza consolidated power, and a new constitution was promulgated in February 1917. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 established universal male suffrage, promoted secularism, workers' rights, economic nationalism, and land reform, and enhanced the power of the federal government. Carranza became President of Mexico in 1917, serving a term ending in 1920. He attempted to impose a civilian successor, prompting northern revolutionary generals to rebel. Carranza fled Mexico City and was killed. From 1920 to 1940, revolutionary generals held office, a period when State power became more centralized and revolutionary reforms were implemented, bringing the military under the control of the civilian government. The Revolution was a decade-long civil war, with new political leadership that gained power and legitimacy through their participation in revolutionary conflicts. The political party they founded, which would become the Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico until the presidential election of 2000. Even the conservative winner of that election, Vicente Fox, contended his election was heir to the 1910 democratic election of Francisco Madero, thereby claiming the heritage and legitimacy of the Revolution.

Álvaro Obregón. | ©Harris & Ewing

Obregón presidency

1920 Jan 1 - 1924
, Mexico

Obregón, Calles, and de la Huerta revolted against Carranza in the Plan of Agua Prieta in 1920. Following the interim presidency of Adolfo de la Huerta, elections were held and Obregón was elected for a four-year presidential term. As well as being the Constitutionalists' most brilliant general, Obregón was a clever politician and successful businessman, farming chickpeas. His government managed to accommodate many elements of Mexican society except the most conservative clergy and wealthy landowners. He was not an ideologue, but was a revolutionary nationalist, holding seemingly contradictory views as a socialist, a capitalist, a Jacobin, a spiritualist, and an Americanophile.

He was able to successfully implement policies emerging from the revolutionary struggle; in particular, the successful policies were: the integration of urban, organized labor into political life via CROM, the improvement of education and Mexican cultural production under José Vasconcelos, the movement of land reform, and the steps taken toward instituting women's civil rights. He faced several main tasks in the presidency, mainly political in nature. First was consolidating state power in the central government and curbing regional strongmen (caudillos); second was obtaining diplomatic recognition from the United States; and third was managing the presidential succession in 1924 when his term of office ended. His administration began constructing what one scholar called "an enlightened despotism, a ruling conviction that the state knew what ought to be done and needed plenary powers to fulfill its mission." After the nearly decade-long violence of the Mexican Revolution, reconstruction in the hands of a strong central government offered stability and a path of renewed modernization.

Obregón knew it was necessary for his regime to secure the recognition of the United States. With the promulgation of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, the Mexican government was empowered to expropriate natural resources. The U.S. had considerable business interests in Mexico, especially oil, and the threat of Mexican economic nationalism to big oil companies meant that diplomatic recognition could hinge on Mexican compromise in implementing the constitution. In 1923 when the Mexican presidential elections were on the horizon, Obregón began negotiating with the U.S. government in earnest, with the two governments signing the Bucareli Treaty. The treaty resolved questions about foreign oil interests in Mexico, largely in favor of U.S. interests, but Obregón's government gained U.S. diplomatic recognition. With that arms and ammunition began flowing to revolutionary armies loyal to Obregón.

Plutarco Elías Calles | ©Aurelio Escobar Castellanos

Calles presidency

1924 Jan 1 - 1928
, Mexico

The 1924 presidential election was not a demonstration of free and fair elections, but the incumbent Obregón could not stand for re-election, thereby acknowledging that revolutionary principle. He completed his presidential term still alive, the first since Porfirio Díaz. Candidate Plutarco Elías Calles embarked on one of the first populist presidential campaigns in the nation's history, calling for land reform and promised equal justice, more education, additional labor rights, and democratic governance. Calles tried to fulfill his promises during his populist phase (1924–26), and a repressive anti-clerical phase (1926–28). Obregón's stance toward the church appears pragmatic, since there were many other issues for him to deal with, but his successor Calles, a vehement anticlerical, took on the church as an institution and religious Catholics when he succeeded to the presidency, bringing about violent, bloody, and protracted conflict known as the Cristero War.

Cristero union.

Cristero War

1926 Aug 1 - 1929 Jun 21
, Mexico

The Cristero War was a widespread struggle in central and western Mexico from 1 August 1926 to 21 June 1929 in response to the implementation of secularist and anticlerical articles of the 1917 Constitution. The rebellion was instigated as a response to an executive decree by Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles to strictly enforce Article 130 of the Constitution, a decision known as Calles Law. Calles sought to eliminate the power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, its affiliated organizations and to suppress popular religiosity.

The rural uprising in north-central Mexico was tacitly supported by the Church hierarchy, and was aided by urban Catholic supporters. The Mexican Army received support from the United States. American Ambassador Dwight Morrow brokered negotiations between the Calles government and the Church. The government made some concessions, the Church withdrew its support for the Cristero fighters, and the conflict ended in 1929. The rebellion has been variously interpreted as a major event in the struggle between church and state that dates back to the 19th century with the War of Reform, as the last major peasant uprising in Mexico after the end of the military phase of the Mexican Revolution in 1920, and as a counter-revolutionary uprising by prosperous peasants and urban elites against the revolution's rural and agrarian reforms.

Plutarco Elías Calles, called the jefe máximo. He was seen as the de facto leader of Mexico during the Maximato.


1928 Jan 1 - 1934
, Mexico

The Maximato was a transitional period in the historical and political development of Mexico from 1928 to 1934. Named after former president Plutarco Elías Calles's sobriquet el Jefe Máximo (the maximum leader), the Maximato was the period that Calles continued to exercise power and exert influence without holding the presidency. The six-year period was the term that President-elect Alvaro Obregón would have served if he had not been assassinated immediately after the July 1928 elections. There needed to be some kind of political solution to the presidential succession crisis. Calles could not hold the presidency again because of restrictions on re-election without an interval out of power, but he remained the dominant figure in Mexico.

There were two solutions to the crisis. Firstly, an interim president was to be appointed, followed by new elections. Secondly, Calles created an enduring political institution, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), which held presidential power from 1929 to 2000. The interim presidency of Emilio Portes Gil lasted from 1 December 1928 to 4 February 1930. He was passed over as candidate for the newly formed PNR in favor of a political unknown, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, who resigned in September 1932 in protest at Calles's continued wielding of the real power. The successor was Abelardo L. Rodríguez, who served out the rest of the term that ended in 1934. As President, Rodríguez exerted more independence from Calles than had Ortiz Rubio. That year's election was won by the former revolutionary general Lázaro Cárdenas, who had been chosen as the candidate for the PNR. Following the election, Calles attempted to exert control over Cárdenas, but with strategic allies Cárdenas outmaneuvered Calles politically and expelled him and his major allies from the country in 1936.

Cárdenas decrees nationalization of foreign railways in 1937. | ©Doralicia Carmona Dávila

Cárdenas presidency

1934 Jan 1 - 1940
, Mexico

Lázaro Cárdenas was hand-picked by Calles as the successor to the presidency in 1934. Cárdenas managed to unite the different forces in the PRI and set the rules that allowed his party to rule unchallenged for decades to come without internal fights. He nationalized the oil industry (on 18 March 1938), the electricity industry, created the National Polytechnic Institute, implemented extensive land reform and the distribution of free textbooks to children. In 1936 he exiled Calles, the last general with dictatorial ambitions, thereby removing the army from power.

On the eve of World War II, the Cárdenas administration (1934–1940) was just stabilizing, and consolidating control over, a Mexican nation that, for decades, had been in revolutionary flux, and Mexicans were beginning to interpret the European battle between the communists and fascists, especially the Spanish Civil War, through their unique revolutionary lens. Whether Mexico would side with the United States was unclear during Lázaro Cárdenas' rule, as he remained neutral. "Capitalists, businessmen, Catholics, and middle-class Mexicans who opposed many of the reforms implemented by the revolutionary government sided with the Spanish Falange".

Nazi propagandist Arthur Dietrich and his team of agents in Mexico successfully manipulated editorials and coverage of Europe by paying hefty subsidies to Mexican newspapers, including the widely read dailies Excélsior and El Universal. The situation became even more worrisome for the Allies when major oil companies boycotted Mexican oil following Lázaro Cárdenas' nationalization of the oil industry and expropriation of all corporate oil properties in 1938, which severed Mexico's access to its traditional markets and led Mexico to sell its oil to Germany and Italy.

Zócalo, Plaza de la Constitución, Ciudad de México 1950.

Mexican Miracle

1940 Jan 1 - 1970
, Mexico

During the next four decades, Mexico experienced impressive economic growth, an achievement historians call "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Miracle. A key component of this phenomenon was the achievement of political stability, which since the founding of the dominant party, has insured stable presidential succession and control of potentially dissident labor and peasant sections through participation in the party structure. In 1938, Lázaro Cárdenas used Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917, which gave subsoil rights to the Mexican government, to expropriate foreign oil companies. It was a popular move, but it did not generate further major expropriations. With Cárdenas's hand-picked successor, Manuel Avila Camacho, Mexico moved closer to the U.S., as an ally in World War II. This alliance brought significant economic gains to Mexico. By supplying raw and finished war materials to the Allies, Mexico built up significant assets that in the post-war period could be translated into sustained growth and industrialization. After 1946, the government took a rightward turn under President Miguel Alemán, who repudiated policies of previous presidents. Mexico pursued industrial development, through import substitution industrialization and tariffs against foreign imports. Mexican industrialists, including a group in Monterrey, Nuevo León as well as wealthy businessmen in Mexico City joined Alemán's coalition. Alemán tamed the labor movement in favor of policies supporting industrialists.

Financing industrialization came from private entrepreneurs, such as the Monterrey group, but the government funded a significant amount through its development bank, Nacional Financiera. Foreign capital through direct investment was another source of funding for industrialization, much of it from the United States. Government policies transferred economic benefits from the countryside to the city by keeping agricultural prices artificially low, which made food cheap for city-dwelling industrial workers and other urban consumers. Commercial agriculture expanded with the growth of exports to the U.S. of high value fruits and vegetables, with rural credit going to large producers, not peasant agriculture.

Manuel Ávila Camacho, in Monterrey, having dinner with US President Franklin Roosevelt.

Camacho presidency

1940 Jan 1 - 1946
, Mexico

Manuel Ávila Camacho, Cárdenas's successor, presided over a "bridge" between the revolutionary era and the era of machine politics under PRI that lasted until 2000. Ávila Camacho, moving away from nationalistic autarchy, proposed to create a favorable climate for international investment, which had been a policy favored nearly two generations earlier by Madero. Ávila's regime froze wages, repressed strikes, and persecuted dissidents with a law prohibiting the "crime of social dissolution." During this period, the PRI shifted to the right and abandoned much of the radical nationalism of the Cárdenas era. Miguel Alemán Valdés, Ávila Camacho's successor, amended Article 27 to limit land reform, protecting large landowners.

Capt. Radamés Gaxiola stands in front of his P-47D with his maintenance team after he returned from a combat mission.

Mexico during World War II

1941 Jan 1 - 1945 Jan
, Mexico

Mexico played a relatively minor military role in World War II, but there were other opportunities for Mexico to contribute significantly. Relations between Mexico and the Unites States had been warming in the 1930s, particularly after U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin American countries. Even before the outbreak of hostilities between the Axis and Allied powers, Mexico aligned itself firmly with the United States, initially as a proponent of "belligerent neutrality" which the U.S. followed prior to the Attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Mexico sanctioned businesses and individuals identified by the U.S. government as being supporters of the Axis powers; in August 1941, Mexico broke off economic ties with Germany, then recalled its diplomats from Germany, and closed the German consulates in Mexico. Immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Mexico went on a war footing.

Mexico's biggest contributions to the war effort were in vital war materiel and labor, particularly the Bracero Program, a guest-worker program in the U.S. freeing men there to fight in the European and Pacific theaters of War. There was heavy demand for its exports, which created a degree of prosperity. A Mexican atomic scientist, José Rafael Bejarano, worked on the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.

Braceros arriving in Los Angeles in 1942

Bracero Program

1942 Aug 4 - 1964
, Texas

The Bracero Program (meaning "manual laborer" or "one who works using his arms") was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico. For these farmworkers, the agreement guaranteed decent living conditions (sanitation, adequate shelter, and food) and a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour, as well as protections from forced military service, and guaranteed that a part of wages was to be put into a private savings account in Mexico; it also allowed the importation of contract laborers from Guam as a temporary measure during the early phases of World War II. The agreement was extended with the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951 (Pub. L. 82–78), enacted as an amendment to the Agricultural Act of 1949 by the United States Congress, which set the official parameters for the Bracero Program until its termination in 1964.

Armored cars at the "Zócalo" in Mexico City in 1968

Mexican Movement of 1968

1968 Jul 26 - Oct 2
, Mexico City

The Mexican Movement of 1968, known as the Movimiento Estudiantil (student movement) was a social movement that happened in Mexico in 1968. A broad coalition of students from Mexico's leading universities garnered widespread public support for political change in Mexico, particularly since the government had spent large amounts of public funding to build Olympic facilities for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The movement demanded greater political freedoms and an end to the authoritarianism of the PRI regime, which had been in power since 1929.

Student mobilization on the campuses of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, National Polytechnic Institute, El Colegio de México, Chapingo Autonomous University, Ibero-American University, Universidad La Salle and Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla, among others created the National Strike Council. Its efforts to mobilize Mexican people for broad changes in national life was supported by sectors of Mexican civil society, including workers, peasants, housewives, merchants, intellectuals, artists, and teachers.

The movement had a list of demands for the Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and Government of Mexico for specific student issues as well as broader ones, especially the reduction or elimination of authoritarianism. In the background, the movement was motivated by the global protests of 1968 and struggled for a democratic change in the country, more political and civil liberties, the reduction of inequality and the resignation of the government of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that they considered authoritarian and by then had governed Mexico for almost 40 years. The political movement was suppressed by the government with the violent government attack on a peaceful demonstration on 2 October 1968, known as the Tlatelolco Massacre. There were lasting changes in Mexican political and cultural life because of the 1968 mobilization.

Opening ceremony of the 1968 Summer Olympic Games at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City

1968 Summer Olympics

1968 Oct 12 - 1965 Oct 27
, Mexico City

The 1968 Summer Olympics were an international multi-sport event held from 12 to 27 October 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico. These were the first Olympic Games to be staged in Latin America and the first to be staged in a Spanish-speaking country. The 1968 Mexican Student Movement was crushed days prior, hence the Games were correlated to the government's repression.

Mexico city - Collapsed General Hospital

1985 Mexico City Earthquake

1985 Sep 19
, Mexico

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake struck in the early morning of 19 September at 07:17:50 (CST) with a moment magnitude of 8.0 and a maximal Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent). The event caused serious damage to the Greater Mexico City area and the deaths of at least 5,000 people. The sequence of events included a foreshock of magnitude 5.2 that occurred the prior May, the main shock on 19 September, and two large aftershocks. The first of these occurred on 20 September with a magnitude of 7.5 and the second occurred seven months later on 30 April 1986 with a magnitude of 7.0. They were located off the coast along the Middle America Trench, more than 350 kilometres (220 mi) away, but the city suffered major damage due to its large magnitude and the ancient lake bed that Mexico City sits on. The event caused between three and five billion USD in damage as 412 buildings collapsed and another 3,124 were seriously damaged in the city.

Then-president Miguel de la Madrid and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were widely criticized for what was perceived as an inefficient response to the emergency, including an initial refusal of foreign aid.

Carlos Salinas walks through the gardens of the Moncloa Palace with Felipe González in 1989.

Gortari presidency

1988 Jan 1 - 1994 Jan
, Mexico

Carlos Salinas de Gortari served as President of Mexico from 1988-1994. He is best remembered for his sweeping economic reforms and his negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). His presidency is also remembered for several controversial and politically divisive issues, such as the 1988 presidential election, in which he was accused of electoral fraud and voter intimidation.

Salinas continued with the neoliberal economic policy of his predecessor Miguel de la Madrid and converted Mexico into a regulatory state. During his presidential term, he aggressively privatized hundreds of state-run companies, including telecommunications, steel, and mining. The banking system (that had been nationalized by José López Portillo) was privatized.These reforms resulted in a period of economic growth and increased foreign investment in Mexico during the early 1990s.

Salinas' government also implemented a series of social reforms, including the National Solidarity Program (PRONASOL), a social welfare program, as a way to directly aid poor Mexicans, but also create a network of support for Salinas. Domestically, Salinas faced several major challenges during his presidency. These included the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in 1994 and the assassination of his predecessor, Luis Donaldo Colosio.

Salinas' presidency was marked by both great successes and great controversy. His economic reforms helped to modernize and open up the Mexican economy, while his social reforms helped to reduce poverty and improve living standards. However, his government was also plagued by allegations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation, and he faced several major domestic challenges during his presidency.

North American Free Trade Agreement

North American Free Trade Agreement

1994 Jan 1 - 2020
, Mexico

On 1 January 1994, Mexico became a full member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joining the United States and Canada. Mexico has a free market economy that entered the Trillion dollar club in 2010. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports.

Subcomandante Marcos surrounded by several commanders of the CCRI.

Zapatista Uprising

1994 Jan 1
, Chiapas

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a far-left political and militant group that controls a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Since 1994, the group has been nominally at war with the Mexican state (although it may be described at this point as a frozen conflict). The EZLN used a strategy of civil resistance. The Zapatistas' main body is made up of mostly rural indigenous people, but it includes some supporters in urban areas and internationally. The EZLN's main spokesperson is Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, previously known as Subcomandante Marcos. Unlike other Zapatista spokespeople, Marcos is not an indigenous Maya.

The group takes its name from Emiliano Zapata, the agrarian revolutionary and commander of the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, and sees itself as his ideological heir. EZLN's ideology has been characterized as libertarian socialist, anarchist, Marxist, and having roots in liberation theology although the Zapatistas have rejected and defied political classification. The EZLN aligns itself with the wider alter-globalization, anti-neoliberal social movement, seeking indigenous control over local resources, especially land. Since their 1994 uprising was countered by the Mexican Armed Forces, the EZLN has abstained from military offensives and adopted a new strategy that attempts to garner Mexican and international support.

Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León | ©David Ross Zundel

Zedillo presidency

1994 Dec 1 - 2000 Nov 30
, Mexico

During his presidency, he faced one of the worst economic crises in Mexico's history, which started only weeks after taking office. While he distanced himself from his predecessor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, blaming his administration for the crisis, and overseeing the arrest of his brother Raúl Salinas de Gortari, he continued the neoliberal policies of his two predecessors. His administration was also marked by renewed clashes with the EZLN and the Popular Revolutionary Army; the controversial implementation of Fobaproa to rescue the national banking system; a political reform which allowed residents of the Federal District (Mexico City) to elect their own mayor; the privatization of national railways and its subsequent suspension of the passenger rail service; and the Aguas Blancas and Acteal massacres perpetrated by State forces.

Although Zedillo's policies eventually led to a relative economic recovery, popular discontent with seven decades of PRI rule led to the party losing, for the first time, its legislative majority in the 1997 midterm elections, and in the 2000 general election the right-wing opposition National Action Party's candidate Vicente Fox won the Presidency of the Republic, putting an end to 71 years of uninterrupted PRI rule. Zedillo's admission of the PRI's defeat and his peaceful handing of power to his successor improved his image in the final months of his administration, and he left office with an approval rating of 60%.

Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) insurgents in Mexico.

Mexican Peso Crisis

1994 Dec 20
, Mexico

The Mexican peso crisis was a currency crisis sparked by the Mexican government's sudden devaluation of the peso against the U.S. dollar in December 1994, which became one of the first international financial crises ignited by capital flight. During the 1994 presidential election, the incumbent administration embarked on an expansionary fiscal and monetary policy. The Mexican treasury began issuing short-term debt instruments denominated in domestic currency with a guaranteed repayment in U.S. dollars, attracting foreign investors. Mexico enjoyed investor confidence and new access to international capital following its signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, a violent uprising in the state of Chiapas, as well as the assassination of the presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, resulted in political instability, causing investors to place an increased risk premium on Mexican assets.

In response, the Mexican central bank intervened in the foreign exchange markets to maintain the Mexican peso's peg to the U.S .dollar by issuing dollar-denominated public debt to buy pesos. The peso's strength caused demand for imports to increase in Mexico, resulting in a trade deficit. Speculators recognized an overvalued peso and capital began flowing out of Mexico to the United States, increasing downward market pressure on the peso. Under election pressures, Mexico purchased its own treasury securities to maintain its money supply and avert rising interest rates, drawing down the bank's dollar reserves. Supporting the money supply by buying more dollar-denominated debt while simultaneously honoring such debt depleted the bank's reserves by the end of 1994.

The central bank devalued the peso on December 20, 1994, and foreign investors' fear led to an even higher risk premium. To discourage the resulting capital flight, the bank raised interest rates, but higher costs of borrowing merely hurt economic growth. Unable to sell new issues of public debt or efficiently purchase dollars with devalued pesos, Mexico faced a default. Two days later, the bank allowed the peso to float freely, after which it continued to depreciate. The Mexican economy experienced inflation of around 52% and mutual funds began liquidating Mexican assets as well as emerging market assets in general. The effects spread to economies in Asia and the rest of Latin America. The United States organized a $50 billion bailout for Mexico in January 1995, administered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the support of the G7 and Bank for International Settlements. In the aftermath of the crisis, several of Mexico's banks collapsed amidst widespread mortgage defaults. The Mexican economy experienced a severe recession and poverty and unemployment increased.

Vicente Fox Quesada

Fox presidency

2000 Dec 1 - 2006 Nov 30
, Mexico

Emphasizing the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system and labor laws, integrate with the U.S. economy, and allow private investment in the energy sector, Vicente Fox Quesada, the candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), was elected the 69th president of Mexico on 2 July 2000, ending PRI's 71-year-long control of the office.

As president, Fox continued the neoliberal economic policies that his predecessors from the PRI had adopted since the 1980s. The first half of his administration saw a further shift of the federal government to the right, strong relations with the United States and George W. Bush, unsuccessful attempts to introduce a value-added tax to medicines and to build an airport in Texcoco, and a diplomatic conflict with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The murder of human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa in 2001 called into question the Fox administration's commitment to breaking with the authoritarian past of the PRI era. The Fox administration also became embroiled with diplomatic conflicts with Venezuela and Bolivia after supporting the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which was opposed by those two countries. His last year in office oversaw the controversial 2006 elections, where the PAN candidate Felipe Calderón was declared winner by a narrow margin over López Obrador, who claimed the elections had been fraudulent and refused to recognize the results, calling for protests across the country. In the same year, civil unrest in Oaxaca, where a teacher's strike culminated into protests and violent clashes asking for the resignation of governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and in the State of Mexico during the San Salvador Atenco riots, where the State and Federal governments were later found guilty by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of human rights violations during the violent repression. On the other hand, Fox was credited with maintaining economic growth during his administration, and reducing the poverty rate from 43.7% in 2000 to 35.6% in 2006.

Felipe Calderón

Calderón presidency

2006 Dec 1 - 2012 Nov 30
, Mexico

Calderón's presidency was marked by his declaration of war against the country's drug cartels only ten days after taking office; this was considered by most observers as a strategy to gain popular legitimacy after the convoluted elections. Calderón sanctioned Operation Michoacán, the first large-scale deployment of federal troops against the drug cartels. By the end of his administration, the official number of deaths related to the drug war was at least 60,000. The murder rate skyrocketed during his presidency parallel to the beginning of the drug war, peaking in 2010 and decreasing during his last two years in office. The main architect of the drug war, Genaro García Luna, who served as Secretary of Public Security during Calderón's presidency, was arrested in the United States in 2019 due to alleged links with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Calderón's term was also marked by the Great Recession. As a result of a countercyclical package passed in 2009, the national debt increased from 22.2% to 35% of GDP by December 2012. The poverty rate increased from 43 to 46%. Other significant events during Calderón's presidency include the 2007 establishment of ProMéxico, a public trust fund that promotes Mexico's interests in international trade and investment, the 2008 passing of criminal justice reforms (fully implemented in 2016), the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the 2010 establishment of the Agencia Espacial Mexicana, the 2011 founding of the Pacific Alliance and the achievement of universal healthcare through Seguro Popular (passed under the Fox administration) in 2012. Under the Calderón administration sixteen new Protected Natural Areas were created.

Mexican soldiers during a confrontation in Michoacán in August 2007

Mexican Drug War

2006 Dec 11
, Mexico

Under President Calderón (2006-2012), the government began waging a war on regional drug mafias. So far, this conflict has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Mexicans and the drug mafias continue to gain power. Mexico has been a major transit and drug-producing nation: an estimated 90% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States every year moves through Mexico. Fueled by the increasing demand for drugs in the United States, the country has become a major supplier of heroin, producer and distributor of MDMA, and the largest foreign supplier of cannabis and methamphetamine to the U.S.'s market. Major drug syndicates control the majority of drug trafficking in the country, and Mexico is a significant money-laundering center. After the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in the U.S. on September 13, 2004, Mexican drug cartels have begun acquiring assault weapons in the United States. The result is that drug cartels have now both more gun power, and more manpower due to the high unemployment in Mexico. After taking office in 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pursued an alternative approach to dealing with drug mafias, calling for a policy of "hugs, not gunshots" (Abrazos, no balazos). This policy has been ineffective, and the death toll has not decreased.

Lunch with heads of State México, D.F. 1 December 2012.

Nieto presidency

2012 Dec 1 - 2018 Nov 30
, Mexico

As president, Enrique Peña Nieto instated the multilateral Pact for Mexico, which soothed inter-party fighting and led to increased legislation across the political spectrum. During his first four years, Peña Nieto led an expansive breakup of monopolies, liberalized Mexico's energy sector, reformed public education, and modernized the country's financial regulation. However, political gridlock and allegations of media bias gradually worsened corruption, crime, and drug trade in Mexico. Global drops in oil prices limited the success of his economic reforms, which lowered political support for Peña Nieto. His handling of the Iguala mass kidnapping in 2014 and the escape of drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán from Altiplano prison in 2015 sparked international criticism. Guzmán himself claims to have bribed Peña Nieto during his trial. As of 2022, he is additionally part of the Odebrecht controversy, with former head of Pemex Emilio Lozoya Austin declaring that Peña Nieto's presidential campaign benefited from illegal campaign funds provided by Odebrecht in exchange for future favors.

Historical evaluations and approval rates of his presidency have been mostly negative. Detractors highlight a series of failed policies and a strained public presence while supporters note increased economic competitiveness and loosening of gridlock. He began his term with an approval rate of 50%, hovered around 35% during his inter-years and finally bottomed out at 12% in January 2017. He left office with an approval rating of only 18% and 77% of disapproval. Peña Nieto is seen as one of the most controversial and least popular presidents in the history of Mexico.


References for History of Mexico.

  • Alisky, Marvin. Historical Dictionary of Mexico (2nd ed. 2007) 744pp
  • Batalla, Guillermo Bonfil. (1996) Mexico Profundo. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70843-2.
  • Beezley, William, and Michael Meyer. The Oxford History of Mexico (2nd ed. 2010) excerpt and text search
  • Beezley, William, ed. A Companion to Mexican History and Culture (Blackwell Companions to World History) (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Fehrenback, T.R. (1995 revised edition) Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico. Da Capo Press; popular overview
  • Hamnett, Brian R. A concise history of Mexico (Cambridge UP, 2006) excerpt
  • Kirkwood, J. Burton. The history of Mexico (2nd ed. ABC-CLIO, 2009)
  • Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: biography of power: a history of modern Mexico, 1810–1996 (HarperCollinsPublishers, 1997)
  • MacLachlan, Colin M. and William H. Beezley. El Gran Pueblo: A History of Greater Mexico (3rd ed. 2003) 535pp
  • Miller, Robert Ryal. Mexico: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1985. ISBN 0-8061-1932-2
  • Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico (Greenwood, 2000) online edition
  • Meyer, Michael C., William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds. The Course of Mexican History (7th ed. Oxford U.P., 2002) online edition
  • Russell, Philip L. (2016). The essential history of Mexico: from pre-conquest to present. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-84278-5.
  • Werner, Michael S., ed. Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture (2 vol 1997) 1440pp . Articles by multiple authors online edition
  • Werner, Michael S., ed. Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico (2001) 850pp; a selection of previously published articles by multiple authors.