Brief history of Mexico summarized
A brief journey through the extensive history of Mexico, in an entertaining and summarized way.
The Aztec Empire in Mexico
The ancestors of the Aztecs settled on a marshy island in Lake Texcoco in 1325 or 1345. According to legend, the Aztecs settled in a place where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth.
They took this as a sign from their god that they should settle there. The Aztecs called the place Tenochtitlan, which means place of the cactus. At first they were not an important people, but in the fifteenth century the Aztecs gradually built a great empire.
However, the Aztec empire was not an “empire” like the Roman Empire, which was ruled from a city. The Aztecs conquered the surrounding towns. However, the Aztecs did not usually rule other nations. Instead, they were forced to pay tribute (goods such as gold, feathers, weapons, and precious stones).
The Aztec empire was more of a collection of states dominated by the Aztecs. In addition, the conquered people had to send soldiers to serve the Aztec emperor when necessary.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs built the island in the lake by driving wooden stakes into the lakebed and then laying down dirt and rocks. They turned Tenochtitlán into a great city, with a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants. The city was organized in the form of a grid with markets.
In the center was the emperor’s palace and the great temple, which was a stepped pyramid. Tenochtitlán was intersected with canals for the transport of merchandise.
The streets of Tenochtitlán were regularly cleaned and its baths were public. The wastewater was used as fertilizer. Furthermore, the great city of an island was linked to the mainland by four causeways. Two aqueducts brought water to the city.
Cortes only had about 600 men, but he managed to conquer the Aztecs. The Spanish had several advantages. They had weapons. They also had horses (animals unknown to the Aztecs). The sight of a Spanish cavalry charge was terrifying.
The Spanish also had steel armor and weapons (steel was unknown to the Aztecs). Most importantly, the people the Aztecs ruled hated their masters and many were willing to join the Spanish in destroying the Aztecs.
When the Spanish arrived at the capital, Tenochtitlán Moctezuma allowed them. However, after a week Cortes took the emperor hostage. Then the governor of Cuba sent a force to Mexico to arrest Cortés. So Cortes went to the coast to meet them.
Cortés managed to deal with this threat, but meanwhile in Tenochtitlán the Spanish soldiers provoked a rebellion. Cortés hurried back to Tenochtitlán, but the conquistadors were forced to withdraw from the city at night. So many Spaniards died in retirement that they called it the sad night. However, the Spanish eventually reached the coast.
Cortés gathered reinforcements and then marched back to Tenochtitlán. When he arrived at Lake Texcoco, Cortés built boats and armed them with cannons. The ships crossed the lake to attack the city (which was built on an island). The Spanish were also helped by smallpox, which broke out among the Aztecs (the Spanish brought European diseases to which the Aztecs had no resistance).
Eventually the Spanish captured Tenochtitlan and burned it down. The Spanish were now in control of Mexico, which they called New Spain. Cortes was named its first governor.
After the conquest of Mexico, the Spanish became the new ruling class. However, they were a very small minority. The Indians were still the vast majority of the population. Under Spanish rule, the natives were ruled by Spanish encomenderos who were supposed to protect the natives and in return received tribute from them.
However, during the 16th century, European diseases such as smallpox, typhoid fever, and measles (to which the native peoples had no resistance) continued to reduce the population of Mexico.
The Spanish also destroyed temples and idols. However, it took longer to convert the natives of Mexico to Christianity. The Spanish friars tried to teach them Christian doctrines and performed mass baptisms. (The brothers were like monks, but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach).
However, the natives kept many of their old pagan beliefs and practices under a veneer of Christianity. In 1571 the Spanish Inquisition arrived in Mexico. The first execution took place in 1574.
In the middle of the 16th century silver deposits were discovered in Mexico. The city of Zacatecas was founded in 1546 after silver was found in the area. During the seventeenth century Mexico prospered. The Spanish aristocracy created large estates.
However, things changed in 1700 when a member of the Bourbon family became King of Spain. The Bourbons introduced the absolute monarchy in Spain and its colonies.
Spanish officials were appointed to posts in Mexico, much to the chagrin of the local population. Mexicans were also forced to pay high taxes, in part to pay for the wars between Spain and other European powers. In addition, the Bourbons undermined the church.
In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico. The discontent gradually worsened, and in 1692 food shortages caused riots in Mexico City. Meanwhile, the American Revolution of 1776 showed how the colonies could successfully revolt against their mother country.
Mexico in the 19th century
The rebellion finally broke out in Mexico in 1810. A priest named Miguel Hidalgo led the rebellion. He called the people to rebellion (called Grito de Dolores) on September 16, 1810. The poor heard his cry and marched on Mexico City, but a royalist force stopped them.
The rebels withdrew, but in doing so were defeated by another royalist force at Querétaro. The rebels were defeated again in January 1811, and Hidalgo was captured in March. He then he was executed.
However, another priest named José María Morelos continued the fight. Morelos was captured in 1815, but the rebellion continued. Finally a Spanish general named Agustín de Iturbide changed sides and declared the Iguala plan on February 24, 1821.
Mexico was to be a constitutional monarchy. Iturbide defeated the soldiers in Mexico and in September 1821 he became president of an independent Mexico. On May 18, 1822 Iturbide became Emperor Agustín I. However, he quickly alienated the people from him and abdicated on March 23, 1823.
However, from the beginning, Mexico was divided into two camps. The Conservatives wanted a strong central state, and perhaps a monarchy, and supported the church. The liberals wanted a federal state and were anticlerical.
In 1829 Spain sent an army to reconquer Mexico. However, the Spanish army was affected by malaria and they were defeated by the Mexicans under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.
In 1833 Santa Anna became president. However, in 1835, American settlers in Texas revolted. Santa Anna took the Alamo mission post, killing all the defenders. However, the Mexican army was defeated at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.
As a result, Texas became independent. In 1840, Yucatán rose in rebellion hoping to follow Texas. However, the rebellion failed. Then, in 1845, the US annexed Texas. However, the US then demanded that Mexico sell other parts of its territory.
In 1846 there were clashes between US and Mexican troops. Eventually, US troops crossed into Mexico. In September 1847 an American army captured Mexico City. In 1848 Mexico was forced to surrender half of its territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
In 1857 the Mexican liberals introduced a new constitution that eliminated the privileged position of the Roman Catholic Church. However, the conservatives did not accept the new constitution and in 1858 the civil war began.
By 1861 the Liberals had triumphed. Unfortunately, Mexico did not fulfill its obligations to Great Britain, Spain, and France. All three nations sent troops to occupy Veracruz. The British and Spanish soon withdrew, but the French had other ideas. The French Emperor Napoleon III intended to make Mexico a satellite state.
He wanted to place Archduke Maximilian of Austria on the throne of Mexico as a puppet ruler. The French army was defeated at Puebla on May 5, 1862. However, the French finally captured Mexico City in 1863. In 1864 Maximilian became emperor. However, the Mexicans began a guerrilla war.
In 1865 the American Civil War ended and the American government demanded that France withdraw its troops from Mexico. The French were also threatened by the growing power of Prussia and were forced to leave.
With no French troops to support him, Maximilian was in dire straits. His army was defeated in battle at Querétaro in 1867 and he was captured and shot.
Mexico became a republic again under President Juárez. In 1876 Porfirio Díaz staged a coup and became dictator. Under the Díaz government some economic progress was made and the population grew rapidly. (In 1910 it was 15 million).
Railroads were built and mining boomed. Mexico exports sisal, rubber, cochineal, coffee and sugar. However, at the end of the 19th century, many Mexicans continued to live in great poverty, and their resentment turned into revolution.
In the early years of the 20th century, Díaz lost support. In 1910 presidential elections were held. Francisco Madero presented himself as a candidate against him. However, Díaz imprisoned Madero and won the elections with a large majority.
Madero escaped to Texas where he denounced the election as fraudulent and called for a rebellion. Insurgencies led by Pascual Orozco, Francisco Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata began. In February 1911 Madero crossed the border into Mexico and became the leader of the rebellion.
Finally, Díaz was forced to resign and new elections were held in October 1911. However, in February 1913 General Victoriano Huerta led a coup. Madero was assassinated (he was probably assassinated). The result was a civil war. Armies led by Pablo González, Álvaro Obregón and Pancho Villa fought against Huerta.
US President Woodrow Wilson did not like Huerta and in April 1917 he sent warships to Veracruz and US troops occupied the city until November. Meanwhile, Huerta’s forces were losing the war, and he resigned in July 1914.
However, the rebels began to fight among themselves. Carranza fought against Pancho Villa and Zapata. Little by little, Carranza’s forces prevailed. In 1915 they defeated Pancho Villa. Both he and Zapata were rejected.
Finally in 1919 Zapata was assassinated and Villa gave up the fight. Meanwhile, in 1917, Carranza and his supporters drafted a new constitution for Mexico. Church and state were separated and religious education was abolished.
In the 1920s, the Mexican government began a campaign to reduce illiteracy. They also tried to curtail the power of the church and that led to rebellion. In 1927 the peasants rose up to defend the church.
The insurrection was called the War of the Cristeros because the rebels shouted Long live Christ the King! Eventually the Mexican government was forced to back down and in the 1930s it was, to some extent, reconciled with the church.
During the 1930s the government attempted land reform. Then, in 1938, President Cárdenas nationalized the oil industry. Meanwhile, in 1929 the Revolutionary Party was formed. He ruled Mexico for decades. On May 22, 1942, Mexico declared war on Germany and Japan.
At the end of the 20th century, Mexico began to rapidly industrialize. Mexican industry was helped when oil was discovered off the coast in 1976. During the 20th century, more and more Mexicans moved to the cities. In 1910 about 80% of Mexicans lived in the countryside.
In 1951, about 57% lived in cities. In 1991, 73% of the population lived in cities. In the 1990s, about 45% of the population lived in cities with a population of more than one million inhabitants.
There were great improvements in life in Mexico at the end of the 20th century. In 1960 life expectancy was only 55 years. By 1991 it had risen to 70. Literacy also became much more common. In 1990, 87% of the population was literate.
In 1985 Mexico City suffered a terrible earthquake that killed many people.
Unfortunately, in 1982, Mexico faced a severe economic crisis. Mexico had contracted a heavy debt and now could not afford to pay the interest. Debt payments were rescheduled, but only at the price of an austerity program.
There was rapid inflation (at its peak it was over 100%) and wages rose much more slowly than inflation, lowering living standards. In the 1980s, unemployment in Mexico was very high. In 1985 it stood at 25% of the workforce. However, in 1991 it had decreased, but the figure was still very high, at 17%.
Inflation in Mexico also fell. In 1992 it had fallen to 12%. Support for the Revolutionary Party fell, and although its candidate won the 1988 presidential election, it was with a much smaller majority than usual.
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari adopted a policy of privatizing the industry and succeeded in rescheduling Mexico’s debts. The economy began to recover. In 1994 Mexico formed the North American Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada.
In the year 2000, for the first time in decades, the Revolutionary Party lost a presidential election. Then, in 2007, Felipe Calderón became president of Mexico.
Today one of the main industries in Mexico is tourism. Meanwhile, the manufacturing industry in Mexico is growing rapidly. Mexico is gradually developing economically. Meanwhile, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Mexico’s population grew rapidly. The current population of Mexico is 129 million inhabitants.
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