Mexico is a country in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. It also has the largest number of American Indian language speakers on the continent (the majority speaking Nahuatl, Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec). Human presence in Mexico has been shown to date back 40,000 years based upon ancient human footprints discovered in the Valley of Mexico (previous evidence substantiated indigenous inhabitants at 12,500 years ago). For thousands of years, what is now known as Mexico was a land of hunter-gatherers. Around 9,000 years ago, ancient Amerindians domesticated corn and initiated an agricultural revolution, leading to the formation of many complex civilizations. These civilizations revolved around cities with writing, monumental architecture, astronomical studies, mathematics, and militaries. After 4,000 years, these civilizations were destroyed with the arrival of the Spaniards in 1519. For three centuries, Mexico was colonized by Spain, during which time the majority of its indigenous population died off. Formal independence from Spain was recognized in 1821. A war with the United States ended with Mexico losing almost half of its territory in 1848. France then invaded Mexico in 1861 and ruled briefly until 1867. The Mexican Revolution would later result in the death of 10% of the nation's population. Since then, Mexico as a nation-state has struggled with reconciling its deeply-entrenched indigenous heritage with the demands of the modern Western cultural model imposed in 1519. The nation's name is derived from the Aztec's capital called Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
The pre-Columbian history of what now is known as Mexico is known through the work of archaeologists and epigraphers, and through the accounts of the conquistadors, clergymen, and indigenous chroniclers of the immediate post-conquest period. While relatively few documents (or codices) of the Mixtec and Aztec cultures of the Post-Classic period survived the Spanish conquest, more progress has been made in the area of Mayan archaeology and epigraphy.
Human presence in Mesoamerica was once thought to date back 40,000 years based upon what were believed to be ancient human footprints in the Valley of Mexico, but after further investigation using radioactive dating, it appears this is untrue. It is currently unclear whether 21,000 year old campfire remains found in the Valley of Mexico are the earliest human remains in Mexico. Indigenous peoples began to selectively breed maize plants around 8,000 BC. Evidence shows a marked increase in pottery working by 2300 B.C. and the beginning of intensive corn farming between 1800 and 1500 B.C..
Between 1800 and 300 BC, complex cultures began to form. Many matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the: Olmec, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Tarascan, "Toltec" and Aztec, which flourished for nearly 4,000 years before the first contact with Europeans.
These civilizations are credited with many inventions and advancements including pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and theology.
While many city-states, kingdoms, and empires competed with one another for power and prestige, Mexico can be said to have had five major civilizations: The Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Toltec, the Aztec and the Maya. These civilizations (with the exception of the politically-fragmented Maya) extended their reach across Mexico, and beyond, like no others. They consolidated power and distributed influence in matters of trade, art, politics, technology, and theology. Other regional power players made economic and political alliances with these five civilizations over the span of 3,000 years. Many made war with them. But almost all found themselves within these five spheres of influence.
Latecomers to Mexico's central plateau, the Aztecs thought of themselves as heirs to the prestigious civilizations that had preceded them, much as Charlemagne did with respect to the fallen Roman Empire. What the Aztecs lacked in political power, they made up for with ambition and military skill.
In 1428, the Aztecs led a war of liberation against their rulers from the city of Azcapotzalco, which had subjugated most of the Valley of Mexico's peoples. The revolt was successful, and the Aztecs, through cunning political maneuvers and ferocious fighting skills, managed to pull off a true "rags-to-riches" story: they became the rulers of central Mexico as the leaders of the Triple Alliance.
This Alliance was composed of the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. At their peak, 350,000 Aztecs presided over a wealthy tribute-empire comprising around 10 million people, almost half of Mexico's then-estimated population of 24 million. This empire stretched from ocean to ocean, and extended into Central America. The westward expansion of the empire was stopped cold by a devastating military defeat at the hands of the Purepecha (who possessed state-of-the-art copper-metal weapons). The empire relied upon a system of taxation (of goods and services) which were collected through an elaborate bureaucracy of tax collectors, courts, civil servants, and local officials who were installed as loyalists to the Triple Alliance (led by Tenochtitlan).
By 1519, the Aztec capital, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was the largest city in the world with a population of around 350,000 (although some estimates range as high as 500,000). By comparison, the population of London in 1519 was 80,000 people. Tenochtitlan is the site of modern-day Mexico City.
In 1519, the native civilizations of what now is known as Mexico were invaded by Spain, and two years later in 1521, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was conquered by an alliance between Spanish and Tlaxcaltecs (the main enemies of Aztecs). Francisco Hernández de Córdoba explored the shores of South Mexico in 1517, followed by Juan de Grijalva in 1518. The most important of the early Conquistadores was Hernán Cortés, who entered the country in 1519 from a native coastal town which he renamed "Puerto de la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz" (today's Veracruz).
Contrary to popular opinion, Spain did not conquer all the empire when Cortes conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521. It would take another two centuries after the Siege of Tenochtitlan before the Conquest of the Aztec Empire would be complete, as rebellions, attacks, and wars continued against the Spanish by other native peoples.
The Spanish defeat of the Aztecs in 1521 marked the beginning of the 300 year-long colonial period called the New Spain. After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it would take decades of sporadic warfare to pacify the rest of Mesoamerica. Particularly fierce was the Chichimeca War in the north of the New Spain (1576-1606).
The Council of Indies and the Mendecant establishments that arose in Mesoamerica as early as 1524 labored to generate capital for the broken crown of Spain and convert the Indian populations to Catholicism. Over the period of conquest (1519-c1600s) and the following Colonial periods the sponsorship of Mendecant friars and a process of religious syncretism combined the Pre-Hispanic cultures with Spanish socio-religious tradition. The resulting hodgepodge of culture was a pluriethnic State that relied on the repartimiento of peasant "Republic of Indians" labor to accomplish any work considered necessary. The existing feudal system of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican culture was replaced by the encomienda feudal-style system of Spain, probably adapted to the pre-Hispanic tradition. It was finally replaced by a debt-based inscription of labor that led to wide-spread revitalization movements and prompted the revolution that ended the colonial state of New Spain. During the colonial period, which lasted from 1521 to 1810, Mexico was known as "la Nueva España" or "New Spain" (as aforementioned), whose territories included today's Mexico. ("Mexico" in this period only meant the area that is the Valley of Mexico.) This entity was part of an epoymous viceroyalty, which joined with it the Spanish Caribbean islands, Central America as far south as Costa Rica, the area comprising today's southwestern United States, and the Philippines. Since Spaniards conquered areas with high civilizations and dense populations, which could provide the settlers with a sufficient labor source and a population to catechize, Spaniards in the sixteenth century tended not to develop the territories that had nomadic peoples, which were harder to conquer (and in fact, with the exception of the Amazon Basin, were not subdued until the nineteenth century). The Spanish did explore a good part of North America looking for more treasure-laden societies. These explorers claimed the land as was their practice, but finding no treasures or sedentary Indian tribes, they returned to the areas in Mexico, which had already been conquered. It was not until the eighteenth century that a concerted effort was made to settle the northern frontier in what is now the United States. The end result is that a lot of historic and contemporary maps often misrepresent the areas Spain claimed as areas they actually controlled. The Indians who lived in these areas were out of reach of Hispanic society and were able to maintain their culture well into the nineteenth century.
After Napoleon I invaded Spain in 1807 and put his brother, Joseph on the Spanish throne, Mexican Conservatives and rich land-owners who supported Spain's Bourbon royal family objected to the comparatively liberal Napoleonic policies. Thus an unlikely alliance was formed in Mexico: liberales, or Liberals, who favored a democratic Mexico, and conservadores, or Conservatives, who favored a Mexico ruled by a Bourbon monarch who would restore the status quo ante. These two elements agreed only that Mexico must achieve independence and determine her own destiny.
Taking advantage of the fact that Spain was severely handicapped under the occupation of Napoleon's army, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest of Spanish descent and progressive ideas, declared Mexico's independence from Spain in the small town of Dolores on September 16, 1810. This act started the long war, the first official document of independence was the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America signed in 1813 by the Congress of Anáhuac. Eventually led to the official recognition of independence from Spain in 1821 and the creation of the First Mexican Empire. As with many early leaders in the movement for Mexican independence, Hidalgo was captured by opposing forces and executed.
Prominent figures in Mexico's war for independence were Father José María Morelos, Vicente Guerrero, and General Agustín de Iturbide. The war for independence lasted eleven years until the troops of the liberating army entered Mexico City in 1821. Thus, although independence from Spain was first proclaimed in 1810, it was not achieved until 1821, by the Treaty of Córdoba, which was signed on August 24 in Córdoba, Veracruz, by the Spanish viceroy Juan de O'Donojú and Agustín de Iturbide, ratifying the Plan de Iguala.
In 1821, Agustín de Iturbide, a former Spanish general who switched sides to fight for Mexican independence, proclaimed himself emperor – officially as a temporary measure until a member of European royalty could be persuaded to become monarch of Mexico (see Mexican Empire for more information). A revolt against Iturbide in 1823 established the United Mexican States. In 1824, "Guadalupe Victoria" became the first president of the new country; his given name was actually Félix Fernández but he chose his new name for symbolic significance: Guadalupe to give thanks for the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Victoria, which means Victory.
After independence, several Spanish possessions in Central America which also proclaimed their independence were incorporated into Mexico from 1822 to 1823, with the exception of Chiapas and several other Central American states. The mostly vacant northern claims of the Spanish were claimed by Mexico and almost totally ignored, since little wealth was being extracted from them and the fledgling governments had neither money nor inclination to develop them.
Soon after achieving its independence from Spain, the Mexican government, in an effort to populate some of its sparsely-settled northern land claims, awarded extensive land grants in a remote area of the state of Coahuila y Tejas to thousands of immigrant families from the United States, on the condition that the settlers convert to Catholicism and assume Mexican citizenship. It also forbade the importation of slaves, a condition that, like the others, was largely ignored.
Many presidents, dictators, etc. came and went during a long period of instability which lasted most of the 19th century. One of the dominant figures of the second quarter of that century was the dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna.
During this period, nearly half of Mexico's territory was annexed by the United States with the pretext of being "unsettled". Mexico had a population of about 8,000,000 in 1846 of which about 60,000 lived in the northern territories – mostly in New Mexico (53,000) and California (7,000). Santa Anna was Mexico's leader during the conflict with Texas, which declared itself independent from Mexico in 1836 and ensured that independence by defeating the Mexican army and Santa Anna. Santa Anna was in and out of power again during the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48). After accepting Texas's application for statehood in 1846, the US government sent troops to Texas in order to secure the territory, subsequently ignoring Mexico's demands for US withdrawal. Mexico saw this as a US intervention in their internal affairs by supporting a rebel province.
Disagreements about boundaries made the conflict inevitable. Mexican troops then attacked and killed several American soldiers and captured a small American detachment between the Rio Grande (which the Republic of Texas, and subsequently the U.S., claimed as the southern border) and the Nueces River (which had been considered the historic southern border of the Mexican department of Tejas). As a result, President James K. Polk requested a declaration of war, and the US Congress voted in favor on May 13, 1846. Mexico formally declared war on 23 May. This resulted in the U.S.-Mexican War, which lasted from 1846 to 1848. Mexico was defeated by United States forces, which occupied Mexico City and many other parts of the country. The war was terminated with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo which stipulated that, as a condition for peace, Mexico was obligated to sell the mostly vacant northern territories to the United States for US$15 million. Over the next few decades, Americans settled these territories and petitioned for statehood, forming the states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Baja California was not included in the U.S. purchases or in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo despite being occupied by U.S. troops at the end of the war.
In 1853, mostly vacant desert territory containing parts of present-day Arizona and New Mexico were sold to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase. This land was sold by President Santa Anna in order to gain personal profit and to pay off his army. The Americans had not realized when they were negotiating the Treaty of Hidalgo (when they accepted the Gila River as the southern U.S. boundary) that a much easier railroad route to California lay slightly south of the Gila River. The Southern Pacific Railroad, the second transcontinental railroad to California, was built through this purchased land in 1881.
As a bonus, the city of Tucson (Arizona) and its few hundred inhabitants was added to the United States territory of New Mexico. The primary reason for Mexico's defeat was its problematic internal situation, which led to a lack of unity and organization for a successful defense. One of the very few commemorated groups of Mexicans in the U.S. invasion of 1847 was a group of very young Military College cadets (now considered by some as Mexican national heroes). These cadets fought to the death defending their college against a detachment of American soldiers during the Battle of Chapultepec (September 13, 1847). Another group of combatants revered by Mexicans was the Batallón de San Patricio, a unit composed of hundreds of mostly Irish-born American deserters who fought under Mexican command until their overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Churubusco (August 20, 1847).
Most of the "San Patricios" were killed and a few captured. Many of the captured men were court-martialled by the U.S. Army as deserters and traitors, and were subsequently executed at Chapultepec.
In the 1860s, the country again underwent a military occupation, this time by France, establishing the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria on the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, with support from the Roman Catholic clergy and conservative elements of the upper class as well as some indigenous communities. Although the French, then considered one of the most efficient armies of the world, suffered an initial defeat in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (now commemorated as the Cinco de Mayo holiday) they eventually defeated the Mexican government forces led by the general Ignacio Zaragoza and set the couple upon the throne.
The Mexican monarchy set up its government in the Capital of Mexico City and used the National Palace as their government seat. The Emperor's consort, born a Belgian princess, was Empress Carlota of Mexico, a cousin of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The Imperial couple chose as their home Chapultepec Castle, and later adopted two grandchildren of the first Mexican Emperor, Augustin I. The Imperial couple noticed how the people of Mexico were treated, especially the Indians, and wanted to ensure their human rights. They were interested in a Mexico for the Mexicans, and did not share the views of Napoleon III, who was interested in exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.
Emperor Maximilian I favored the establishment of a limited monarchy sharing powers with a democratically elected congress. This was too liberal to please Mexico's Conservatives, while the liberals refused to accept a monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico. Maximilian was eventually captured and executed in the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President Benito Juárez, who kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention that put Maximilian in power.
In mid-1867, following repeated losses in battle to the Republican Army and ever decreasing support by Napoleon III, Maximilian was captured and executed by Juárez's soldiers, along with his last loyal generals, Mejia and Miramon in Querétaro. From then on, Juárez remained in office until his death from heart failure in 1872.
Díaz became the new president. Thus began a period of more than thirty years (1876–1911) during which Díaz was the strong man in Mexico. This period of relative prosperity and peace is known as the Porfiriato. During this period, the country's infrastructure improved greatly thanks to increased foreign investment. However, the period is also characterized by social inequality and discontent among the working classes.
In 1910 the 80-year-old Díaz decided to hold an election to serve another term as president. He thought he had long since eliminated any serious opposition in Mexico; however, Francisco I. Madero, an academic from a rich family, decided to run against him and quickly gathered popular support, despite Díaz putting Madero in jail.
When the official election results were announced, it was declared that Díaz had won re-election almost unanimously, with Madero receiving only a few hundred votes in the entire country. This fraud by the Porfiriato was too blatant for the public to swallow, and riots broke out. Madero prepared a document known as the Plan de San Luis Potosí, in which he called the Mexican people to take their weapons and fight against the government of Porfirio Díaz on November 20, 1910. Madero managed to flee to San Antonio, Texas, where he started to prepare his overthrow of the Díaz government. This started what is known as the Mexican Revolution.
The Federal Army was defeated by the revolutionary forces which were led by, amongst others, Emiliano Zapata in the South, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza. Porfirio Díaz resigned in 1911 for the "sake of the peace of the nation" and went to exile in France, where he died in 1915.
The revolutionary leaders had many different objectives; revolutionary figures varied from liberals such as Madero to radicals such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. As a consequence, it proved very difficult to reach agreement on how to organize the government that emanated from the triumphant revolutionary groups. The result of this was a struggle for the control of Mexico's government in a conflict that lasted more than twenty years. This period of struggle is usually referred to as part of the Mexican Revolution, although it might also be considered a civil war. Presidents Francisco I. Madero (1913), Venustiano Carranza (1920), and former revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata (1919) and Pancho Villa (1923) were assassinated during this time, amongst many others.
Following the resignation of Díaz and a brief reactionary interlude, Madero was elected President in 1911. He was ousted and killed in 1913 by Victoriano Huerta, with the support of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, but not that of U.S. President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Huerta was a former General of Porfirio Díaz. Huerta's brutality soon lost him his domestic support, and his regime was actively opposed by the Wilson Administration. In 1915 he was overthrown by Venustiano Carranza, a former revolutionary general. Carranza promulgated a new Constitution on February 5, 1917. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 still guides Mexico. Carranza was assassinated in an internal feud of his former supporters over who would replace him as President.
In 1920 Álvaro Obregón, one of Carranza's former allies who plotted against him, became president. He accommodated all elements of Mexican society except the most reactionary clergy and landlords, and successfully catalyzed social liberalization, particularly in curbing the role of the Catholic Church, improving education and taking steps toward instituting women's civil rights.
While the Mexican revolution and civil war may have subsided after 1920, armed conflicts did not cease. The most widespread conflict of this era was the battle between those favoring a secular society with separation of Church and State and those favoring supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, which developed into an armed uprising by supporters of the Church that came to be called "la Guerra Cristera."
It is estimated that between 1910 and 1921 about 900,000 people died.
Between 1926 and 1929 an armed conflict in the form of a popular uprising broke out against the anti-Catholic/anti-clerical Mexican government, set off specifically by the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Discontent over the provisions had been simmering for years. The conflict is known as the Cristero War. A number of articles of the 1917 Constitution were at issue. Article 5 outlawed monastic religious orders. Article 24 forbade public worship outside of church buildings, while Article 27 restricted religious organizations' rights to own property. Finally, Article 130 took away basic civil rights of members of the clergy: priests and religious leaders were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press.
The Cristero War was eventually resolved diplomatically, largely with the influence of the U.S. Ambassador. The conflict claimed the lives of some 90,000: 56,882 on the federal side, 30,000 Cristeros, and numerous civilians and Cristeros who were killed in anticlerical raids after the war's end. As promised in the diplomatic resolution, the laws considered offensive to the Cristeros remained on the books, but no organized federal attempts to enforce them were put into action. Nonetheless, in several localities, persecution of Catholic priests continued based on local officials' interpretations of the law.
The PRI set up a new type of system, led by a caudillo.
The PRI is typically referred to as the three-legged stool, in reference to Mexican workers, peasants and bureaucrats.
After it was founded in 1929, the PRI monopolized all the political branches. The PRI did not lose a senate seat until 1988 or a gubernatorial race until 1989. It wasn't until July 2, 2000, that Vicente Fox of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president. His victory ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year hold on the presidency.
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 March 18, 1938, the electricity industry, created the National Polytechnic Institute, granted asylum to Spanish expatriates fleeing the Spanish Civil War, started land reform and the distribution of free textbooks for children.
On January 1 1994, Mexico became a full member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joining the United States of America and Canada in a large and prosperous economic bloc. It is on this date that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation emerged, capturing several towns and sparking a brief conflict with the government. On March 23 2005, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America was signed by the elected leaders of those countries.
According to the U.S. CIA Factbook for 2006: Mexico has a free market economy that recently entered the trillion dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Per capita income is one-fourth that of the US; income distribution remains highly unequal. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. Mexico has 12 free trade agreements with over 40 countries including, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the European Free Trade Area, and Japan, putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements.
The Fox administration was cognizant of the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system and labor laws, and allow private investment in the energy sector, but has been unable to win the support of the opposition-led Congress. The current Calderón government that took office in December 2006 is confronting the same challenges of boosting economic growth, improving Mexico's international competitiveness, and reducing poverty.