Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron

February 21, 1794 to June 20, 1876

This man dominated Mexican politics for 30 years, sometimes with disastrous results. An officer in the Spanish army (whose early career included participating in an 1813 expedition against a rebellion centered in San Antonio de Bexar) he joined Iturbide's revolution and then emerged as a leading political figure after turning against and helping overthrow Iturbide and establish a republic. He was hailed as the "Hero of Tampico" after helping defeat an invading Spanish army there in 1829, and he officially became president of Mexico for the first time in 1833. His centrist policies lead to rebellions in several regions, and he led his army against the rebellion in Texas in 1836. After taking the Alamo, he moved against the forces being massed by Sam Houston, pushing them back toward eastern Texas. There, Santa Anna's force was suddenly overwhelmed and destroyed by a smaller Texian force at San Jacinto, now on the eastern outskirts of Houston.

At the start of the campaign Santa Anna had amazed his subordinates with his attention to detail and micro-management. That day, though, he could not be bothered, and left the army leaderless in the afternoon while he (supposedly) retired to his tent with the voluptuous mulatto slave Emily Morgan (the "Yellow Rose of Texas") plus his personal opium chest. The army settled into a siesta. And then the Texians struck. Santa Anna was captured the next day, in silk pajamas. Miss Morgan, unfortunately, drops from the record.

Brought before Houston, Santa Anna is said to have given the secret distress signal of the Master Mason. He denied having done anything wrong at the Alamo or Goliad -- but offered to make an example of Gen. Urrea, who carried out the executions. (Two years later, Urrea would launch a coup against Santa Anna, briefly controlling two states in nothern Mexico.)

Feeling edgy, Santa Anna asked for -- and got -- some of that familar pain-killer he saw being administered to the wounded Houston. And so they had a mellow conversation for the rest of the afternoon, the two men basically dividing up North America while stoned on opium. Santa Anna agreed to have the Mexican army retreat, and recognize an independent Texas with its border at the Rio Grande. (The Nueces River would have been more logical, having long been the Mexican state border for Coahuila y Texas. It may simply have been harder to find on a map.) Finding him so useful, Houston defied popular opinion, complied with his Masonic oath, and let Santa Anna live.

Deposed and back in the Mexican army in 1838, Santa Anna lost a leg defending Veracruz against a French attack. A hero again, he was president until 1845, when he was exiled to Cuba for incompetence. During the Mexican-American War he was restored to power in a secret deal with the U.S. but then turned against the U.S. and returned to exile after the Americans took Mexico City. He was recalled in 1853 and exiled again in 1855. In 1864 he tried to get the U.S. to back him against the Emperor Maximilian, the French puppet ruler of Mexico, while also offering his services to Maximilian. Both sides turned him down. In 1874 he was allowed to return to Mexico for the last time, where he died in poverty two years later.

Yes, in Hispanic use the name is normally spelled Santa Ana, with one N. Yes, the general signed his name that way. No, there is no known reason he added the extra letter. But:
    There is the story of President Lincoln being approached by one of his in-laws suggesting that, since they had now made the big-time, they should spell their name -- Tod -- with two Ds. "God's doing okay," Lincoln supposedly replied.
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