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By Andrea Larson
Although little seems to be known about his upbringing, his military and political actions show that "he was a well-meaning and honest man, but of feeble character and easily controlled by his political followers" (Wilson 1). He was christened Manuel Félix Fernández, but he later changed his name in 1811. This new name was composed of two parts: Guadalupe (from Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint) and Guadalupe Victoria (from victory). Fernández felt the need to change his name "to show his devotion to the cause of Mexican independence" (National 1). He would go down in history as Manuel Guadalupe Victoria, "Mexico's unknown first president" (Tuck 1).
Guadalupe Victoria was born in Tamazula, Durango, in 1786. At the time the Independence War began, he was studying law at the College of Ildefonso (Wilson 1). It was then that Miguel Hidalgo y Castiila persuaded Guadalupe Victoria to take part in the independence movement. That same year, 1811, Hidalgo died, and Guadalupe Victoria joined the ranks led by José Mariá Morelos y Pavon. He soon became a general, taking part in attacks on Oaxaca and Nautla. He constantly fought the royalist army, supporting the revolutionary cause (Guadalupe 1). In 1814 the Chilpancingo Congress declared Mexico's independence, leading Guadalupe Victoria to take charge in Veracruz (Tuck 1). There he "waged guerrilla war against the Spaniards" (Britannica 1). His men gained control of most of the supply-trains leaving the port (Wilson 1). Although Guadalupe Victoria did seize several members of the royalist army, his defeat at Palmillas forced his four year exile in the mountains in Veracruz. It was not until 1821 that he once again made his presence known (Tuck 1).
In 1821, the Plan de Iguala was established by Agustín de Iturbide in order to unite everyone living in Mexico, Americans and Europeans, to form an "Independent Constitutional Monarchy" (Tuck 1). Surprisingly, Guadalupe Victoria attempted to join Iturbide, but was not well accepted by him due to his love of liberty (Wilson 1). Guadalupe Victoria voiced his republican opinions, saying that Mexico should be led by a leader of the revolution, a soldier, not a foreigner or a king or emperor. Shortly thereafter Iturbide crowned himself emperor and put Guadalupe Victoria in prison (Tuck 2).
This did not stop the determined Guadalupe Victoria, who soon escaped to Veracruz. He immediately gathered forces to rebel against Iturbide. While in Veracruz, it was demanded that he "reinstate the Constituent Congress of 1822 that had been dissolved by Iturbide" (Guadalupe 1). Vicente Guerrero and Santa Anna signed the Act of Casa Mata as well, giving Guadalupe Victoria the okay to give control of his Vera Cruz troops to Santa Anna (Guadalupe 1). Due to a successful revolt by these revolutionaries, Iturbide was sent into exile and Mexico achieved its independence. An armistice was negotiated by Guadalupe Victoria to allow foreigners, the Spanish soldiers remaining in the garrison in Veracruz harbor, to go back home to Spain (Tuck 2).
Guadalupe Victoria was elected to join Nicolás Bravo and Pedro Celestino Negrete in holding executive power up until 1824 (Tuck 2). In October, Guadalupe Victoria was elected as Mexico's first constitutional president. Bravo would serve under him as vice president (National 1).
While in office Guadalupe Victoria faced many hurdles, only some which could be overcome. He struggled both financially and politically. The economy of Mexico was "in shambles" when Guadalupe Victoria became president, and the status only digressed over the next four years (Britannica 1). He had to seek aid from Britain through negotiations with Hart, a British diplomat who gave Guadalupe Victoria loans so that he could avoid bankruptcy. "At the same time, they turned Mexico into an economic satellite of the British empire" (Tuck 2). Politically, the environment of Mexico was just too intense for an inexperienced administrator such as Guadalupe Victoria (Britannica 1). A never-ending struggle existed between supporters of the independence and rightists who were "accused of subversive activity aimed toward restoration of Spanish rule" (Tuck 3). A conservative, Lucas Alamán, was suspected of being disloyal and therefore lost his cabinet position in 1825. Also, a rivalry between the Scotch and York Rite lodges added to the intensity of the fourth year in the presidential term. According to conservatives, "Victoria and other liberals were under the thumb of the American minister Joel Poinsett, a Protestant and York Rite mason" (Tuck 3).
Despite the political and financial troubles that Guadalupe Victoria faced, there were several successful points in his presidency. Most importantly, he established a National Treasury and abolished slavery. He also improved education, opened new shipping ports, laid plans for a canal in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and built a National Museum (Tuck 3). Guadalupe Victoria not only built up naval forces causing the surrender of the Spanish garrison in San Juan de Uluá, but he also accorded amnesty to political prisoners. Politically, he established diplomatic relations with major powers such as Great Britain and Colombia (Guadalupe 2). He signed several treaties of friendship and commerce once Mexico's independence as a republic was recognized. Borders between Mexico and the United States were finally secured (National 1). Also, his term in office brought about "the first arrival of American settlers under Stephen F. Austin in Texas in 1828." (Wilson 1)
In the end, though, pressures proved to be too much for Guadalupe Victoria to handle and led to a revolt against him by his own vice president, Nicolás Bravo, and General Barragan. Santa Anna and Vicente Guerrero stopped the revolt shortly after it began. In the 1828 election between Manuel Gómez Pedraza and Vicente Guerrero, Santa Anna organized a revolt to drive Pedraza out of power; Pedraza had initially received eleven votes to Guerrero's nine (National 2). Thus, at the age of forty-two Guadalupe Victoria's presidency was over and Vicente Guerrero's had just begun. Guadalupe Victoria retired to his estate in Veracruz where he died in 1843 (Tuck 3).
Manuel Felix Fernández, or Guadalupe Victoria as history knows him, obviously played an enormous role in Mexico's beginning as an independent nation. He was the "only chief executive in the first fifty years of Mexico's history to serve out his full term" (Tuck 2).
"Britannica Biography Collection". Guadalupe Victoria. EBSCO Publishing, 2003. Online. Internet. 3 March 2003.
"Guadalupe Victoria". National Solidarity Institute 1993. Online. Internet. 3 March 2003.
National Politics Web Guide. Online. Internet. 3 March 2003.
Tuck, Jim. Presidente Desconocido: Mexico's Unknown First President Guadalupe Victoria. 1996. Online. Internet. 3 March 2003.
Wilson, James G. and Fiske, John. Appletons Encyclopedia of American Biography. 6 Vols. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 2001.042203