Before the Spanish population arrived in Mexico, the area was inhabited by a number of Indian tribes. Though they came from various social groups, they were collectively referred to as Chichimecs. Other natives in the area before the early 1500s included agricultural groups, such as the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Totonac, the Huastec, the Otomi, and the Mixtecs, among others. Many of these groups were highly evolved and had flourishing urban areas, such as the Mayan and Aztec cities of Chichen Itza and Tenochitlan.
When Spanish people began arriving in Mexico, the Aztecs were in control of the majority of the Mesa Central. Cortez’s conquest began in 1519 and Mexico became a colony of Spain. It remained that way until 1821. The Spanish captured the property of the Indians and redistributed it among their own through a system of tribute grants and land grants.
Mexico fought for its independence during the early 1800s, following nearly 300 years of Spanish rule. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y
Costilla called for the Indians to “… recover from the hated Spaniards the land stolen from your forefathers…” To this day, September 16 is celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day.
After Hidalgo was hanged in 1811, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon took leadership of the country. He was responsible for the official declaration of Mexican independence and was executed in 1815 in front of a Spanish firing squad. His army continued fighting for another six years following his death.
During its nearly 50 years of independence, Mexico made very little progress and many of its residents suffered. In 1858, Benito Juarez became president. He tried to eliminate the Roman Catholic Church from the country by taking its land. This eventually led to the Ley Lerdo, an order separating church and state, eliminating monastic orders, and nationalizing church land. His intention was for the poor people of the country to gain access to the land, but he miscalculated when the majority of land was gobbled up by the country’s elite.
In 1861, Juarez was forced to stop paying its foreign loans and the British, Spanish, and French moved into Veracruz to collect on their debt. Only France stayed after the initial invasion and overthrew the Mexican government in 1864, declaring it an empire under Maximilian I of Austria. A war ensued between the French and Mexico, and by 1867, Maximilian was executed and the French withdrew from the country after the United States threatened to send troops into Mexico.
Following the war, Mexico fell under the rule of the dictator Porfirio Diaz until 1910. He increased the GDP and expanded the Mexican economy, but more than 95% of rural families in Mexico were landless by the end of his rule. This prompted the Mexican Revolution, eventually leading to Diaz’s resignation, followed by a series of inept and corrupt leaders.
Recent Mexican History
It was not until 1934 that peace became a possibility in Mexico. General Lazaro Cardenas was elected and vowed to modernize the country with his six-year plan. This included redistributing land, building schools, strengthening unions, and nationalizing the petroleum industry. His rule was followed by Miguel Aleman Valdes, who was responsible for major public works projects through the country. Similar goals remained at the forefront of the political agenda well into the mid-1980s. Much of Mexico’s economy was driven by oil during this time and remained so until the early 1990s when President Salinas ordered the closing of the country’s largest oil refinery.