My cousin Patricio Milmo Hernandez and I both didn’t like the original title that I chose several years ago when I first began this project, which is incomplete. I finally changed the title, but that still might change as the piece goes through the editing process. I am sharing with you what I have so far. All of my books for research can be found on my Bibliography page.
Mexico’s Forgotten Son
Dn. Santiago Vidaurri Borrego y Valdez
Gobernador de Coahuila y Nuevo Leon
My interest in vindicating Dn. Santiago Vidaurri is more then an act of common decency, more than mere sentimentality or nostalgia. It is an act of love and admiration. I am a first generation Mexican – American and I did not grow up with the luxury of knowing my families history – especially the role they played in shaping and forming the Northern Mexico and South Texas we know today. I am Dn. Santiago Vidaurri’s 3rd great niece and I am looking at the truth with a full heart. My 3rd great uncle was a GREAT Man, who out of vengeance was robbed of being even greater still.
Benito Juarez’s version of Mexican History for generations will have the world believe Dn. Santiago Vidaurri was nothing more then a power hungry Northerner with self-serving motives. Vidaurri will be accused of failing to hear the call from his people in their cause against French Domination. He will be branded a traitor and condemned to die a death unworthy of humanity – Nazi war criminals were treated with more respect and compassion.
As child I detested the name Benito Juarez without concrete justification. Hearing Juarez’s name provoked hostility, especially when his name was mentioned as being Mexico’s favorite son. My reply was “Don’t mention that mans name to me”. This aversion to Juarez was a feeling unexplained that I felt from the bottom of my heart. Only now that I am aware of my familial ties with Mexico am I convinced that the heart does not lie. That the vibrations from our ancestors lurk beneath the surface like finger prints on our souls.
Mexico was unstable during my uncle’s formative years. He witnessed first hand the damage a centralized government can inflict on its citizens. Between 1829 and 1833 three Autogolpe de Estados occurred with Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna emerging as a hero. He was elected President in 1836. Vidaurri’s rise in the political arena did not start with the promise of the man he was to become. In 1832 my uncle was arrested for severing the hand of an unruly soldier, in self-defense. During his brief stint in jail he offered his services to the prison guards in letter dictation. After his release he was given the position of chief clerk at the municipal jail. He was given more responsibility and was soon signing official documents for Dn. Pedro de Valle.
Santa Anna turned out not to be the hero everyone believed – and muddled through his first term as President. He made several errors. The first was denouncing the constitution, which was followed by Las 7 Leyes, “Guerra de Los Pasteles, International Conflict and allowing the US to invade Mexico.
1837 is the year Vidaurri was promoted to secretary general to Joaquin Garcia and then during another political struggle he became Manuel Maria lLanos secretary – then the Governor of Nuevo Leon. It is then that my uncle was given a special mission by General Arista. The mission was to spy for the Santa Fe expedition. This expedition was sponsored by President Mirabeau B. Lamar. The plan was to divert the Santa Fe Trail into Texas and establish control over New Mexico. Vidaurri proved to be efficient and the mission was successful. I am of opinion that having worked directly with the Government my uncle learned first hand the art of Politics.
Under duress in 1848 Santa Anna signs away 2,200,000 km of Mexican territory to the United States. He genuinely feels guilt and resigns seeking exile in Colombia. Once the office of the Presidency is vacant a brutal power struggle occurs between twelve men fighting for the position. The National Congress implores Santa Anna to return and once again he emerges as a Hero. By now Santa Anna is accustomed to selling off pieces of Mexican territory to the United States and this time knowingly sells “La Mesilla” for 10,000,000 pesos to be paid in the course of 7 years. What becomes of the money is not known.
The people became dissatisfied with the current state of the Government. The Revolution of Ayutla began in the early months of 1854 – It was a movement that was based on the declaration of Independence and the liberal constitution of 1824. During this time Vidaurri developed influence over a group of political newcomers – my uncle being a leader by birth became the group’s political chief. The movement did not gain speed until they were joined by Juan Alvarez and Ignacio Comonfort. Portifirio Diaz during Mexico’s precarious time was moving up in the ranks of the army – Juarez was a lawyer who became a judge. My opinion is that they joined the bandwagon once Santa Anna was successfully ousted. Vidaurri was titled “General of the North” – he was the leading force in the ousting of Santa Anna. I find it apprehensible that my uncle is not mentioned in history during this moment in Mexico’s history.
During Vidaurri’s political rise he encountered many enemies – he was against corruption of any kind. Once he assumed the responsibility of the Governors office in Nuevo Leon he implemented significant changes that added to the accumulation of already existing enemies. He went to work immediately by establishing a version of a cabinet with a five group council. He was good at soliciting advice and opinions – he was charismatic and an effective public speaker, he was able to carry the people with his words and his sincere humble demeanor. Listening to him the people believed that a Democratic Mexico was possible.
Santiago Vidaurri was a man with great vision – it is said he was a man with modern vision. He openly admired the government of the United States and borrowed freely from it when establishing his own policies. He did not act alone but solicited opinions and advice from Nuevo Leons most influential citizens. This was done before he implemented El plan de Monterrey on May 25th 1855.
Money was needed to pay the soldiers – instead of increasing the taxes on the citizens he improved custom sales tax by confiscating all illegal trades’ goods – this forced people to pay their custom taxes. Vidaurri was in favor of the separation between church and state. He forced the church to dismantle their latifundios by allowing all citizens that could afford to become landowners purchase the land. He also banned the church from meddling in politics and imposed the church to pay taxes. He did not want filibusters taking advantage of Mexico so he supplied the weapons for his army himself. Mexico was still in a weakened state as the Liberals were still fighting the conservatives.
Vidaurri strongly believed in States rights philosophy and revised the Mexican Constitution. This was only temporary until Mexico became the solid Country she was meant to be. Vidaurri’s objective for Mexico was to ensure its success. He started small, by making Nuevo Leon an example. He established public parks, colleges, schools, palaces, stores and factories. He considered these institutions paramount to the future of a unified Mexico. Vidaurri was well versed in the Arts of Augustus Caesar and Napoleon. The peace he desired was referred to as La Paz Octaviana – Octavian Peace. This was the sole reason he forbid militia to enter Nuevo Leon, Coahuila y Tamaulipas. It was not a power move like the Juaristas want the world to believe.
Vidaurri’s plans once the Liberals won La Guerra da la Reforma was to step aside into a life of privacy. He was getting older and tired and wanted nothing more then to be with his family. However having been publicly accused of wanting to establish the “Republic of Sierra Madra” convinced him that it was not a possibility – especially with the corruption that began within the Liberal party. He quickly dispatched a letter to Juarez pleading his case.
“Resuelto estaba yo para retirame a la vida privada tall luego como veira cimentada la paz en la Republica – pero con lo que hacen esos senores de queines suponia no volveran a hablar de lo passado – considero un deber mio mantaner me en el puesto en que me han colocado mis conciudadaos porque no quiero bajar de el con la nota que tartan de imponer me. Los descontentos son unicamente esos hombres que repartan responsabilidades para con este estado – y que quieren caller los gritos de so concoenca con infamies como la que ve usted en el fulleto adjunto.” – S.V
Vidaurri and Juarez were the two leading liberals of their day – Juarez simply because he was appointed President by the National Congress during a crucial moment in Mexico’s history – it was shear luck as there was no one else. Although they were both Liberals Vidaurri’s main objective was not to become the most powerful man in Mexico – he simply was.
Juarez assumed control over a broken country and was immediately asked to resign. Juarez seeing an opportunity stubbornly refused to give way to the popular vote. Juarez was not a smart man; his talent was in surrounding himself with intelligent advisors. In the beginning the respect these two men had for each other was mutual and both shared an amicable friendship. There is a book of correspondence between them that demonstrates their relationship. Vidaurri’s disposition was not one of vengeance. He was fair and just and never allowed his personal feelings to interfere with what was best for Mexico. He dealt out punishment befitting the crime. Juarez believed in the death penalty – and did not believe in trials.
Juarez’s first letter to Vidaurri was one of false humility; he was a modern day Uriah Heep – asking for Vidaurri’s friendship and military support. Vidaurri quickly responded to Juarez in a letter dated May 22nd 1861 whole heartedly giving his friendship and the military support that came with it. Vidaurri also extended an invitation to Juarez to stay in Nuevo Leon if he should ever find himself in danger.
Vidaurri was giving Juarez his protection – in my opinion this was thorn number one, as Juarez realized Vidaurri was the most powerful man in Mexico. Through out the book of correspondence between Vidaurri and Juarez we will see their mutual respect and admiration and the precise moment their amicable friendship began to deteriorate.
“Por un afecto de la bondad del E.S Presidente de la Republica, he sido encargado del Ministro de Justicia, recidbiendo un testimonio de confianza que ha comprometido mi gratitude a aceptar un puesto tan dificil y superior a mis escasas facultadas. Lo he admitido solo por corresponder de alguna manera a la honra con que se me distingue, y en el me ofrezco sinceramente a las ordenes de Ud.como lo hago , me preste su eficaz cooperacion en el desempeno de ese encargo, que de otra manera no podria llevar cumplidamente en las actuales circunstancias en que se me ha encomendado, como en todos los resantes.
Espero , por lo tanto , del patriotismo de Ud. Y su anhelo por el triunfo de los principios liberals, que se servira favorecerme con sus indicaciones y consejos sobre la material que dejo indicada; seguro de que siempre las recibira con las mas viva gratitude, su afmo. Amigo y obdte.servidor. Q.B.S.M. – Benito Juarez
“ Por muy estimable de Ud. De 12 del actual me he impuesto con la mayor satisfaccion de que el E.S Presidente de la Republica tuvo a bien encargarlo del Ministrio de Justicia. Doy a U. la debida enhorabuena por haber merecido la confianza del primer Magistrado de la Republica, y desde ahora me prometo de sus luces bien conocidas en el pais, de su patriotismo y de su amor a los principios liberals que ha adoptado la nacion, que la administracion de Justicia recibira de U. las importantes reformas que necisita. Agradezco a U. mucho su atencion al comunicarme su Nuevo empleo, y en el cual le desea todo genero de felicidades, su afmo. Amigo y obediente servidor.” Q.B.S.M. – S.V
Comonfort repeatedly changed sides between the conservatives and the Liberals. His comrades in the end abandoned him, except for Vidaurri who gave him asylum in Nuevo Leon. Because Comonfort was instrumental in the Revolution of Ayutla Vidaurri was not only compassionate but intelligent enough to realize Comonfort was still useful to the cause. My uncle had just cause in handing Comonfort over to Juarez on a silver platter. Not only did Comonfort fail to implement Las Leys de Reforma but he also opposed my uncle on many issues that were relevent to the prosperity of Mexico. Juarez demanded that Vidaurri hand him Comonfort or execute him himself – my uncle refused. My uncle once he gave his word never went back on it – this is why he was slow to give it. Juarez solely blamed Comonfort for the needless bloodshed that was taking place. This is in my opinion thorn number two between my uncle and Juarez – Vidaurri once again proved to Juarez that his word was Marshall Law.
In my opinion Vidaurri’s desire in annexing Coahuila into Nuevo Leon and lending his military presence in Tamaulipas was not done as a power move but simply because his family resided in these states. Vidaurri was sentimental and protective of his family.
On July 17th 1861 Juarez suspended all payments to foreign creditors – although Mexico could not meet her financial obligations no one actually knew the reason why – this was not clearly explained. The French used the non – payment of funds as the reason for Intervention – the reality was the French dreamed of expansion. Vidaurri, Comonfort and Doblado came up with a new Government – placing Doblado as Mexico’s new President. Miguel Miramon and Benavides proposed a “National” party – placing Vidaurri as their leader. Vidaurri declined, he felt he was too old and sickly. This action is contrary to the power hungry Northerner he is portrayed as being. The purpose of creating a new Government was to neutralize the French by presenting reasonable terms – without further disruption of an already broken Mexico. This never took place, but it clarifies Vidaurris true intentions.
The main reason in my opinion that Vidaurri and Juarez ended on bad terms was because in the beginning Vidaurri did all he could to cooperate with Juarez – he was the leading Caudillo in the fight against the Conservatives and La Plan de Ayutla. He was the most firm in his resolve – sending his army wherever necessary, many times he was at the front line fighting with his men. For Vidaurri before being a Governor was a General first. And when La Guerra de Reforma seemed lost he reorganized his troops and marched back out to the front of his army and handed Juarez the war on a silver platter. Without Vidaurri the Liberals would have lost the war and the centralistic government under Santa Anna would have continued. Vidaurri was Mexico’s biggest supporter for the Liberal cause.
He was very good at communication and reported everything to Juarez. He felt Juarez was selective in what information he was given in return. However VIdaurri chose to give Juarez the benefit of the doubt and blamed the poor communication on the faulty mail system. Perhaps Juarez considered my uncle a threat to his position, and could not trust in the good fortune that my uncle was loyal to him and to the cause.
Zuazua’s murder took place on July 30th 1860. Vidaurri asked Juarez to help him find the men that were responsible and to help bring them to justice. Juarez ignored all pleas. To Vidaurri this was a slap in the face, he had never before until that moment ask Juarez for a favor.
My opinion is that Diaz fulfilled Juarez’s orders for selfish reasons. He knew that if Vidaurri lived, that he would remain loyal to the cause and to Juarez. Diaz had his political agenda and needed Vidaurri out of the way. Perhaps this is the reason why Diaz took a humanitarian approach to the citizens of Mexico. My grandfather remembered that you used to be able to buy a basket of bread for a nickel during Diaz’s rule, that if you left your possessions outside they would be in the same place you had left them the following morning. However his presidency was centralistic and one of Dictatorship, the very thing Vidaurri fought against.
With all of the drastic changes the list of his enemies grew – and by supplying his armies weapons he left the door wide open for attacks against his character, he was accused of trying to establish the “Republic of Sierra Madre”.
The Republic of Sierra Madre was a name given to the proposed idea of a NorthernRepublic. Since Vidaurri’s revolution was different from Commonfort’s and Alvarez’s only added to the impression that Vidaurri was seeking independence. Santa Anna’s accusation was not entirely unfounded since Vidaurri had gathered ammunition and horses in the North – however that was done with the purpose of being precautious in allowing filibusters to take advantage of their situation. However the Puros – who were extreme liberals considered Vidaurri to be one of them. So Vidaurri was given the benefit of the doubt. Manuel Doblado the Governor of Guanajato was quoted saying “I can assure you that Vidaurri’s doctrines have an eminent place in the Puro party.”
It was preciously Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who openly accused Vidaurri of a filibuster attempt and of trying to establish the Republic of Sierra Madre. There was an article published in the “Southern Intelligence” on January 23rd 1861 volume 20. – Publicly accusing Vidaurri.
Dn. Santiago Vidaurri walked humbly to his execution, with the innate dignity all those in my family posses. Giving his same habitual smile, the one he always gave. He was calm and serene as he was escorted by a priest and two attendants onto a carriage – he was met by fifteen soldiers who could not look him in the eye – this was one order everyone obeyed with a wretched heart.
He knew God alone in the end would judge him and he had confidence in Gods judgment. The only complaint he had was that he was not given a fair trial – it would become the perpetual stain marking the Mexican Government.
“Que era una barbaridad que mancharia su Patria.” – S.V
Walking with his head held high and a full heart his only concerns were of his family and his beloved Mexico. His last words were “Let my blood be the last and let Mexico be happy.” He was old and in ill health, yet he was Benito Juarez’s most feared and respected rival. Alive he was the biggest threat Juarez or Diaz would ever encounter. Dead they were able to malign and ruin his reputation – with VIDAURRI out of the way they could continue in their vicious struggle against each other and the continuation of a corrupted Mexican Government could go on unimpeded. On July 8th 1867 at 4: oclock in the afternoon en la plaza de Santo Domingo, Mexico lost its only champion.
Vidaurri placed a high value on human life – endangering the life of a fellow man was always the last resort. He demonstrated this often especially when he gave the African slaves entering Northern Mexico asylum. During the battle between the Juaristas and Los Vidaurristas Lazaro Garza Ayala was captured by Julian Quiroga. Garza Ayala pleaded with Quiroga to allow him to pen a letter to Vidaurri, asking for mercy. Quiroga agreed not being able to make any promises his orders were to execute any Juaristas that were captured. My uncle read the letter and instantly pardoned Lazaro Garza Ayala.
His mistake in my opinion was in forgiving all those that betrayed him; he should have never allowed his enemies to stand behind him. He was noble, kind and generous. It is hard to believe that he was known as “El Caudillo del Norte” “War Lord of the North.” For his true nature was purely forgiving. In my opinion that was my uncle’s greatest virtue and his Achilles heel.
Vidaurri gave Tamualipas his military support and established the Plan de Monterrey – Coahuila was a special situation, he annexed it into Nuevo Leon.
Who knew I know this much about Mexican history? This is incomplete and hopefully I will finish it one of these days, preferably sitting outside on the patio at La Mesa de Cartijanos. This is my labor of love, to my family. Please forgive any typo’s.