by Ernie Merlos
The decades following the independence of Mexico in 1821 proved to be turbulent both
economically and politically for Mexico. During this
time Mexico was under constant rebellion from rising
army officers and factions that led to civil disorder.
Politically, Mexico’s presidency was turning over
rapidly by power hungry men utilizing the presidency for
their benefits. Domestically, Mexico needed stability
that would necessitate defending and keeping their
northern border and controlling their economy.
Internationally there were many threats challenging the
young Mexico. The United States of America and the
Republic of Texas were in conflict with Mexico over
territory and borders. Also, Mexico’s economy could not
support the huge debt it had incurred from many Western
Throughout the 19th century, the
French, like most Western European countries, settled in
the Americas as colonists, merchants, and missionaries.
The French settled in several areas in Eastern Mexico
along the Gulf of Mexico coast. The French King
Louis-Philippe had many ties with the Caribbean as well
as other Latin American countries. France issued many
loans to Mexico, which had turned into a large debt.
During Mexico’s turbulent period of civil unrest many
foreigners and non-local residents were amidst this
domestic strife. Unfortunately heavy damage and
violence were brought upon innocent bystanders, both
foreign and local, that harmed people and their
possessions. Many innocent people’s businesses and
property were destroyed as well. On one such occasion
in Puebla, in 1828, a French bakery and shop was
destroyed by angry soldiers. The irate baker demanded
to be paid for the damages, which he estimated at 60,000
pesos. The Mexican government refused to pay for the
compensation. Along with this disaster, Mexico still
had an outstanding debt to France. The following turn
of events would lead on to start the Mexican-French
Tension had been building up between Mexico
and France as Mexico’s debt had drastically increased.
When the news of the event of the French bakery got back
to King Louis-Philippe, he was infuriated that Mexico
gave no compensation. To make matters worse, Mexico
stop making payments back to France for its debt.
France believed that Mexico owed them near half a
million pesos in over due debt. Mexico disagreed
stating that it was exaggerated.
In February of 1838, senior French diplomat Baron Beffaudis gave Mexico an
ultimatum. He asked for Mexico to pay 600,000 pesos or
else they would be in worse terms and suffer severe
consequences. Mexico, under Anastasio Bustamante,
refused to pay France. France then set up a blockade in
April of 1838 covering Mexico’s eastern coastal
territory. The blockade covered from the Yucatan to the
Rio Grande, including Mexico’s largest port—Veracruz.
The blockade hurt Mexico’s economy tremendously. Even
up until the 1940’s and 1950’s, Veracruz was the biggest
port city for trade and travel. During the 19th century
Mexico economy relied heavily on trade. In order to get
around the blockade Mexico attempted to ship and receive
around and go through Corpus Christi, Texas, then
through the Rio Grande, back to Mexico. This detour was
too far off route and expensive to make efficient trade.
The United States was integrated in this situation as
well. The U.S. was interested in Mexican territory, so
the U.S. was willing to abet France in whatever way
possible. Several ships used in the blockade were
courtesy of the United States including the Woodbury, a
schooner rigged revenue cutter named after the United
States Senator Levi Woodbury. The Woodbury was also
helpful to France in eliminating trade through Corpus
Christi and the Rio Grande.
Even after the blockade had
been up for several months, France tried to settle and
agree with Mexico on their debt and compensation.
Bustamente did not want to be involved in any peace
talks nor come to an agreement. His pride harmed the
national economy and the nation’s well being.
in November of 1838, the blockade turned into an all out
invasion on Veracruz. The small Mexican Navy could not
defend and hold the strong French force. As the French
invaded Verazcruz Mexico was practically unopposed with
only a small Mexican Navy at anchor. Because of
Mexico’s national debt no central strong army could be
created. The only decent military force thus far in
Mexican history was factions or radical armies behind
With 30,000 troops, the French
were under Commander Charles Baudin. The city of
Veracruz was completely destroyed including the fortress
of San Juan de Ulúa. The Duke of Wellington proclaimed
this victory to be the only known instance in history of
a regularly fortified citadel’s being taken solely by
naval force. Baudin was praised in France for his
San Juan de Ulúa was a fortress that sat
at the mouth of the port of Veracruz. It had been
important to Veracruz because it was implemented in
several successful defensives in Mexican history. When
the French destroyed the fort, it was a huge devastation
to Mexican pride. The remains still stand today and are
a national landmark.
Three days after Veracruz had been
bombarded, Mexico declared war. Because of the lack of
military, no strong opposition could fight back against
the French offensive. Within three weeks Veracruz had
fallen and the French took the area over.
de Santa Anna , the infamous generalissimo heard of the
situation in Veracruz and quickly went to Veracruz with
no higher authority. Fortunately Santa Anna found
interest in the Veracruz situation. Santa Anna military
career was extremely fickle with respect to taking
sides, but his military intelligence and logistics were
superior for his time. Santa Anna and his troops were
Mexico’s only hope in saving and reclaiming the city.
Unfortunately for Mexico, Santa Anna and his troops
were no match for the established French force. The
Mexican troops could not claim Veracruz and half were
injured or killed in battle. As Santa Anna and his
troops were fleeing the city, an amphibious attacker hit
Santa Anna’s leg, which had to be amputated.
Many say that Santa Ana losing his leg was good because
it was the only way to keep him into permanent
retirement. Santa Anna became a national hero for his
After Santa Anna and his
troops had left, the French were willing to leave
stating that they received satisfaction, but they would
not leave until they received payment, including
compensation for the blockade. Finally in 1839, Mexico
agreed to pay the French 600,00 pesos for damages.
Along with mediation from Great Britain, Mexico and
France resolved the conflict with two treaties.
Although the Pastry War was not a victory for Mexico,
many Mexicans believe it was an important positive
milestone in Mexican history. It was a time that
Mexicans united in battle for the common good of the
country and its autonomy. It was a big step in the
process for unifying Mexico. It showed that Mexico
could handle this dispute while fighting many other
struggles at the same time. As the Pastry War was
occurring, plenty of other conflicts were going on in
land. Many political movements and forces tried to gain
power. In the capital, Bustamente was busy with uniting
the country as well as fighting off federalist,
centralist and their movements.
Warner, Michael S. Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico.
Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. Chicago. 2001
Will Fowler Tornel and Santa Anna: The Writer and the
Caudillo, Mexico, 1795–1853. Westport, CT: Greenwood