Santa Anna (Antonio López de Santa Anna) was born in Vera Cruz in 1794 and began serving in the Army in Spanish Mexico when he was a teenager. He was said to have first fought in support for the Spanish against Mexican independence before joining the movement in 1821 in support of an independent Mexico. He continued to be near the forefront of leadership in the young country of Mexico and helped defeat the Spanish effort to reclaim Mexico in the late 1820s. Santa Anna was himself elected President in 1833. The previous two decades had seen chaotic changes in the country of Mexico with the form of government varying from a constitutional republic to a centralist form with Santa Anna at the head, supported by the military. The country was vast with the Central American part being largely populated and the North American portion being sparsely populated by Native American tribes and an increasing number of American settlers. Under Santa Anna, its policy changed from encouraging settlements to being more restrictive toward them.
The foregoing change was one of the factors sparking an independence movement among the American settlers resulting in armed conflicts, mainly during 1835 and 1836. A chronological overview listing of the initial battles would include Gonzales and Goliad in October of 1835, the Battle of Concepción and the seige of Bexar from October to December of 1835 with Mexican troops all falling to the Texas forces. The next battles swung in favor of Mexican forces and included the crushing defeats of the Texans at the Alamo and Coleto, the final battle near Goliad. During the latter two battles, virtually all the defeated Texans were killed, either during the battle or were executed afterward under the orders of Santa Anna. The final battle of this portion of the conflict was the Battle of San Jacinto in which the Mexican forces led by Santa Anna were defeated on April 21, 1836 by Texan forces led by Sam Houston. Hours after the battle, Santa Anna was found and captured by Texas forces. After his treatment of his opponents, Santa Anna may himself have expected to be exeucuted, but at Houston’s order, he was not.
Oil-on-canvas, The Surrender of Santa Anna, by William Henry Huddle
(Image credit: Bullock Museum)
There has been some speculation as to the reason why Sam Houston spared the life of Santa Anna after Santa Anna was captured following the Battle of San Jacinto. There is a fair amount of Masonic literature on the subject of whether Santa Anna showed the Masonic sign of distress to Houston when they first met, leading to Houston’s charitable treatment of Santa Anna. The following comments pertaining to Santa Anna’s association with Masonry and whether their mutual relationship as Masons affected Houston’s treatment of him after San Jacinto draw from these articles, two of which are cited below.
Santa Anna had either ordered or directed harsh treatment of Texas soldiers captured by the Mexican Army and often had the prisoners executed as prisoners of war. In the case of the Alamo, Santa Anna had decreed that no prisoners be taken alive. Consequently, there would have been considerable sentiment in favor of his own execution if Santa Anna were to become a captive. Houston was in control of the situation and ordered that executing the former Mexican dictator was not an option. However, contemporary accounts of their meetings do not refer to a mutual connection through Masonry in general, nor to the passing of a Masonic sign of distress in particular.
Being aware that Santa Anna was not among the dead, wounded or captured in the Battle, Houston is said to have ordered that the Mexican dictator and general be taken alive. Houston later alluded to this, that Santa Anna’s value was greater to the cessation of hostilities between Mexico and Texas if Santa Anna were alive. In a letter addressed to Santa Anna dated March 21, 1842, Houston stated, among other things, that he was influenced by “considerations of mercy, humanity and the establishment of a national character.” Houston went on to state that it had been his desire that a freed Santa Anna would have been in favor of recognizing an independent Texas. Santa Anna remained North of the Rio Grande for about one month until the signing of the Treaties of Velasco. After that event, he was allowed to return to Mexico. However, the Velasco agreements were not ratified by the Mexican government and the hostilities continued. To the best of our knowledge, Sam Houston and Santa Anna never again met face to face after 1836. If they did, we have not been able to find a record of such an occasion.
Despite some statements that may be found to the contrary, Santa Anna’s former association with Masonry does not appear to be in doubt. The Mexican leader is said to have received the 32nd degree of the Scottish Rite on December 12, 1825. However, if he had once been in good standing with the Masonic order, he exhibited contrary and unbecoming behavior with his crimes and abuses against both the Mexican people, as in Zacatecas, as well as his treatment of the Tejano and Anglo combatants in Texas.
Santa Anna would have also acquired numerous enemies in Mexico who would have wanted to take his life over the years, but the dictator was resilient and remained in power for many years. He was successful in defeating a French invasion in 1838. He was still in leadership during the Mexican-American War in the mid 1840s, though the Mexican defeat further undermined his support. After being at the forefront of leadership for the better part of three decades, Santa Anna was finally deposed in the mid 1850s and lived out the remainder of his life in exile up into his senior years. Santa Anna died at his home in Mexico City in June of 1876 at age 82 and was buried in Panteón del Tepeyac Cemetery, in Monterrey, Mexico.
For further reading, articles on Masonry, Sam Houston and Santa Anna:
Why Did Sam Houston Spare the Life of Santa Anna at San Jacinto? by Otho C. Morrow, great-grandson of Houston (p. 14)
Santa Anna’s 1825 Scottish Rite Certificate web page of nymasons.org
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