Reviled as Man, Revered as Monster

 by Jeffrey Dane

He precipitated the creation of a kind of historical petri dish in which a
culture for a desire for justice grew and flourished in the United States.

During his life he was alternately hated and revered, even by his own
countrymen: worshipped as a national hero by some, by others considered an
abomination. He erected statues of himself in his own country, but not one remains

Despite losing his left leg below the knee, he remained a strutting egoist
with a Napoleonic power complex, prompting some to refer to him disparagingly as
"The Immortal Three-Fourths." He was vain enough to have his disembodied leg
placed in a crystal reliquary and interred in a gilded monument, that it might
be worshipped by others. At times cowardly, at others almost recklessly
brave, he reinforced his courage with opium.

Said to be a scoundrel, gambler, womanizer and lecher, conceited, ruthless,
shrewd and conniving, he was also unprincipled and an opportunist. Within weeks
after his wife died (he was nearly 50), he married a 15-year-old girl.
Different sources give conflicting data about the year of his birth.

A man of contradictions, complexities and paradoxes, in keeping with the
magnitude of his most infamous deed, he could also be compassionate and
magnanimous. Like us, he had a full set of human weaknesses, which make him more, not
less, of a human being. Erect of bearing, he could make an imposing appearance,
and he had that elusive quality of charisma, a trait impossible to really
define, extremely difficult to explain, and hopeless to imitate - but very easy to

With little formal education (he bragged he'd read only one book), he still
eventually arrived, before he was 40, at the pinnacle he sought. His route was
bestrewn with treachery and betrayal of friends and causes for his own
advancement. Beneath the vanity and egotism, there was an underlying desire to serve
his people.

An eyewitness described him in his 40s: ". . . a melancholy appearance,
decidedly the best-looking and most interesting figure in the group . . . of sallow
complexion, fine dark eyes, soft and penetrating, an interesting expression
of face . . . Knowing nothing of his past history, one would have thought him a
philosopher, living in dignified retirement . . . a veritable riddle in
character . . . How frequently this look of philosophic resignation, of placid
sadness, is seen on the countenances of the most cunning, ambitious, designing and
most dangerous men . . . quiet and gentlemanly in his manners, yet here sat
he, with this air de philosophé, perhaps one of the worst men in the world:
ambitious of power, greedy of money, and unprincipled, having feathered his nest
at the expense of others. . ."

In the era of quills and inkwells, before the railroad, the revolver, the
Industrial Revolution, and arts, sciences and entities we now take for granted,
his personal traveling accouterments included silver teapots and cream
pitchers, monogrammed china, crystal glasses and decanters with gold stoppers, silk
sheets and undergarments, and costly diamond studs. One of his coats weighed
nearly 20 pounds, laden with enough silver for a set of spoons. Today some of his
personal effects are displayed in a museum fittingly devoted to the memory of
those he destroyed.

Washington was not yet our nation's capitol; France was in its Reign of
Terror; Beethoven was making his mark in Vienna; Bach was decades dead and Brahms
was decades ahead. This was the age into which this man was born.
Unfortunately, the conduct of his own life and career reflects his participation in the
darkest sides of the Age of Enlightenment.

Some, from heads of state to heads of companies, are drawn more to evil than
to good. "Power corrupts" is a concept which manifests itself as an
unfortunate feature of many in positions of authority and influence. In him, it found
its most worthy model. In his youth, his worship of his mentor reinforced the
savage methods of the worst traits in his own character. Karl Marx admired him.
Some of us experiment with questionable practice at some point in our lives,
usually in youth, and then outgrow it. Not this man. He made it a feature of
his life. Paradoxically, his namesake is a significant saint, and his grandson,
named after him, became a Jesuit priest and lived into the sixth decade of the
20th century.

Van Gogh's "Sunflowers." Brahms' "Lullaby." Dante's "Inferno." Da Vinci's
"Mona Lisa." Michelangelo's "Moses." Tolstoy's "War and Peace," etc., ad
infinitum. Mention now this man's name, and what invariably comes to mind is one
infamous episode with which his name has become fused.

He became anathema to Americans after a now-historic incident, familiar to
all of us, in which he was responsible for the death of scores of people, who
were then living in his own country. Though only a couple of them were actually
famous, all of them became martyrs.

His name has become indelibly linked with that occurrence, which was arguably
the greatest single traumatic event in our country's early culture until the
first presidential assassination. We tend to invest martyrs with heroism and
heroes with martyrdom: those who left life prematurely, at whatever age, prompt
the most intriguing conjectures.

To call it an event would be understatement epitomized. One of the most
significant and tragic of any era, the incident soon reached iconic status in the
annals of American history, and has since literally become, in a word,
legendary. So complete is his identification with that tragedy that he has become
almost synonymous with it (with the appropriate negative connotation), and the
very mention of his name even today calls to mind that occasion and its sweeping
and extensive aftermath. We remember him more for that one incident than for
anything else, bad or good, in which he was involved during his lifetime.

"The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn." Thus spoke
Chief Justice Earl Warren at the time of JFK's assassination. His remark has an
application to what had transpired over a century earlier. The man responsible
for that catastrophe and the ultimate martyrdom of those people committed a
blunder which in its stupidity rivals that of the Stamp Act years before. He's
now remembered, and was even admired by some, for his despicability.

Wheels turn. Within weeks he was bested by a man after whom a large Western
city was later named. It's said that the tyrant might not have been outdone had
he not been "otherwise engaged" with a young servant girl, about whom a
popular song was later written. Even today a hotel named for her is located
literally across the street from the site where that historic tragedy occurred.

Though he lived well into the photography era, he outlived most of his
counterparts and all those he vanquished in that notorious tragedy. They, however,
were never photographed: They all perished literally a few years before the
advent of the camera. Americans saw the event as a massacre. He called it a
victory, saying, "It was but a small affair." Replied a colleague, "Another such
'victory' and we are ruined."

On his first visit to America he spent some time in Washington, DC,
conferring with our then-president. His second American stay, in exile 30 years later,
began in New Jersey when "Abraham Baez, a Jew, conducted me to his house in
Elizabeth Port," he wrote in his autobiography. That his ship docked there may
have prompted later contradictions about whether he actually lived in the
state, and other factors compounded the confusion.

In his native country he had befriended a Hungarian who in New York invited
him to spend some time on Staten Island, where ". . . I had Baez rent me a
furnished house in New York." He's said to have operated a grocery and general
store for a time, living first on St.Mark's Place and later at West New Brighton
on Manor Road, both on Staten Island. One source claims he had a penchant for
cock-fights and three-card monte, in keeping with his gambling proclivities.
About his Hungarian friend, he later wrote, "He, with some other businessmen,
deceived and robbed me" - a very determined accusation, considering what he
himself had done to others throughout his life.

It takes little imagination to envision him limping along Manhattan's Union
Square one day and entering a portrait studio to have his picture taken. The
photographic image of him made that day ultimately found its way to the Library
of Congress. It is a Carte de Visite portrait, dated 1866-1867 and made at the
Rockwood photographic studio, current during the 1860s & 1870s, and which was
located at 17 Union Square West in Manhattan.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, 1866-67

According to tradition he was instrumental in introducing to the American
public a popular habit, to the ultimate delight of youngsters and to the
consternation of parents and teachers. He had brought with him a tropical substance,
chicle, which produced a whitish fluid. He told a group of businessmen, "When
you cure this liquid, it hardens and assumes a chewy character," adding that
mixing it with sugar and mint gave it a sensational taste.

He had meanwhile hired a secretary and interpreter named James Adams (some
sources say Thomas Adams), who lived in Elizabeth Port. Adams saw how his
employer enjoyed chewing the stuff and asked him about it. When the old man, now in
his 70s, left for his native land, he gave Adams what remained of the supply.

Adams soon experimented and eventually founded his own firm. Even today the
confection has its own modern counterpart: the popular chewing gum Chiclets,
for decades made by The Adams Chewing Gum Co., takes its name from the substance
the old man had brought with him. Interestingly, the product distributed
today in the USA is now manufactured in his native country.

Legend has it that he ultimately escaped from New York concealed in a piano

In and out of favor during the last three decades of his life, he spent his
literally declining years in failing health, approaching senility and almost
blind. His compulsion to address the masses never left him, and what's come down
to us is the pathetic scene of his wife paying the indigent to listen to him
speak, and then pretend to cheer.

He lived into his 80s, dying infirm, in poverty and virtually unnoticed in
Mexico City on June 21, 1876. Buried at Tepeyac Cemetery, near Guadalupe
Hidalgo, he survived by four decades those he had destroyed at dawn on Sunday, March
6, 1836 at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

The obvious, by its nature, can easily escape our attention, so it may be
worth noting that Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Peréz de Lebrón was as alive then
as we are today.

Copyright © 2004 Jeffrey Dane

# # #

( Author's Bio ) :

JEFFREY DANE is a historian, researcher and author whose work is published in
the USA and abroad in several languages, on subjects ranging from Goethe to
George Washington, and from antiques to the Alamo. He was asked to write the
Foreward for "The Alamo Story: From Early History to Current Conflicts" by
historian J.R. Edmondson (Republic of Texas Press, Plano, TX, Feb.2000), and he has
contributed to several other books, including "Leonard Bernstein - A Life" by
Meryle Secrest (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1994).
If he could personally experience only one event in the entire recent history of the United States, it would
be the siege and fall of the Alamo - ". . . but only as an 'observer,' not as a participant."

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