Ken’s Reading: “A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States” by Timothy J. Henderson

I don’t usually read straight history, but I enjoyed reading A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (2007) by Timothy J. Henderson. It’s a short book with a dynamic, character-driven story (think Stephen Austin and Santa Anna). The war itself gets few paragraphs, with most of the book covering the causes of the war and the first few years of the independence of Mexico. According to the author, Mexico never had a unifying vision of what Mexico could and should be. The central government was never strong enough to repress constant rebellions from the states. Monarchists, federalists, centralists, and peasant leaders rotated through the presidency and rewrote the constitution with every change of administration.The United States’ first century, by comparison, was a charmed combination of homogeneous leaderships with a unified set of Enlightenment ideals, confidence, and national ambition.

Here’s a paragraph I would like to memorize, it is such a clear summary of Enlightenment ideas:

“A good portion of the British elite embraced the ideas of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and Britain’s colonists eagerly seconded that embrace. That is, many of the most prominent leaders in Britain and its colonies believed that reason should trump tradition; that progress and change should be welcomed rather than feared; that individuals should be equal before a clearly codified law and free to advance in life on the basis of merit rather than bloodlines; that sovereignty should be more or less popular and government should incorporate checks and balances as safeguards against corruption and tyranny; that wealth was not finite but was infinitely expandable through free trade, which would reward hard work and ingenuity, and that even the poor could prosper if they energetically pursued their own material self-interest; that the trend toward increasing social equality was something to be welcomed; and that citizens should be free to believe, say, and publish whatever they wished. Enthusiasm for such ideas — collectively known as “liberalism” — created a powerful bond among the ruling classes of the British Empire, one that would stand the founders of the North American republic in good stead as they forged their new nation.”


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