Biography of Nicolas Bravo:
Nicolás Bravo Rueda (1786-1854) was a Mexican General and politician who served his country as President on three brief occasions. He fought in Mexico’s war of Independence from Spain and later against the Americans in the Mexican-American War. He is seen as a rare honorable man in a time of great chaos in Mexican history.
Nicolas Bravo joins the Revolution:
Bravo was born on September 10, 1786 in the town of Chilpancingo, the son of a wealthy family of farmers and merchants. His family had no love for the Spanish and was among the first of the Creole families to support the rebellion when it broke out
in late 1810. Bravo, along with his father and uncles, took up arms and joined the insurgents under José María Morelos and Hermenegildo Galeana.
Bravo Pardons the Enemy:
Bravo soon earned a reputation as a good leader and a tough fighter. His father, Leonardo, was captured by royalist forces at the Siege of Cuautla. The Spanish Viceroy offered to spare Leonardo’s life if the rest of the Bravos turned themselves in, but Nicolás refused. Leonardo was executed by the Spanish shortly thereafter. At about the same time, Nicolás took 300 royalist prisoners in battle. Instead of executing them out of vengeance, he pardoned them out of mercy: he said that he wanted to show the people of Mexico the difference between the cause of Independence and the tyranny of the Viceroy.
Bravo and Iturbide:
Bravo kept fighting the Spanish until his capture in early 1818. He spent two years in prison until he was pardoned in 1820 as the sentiment in Mexico overwhelmingly turned to independence. In 1821 Agustin de Iturbide, a leading Spanish General, switched sides and joined with rebel leader Vicente Guerrero. Soon thereafter, however, Iturbide seized power for himself, declaring himself Emperor of Mexico. Bravo, Guerrero and others took up arms once again, along with rising political star Antonio López de Santa Anna
. Iturbide was driven out and Bravo was named as part of a triumvirate which led the nation in 1823-1824.
In spite of his record as a hero of Independence, Bravo was conservative politically. In Mexico in the 1820’s and 1830’s, that meant that he was in favor of keeping much of the old Spanish system in place. Conservatives like Bravo, Lucas Alamán and Anastasio Bustamante favored a large role for the church in Mexican society, a strong central government (as opposed to strong regional or state governments), privileges for the elite (such as limited voting rights) and a strong executive power or president. Liberals held opposing views: they wanted separation of church and state, universal suffrage and strong regional and state governments.
The years immediately following independence and the overthrow of Iturbide were very chaotic ones for Mexico. The nation went through several presidents and constitutions in these turbulent years. Bravo served as Vice-president under Guadalupe Victoria, who was elected in 1824. He and Victoria did not get along politically and they were also leaders of rival Masonic factions. In 1828, Bravo helped lead an armed uprising against Victoria: it failed, and Bravo was sentenced to be shot. President Victoria himself commuted the sentence in favor of exile. Bravo spent the next two years in Peru and Ecuador before returning to Mexico.
Bravo and Santa Anna:
Bravo returned to a Mexico that was every bit as chaotic as he had left it. Spain had invaded in 1829, trying to re-claim its lost colony. Santa Anna had helped fight them off and was considered a great hero: his political star kept rising. Bravo ingratiated himself to Santa Anna by mopping up a revolt led by Guerrero. In 1839, Bravo served as interim President for a few days from July 10 to July 19 not long after the so-called "Pastry War."
During this brief time, Bravo proved to be hardworking and honest and left a clean house for incoming President Anastasio Bustamante.
Second and Third Terms:
Bravo resumed the presidency briefly from October 6, 1842 to May 5, 1843. This time in office was marked by repeated struggles with Congress and the beginning of the deterioration of his relationship with Santa Anna. Bravo tried to dissolve Congress on December 19, but they kept meeting anyway. He also tried to repeal some of Santa Anna’s legislation. He resigned on May 5 to return to the military, frustrated by his inability to accomplish anything in the political arena. His final term as President lasted from July 28 to August 4, 1846: he was deposed by General Mariano Salas.
Bravo in the Mexican-American War:
Somewhat surprisingly for a soldier of his stature, Bravo saw little action in the Mexican-American War
(1846-1848). He was in command of the fortress at Chapultepec on September 13, 1847 when the Americans attacked: he led an able defense, but he was outnumbered and outgunned and the castle soon fell. The Battle of Chapultepec
is remembered by Mexicans for the actions of the Niños Héroes, or Hero Children, cadets at the military academy who refused to surrender and fought to the last. Bravo was captured and held by the Americans for the duration of the war.
Legacy of Nicolas Bravo:
After the war, Bravo retired to his ranch near Chilpancingo, where he remained until his death on April 22, 1854.
Bravo earned his reputation during the War of Independence as an honest, decent man: his pardon of the 300 prisoners had much to do with this. Politics did not agree with him, however: he was repeatedly frustrated by the politicians' inability to get much done. During the chaotic years following independence, he sank to the level of his enemies, engaging in plots, schemes and, occasionally, treason. His continuing distaste for such dirty business was evident, as he frequently retired to his Chilpancingo home for months or years at a time, presumably to wash off the stench of politics.
Today, Bravo is not as well remembered in Mexico as some of his contemporaries, such as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Agustín de Iturbide or Lucas Alamán. His outdated politics probably have much to do with it: today, universal voting rights and separation of church and state are taken for granted in Mexico, concepts he opposed during his lifetime. He is best remembered for two things: his pardoning of the 300 prisoners after the death of his father and for being the commanding officer at the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec.
Orozco Linares, Fernando. Gobernantes de Mexico.
Mexico City: Panorama Editorial, 1985 (2008)