The “Pastry War” was fought between France and Mexico from November 1838 to March 1839. The war was nominally fought because French citizens living in Mexico during a prolonged period of strife had their investments ruined and the Mexican government refused any sort of reparations, but it also had to do with long-standing Mexican debt. After a few months of blockades and naval bombardments of the port of Veracruz, the war ended when Mexico agreed to compensate France.
Mexico had serious growing pains after gaining its independence from Spain in 1821. A succession of governments replaced one another, and the presidency changed hands about 20 times in the first 20 years of independence. Late 1828 was particularly lawless, as forces loyal to rival presidential candidates Manuel Gómez Pedraza and Vicente Guerrero Saldaña fought in the streets after a hotly contested election. It was during this period that a pastry shop belonging to a French national identified only as Monsieur Remontel was allegedly ransacked by drunken army forces.
Debts and Reparations:
In the 1830’s, several French citizens demanded reparations from the Mexican government for damages to their businesses and investments. One of them was Monsieur Remontel, who asked the Mexican government for the princely sum of 60,000 pesos. Mexico owed a great deal of money to European nations, including France, and the chaotic situation in the country seemed to indicate that these debts would never be paid. France, using the claims of its citizens as an excuse, sent a fleet to Mexico in early 1838 and blockaded the main port of Veracruz.
By November, diplomatic relations between France and Mexico over lifting the blockade had deteriorated. France, which was demanding 600,000 pesos as reparations for the losses of its citizens, began shelling the fort of San Juan de Ulúa, which guarded the entrance to the port of Veracruz. Mexico declared war on France, and French troops attacked and captured the city. The Mexicans were outnumbered and outgunned, but still fought valiantly.
The Return of Santa Anna:
The Pastry War marked the return of Antonio López de Santa Anna. Santa Anna had been an important figure in the early period after independence, but had been disgraced after the loss of Texas, seen as an utter fiasco by most of Mexico. In 1838 he was conveniently at his ranch near Veracruz when the war broke out. Santa Anna rushed to Veracruz to lead its defense. Santa Anna and the defenders of Veracruz were soundly routed by superior French forces, but he emerged a hero, partly because he had lost one of his legs during the fighting. He had the leg buried with full military honors.
With their main port captured, Mexico had no choice but to relent. Through British diplomatic channels, Mexico agreed to pay the full amount of restoration demanded by France, 600,000 pesos. The French withdrew from Veracruz and their fleet returned to France in March of 1839.
The Pastry War, considered a minor episode in the history of Mexico, nevertheless had several important consequences. Politically, it marked the return of Antonio López de Santa Anna to national prominence. Considered a hero in spite of the fact that he and his men lost the city of Veracruz, Santa Anna was able to regain much of the prestige he had lost after the catastrophe in Texas. Economically, the war was disproportionally disastrous for Mexico, as not only did they have to pay the 600,000 pesos to France, but they had to rebuild Veracruz and lost several months worth of customs revenue from their most important port. The Mexican economy, which had already been a shambles before the war, was hit hard. The Pastry War weakened the Mexican economy and military less than ten years before the much more historically important Mexican-American War broke out. Finally, it established a pattern of French intervention in Mexico which would culminate in the 1864 introduction of Maximilian of Austria as Emperor of Mexico with the support of French troops.