Flag of the Republic of Yucatán
Mexico had other distractions that kept them from recovering their lost province of Texas. The people of the Yucatán were overwhelmingly federalists in their leanings which led them to secede from Mexico much like the Anglo-Americans had done. The two nations would establish close ties, unified by their mutual hatred of the centralists. The first vice-president of the Republic of Texas, Lorenzo de Zavala, was Yucatecan.
On February 12, 1840, the Mexican army of Yucatán, commanded by Captain Santiago Imán, marched into the city of Valladolid and declared that federalism should be restored as a form of government and the reestablishment of the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Six days later, Captain Imán and his troops marched into the Yucatecan capital at Mérida and proclaimed the independence of the Yucatecan territory. The last centralist garrison–the garrison of the city of Campeche–surrendered to the Yucatecan federalists on June 6, 1840.
The threat of an invasion by centralist troops led the federalists in the Yucatán to debate a course of action. On March 16, 1841, at a meeting in Merida, a mob emerged calling for the independence of Yucatán, following the example of the Republic of Texas. Some impetuous members of this group lowered the Mexican flag, without considering the consequences, raising in its place the Yucatecan flag. The independence movement spread, and within days the Mexican tricolor flag was removed in favor of the Yucatán flag. This banner, first hoisted in protest of the centralist government, now became the ensign of a new republic. It was divided into two fields: on the left, a field of green; and on the right, another divided in turn into three, red top and bottom, and white in the middle. The field of green features five stars standing for the proposed republic’s five departments–Merida, Izamal, Valladolid, Campeche, and Tekax.
With the federalists uprising now turning into a call for independence, cautious Yucatecan politicians bowed to the inevitable. On October 1, 1841, they adopted the Act of Independence of the Yucatán Peninsula. The first article stated:
The people of Yucatán, in the full exercise of its sovereignty, is becoming free and independent republic of the Mexican nation…
The innovative 1841 Constitution of Yucatán was based on the Constitution of the State of Yucatán in 1825 but also contained reforms including important innovations that guaranteed the individual liberty, freedom of religion, and trial by a jury of peers. The Yucatecans also made high level contacts with the Republic of Texas in order to coordinate their efforts. President Mirabeau B. Lamar agreed to lease his navy to the Mexican rebels for $8,000 a month (about $200,000 today) and the Texans responded with aggressive raids on Mexican coastal towns and shipping.
While the Republic of Yucatán formed a government and attracted allies, Antonio López de Santa Anna executed a coup, removing the centralist regime of Anastasio Bustamante and softening the position against the insurgents. Santa Anna, once in power, commissioned Andrés Quintana Roo, a native of Merida, to bring the breakaway republic back into Mexico. Quintana Roo convinced the Yucatecan authorities to sign a treaty on November 28-29, 1841 which allowed Yucatán to retain some of its sovereignty in exchange for union with Mexico.
The Mexican congress ignored these treaties, demanding Yucatán to reunite with Mexico and fully accept all laws established by Santa Anna’s government. It also required that Yucatán break all relations with the Republic of Texas. The Yucatecans refused.
Santa Anna responded by sending troops to crush this uprising. In August 1842, a Mexican naval squadron of four warships captured the Isla del Carmen. Control of this coastal island gave the centralists a strategic base between the Mexican mainland and the Yucatecan peninsula, allowing Santa Anna to use ocean transports to gather an army for the conquest of the Yucatán. Santa Anna also deployed new steam-powered warships, the small Regenerator, and the powerful, iron-hulled Moctezuma and Guadaloupe.
Four thousand troops left Vera Cruz then landed near the fortified city of Campeche. The Mexican army failed to reduce the town, but instead took the port town of Champoton. Abandoning the campaign for Campeche, the centralists decided to march on the Yucatecan capital, Merida. Using its naval base at Isla del Carmen, centralist troops landed at the port of Telchac Puerto north of Merida and moved inland.
The centralist found themselves heavily outnumbered and the Yucatecans dug in, supported by an estimated 11,000 Mayan Indians. In addition, a allied fleet of Texan and Yucatecan ships drove Mexican ships back to their base at Isla del Carmen. On April 24, 1843, Mexican General Peña y Barragán, his supplies lines cut and faced with a superior army, surrendered and agreed to withdraw his troops by sea to Tampico in the state of Tamaulipas.
Despite the withdrawal, Santa Anna refused to recognize the independence of Yucatán and prohibited all trade with what he considered rebels. This plunged Yucatán into deep economic problems and forced the secessionists into negotiations–while making trade with Texas even more important. On December 5, 1843, Santa Anna agreed to full autonomy for the Yucatán as part of the Republic of Mexico, and trade resumed. The situation was short-lived. On February 21, 1844, the Mexican government declared the treaty with Yucatán unconstitutional. In late 1845, the Mexican Congress revoked the Conventions of December 1843; the Assembly of Yucatán declared its independence, again, on January 1, 1846. Only the return of federalists to control of the Mexican government–and a destructive race war with the Mayans in the interior–brought Yucatán back into union with Mexico and severed its maturing relationship with Texas.