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Valentín Gómez Farías, The Pure Federalist (CEC)

Valentín Gómez Farías

Sometimes, a person can be too passionate for their cause. Valentín Gómez Farías (February 14, 1781 – July 5, 1858) was a trained medical doctor became one of the most important politicians in early independent Mexico, and one of the most controversial. When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, Gómez Farías had initially supported Agustín de Iturbide as constitutional monarch of Mexico, but withdrew his support when Iturbide abolished the new congress of Mexico. When the empire fell, Gómez Farías returned to politics and was active in the congress of the Republic of Mexico, established in 1824. He emerged as a leader of the radical liberals (puros) and allied with General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The first presidency of Santa Anna in 1833 was a temporary victory for the Mexican Liberals and Gómez Farías.

Santa Anna preferred simply holding the title of president rather than actually serving as president. With President Santa Anna residing at his estate, Manga de Clavo, and uninterested in administering his government, the actual executive duties fell to Vice-President Gómez Farías. He used this power to sponsor liberal reforms, specifically targeting the army and the Roman Catholic Church. He abolished the special privileges of the Church and army (fueros), which allowed them to be tried in separate courts; secularized education which had been in the hands of the clergy; and sought to undermine the Church’s economic power. Hoping to prevent future coups and to limit the political influence of the Mexican Army, the Gómez Farías administration also reduced the size of the military.

Following the reform models of the Bourbon monarchs a century earlier, Gómez Farías sought to limit the political and economic privileges of the clergy. Initially, the Goméz Farías administration advised Catholic clerics to limit their sermons to religious concerns and stop intervening in politics. Following this, Farías along with his principal advisors, the moderate Liberal José María Luis Mora and the radical Liberal Lorenzo de Zavala, pressured the Mexican Congress to pass a series of measures. The first of these was to secularize Mexican education. The University of Mexico, its faculty consisting primarily of priests, was closed and reorganized. With these educational reforms, the new secular schools organized by the Goméz Farías administration were central to the education and political views of the following generation of Liberals. The administration also declared that all clerical appointments within Mexico were to be made by the government of the Republic rather than by the papacy.

The Goméz Farías government also enacted additional measures in spite of the disagreement of José María Luis Mora. Ideologically, Zavala and Mora differed on several key issues, such as popular political action and the question of Church wealth. The last measures of the Goméz Farías administration, inspired by Lorenzo Zavala, abolished mandatory tithes and seized Church property and funds.

With these sweeping reforms, Santa Anna kept himself informed but also cleverly kept his a distance, watching to see which way the political winds were blowing. Conservative opponents to these radical reforms engineered Gómez Faría’s ouster and political exile. Denouncing the Vice- President and his administration, Santa Anna removed the Republic’s leaders and formed a new Conservative, Catholic, and Centralist government, forcing Goméz Farías and many of his supporters to flee Mexico for the United States. The new presidency’s first actions abolished the Constitution of 1824, rescinded the Liberal reforms enacted by Goméz Farías, and created a new constitution.