Depending on one's point of view (or view of history), Santa Anna is a turncoat, a traitor, a tyrant. Or ... he is a nationalist, a leader, a hero.
The discrepancies, contained in his life's history, are many (according to scholars). Work is still underway to sort-out the truth.
A recent book - Santa Anna of Mexico, by Will Fowler, published by University of Nebraska Press in 2007 - attempts to address some of the issues. In the Preface, Dr. Fowler notes:
He was demonized by Mexicans who wanted a scapegoat for losing the Mexican-American War and by Americans who needed a hate figure to justify their military involvement in Mexico. . .If Santa Anna was such a monster, how can we explain his repeated comebacks or that so many different factions invited him at one stage or another to come to the country's rescue? (Fowler, Santa Anna, page ix.)
At the end of his long study into the life of Santa Anna, what did Fowler find?
The Santa Anna who emerges in this book is neither a diabolical dictator nor a benign, selfless, patriotic patriarch. He was courageous and he risked his life for his country. He even lost a leg fighting for Mexico.
He was also notoriously corrupt and amassed a formidable fortune at the height of his career by lining his pockets with government funds.
He was charismatic and charming. He was also forceful and ruthless. He was ingeniously deceptive and yet stubbornly reckless.
He features here as the intelligent and contradictory leader that he was; a middle-class provincial criollo [Mexican who claimed "pure Spanish" blood] who became a high-ranking officer, a large landowner (hacendado), and a president.
Not a traitor, nor a turncoat, and not always a tyrant; this is the story of a general, a landowner, and a leader who tried to prosper personally and help his country develop at a time of severe and repeated crises, as the colony that was New Spain gave way to a young, troubled, besieged, and beleaguered Mexican nation. (Fowler, Santa Anna, page xii.)
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Image, Library of Congress.