Juan Álvarez (1780-1867) was a Mexican soldier and statesman. A hero of the independence movement and the Mexican Liberal party, he is considered to be the most important liberal military leader before the 1850s.
Juan Álvarez was born in a small town in Guerrero on Jan. 27, 1780. His family, a prosperous one with Indian and Negro blood, moved to Mexico City but returned to Guerrero in 1807. In 1810 álvarez became a soldier in the guerrilla army of the priest José Maria Morelos y Pavón in the fight for Mexican independence from Spain. álvarez rose rapidly to commander of the Regiment of Guadalupe. During the long and unsuccessful rebel struggle he lost much of his inherited wealth.
After Morelos's death álvarez raised troops from his own ranches; he kept fighting in the mountains around Acapulco at a time when most rebels had surrendered. In 1821 the former royalist officer Agustin de Iturbide defected and declared for independence. álvarez accepted Iturbide's Plan of Iguala and seized the port of Acapulco in October 1821. He held that city until August 1822, when he retired from the military.
After independence álvarez entered politics as a leader of the Liberal party and as a strong adherent of federalism. He was soon absolute master of the area which later became the state of Guerrero. There he lived modestly on a small ranch, proud of the fact that he personally worked his lands. In 1823 he joined Antonio López de Santa Ana and Vicente Guerrero, a hero of the wars of independence, in a revolt against Iturbide, who had established a monarchy in Mexico. From 1830 to 1832 álvarez again served with Guerrero, now the Liberal president. After Guerrero's death in 1831, álvarez continued to fight the Conservatives. In the late 1830s he offered his services against the French invaders, and he extended his political influence over many of Mexico's southern states, Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, and Oaxaca.
In the 1840s álvarez fought against Santa Ana and the Conservatives' attempts to establish a strong centralized government throughout Mexico. He also led a southern Mexican contingent against the North American invaders in 1847. In 1848-1850 he helped found the federal state of Guerrero (then comprising much of southern Mexico) and served as its first governor. In 1853 Santa Ana and the Conservatives again seized power, and álvarez once more took up arms, keeping much of Guerrero virtually independent of the national government.
In 1855 álvarez joined Ignacio Comonfort in launching the Plan of Ayutla, resulting in Santa Ana's overthrow and a return to a federal government with a new constitution. The dictator fled in August, and a junta proclaimed álvarez provisional president, with Benito Juárez as minister of justice. álvarez's presidency aroused dissension among the Liberals, and he had difficulty maintaining order. In December 1855 he gave the presidency to Comonfort and returned home.
Again during the Three-Year War (1857-1860), álvarez commanded the Liberal southern division against the Conservatives. In 1864, although 84 years of age, álvarez took arms against the French and Maximilian. Álvarez died on Aug. 21, 1867.
There are no major works on álvarez in any language. For information on him and his times see such general histories of Mexico as Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico (6 vols., 1883-1888), and Justo Sierra, The Political Evolution of the Mexican People (1940; 2d ed. 1957; trans. 1969). □