The Effect of Events in Europe on Mexico
In 1808, Napoleon turned on Spain, a previous ally, during the Peninsular War, forcing the abdication of the Spanish king and replacing him with Napoleon’s brother Joseph. This created a crisis and power vacuum in Spain that rippled out to its American colonies, including New Spain (Mexico).
Analyze the effect events in Europe had on Mexico in 1808
- Events in Spain during the Peninsular War had profound effects on Spanish America, leading to numerous successful independence movements.
- In 1808, a year after Napoleon invaded Portugal, the French turned on Spain, a previous ally, which led to a political crisis.
- Napoleon forced the abdication of the Spanish king, Charles IV, and replaced him with his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who ruled Spain for five years.
- Numerous revolts occurred throughout Spain in response, causing confusion and crisis.
- A number of juntas (councils) were set up Spain to fill the power vacuum and lead the charge against the French.
- This crisis also resulted in a shift in leadership over the colonies in the Americas, where juntas were also set up. Some of these were loyal to Charles IV’s son, Ferdinand VII, and some pushed for independence, which was achieved in 1821.
- Peninsular War: A military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.
- Spanish Constitution of 1812: Established on March 19, 1812, by the Cádiz Cortes, Spain’s first national sovereign assembly. It established the principles of universal male suffrage, national sovereignty, constitutional monarchy, and freedom of the press, and supported land reform and free enterprise. This constitution, one of the most liberal of its time, was effectively Spain’s first.
- juntas: A Spanish and Portuguese term for a civil deliberative or administrative council. In English, it predominantly refers to the government of an authoritarian state run by high-ranking officers of a military. The term literally means “union” and often refers to the army, navy, and air force commanders taking over the power of the president, prime minister, king, or other non-military leader.
The Peninsular War and the Crisis in Spain
The Peninsular War (1807–14) was a military conflict between Napoleon’s empire and the allied powers of Spain, Britain, and Portugal for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war started when French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, its ally until then. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
Spain had been allied with France against the United Kingdom since the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. However, after the defeat of the combined Spanish and French fleets by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, cracks began to appear in the alliance, with Spain preparing to invade France from the south after the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition. In 1806, Spain readied for an invasion in case of a Prussia victory, but Napoleon’s rout of the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstaedt caused Spain to back down. However, Spain continued to resent the loss of its fleet at Trafalgar and the fact that they were forced to join the Continental System. Nevertheless, the two allies agreed to partition Portugal, a long-standing British trading partner and ally that refused to join the Continental System. Napoleon was fully aware of the disastrous state of Spain’s economy and administration and its political fragility, and felt it had little value as an ally. He insisted on positioning French troops in Spain to prepare for a French invasion of Portugal, but once this was done, he continued to move additional French troops into Spain without any sign of an advance into Portugal. The presence of French troops on Spanish soil was extremely unpopular in Spain, resulting in the Mutiny of Aranjuez and the abdication of Charles IV of Spain in March 1808.
Charles IV hoped that Napoleon, who by this time had 100,000 troops stationed in Spain, would help him regain the throne. However, Napoleon refused to help Charles and refused to recognize his son, Ferdinand VII, as the new king. Instead, he succeeded in pressuring both Charles and Ferdinand to cede the crown to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. The head of the French forces in Spain, Marshal Joachim Murat, meanwhile pressed for the former Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy, whose role in inviting the French forces into Spain had led to the mutiny of Aranjuez, to be set free. The failure of the remaining Spanish government to stand up to Murat caused popular anger. On May 2, 1808, Murat ordered the younger son of Charles IV, the Infante Francisco de Paula, to leave Spain for France, leading to a widespread rebellion in the streets of Madrid.
The Council of Castile, the main organ of central government in Spain under Charles IV, was now in Napoleon’s control. However, due to the popular anger at French rule, it quickly lost authority outside the population centers that were directly French-occupied. To oppose this occupation, former regional governing institutions, such as the Parliament of Aragon and the Board of the Principality of Asturias, resurfaced in parts of Spain; elsewhere, juntas (councils) were created to fill the power vacuum and lead the struggle against French imperial forces. Provincial juntas began to coordinate their actions; regional juntas were formed to oversee the provincial ones. The move, however, led to more confusion, since there was no central authority and most juntas did not recognize the presumptuous claim of others to represent the monarchy as a whole. The Junta of Seville, in particular, claimed authority over the overseas empire.
Effect on Spanish America
This impasse was resolved through negotiations between the juntas and the Council of Castile, which led to the creation of a “Supreme Central and Governmental Junta of Spain and the Indies” on September 25, 1808. It was agreed that the traditional kingdoms of the peninsula would send two representatives to this Central Junta, and that the overseas kingdoms would send one representative each. These “kingdoms” were defined as “the viceroyalties of New Spain [Mexico], Peru, New Granada, and Buenos Aires, and the independent captaincies general of the island of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Chile, Province of Venezuela, and the Philippines.”
This scheme was criticized for providing unequal representation to the overseas territories. The dissolution of the Supreme Junta on January 29, 1810, because of the reverses suffered after the Battle of Ocaña by the Spanish forces paid with Spanish American money set off another wave of juntas in the Americas. French forces had taken over southern Spain and forced the Supreme Junta to seek refuge in the island-city of Cadiz. The Junta replaced itself with a smaller, five-man council, the Council of Regency of Spain and the Indies. Most Spanish Americans saw no reason to recognize a rump government that was under the threat of capture by the French at any moment, and began to work for the creation of local juntas to preserve the region’s independence from the French. Junta movements were successful in New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, Chile, and Río de la Plata (Argentina).
The creation of juntas in Spanish America, such as the Junta Suprema de Caracas on April 19, 1810, set the stage for the fighting that would afflict the region for the next decade and a half. Political fault lines appeared and often caused military conflict. Although the juntas claimed to carry out their actions in the name of the deposed king, Ferdinand VII, their creation provided an opportunity for people who favored outright independence to publicly and safely promote their agenda. The proponents of independence called themselves patriots, a term which eventually was generally applied to them.
The Spanish Constitution of 1812 adopted by the Cortes de Cadiz served as the basis for independence in New Spain (Mexico) and Central America, since in both regions it was a coalition of conservative and liberal royalist leaders who led the establishment of new states. The restoration of the Spanish Constitution and representative government was enthusiastically welcomed in New Spain and Central America. Elections were held, local governments formed, and deputies sent to the Cortes. Among liberals, however, there was fear that the new regime would not last, and conservatives and the Church worried that the new liberal government would expand its reforms and anti-clerical legislation. This climate of instability created the conditions for the two sides to forge an alliance. This coalesced towards the end of 1820 behind Agustín de Iturbide, a colonel in the royal army, who at the time was assigned to destroy the guerrilla forces led by Vicente Guerrero.
In January 1821, Iturbide began peace negotiations with Guerrero, suggesting they unite to establish an independent New Spain. The simple terms that Iturbide proposed became the basis of the Plan of Iguala: the independence of New Spain (now called the Mexican Empire) with Ferdinand VII or another Bourbon as emperor; the retention of the Catholic Church as the official state religion and the protection of its existing privileges; and the equality of all New Spaniards, whether immigrants or native-born. The resulting Treaty of Córdoba, signed on August 24, kept all existing laws, including the 1812 Constitution, in force until a new constitution for Mexico was written. O’Donojú became part of the provisional governing junta until his death on October 8. Both the Spanish Cortes and Ferdinand VII rejected the Treaty of Córdoba, and the final break with the mother country came on May 19, 1822, when the Mexican Congress conferred the throne on Itrubide.
Spanish Rule in Mexico
New Spain was a colonial territory of the Spanish Empire that included the land of Mexico, Central America, and the Southwestern United States. It was administered based on a hierarchical racial classification system, with Spaniards at the top and indigenous Indians at the bottom.
Describe Spanish rule in Mexico
- New Spain, a colonial kingdom ruled by Spain, was founded after the Spanish conquest over the Aztec people in the 16th century.
- Along with the territory of what is now Mexico, it also included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America as far south as Costa Rica, the southwestern United States as well as Florida, and the Philippines.
- The monarch of Spain had tremendous power and control over New Spain including property rights, although much of the law was made and administered by local councils, elected positions limited to Spaniards.
- New Spain had a hierarchical racial classification system, which not only determined social class, but also had an effect on every aspect of life, including economics and taxation.
- The racial system ranked Spanish-born Spaniards at the top, then American-born Spaniards (Crioles), then Mestizo (mixed Spaniard and Indian), then indigenous Indian and African.
- The Creoles, Mestizos, and Indians often disagreed, but all resented the small minority of Spaniards who had all the political power, leading eventually to the Mexican independence movement.
- Mestizos: A person of mixed race, especially the offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian.
- El Dorado: The term used by the Spanish Empire to describe a mythical tribal chief (zipa) of the Muisca native people of Colombia, who as an initiation rite covered himself with gold dust and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legends changed over time, evolving from a man, to a city, to a kingdom, and then finally an empire. In pursuit of the legend, Spanish conquistadors and numerous others searched Colombia, Venezuela, and parts of Guyana and northern Brazil for the city and its fabulous king. In the course of these explorations, much of northern South America, including the Amazon River, was mapped.
- New Spain: A colonial territory of the Spanish Empire, in the New World north of the Isthmus of Panama. It was established following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, and following additional conquests, it was made a viceroyalty in 1535. The first of four viceroyalties Spain created in the Americas, it comprised Mexico, Central America, much of the Southwestern and Central United States, and Spanish Florida as well as the Philippines, Guam, Mariana, and Caroline Islands.
- Cabildos: A Spanish colonial and early post-colonial administrative council which governed a municipality. They were sometimes appointed, sometimes elected, but always considered representative of all land-owning heads of household (vecinos).
As a colony, Mexico was part of the much larger Viceroyalty of New Spain, which included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Central America as far south as Costa Rica, the southwestern United States as well as Florida, and the Philippines. Hernán Cortés conquered the great empire of the Aztecs and established New Spain as the largest and most important Spanish colony. During the 16th century, Spain focused on conquering areas with dense populations that produced Pre-Columbian civilizations, because such populations had a disciplined labor force and people to evangelize with the Christian faith.
Territories populated by nomadic peoples were harder to conquer, and although the Spanish explored much of North America, seeking the fabled “El Dorado,” they made no concerted effort to settle the northern desert regions in what is now the United States until the end of 16th century (Santa Fe, 1598). The northern area of Mexico, a region of nomadic and semi-nomadic indigenous populations, was thus not generally conducive to dense settlements, but the discovery of silver in Zacatecas in the 1540s drew settlement there to exploit the mines. Silver mining not only became the engine of the economy of New Spain, but vastly enriched Spain and transformed the global economy.
Although New Spain was a dependency of Spain, it was a kingdom not a colony, subject to the presiding monarch on the Iberian Peninsula. The monarch had sweeping power in the overseas territories. According to historian Clarence Haring:
The king possessed not only the sovereign right but the property rights; he was the absolute proprietor, the sole political head of his American dominions. Every privilege and position, economic political, or religious came from him. It was on this basis that the conquest, occupation, and government of the [Spanish] New World was achieved.
New Spain lost parts of its territory to other European powers and independence, but the core area remained under Spanish control until 1821, when it achieved independence as the Mexican Empire— when the latter dissolved, it became modern Mexico and Central America. It developed highly regional divisions, which reflect the impact of climate, topography, the presence or absence of dense indigenous populations, and the presence or absence of mineral resources. The areas of central and southern Mexico had dense indigenous populations with complex social, political, and economic organization.
Laws were introduced that created a balance between local jurisdiction (the Cabildos) and the Crown, whereby upper administrative offices were closed to natives, even those of pure Spanish blood.
The population of New Spain was divided into four main groups or classes. The group a person belonged to was determined by racial background and birthplace. Created by Hispanic elites, this hierarchical system of race classification (sistema de castas), was based on the principle that people varied due to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types. The system of castas was more than socio-racial classification. It had an effect on every aspect of life, including economics and taxation. Both the Spanish colonial state and the Church required more tax and tribute payments from those of lower socio-racial categories. Related to Spanish ideas about purity of blood (which historically also related to its reconquest of Spain from the Moors), the colonists established a caste system in Latin America by which a person’s socio-economic status generally correlated with race or racial mix in the known family background, or simply on phenotype (physical appearance) if the family background was unknown.
From the colonial period on when the Spanish imposed control, many wealthy persons and high government officials were of peninsular (Iberian) and/or European background, while African or indigenous ancestry, or dark skin, generally was correlated with inferiority and poverty. The “whiter” the heritage a person could claim, the higher in status they could claim; conversely, darker features meant less opportunity.
The most powerful group was the Spaniards, people born in Spain and sent across the Atlantic to rule the colony. Only Spaniards could hold high-level jobs in the colonial government.
The second group, called Creoles, were those of Spanish background born in Mexico. Many Creoles were prosperous landowners and merchants, but even the wealthiest had little say in government.
The third group, the Mestizos, were people who had some Spanish ancestors and some Indian ancestors. The word Mestizo means “mixed.” Mestizos had a much lower position and were looked down upon by both the Spaniards and the Creoles, who held the racist belief that people of pure European background were superior to everyone else.
The poorest, most marginalized group in New Spain was the Indians, descendants of pre-Columbian peoples. They had less power and endured harsher conditions than other groups. Indians were forced to work as laborers on the ranches and farms (called haciendas) of the Spaniards and Creoles.
In addition to the four main groups, there were also black Africans in colonial Mexico. They were imported as laborers and shared the low status of the Indians. They made up about 4% to 5% of the population, and their mixed-race descendants, called mulattoes, eventually grew to represent about 9%.
Economy and Culture
From an economic point of view, New Spain was administered principally for the benefit of the Empire and its military and defensive efforts. Mexico provided more than half of the Empire taxes and supported the administration of all North and Central America. Competition with Spain was discouraged; for example, cultivation of grapes and olives, introduced by Cortez himself, was banned out of fear that these crops would compete with Spain’s.
Education was encouraged by the Crown from the very beginning, and Mexico boasts the first primary school (Texcoco, 1523), first university, the University of Mexico (1551) and the first printing press (1524) of the Americas. Indigenous languages were studied mainly by the religious orders during the first centuries, and became official languages in the so-called Republic of Indians, only to be outlawed and ignored after independence by the prevailing Spanish-speaking creoles.
The syncretism between indigenous and Spanish cultures gave rise to many of nowadays Mexican staple and world-famous cultural traits like tequila (since the 16th century), mariachi (18th), jarabe (17th), churros (17th) and the highly prized Mexican cuisine, fruit of the mixture of European and indigenous ingredients and techniques.
The Creoles, Mestizos, and Indians often disagreed, but all resented the small minority of Spaniards who had all the political power. By the early 1800s, many native-born Mexicans believed that Mexico should become independent of Spain, following the example of the United States. The man who finally touched off the revolt against Spain was the Catholic priest Father Miguel Hidalgo Y Costilla. He is remembered today as the Father of Mexican Independence.
Indigenous Efforts Against Colonialism
After the Spanish conquest of Central America, there were several indigenous uprisings against colonial rule, most notably the Mixtón War and the Chichimeca War. The latter shifted many of the policies and attitudes of the Spanish toward the indigenous populations.
Examine some of the indigenous uprisings against the Spanish
- After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the Spanish created the colony and kingdom of New Spain, which placed the indigenous populations at the bottom of the racial hierarchy.
- Territories populated by indigenous nomadic peoples were harder to conquer, and once the natives got hold of horses, many populations evaded Spanish rule for much of the colonial period.
- Other natives in densely populated areas suffered continual abuse and oppression under the Spaniards, leading to several revolts.
- The first revolt, named the Mixtón war, pitted the viceroy of New Spain, Don Antonio de Mendoza, against the Caxcanes Indians, who began a rebellion in 1440.
- After two years of fighting, with the natives repeatedly repelling the Spanish army, the stronghold of Mixtón fell to the Spaniards and the rebellion was over.
- Skirmishes continued, and by 1550, another war broke out against the Chichimeca Indians. It lasted for forty years and led the Spanish to take an approach of assimilation rather than enslavement and abuse.
- Mixtón War: A war fought from 1540 until 1542 between the Caxcanes and other semi-nomadic indigenous people of the area of northwestern Mexico against Spanish invaders, including their Aztec and Tlaxcalan allies.
- assimilation: The process by which a minority group gradually adapts to the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture and customs.
- Chichimeca War: A military conflict between Spanish colonizers and their Indian allies against a confederation of Chichimeca Indians. It was the longest and most expensive conflict between Spaniards and the indigenous peoples of New Spain in the history of the colony.
Indigenous Uprisings in New Spain
After the conquest of central Mexico, several major Indian revolts challenged Spanish rule. The first was in 1541, the Mixtón war, in which the viceroy himself, Don Antonio de Mendoza, led an army against the uprising by Caxcanes. The other was the 1680 Pueblo revolt, in which Indians in 24 settlements in New Mexico expelled the Spanish who left for Texas, an exile lasting a decade. The Chichimeca war lasted over fifty years, 1550-1606, between the Spanish and various indigenous groups of northern New Spain, particularly in silver mining regions and the transportation trunk lines. Non-sedentary or semi-sedentary Northern Indians were difficult to control once they acquired horses. In 1616, the Tepehuan revolted against the Spanish, but were quickly suppressed by the Spanish. The Tarahumara Indians were in revolt in the mountains of Chihuahua for several years. In 1670 Chichimecas invaded Durango, and the governor, Francisco González, abandoned its defense.
In the southern area of New Spain, the Tzeltal Maya and other indigenous groups, including the Tzotzil and Chol, revolted in 1712. It was a multiethnic revolt sparked by religious issues in several communities. In 1704, viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva suppressed a rebellion of the Pima Indians in Nueva Vizcaya.
The Mixtón War was fought from 1540 until 1542 between the Caxcanes and other semi-nomadic indigenous people of the area of northwestern Mexico against Spanish invaders, including Aztec and Tlaxcalan allies. The war was named after Mixtón, a hill in the southern part of Zacatecas state in Mexico that served as an Indigenous stronghold.
Although other indigenous groups also fought against the Spanish in the Mixtón War, the Caxcanes were the “heart and soul” of the resistance. The Caxcanes lived in the northern part of the present-day Mexican state of Jalisco, in southern Zacatecas and Aquascalientes. They are often considered part of the Chichimeca, a generic term used by the Spaniards and Aztecs for all the nomadic and semi-nomadic Native Americans living in the deserts of northern Mexico. However, the Caxcanes seem to have been sedentary, depending upon agriculture for their livelihood and living in permanent towns and settlements.
The first contact of the Caxcan and other indigenous peoples of the northwestern Mexico with the Spanish was in 1529 when Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán set forth from Mexico City with 300-400 Spaniards and 5,000 to 8,000 Azteca and Tlaxcalan allies on a march through Nayarit, Jalisco, Durango, Sinaloa, and Zacatecas. Over a six-year period, Guzmán, brutal even by the standards of the day, killed, tortured, and enslaved thousands of Indians. Guzmán’s policy was to “terrorize the natives with often unprovoked killing, torture, and enslavement.” Guzmán and his lieutenants founded towns and Spanish settlements in the region, called Nueva Galicia, including Guadalajara in or near the homeland of the Caxcanes. But the Spaniards encountered increased resistance as they moved further from the complex hierarchical societies of Central Mexico and attempted to force Indians into servitude through the encomienda system.
In Spring 1540, the Caxcanes and their allies struck back, emboldened perhaps by the fact that Governor Francisco Vásquez de Coronado had taken more than 1,600 Spaniards and Amerindian allies from the region northward with him on his expedition to what would become the southwestern United States. The province was thus bereft of many of its most competent soldiers. The spark which set off the war was the arrest of 18 rebellious Indian leaders and the hanging of nine of them in mid-1540. Later in the same year, the Indians rose up to kill, roast, and eat the encomendero Juan de Arze. Spanish authorities also became aware that the Indians were participating in “devilish” dances. After killing two Catholic priests, many Indians fled the encomiendas and took refuge in the mountains, especially on the hill fortress of Mixtón. Acting Governor Cristobal de Oñate led a Spanish and Indian force to quell the rebellion. The Caxcanes killed a delegation of one priest and ten Spanish soldiers. Oñate attempted to storm Mixtón, but the Indians on the summit repelled his attack.
The Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza called upon the experienced conquistador Pedro de Alvarado to assist in putting down the revolt. Alvarado declined to await reinforcements and attacked Mixton in June 1541 with 400 Spaniards and an unknown number of Indian allies. He was met by an estimated 15,000 Indians under Tenamaztle and Don Diego, a Zacateco Indian. The first attack of the Spanish was repulsed with ten Spaniards and many Indian allies killed. Subsequent attacks by Alvarado were also unsuccessful and on June 24 he was crushed when a horse fell on him.
The Spanish authorities were now thoroughly alarmed and feared that the revolt would spread. They assembled a force of 450 Spaniards and 30 to 60 thousand Aztec, Tlaxcalan and other Indians and under Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza invaded the land of the Caxcanes. With his overwhelming force, Mendoza captured the city of Nochistlan and Tenamaztle, but the Indian leader later escaped. Tenamaztle would remain at large as a guerrilla until 1550. In early 1542 the stronghold of Mixtón fell to the Spaniards and the rebellion was over.
The aftermath of the Indians’ defeat was that “thousands were dragged off in chains to the mines, and many of the survivors (mostly women and children) were transported from their homelands to work on Spanish farms and haciendas.” By the viceroy’s order, men, women, and children were seized and executed, some by cannon fire, some torn apart by dogs, and others stabbed. The reports of the excessive violence against civilian Indians caused the Council of the Indies to undertake a secret investigation into the conduct of the viceroy.
The Chichimeca War (1550–90) was a military conflict between Spanish colonizers and their Indian allies against a confederation of Chichimeca Indians. It was the longest and most expensive conflict between Spaniards and the indigenous peoples of New Spain in the history of the colony.
The Chichimeca wars began eight years after the Mixtón War. It can be considered a continuation of the rebellion as the fighting did not halt in the intervening years. The war was fought in the Bajío region known as La Gran Chichimeca, specifically in the Mexican states of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and San Luis Potosí.
The conflict proved much more difficult and enduring than the Spanish anticipated. The Chichimecas seemed primitive and unorganized but proved a many-headed hydra. Although the Spanish often attacked and defeated bands of Chichimecas, Spanish military successes had little impact on other independent groups who continued the war. The increase in number of Spanish soldiers in the Gran Chichimeca was not entirely favorable to the war effort as the soldiers often supplemented their income by slaving, thus reinforcing the animosity of the Chichimeca. Moreover, the Spanish were short of soldiers, often staffing their presidios with only three Spaniards.
As the war continued unabated, it became clear that the Spanish policy of a war of fire and blood had failed. The royal treasury was emptied by the demands of the war. Churchmen and others who initially supported the war of fire and blood now questioned the policy. Mistreatment and enslavement of the Chichimeca by Spaniards was increasingly seen as the cause of the war. In 1574, the Dominicans, contrary to the Augustinians and Franciscans, declared that the Chichimeca War was unjust and caused by Spanish aggression. Thus, to end the conflict, the Spanish began to work toward an effective counterinsurgency policy which rewarded the Chichimeca for peaceful behavior while taking steps to assimilate them.
The Spanish policy that evolved to pacify the Chichimecas had four components: negotiation of peace agreements, converting Indians to Christianity with missionaries, resettling Native Americans allies to the frontier to serve as examples and role models, and providing food, other commodities, and tools to potentially hostile Indians to encourage them to become sedentary. This established the pattern of Spanish policy for the assimilation of Native Americans on their northern frontier. The principal components of the policy of peace by purchase would continue for nearly three centuries and would not be uniformly successful, as later threats from hostile Indians such as Apaches and Comanches would demonstrate.
The Hidalgo Revolt
On September 16, 1810, a Criole priest named Miguel Hidalgo issued the “Cry of Delores” from his pulpit, calling on the people to revolt against the Spaniards. He then led a poorly organized army to Mexico City, but retreated at the last minute, leading to defeat.
Explain the goals of the Hidalgo Revolt
- Inspired by the American and French Revolutions, Mexican insurgents who sought independence saw an opportunity in 1808 as the king abdicated in Madrid and Spain was overwhelmed by war and occupation.
- The rebellion began as a peasants ‘ and miners’ movement led by a local priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, for whom it is called the Hidalgo revolt.
- Hidalgo issued “The Cry of Dolores” on September 16, 1810, when he called upon the townspeople to revolt; the day is celebrated as Independence Day.
- Shouting “Independence and death to the Spaniards!” Hidalgo marched on the capital with a very large, poorly organized army.
- Gathering more people along the way, Hidalgo’s army, supported by Spanish military captain Ignacio Allende, continued to march successfully while killing Spaniards until reaching Mexico City. Hidalgo then decided to retreat against the advice of Allende, a choice that has puzzled historians since.
- The retreat is considered a tactical error, leading to the suppression of the revolt and the execution of Hidalgo and Allende.
- Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla: A Mexican Roman Catholic priest and a leader of the Mexican War of Independence.
- hagiographic: A biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader in any of the world’s spiritual traditions. The term, especially in contemporary times, is often used as a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose authors are perceived to be uncritical of or reverential to their subject.
- Ignacio Allende: A captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement. He attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion.
Start of the Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an armed conflict, the culmination of a political and social process which ended the rule of Spain in 1821 in the territory of New Spain. The war had its antecedent in the French invasion of Spain in 1808; it extended from the Grito de Dolores by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla on September 16, 1810, to the entrance of the Army of the Three Guarantees led by Augustín de Iturbide to Mexico City on September 27, 1821. September 16 is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day.
The movement for independence was inspired by the Age of Enlightenment and the liberal revolutions of the last part of the 18th century. By that time, the educated elite of New Spain began to reflect on the relations between Spain and its colonial kingdoms. Changes in the social and political structure occasioned by Bourbon reforms and a deep economic crisis in New Spain caused discomfort among the Creole (native-born) elite.
Political events in Europe had a decisive effect on events in most of Spanish America. In 1808, King Charles IV and Ferdinand VII abdicated in favor of French leader Napoleon Bonaparte, who left the crown of Spain to his brother Joseph Bonaparte. The same year, the ayuntamiento (city council) of Mexico City, supported by viceroy José de Iturrigaray, claimed sovereignty in the absence of the legitimate king. That led to a coup against the viceroy; when it was suppressed, the leaders of the movement were jailed.
Despite the defeat in Mexico City, small groups of conspirators met in other cities of New Spain to raise movements against colonial rule. In 1810, after being discovered, Querétaro conspirators chose to take up arms on September 16 in the company of peasants and indigenous inhabitants of Dolores (Guanajuato), who were called to action by the secular Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, former rector of the Colegio de San Nicolás Obispo.
The Hidalgo Revolt
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a priest and member of a group of educated Criollos in Querétaro, hosted secret gatherings in his home to discuss whether it was better to obey or to revolt against a tyrannical government, as he defined the Spanish colonial government in Mexico. Famed military leader Ignacio Allende was among the attendees. In 1810, Hidalgo concluded that a revolt was needed because of injustices against the poor of Mexico. By this time, Hidalgo was known for his achievements at the prestigious San Nicolás Obispo school in Valladolid (now Morelia), and later served there as rector. He also became known as a top theologian. When his older brother died in 1803, Hidalgo took over as priest for the town of Dolores.
Hidalgo was in Dolores on September 15, 1810, with other rebel leaders including commander Allende, when they learned their conspiracy had been discovered. Hidalgo ran to the church, calling for all the people to gather, where from the pulpit he called upon them to revolt. They all shouted in agreement. They were a comparatively small group and poorly armed with whatever was at hand, including sticks and rocks. On the morning of September 16, 1810, Hidalgo called upon the remaining locals who happened to be in the market, and again, from the pulpit, exhorted the people of Dolores to join him. Most did; Hidalgo had a mob of some 600 men within minutes. This became known as the Grito de Dolores or Cry of Dolores.
Hidalgo’s Grito didn’t condemn the notion of monarchy or criticize the current social order in detail, but his opposition to the events in Spain and the current viceregal government was clearly expressed in his reference to bad government. The Grito also emphasized loyalty to the Catholic religion, a sentiment with which both Creoles and Peninsulares could sympathize. Hidalgo was met with an outpouring of support. Intellectuals, liberal priests and many poor people followed Hidalgo with enthusiasm. Hidalgo also permitted Indians and mestizos to join his war.
Hidalgo and Allende marched their little army through towns including San Miguel and Celaya, where the angry rebels killed all the Spaniards they found. Along the way they adopted the standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe as their symbol and protector. When they reached the town of Guanajuato on September 28, they found Spanish forces barricaded inside the public granary. Among them were some “forced” Royalists, Creoles who had served and sided with the Spanish. By this time, the rebels numbered 30,000 and the battle was horrific. They killed more than 500 Spanish and creoles, and marched on toward Mexico City.
The Viceroy quickly organized a defense, sending out the Spanish general Torcuato Trujillo with 1,000 men, 400 horsemen, and 2 cannons, all that could be found on such short notice. On October 30, Hidalgo’s army encountered Spanish military resistance at the Battle of Monte de las Cruces, fought them, and achieved victory. When the cannons were captured by the rebels, the surviving Royalists retreated to the City.
Despite having the advantage, Hidalgo retreated against the counsel of Allende. This retreat on the verge of apparent victory has puzzled historians and biographers ever since. They generally believe that Hidalgo wanted to spare the numerous Mexican citizens in Mexico City from the inevitable sacking and plunder that would have ensued. His retreat is considered Hidalgo’s greatest tactical error.
Rebel survivors sought refuge in nearby provinces and villages. The insurgent forces planned a defensive strategy at a bridge on the Calderón River, pursued by the Spanish army. In January 1811, Spanish forces fought the Battle of the Bridge of Calderón and defeated the insurgent army, forcing the rebels to flee towards the United States-Mexican border, where they hoped to escape.
Unfortunately, they were intercepted by the Spanish army. Hidalgo and his remaining soldiers were captured in the state of Coahuila at the Wells of Baján (Norias de Baján). All of the rebel leaders were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death, except for Mariano Abasolo. He was sent to Spain to serve a life sentence in prison. Allende, Jiménez, and Aldama were executed on June 26, 1811, shot in the back as a sign of dishonor. Hidalgo, as a priest, had to undergo a civil trial and review by the Inquisition. He was eventually stripped of his priesthood, found guilty, and executed on July 30. The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama, and Jiménez were preserved and hung from the four corners of the granary of Guanajuato as a warning to those who dared follow in their footsteps.
Following the execution of Hidalgo, José María Morelos took over leadership of the insurgency. He achieved the occupation of the cities of Oaxaca and Acapulco. In 1813, he convened the Congress of Chilpancingo to bring representatives together and, on November 6 of that year, the Congress signed the first official document of independence, known as the “Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America.” A long period of war followed. In 1815, Morelos was captured by Spanish colonial authorities, tried, and executed for treason.
Legacy and Analysis of the Hidalgo Revolt
Father Hidalgo is today remembered as the Father of his Country, the great hero of Mexico’s War for Independence. There are numerous hagiographic biographies about him.
The truth about Hidalgo is more complex. His was the first serious insurrection on Mexican soil against Spanish authority, and his achievements with a poorly armed mob were significant. He was a charismatic leader and worked well with Allende despite their differences. But Hidalgo’s shortcomings have made historians ask, “What if?” After decades of abuse of Creoles and poor Mestizos, Hidalgo found that there was a vast well of resentment and hatred of the Spanish government. He provided the catalyst for Mexico’s poor to vent their anger on the hated Spaniards, but his “army” was impossible to manage or control.
His leadership decisions, most importantly his retreat from Mexico City, contributed to his defeat. Historians can only speculate about the result if Hidalgo had pushed into Mexico City in November 1810. Hidalgo appeared to be too proud or stubborn to listen to the sound military advice offered by Allende and others and press his advantage.
Finally, Hidalgo’s approval of the violent sacking and looting by his forces in Guanajuato and other towns alienated the group most vital to any independence movement: middle-class and wealthy Creoles like himself. They were needed to develop a new identity and government for Mexico, one that would allow Mexicans to break from Spain.
Hidalgo achieved mythic status after his death. His martyrdom was an example to others who picked up the fallen banner of freedom and independence. He influenced later fighters such as José María Morelos, Guadalupe Victoria, and others. Today, Hidalgo’s remains are held in a Mexico City monument known as “the Angel of Independence,” along with other Revolutionary heroes.
Agustín de Iturbide, a military captain previously helped defeat Hidalgo’s army, led a conservative group of rebels against the Spanish viceroy, achieving victory and independence on August 24, 1821, when both sides signed the Treaty of Cordoba.
Discuss the state formed after Mexico achieved independence
- After the suppression of the Hidalgo Revolt, the war for independence entered a new phase, which for the next six years was characterized by fighting by small, isolated guerrilla bands.
- In 1820, the conservative Creoles (American-born Spaniards) joined the rebellion, led by Agustín de Iturbide, a military captain who previously helped defeat Hidalgo’s army.
- The rebels formulated the ” Plan of Iguala,” demanding an independent constitutional monarchy, a religious monopoly for the Catholic Church, and equality for Spaniards and Creoles.
- On September 27, 1821, Iturbide and the viceroy signed the Treaty of Cordoba whereby Spain granted the demands and withdrew.
- On the night of May 18, 1822, a mass demonstration led by the Regiment of Celaya, which Iturbide had commanded during the war, marched through the streets and demanded their commander-in-chief to accept the throne; the following day, the congress declared Iturbide emperor of Mexico.
- Plan of Iguala: A revolutionary proclamation promulgated on February 24, 1821, in the final stage of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. The Plan stated that Mexico was to become a constitutional monarchy whose sole official religion would be Roman Catholicism. The Peninsulares and Creoles of Mexico would enjoy equal political and social rights.
- Agustín de Iturbide: A Mexican army general and politician. During the Mexican War of Independence, he built a successful political and military coalition that took control in Mexico City on September 27, 1821, decisively gaining independence for Mexico. After the secession of Mexico was secured, he was proclaimed President of the Regency in 1821. A year later, he was announced as the Constitutional Emperor of Mexico, reigning briefly from May 19, 1822, to March 19, 1823. He is credited as the original designer of the first Mexican flag.
After the suppression of Hidalgo’s revolt, from 1815 to 1821 most fighting for independence from Spain was by small and isolated guerrilla bands. From these, two leaders arose: Guadalupe Victoria (born José Miguel Fernández y Félix) in Puebla and Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca, both of whom gained allegiance and respect from their followers. Believing the situation under control, the Spanish viceroy issued a general pardon to every rebel who would lay down his arms. After ten years of civil war and the death of two of its founders, by early 1820 the independence movement was stalemated and close to collapse. The rebels faced stiff Spanish military resistance and the apathy of many of the most influential criollos.
In what was supposed to be the final government campaign against the insurgents, in December 1820 Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca sent a force led by a royalist criollo Colonel Agustín de Iturbide to defeat Guerrero’s army in Oaxaca. Iturbide, a native of Valladolid (now Morelia), gained renown for his zeal against Hidalgo’s and Morelos’s rebels during the early independence struggle. A favorite of the Mexican church hierarchy, Iturbide symbolized conservative criollo values; he was devoutly religious and committed to the defense of property rights and social privileges. He also resented his lack of promotion and failure to gain wealth.
Iturbide’s assignment to the Oaxaca expedition coincided with a successful military coup in Spain against the monarchy of Ferdinand VII. The coup leaders, part of an expeditionary force assembled to suppress the independence movements in the Americas, had turned against the monarchy. They compelled the reluctant Ferdinand to reinstate the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812 that created a constitutional monarchy. When news of the liberal charter reached Mexico, Iturbide perceived it both as a threat to the status quo and a catalyst to rouse the criollos to gain control of Mexico. The tides turned when conservative Royalist forces in the colonies chose to rise up against the liberal regime in Spain; it was a total turnaround compared to their previous opposition to the peasant insurgency. After an initial clash with Guerrero’s forces, Iturbide assumed command of the royal army. At Iguala, he allied his formerly royalist force with Guerrero’s radical insurgents to discuss the renewed struggle for independence.
While stationed in the town of Iguala, Iturbide proclaimed three principles, or “guarantees,” for Mexican independence from Spain. Mexico would be an independent monarchy governed by King Ferdinand, another Bourbon prince, or some other conservative European prince; criollos would be given equal rights and privileges to peninsulares (those born in Spain); and the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico would retain its privileges and position as the established religion of the land. After convincing his troops to accept the principles, which were promulgated on February 24, 1821, as the Plan of Iguala, Iturbide persuaded Guerrero to join his forces in support of this conservative independence movement. A new army, the Army of the Three Guarantees, was placed under Iturbide’s command to enforce the Plan of Iguala. The plan was so broadly based that it pleased both patriots and loyalists. The goal of independence and the protection of Roman Catholicism brought together all factions.
Iturbide’s army was joined by rebel forces from all over Mexico. When the rebels’ victory became certain, the Viceroy resigned. On August 24, 1821, representatives of the Spanish crown and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the Plan of Iguala. On September 27, 1821, the Army of the Three Guarantees entered Mexico City, and the following day Iturbide proclaimed the independence of the Mexican Empire, as New Spain would henceforth be called.
On the night of May 18, 1822, a mass demonstration led by the Regiment of Celaya, which Iturbide had commanded during the war, marched through the streets and demanded their commander-in-chief to accept the throne. The following day, the congress declared Iturbide emperor of Mexico. On October 31, 1822, Iturbide dissolved Congress and replaced it with a sympathetic junta.
After Independence: The Mexican Empire
After independence, Mexican politics were chaotic. The presidency changed hands 75 times in the next 55 years (1821–76).
The Spanish attempts to reconquer Mexico comprised episodes of war between Spain and the new nation. The designation mainly covers two periods: from 1821 to 1825 in Mexico’s waters, and a second period of two stages, including a Mexican plan to take the Spanish-held island of Cuba between 1826 and 1828, and the 1829 landing of Spanish General Isidro Barradas in Mexico to reconquer the territory. Although Spain never regained control of the country, it damaged the fledgling economy.
The newly independent nation was in dire straits after 11 years of the War of Independence. No plans or guidelines were established by the revolutionaries, so internal struggles for control of the government ensued. Mexico suffered a complete lack of funds to administer a country of over 4.5 million km², and faced the threats of emerging internal rebellions and of invasion by Spanish forces from their base in nearby Cuba.
Mexico now had its own government, but Iturbide quickly became a dictator. He even had himself proclaimed emperor of Mexico, copying the ceremony used by Napoleon when he proclaimed himself emperor of France. No one was allowed to speak against Iturbide. He filled his government with corrupt officials who became rich by taking bribes and making dishonest business deals.
In 1822, Mexico annexed the Federal Republic of Central America, which includes present-day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and part of Chiapas.
The Archduke Maximilian in Mexico
Maximilian I of Mexico was an Austrian-born Archduke placed on the throne of the Second Mexican Empire by Napoleon III of France, who invaded Mexico in 1861.
Critique Maximilian’s efforts to establish a state in Mexico
- In 1862, the country was invaded by France to collect debts on which that the Juárez government had defaulted, but the larger purpose was to install a ruler under French control.
- They chose a member of the Habsburg dynasty, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, as Emperor of Mexico, with support from the Catholic Church, conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities.
- Although the French suffered an initial defeat (the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, now commemorated as the Cinco de Mayo holiday), the French eventually defeated the Mexican army and set Maximilian on the throne.
- Despite the aims of the French and the conservatives in Mexico, Maximilian I was actually quite liberal and supported many of the reforms initiated by president Juárez, including land reforms, religious freedom, and extending the right to vote beyond the landholding class.
- Maximilian, too liberal for the conservatives and an enemy of the liberals because he represented the monarchy, had few friends in Mexico, despite his best efforts at positive reform.
- The United States, who never recognized Maximilian, after the end of the American Civil War pressured Napoleon III to withdraw the French from Mexico, thereby ending the Second Mexican Empire and ousting Maximilian.
- Maximilian chose to remain in Mexico rather than return to Europe and was captured and executed along with two Mexican supporters on June 19, 1867.
- Benito Juárez: A Mexican lawyer and politician of Zapotec origin from Oaxaca who served as the president of Mexico for five terms: 1858–1861 as interim, then 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871, and 1871–1872 as constitutional president. He resisted the French occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, restored the Republic, and used liberal measures to modernize the country.
- Maximilian I: The only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, a younger brother of the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I. After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he accepted an offer by Napoleon III of France to rule Mexico.
- Napoleon III: The only President (1848–52) of the French Second Republic and the Emperor (1852–70) of the Second French Empire. He was the nephew and heir of Napoleon I and the first president of France to be elected by a direct popular vote. He was blocked by the Constitution and Parliament from running for a second term, so he organized a coup d’état in 1851 and then took the throne as Emperor on December 2, 1852, the 48th anniversary of Napoleon I’s coronation. He remains the longest-serving French head of state since the French Revolution.
French Intervention in Mexico
The War of the French Intervention was an invasion of Mexico in late 1861 by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning by the United Kingdom and Spain. It followed Mexican President Benito Juárez ‘s suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on July 17, 1861, which angered these creditors of Mexico.
Emperor Napoleon III of France was the instigator, justifying military intervention by claiming a broad foreign policy of commitment to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would ensure European access to Latin American markets. Napoleon also wanted the silver that could be mined in Mexico to finance his empire. Napoleon built a coalition with Spain and Britain while the U.S. was deeply engaged in its civil war.
The three European powers signed the Treaty of London on October 31, 1861, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On December 8, the Spanish fleet and troops arrived at Mexico’s main port, Veracruz. When the British and Spanish discovered that France planned to seize all of Mexico, they quickly withdrew from the coalition.
The subsequent French invasion resulted in the Second Mexican Empire. In Mexico, the French-imposed empire was supported by the Roman Catholic clergy, many conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities. Conservatives and many in the Mexican nobility tried to revive the monarchy by bringing to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian Ferdinand, or Maximilian I. France had various interests in this Mexican affair, such as seeking reconciliation with Austria, n defeated during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859; counterbalancing the growing American Protestant power by developing a powerful Catholic neighboring empire; and exploiting the rich mines in the northwest of the country.
After heavy guerrilla resistance led by Juárez, which never ceased even after the capital had fallen to the French in 1863, the French eventually withdrew from Mexico and Maximilian I was executed in 1867.
Maximilian I of Mexico
Maximilian I was the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, a younger brother of the Austrian emperor Francis Joseph I. After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he accepted an offer by Napoleon III of France to rule Mexico. France invaded Mexico in the winter of 1861, as part of the War of the French Intervention. Seeking to legitimize French rule in the Americas, Napoleon III invited Maximilian to establish a new Mexican monarchy for him. With the support of the French army and a group of conservative Mexican monarchists hostile to the liberal administration of new Mexican President Benito Juárez, Maximilian traveled to Mexico. Once there, he declared himself Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864.
Maximilian’s consort was Empress Carlota of Mexico, and they chose Chapultepec Castle as their home. The Imperial couple noticed the mistreatment of Mexicans, especially Indians, and wanted to ensure their human rights. One of Maximilian’s first acts as Emperor was to restrict working hours and abolish child labor. He cancelled all debts over 10 pesos for peasants, restored communal property, and forbade all forms of corporal punishment. He also broke the monopoly of the Hacienda stores and decreed that henceforth peons could no longer be bought and sold for the price of their debt. By contrast, Napoleon III wanted to exploit the mines in the northwest of the country and grow cotton.
Maximilian was a liberal, a fact that Mexican conservatives seemingly did not know when he was chosen to head the government. He favored the establishment of a limited monarchy that would share power with a democratically elected congress. Maximilian upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration, such as land reforms, religious freedom, and extending the right to vote beyond the landholding class. At first, Maximilian offered Juárez an amnesty if he would swear allegiance to the crown, even offering the post of Prime Minister, which Juárez refused. All these policies were too liberal for conservatives, while liberals refused to accept any monarch, considering the republican government of Benito Juárez legitimate. This left Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico. Meanwhile, Juárez remained head of the republican government. He continued to be recognized by the United States, which was engaged in its Civil War (1861–65) and at that juncture was in no position to aid Juárez directly against the French intervention until 1865.
France never made a profit in Mexico and its Mexican expedition grew increasingly unpopular. Finally in the spring of 1865, after the US Civil War was over, the U.S. demanded the withdrawal of French troops from Mexico. Napoleon III quietly complied. In mid-1867, despite repeated Imperial losses in battle to the Republican Army and ever-decreasing support from Napoleon III, Maximilian chose to remain in Mexico rather than return to Europe. He was captured and executed along with two Mexican supporters on June 19, 1867, immortalized in a famous painting by Eduard Manet. Juárez remained in office until his death in 1872.
Maximilian has been praised by some historians for his liberal reforms, his genuine desire to help the people of Mexico, his refusal to desert his loyal followers, and his personal bravery during the siege of Querétaro. However, other researchers consider him short-sighted in political and military affairs and unwilling to restore democracy in Mexico even during the imminent collapse of the Second Mexican Empire.