Early Nineteenth Century New Spain Antecedents to Mexican Independence

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Early Nineteenth Century New Spain

Antecedents to Mexican Independence

  • The Bourbon Reforms of the late 18th century resulted in increased resentment towards the Spanish crown, particularly by the creoles  Bourbon Reforms resulted in opposition to the Spanish imperial hegemony in New Spain

  • Other factors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries would increase opposition to Spanish hegemony in New Spain

18th Century Developments

  • The European Enlightenment:

  • An 18th century European intellectual movement or revolution

  • The Enlightenment applied logic or reason to various issues  resulted in the reconceptualization of various social, moral/ethical, & political issues (i.e., slavery, human rights, constitutional and just government)

  • The American Revolution (1776-1781):

  • Inspired by Enlightenment thought

  • US independence resulted in the first modern constitution and the election of a president

18th Century Developments

  • The French Revolution (1789-1799):

  • Also inspired by Enlightenment discourse

  • Much more radical and chaotic than the American Revolution  execution of French King Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette

  • The residents of New Spain informed themselves of the developments (Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions)

  • Developments fueled discussions and debates in New Spain about Spanish hegemony, just government, human rights, and constitutionalism, but they did not amount to separation from the Spanish crown

Napoleon Bonaparte

  • In 1799, French General Napoleon seized control of French government, ending French Revolution

  • In 1808, Napoleon invaded Spain and forced the Spanish king (Ferdinand VII) to renounce the royal throne  Napoleon installed his brother Joseph as king of Spain

Consequences of the Napoleonic Invasion of Spain

  • In New Spain (and other Spanish colonial possessions) the removal of the Spanish king resulted in a “breakdown of elite colonial consensus”

  • In New Spain, there was no consensus on political allegiance:

  • Debates emerged about who deserved political allegiance

  • The deposed Spanish Bourbon Ferdinand VII?

  • The French Joseph Bonaparte?

  • Detested peninsular authorities in New Spain?

  • Regional leaders in New Spain?

Political Allegiances within the Spanish Empire

  • Two political stances emerged throughout the Spanish Empire, autonomists and absolutists

  • Autonomists argued that in the absence of the rightful king (Ferdinand VII), sovereignty resides in the people; if the king were returned to power, autonomists argued for a constitutional monarchy (reducing the central authority of the crown and increased local autonomy) and equal representation  position of creoles in New Spain

Political Allegiances within the Spanish Empire

  • Absolutists argued that despite the king’s absence, his authority was absolute and that sovereignty did not reside with the people; furthermore, they argued that the Spanish viceroy should govern New Spain until the king was restored to power  position of peninsulares in New Spain and officials in Spain

  • The absolutists held control of New Spain until 1810

Mexico on the Eve of Independence

  • Despite the control of absolutists in New Spain, supporters of autonomy prevalent

  • Autonomists, led by creoles, organized conspiracies throughout New Spain

  • The absolutist government of New Spain actively persecuted autonomists conspiracies

The Struggle for Mexican Independence, 1810-1821

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

  • One such autonomist conspiracy was organized by Miguel Hidalgo and a small group of creoles

  • Hidalgo was a middle-class creole priest born in Guanajuato in 1753

  • He was an intellectual, outspoken, unorthodox, and controversial priest

  • In 1803 he was appointed curate (local priest) of parish in the small town of Dolores (Guanajuato)

Miguel Hidalgo

  • Hidalgo was more concerned with political and intellectual discourses than with the spiritual well-being of his parishioners (the indigenous and mestizos)

  • While at Dolores, Hidalgo organized a “literary club” with a small group of creoles; at “literary” meetings, the group discussed independence from Spain

Hidalgo and El Grito

  • Over time, the conspirators cemented their revolutionary plans and agreed to revolt against Spanish absolutism on Dec. 8, 1810

  • The conspiracy, however, was leaked and viceregal authorities sent troops to the Bajío in Sept. 1810  conspirators pushed date for revolution up

  • September 16, 1810: Hidalgo rang parish bells and people of Dolores gathered in front of church  Day of Mexican Independence

  • Grito de Dolores: Declaration of Mexican independence by Hidalgo; grito contained elements of Enlightenment rhetoric (“Death to bad government!”)

Popular Response to El Grito

  • Response was immediate and overwhelming  the popular classes (the indigenous and poor mestizos) enthusiastically followed Hidalgo

  • The language of the grito gave popular classes an opportunity to retaliate against Spanish absolutism and injustice (“Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards?… Death to the gachupines!”)

  • Hidalgo marched throughout Guanajuato, with thousands of peasants joining his cause

  • Hidalgo adopted La Virgen de Guadalupe as the symbol of the revolutionary movement  why?

Consequences of El Grito

  • Although grito ignited the independence movement and was popularly received, it quickly got out of hand  the grito sparked a chaotic revolution in Mexico

  • Hidalgo’s army brutally attacked and killed many Spanish throughout Guanajuato and looted or appropriated Spanish property  these actions attracted more peasants to Hidalgo’s cause

  • Chaos most evident at city of Guanajuato: Sept. 28, Hidalgo’s army laid siege to group of Spaniards fortified in a warehouse  after costly siege (over 2K peasants died), Hidalgo’s army killed over 500 Spaniards (men, women, & children), paraded victims bodies in city streets, and looted Spanish property

Hidalgo’s Assault on Mexico City

  • About a month after Guanajuato, Hidalgo successfully captured the areas of Morelia (Michoacán), San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas  Hidalgo essentially controlled the Bajío

  • Oct. 30, 1810: Hidalgo led army (about 80K) to outskirts north of Mexico City

  • Hidalgo had numerical advantage over smaller (but better equipped and disciplined) absolutist or royalist army

  • Hidalgo was victorious at the site of Monte de las Cruces, Spanish forced to retreat to Mexico City

  • Rather than assault capital, Hidalgo decided to retreat; decision two-fold:

  • Hidalgo suffered heavy casualties and was low on munitions  retreat opportunity to recuperate and reassemble

  • Hidalgo worried that army would devastate capital

Capture of Hidalgo

  • Hidalgo’s Decision to retreat proved to be disastrous

  • Hidalgo retreated northwest to Guadalajara  retreat resulted in the desertion of many troops from Hidalgo’s army; nevertheless, Hidalgo succeeded in taking Guadalajara

  • Decision to retreat also allowed absolutist armed forces to regroup

  • Early 1811: royalist forces scored a major victory in Jalisco, resulting in Hidalgo retreating northeast to Coahuila and Texas  more peasants deserted Hidalgo’s army

  • March 1811: Hidalgo captured in Coahuila by Spanish governor of Texas  Hidalgo taken to Chihuahua in chains

Death of Hidalgo

  • Other revolutionary leaders captured with Hidalgo were tried and executed as traitors

  • Hidalgo tried under the Inquisition and was convicted of heresy and treason  Hidalgo was defrocked (title of priest removed) and executed by firing squad on July 30, 1811

  • Hidalgo’s head was decapitated, sent to Guanajuato and put on display as a warning to other autonomists or insurgents

The Cortes de Cádiz

  • During and after the events of Hidalgo’s revolution, a general congress or cortes was called in Spain (Cádiz) in order to settle the issue of political authority throughout the Spanish Empire

  • Autonomist creoles from New Spain participated in the cortes

  • The cortes was not able to achieve a political consensus, as creoles from Spanish-American colonies (such as New Spain) argued for autonomy or self-government, while Spaniards argued for absolutism

The Cortes de Cádiz

  • In 1812, however, the cortes reached a consensus and created a constitution that curtailed the authority of the Spanish Empire and increased local autonomy

  • The Constitution of Cádiz was implemented in New Spain in 1813  essentially created municipal governments in New Spain (representative or local governments)

  • Municipal governments (municipios) were established by the various sectors of society (i.e., peninsulares, creoles, mestizos and castas, and the indigenous) throughout New Spain


  • “The establishment of municipios was well received by communities of all ethnicities, since it responded to one of their most heartfelt demands: for a local government coherent and strong enough to conduct effective and autonomous administration. In many regions, the longest-lasting effect of the reorganization into municipios was the breakdown of old ethnic barriers, to a great extent eliminating the existing divisions between Indian and Spanish cabildos and giving rise to the melting pot of Mexico as we know it. The fundamental change was the birth of the interethnic municipio, particularly in the regions where social, economic, and demographic evolution in the last stages of the colonial era had promoted social integration” (Mexico: A Brief History, pg. 108)

Consequences of the Cortes de Cádiz

  • The creation of municipios, a direct consequence of the Constitution of Cádiz, provided added impetus to independence in New Spain

  • Municipios removed the centralist framework of imperial government and returned internal administration into local hands

  • Combined with the ideas of the Enlightenment, municipios placed greater emphasis on concepts of citizenship and electoral choice

  • Absolutist officials in New Spain, particularly the Spanish viceroy, realized the potential links of increased autonomy with independence and implemented the constitution very gradually

José María Morelos y Pavón

  • In response to the gradual implementation of the Constitution of Cádiz in New Spain, José Maria Morelos assumed command of the independence movement

  • Morelos was a mestizo priest from Michoacán and when Hidalgo gave his grito, Morelos immediately joined the cause


  • More militarily adept than Hidalgo: Morelos’s insurgency consisted of small guerrilla bands  this form of resistance proved very effective against royalist forces

  • Morelos effectively controlled the areas south and west of Mexico City Morelos essentially created a perimeter around the capital

Morelos’s Insurgency

  • The main goal of Morelos’s insurgency was to create a Mexican constitution on the model of the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz

  • For Morelos, the creation of a Mexican constitution would separate Mexico from Spain and thus culminate the process of Mexican independence


  • To that effect, Morelos called for a national congress at Chilpancingo (state of Guerrero)

  • Morelos wanted the congress to pass legislation that held for:

  • The equality of all men before the law

  • Fair taxation

  • Sovereignty of the citizenry

  • The inviolable sovereignty of the Mexican nation

  • Elected representation in a national congress

  • The protection and respect of property

  • Catholicism as the primary religion of the nation

  • Division of government powers

Capture and Death of Morelos and Aftermath

  • The political process at Chilpancingo allowed Spanish forces to reformulate military strategy: Spanish broke perimeter and captured areas of Cuautla, Cuernavaca, Morelia, Oaxaca, and Chilpancingo in 1815

  • After the royalist capture of Chilpancingo, Morelos’s forces were scattered/disorganized and unable to mount significant resistance

  • In fall of 1815, Morelos captured in Puebla  Morelos was taken to Mexico City and tried of treason and heresy, defrocked and executed by firing squad in Dec. 1815

  • After death of Morelos, the revolutionary movement was highly unorganized and unable to create a united front  disorganization, however, proved beneficial as royalist forces were unable to suppress insurgent factions

  • Two revolutionary leaders emerged (Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria), but neither enjoyed the success of Hidalgo or Morelos; in other words, Guerrero nor Victoria could not secure independence

The Restoration of Ferdinand VII

  • The implementation of the first Mexican constitution was interrupted by the restoration of Ferdinand VII to the Spanish throne in 1814

  • The return of Ferdinand marked the return of centralist imperial rule  Ferdinand dissolved the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz and made a concerted effort to stamp out revolutionary movements in Mexico

Return of Absolutist Rule to New Spain

  • “In what is called the period of pacification, from 1814 to 1816, all constitutional rights arising from the 1812 constitution were suppressed, as were its institutional expressions: the Cortes and municipios. At the same time, new and punitive taxes were imposed, alienating even conservative criollos and some Spanish monarchists. Discontent grew among the common people. The arbitrary manner in which the old order was restored found few sympathizers. The scant legitimacy of absolutist rule and the weakened colonial administration allowed for de facto preservation of some local constitutionalist reforms through informal political practices and understandings among the local gentry.” (Mexico: A Brief History, pg. 113)


  • In 1820, a group of Spanish liberals gained support of the Spanish army and rebelled against the absolutist rule of Ferdinand VII

  • The Spanish liberals and army forced the king to reinstitute the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz throughout the Spanish Empire  the Spanish Empire became a constitutional monarchy

  • The constitution was reinstated in New Spain without any hindrance by the Spanish viceroy  re-establishment of municipios, local autonomy, and constitutionalism

Return to Constitutionalism

  • The return to constitutionalism in New Spain resurrected the revolution for independence

  • The the change to a constitutional monarchy also threatened the position of royalist supporters, particularly the military, who had enjoyed extensive privileges under absolutist rule  the return to constitutionalism eliminated the privileges of royalist supporters

Agustín de Iturbide

  • Creole, born in Morelia, Michocán in 1783 and was the son of conservative (royalist) Spanish parents

  • Iturbide joined the Spanish army at a young age  became a lieutenant by the early 19th century

  • When the grito was proclaimed in 1810, Iturbide supported Spanish absolutism and fought against revolutionary insurgents  he received recognition for his persecution of insurgents and became a colonel in 1820

  • In 1820, after political developments in Spain (constitutional monarchy) and realizing that battling the insurgents was a perpetual, and, thus, futile task, Iturbide decided to renounce his royalist loyalties and negotiate peace with Guerrero


  • For the autonomist sectors in New Spain, the return to constitutionalism coincided with independence

  • For the absolutist sectors, a constitutional monarchy cemented the reality that they had to work and function within the framework of constitutionalism in order to preserve their rights, privileges, and status

  • Mexican independence, therefore, was a product of the accommodation of disparate interests in Mexico

Iturbide and the Plan de Iguala

  • Initially, Guerrero reluctant to negotiate as he was doubtful about Iturbide’s sincerity  after a series of conferences, Guerrero decided to negotiate in 1821

  • Plan de Iguala: a compromise between Iturbide and Guerrero, announced Feb. 24, 1821  significant for its three guarantees:

  • Government of an independent Mexico would be organized as a constitutional monarchy, with the crown to be offered to either Ferdinand VII or another suitable European prince

  • Roman Catholicism would be the sole official religion of Mexico; additionally, the Church and ecclesiastical members were to retain traditional rights and privileges

  • Mexicans (creoles and popular classes) and Spaniards were to be treated equally

  • An army, led by general Iturbide, was also created (Ejército de las Tres Garantías) to uphold guarantees and defend the nation

Consequences of the Plan de Iguala

  • Iturbide was able to consolidate the independence movement in Mexico  his Plan de Iguala accommodated autonomist and absolutist interests

  • Many royalists troops quickly joined Iturbide’s army  many Spaniards in Mexico also supported the Plan de Iguala

  • The Spanish viceroy quickly surrendered; Spain, however, sent another viceroy  the new viceroy was unable to defeat Iturbide, Guerrero, and the revolutionary movement

  • In Aug. 1821, the viceroy and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba (Veracruz):

  • Spanish viceroy officially recognized independence of Mexico  conclusion of Mexican war for independence

  • Stipulation to Plan de Iguala: Mexican congress would chose a Mexican monarch or emperor if no suitable European monarch found


  • For the autonomist sectors in New Spain, the return to constitutionalism coincided with independence

  • For the absolutist sectors, a constitutional monarchy cemented the reality that they had to work and function within the framework of constitutionalism in order to preserve their rights, privileges, and status

  • Mexican independence, therefore, was a product of the accommodation of disparate interests in Mexico

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