Mexico – Empire and Chaos

In the aftermath of the specter of social revolution and racial war raised by the Hidalgo and Morelos revolts, Spaniards and Creoles closed ranks in Mexico to preserve peace. As they had in 1810, events in Europe sparked the second war for independence. When the supporters of a liberal constitution triumphed in Spain in 1820, upheaval among the elites emerged. A so-called “conservative compromise” avoided bloodshed and brokered Mexican independence when the Spanish general, Agustín de Iturbide, came over to the side of independence in 1821. Crowned Emperor Agustín I, Iturbide hoped to govern over the old viceroyalty of New Spain as the new Mexican Empire. The Creoles in Central America, however, had their own ideas and quickly broke away, declaring the independence of the United Provinces of Central America. Iturbide was quickly deposed, and Mexico slid into a half century of political chaos.

In the aftermath of the specter of social revolution and racial war raised by the Hidalgo and Morelos revolts, Spaniards and Creoles closed ranks in Mexico to preserve peace.

A. After the defeat of Hidalgo and Morelos, the royalists developed effective means to blunt the thrust of revolution.

    1. General Félix Calleja, who eventually became viceroy, created militia units for counterinsurgency campaigns.
    2. Calleja was very effective; he not only mobilized military might, but also created an unpopular but effective tax system to finance the war and clamped down on trade to maintain the Spanish commercial monopoly.

B. In January 1820, a liberal revolt in Spain forced Fernando VII to restore the Constitution of 1812 and convene a parliament (cortes).

    1. Fernando had gathered thousands of troops at Cádiz for a reconquest of Río de la Plata, many of them under the command of General Calleja.
    2. This new cortes was more radical in its liberalism than its predecessor in 1812, and it soon angered the powerful in Mexico.
    3. The Catholic Church in Mexico, in particular, felt threatened by the effort of liberals to strip it of property and influence.
    4. Many Creoles and Peninsulars in Mexico closed ranks against the new cortes.

C. The principal figure in Mexican independence was Agustín de Iturbide.

    1. Hardly the equal of Bolívar or San Martín, Iturbide is a tragic and weak figure.
    2. He was a model Mexican Creole: fearful of social revolution, devoutly Catholic, and nationalistic.

Iturbide led the final stage of independence, but he was unable to maintain control of the movement.

A. The Spanish appointed Iturbide commander of the royalist army in the south in 1820.

    1. Although he was charged with defeating rebels led by Vicente Guerrero, he soon formulated a plan to join forces with them.
    2. On February 24, 1821, Iturbide issued his Plan de Iguala, a call for constitutional monarchy and the protection of “union, religion, and independence.”
    3. The plan was quickly supported by the church, the army, and the upper classes, as well as liberal Creoles.
    4. Within months, the royal government collapsed.

B. In May 1822, a congress pressured by the army proclaimed Iturbide as Emperor Agustín I, and he was crowned a hereditary monarch.

    1. Iturbide’s reign was short-lived, less than 10 months.
    2. Mexican independence was achieved and social revolution was averted.

The independence of Central America is one of the least dramatic and least violent episodes in the age of revolution.

A. As one of the backwaters of empire and a dependency of Mexico, independence came to Central America with little struggle or bloodshed.

    1. Central America had long been one of the most isolated regions of Spanish America.
    2. By the beginning of the 19th century, there were small but well-developed regional elites and identities in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
    3. The economy of Central America was primarily subsistence and export agriculture with some small-scale mining.

B. The Creoles of Central America talked of independence even less than the Mexicans.

    1. The powerful elite families, especially in the dominant and populous Guatemala, were most concerned with issues of trade and how to stimulate it.
    2. They wanted improvements in transportation and other areas of infrastructure.
    3. Like the Mexican and Andean elites, they also had little interest in creating political conflict that might unleash the indigenous and poor masses.

C. José de Bustamante, president of the audiencia of Guatemala from 1811–1817, represented the last surge of Spanish absolutism.

  1. His experience was similar to that of General Félix Calleja in Mexico; the Constitution of 1812 complicated his efforts to maintain the old colonial system.
  2. Fernando VII attempted to appease rising liberal sentiment in the region by removing Bustamante. The region freely traded with the British by 1818.
  3. With the news of Iturbide’s proclamation of independence, the Central Americans were compelled to respond.
  4. The newly arrived captain general, Gabino Gaínza, convoked the local notables on September 15, 1821, in Guatemala City.
  5. The other provinces of Central America now had to respond to the vote in Guatemala.
  6. In July 1823, a National Constituent Assembly declared the creation of the United Provinces of Central America.

Return to The Age of Revolution in the Americas

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