Actors and geopolitical factors that influenced the process of Mexican Independence
The Independence of Mexico was a prolonged conflict, which originated in the inequality that existed between the social classes that made up the nation at that time, the inclusion of a so-called caste system as a type of hierarchical order in the country, the establishment of Bourbon reforms, patriotism and, although it seems that there is no connection whatsoever with the next event, the independence of the United States.
In order to explain the causes, effects, and objects of the country's evolution after 1821, it is necessary to visualize, retrospectively and instantaneously, what happened in Spain and how it influenced the development of events. The coordinates in time and space of the reign of Charles IV, in the Segovian town of San Ildefonso, where, on August 18, 1796, Spain was forced to sign a defensive-offensive treaty of alliance with France, for whose cause the former declared war on England.
During this campaign, the Spanish fleet was defeated on February 14, 1797, in the battle of Cape San Vicente, however, it was able to prevent the capture of Cadiz, Puerto Rico, and Ferrol, as well as the English landing in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (where Admiral Nelson lost his arm), although it finally ended with the victory of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. On March 19, 1808, the mutiny of Aranjuez occurred, led by Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias, who forced his father to abdicate in his favor, succeeding him on the throne as Ferdinand VII.
In April, Napoleon succeeded in getting Ferdinand to return the crown to his father, who in turn repeated the fate in favor of Napoleon, who named his brother Joseph, the First, better known as Pepe Botella, King, a fact that stirred up the Spanish people. And, unleashing the fury on May 2, 1808, with a revolt in Madrid in which men of all kinds took to the streets armed with courage rather than weapons.
Spain, the colonizer, began a struggle for its independence in the same way as it began in Mexico two years later. The conflict lasted six years; the Spaniards, organized in guerrillas and formal army corps, made life impossible for their French guests. It is paradoxical to see Mexico and Spain fighting simultaneously for their freedom in the same perspective.
When on May 17, 1808, Napoleon's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a circular to all the authorities of the Indies informing them of the change of dynasty, not a single province accepted the authority of the new Monarch, leaving them with a dilemma of conscience between Creoles and peninsulars that could not be resolved in the same way throughout the Americas.
Thus began a process of emancipation that had as many readings as the prism through which the conflict was approached. In Tradiciones Cubanas (Cuban Traditions) a passage related to this fact is told that draws in a diaphanous way the conflict that provoked in the colonies the imprisonment of the King:
On the afternoon of July 18, 1810, the merchant brig San Antonio anchored in Havana, coming from Norfolk, Virginia, United States. The police intercepted among the passengers a young man from Mexico, named Don Manuel Rodríguez Alamán y Peña. Educated and of great verbosity, he did not seem to give too much importance to the matter, blaming it, no doubt, on a simple mistake.
But, the fact that he had embarked for America in a French port made him suspicious, especially before the Judge of Deceased Goods (thus his official title), Don Francisco Filomeno, who went on board, seized the traveler's documentation, confiscated the small trunk of luggage and sent him to jail, located on the first floor of the Palace of the Plaza de Armas.
There, Don Salvador de Muro y Salazar himself, Marquis of Someruelos, then Governor and Captain-General of Cuba, witnessed the interrogation and even intervened in it. Notwithstanding the serenity of the detainee, clarifying his trip from France to Cuba, the Judge of Deceased Goods, at a moment in which the Captain-General had retired, made a carpenter come with the opportune tools and ordered him to disassemble the chest.
In fact, the same one had a double bottom, where thirty sheets of paper were, all signed by Don Miguel de Azanza, Minister of the Indies of King Joseph Bonaparte, addressed to Viceroys, Captains General and Governors, Audiences, Town Councils, Consulates and Prelates of Caracas, Cuba, Guatemala, Merida de Yucatan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Santa Fe. That alone was enough, according to the instructions that the Junta de Gobierno had given to the authorities in the colonies, to hang a Christian. Alamán, already in the hands of the Juez de Bienes de Difuntos, soon learned to count himself among them and prepared to die with fortitude.
The accusation and the trial for high treason were simple; the sentence much more so. An avalanche of hatred now fell upon the prisoner; the exalted populace shouted for the Mexican to be handed over to them so they could lynch him. Someruelos doubled the prison guard and made public a proclamation in which he urged compassion for the poor man who was going to purge his crime on the scaffold. On July 30, 1810, twelve days after his arrival and arrest, Pepe Botella's emissary was hanged in front of the Ursulines, in Havana.
Later, England, attending to its own interests and committed to reducing Napoleon to its minimum expression, intervened militarily in Spain, and thus, Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, appeared at the head of an Anglo-Spanish army that defeated the French at Arapiles on July 22, 1812.
Wellesley, accompanied by the leaders of the Spanish guerrilla, had entered Madrid in the first days of March, and on the 19th of the same month, the Constitution of Cadiz was sworn in. This Magna Carta, of liberal character, limited the privileges of the King, the Church, and the nobility, deposited the sovereignty in the nation, and accepted the representation of the overseas populations in the Cortes.
However, Spain still had to drink a drink possibly more bitter than Napoleon's invasion: the return of Ferdinand VII on March 22, 1814, and with him, the old absolutist regime that sent the deputies to jail, declared null and void everything done during his absence and dissolved the Cortes. In this same year, the military stage of the independence struggles in South America began, with disastrous battles whose fate did not favor the insurgents, although they did allow the caudillos to learn from their defeats.
General José de San Martín led Argentina to become the first independent nation on July 9, 1816. San Martin crossed the Andes in 1817 and together with Bernardo O'Higgins achieved Chilean independence on April 5, 1818, in the victorious battle of Maipo. As Chile could not consider itself safe with Peru in the hands of the Spanish, and Armada was organized with 8 warships and 16 means of transport with which San Martin and O'Higgins disembarked in 1820 with four thousand men, triumphantly entering Lima on July 12, 1821.
Meanwhile, Bolívar left his refuge in Jamaica and traveled to Venezuela, initiating his military campaign in 1818, which culminated in the Battle of Carabobo and the occupation of Caracas on June 29, 1821. Only the liberation of Colombia was pending, so without pause, Bolivar set out for Bogota, where Generals José de Santander and Antonio José de Sucre had already begun operations, achieving its liberation after triumphing in the Battle of Pichincha on May 24, 1822. However, Peru was recovered by the royalists on February 5, 1824, so Bolivar began a campaign of recovery that culminated in the battle of Ayacucho, fought on December 9, when Viceroy La Serna capitulated, thus consolidating the definitive independence of the Spanish provinces in South America.
With these examples in mind, on March 9, 1820, Spain triumphed, with hardly any resistance, the military pronunciamiento initiated two months earlier by Rafael del Riego, a revolutionary process that put the Constitution of 1812 back into force. On July 9, Ferdinand VII was forced to swear in as constitutional King. The liberal government had to face the absolutist sector, supported by the monarch himself. The main problems it faced were colonial independence, the maintenance of public order, and the appearance of royalist parties. The impatience of the radical constitutionalist sector and the absolutist opposition prevented the implementation of a reform policy.
Ferdinand VII squandered gold in anti-constitutional conspiracies and raised parties entitled Armies of the Faith, which promoted anarchy; he treated his ministers contemptuously, overthrew governments, and refused to sign the projects voted by the Cortes and, on the other hand, asked foreign governments for help. The situation became more radical from the middle of 1822, when on August 6, because of the King's absurdities, a new liberal cabinet was formed; but the absolutists, for their part, appointed their own, called "Supreme Regency of Spain during the captivity of Ferdinand VII" which was established in La Seu d'Urgell, thus entering a phase of true civil war.
This period was known as the Constitutional Triennium (1820-1823) in which the interests of the government and those of the State can be easily differentiated; the former was persuaded that the colonies could be preserved under the tutelage of Spain, in a liberal regime constitutionally accepted by the American citizens and deputies, something that the King did not give a damn about. Consequently, the foreign intervention of the Hundred Thousand Sons of St. Louis sent by the Santa Alianza ("Holy Alliance") took place.
Holy Alliance. Organized efforts to preserve absolutist institutions in Europe came to be mistakenly called the Holy Alliance in later years. In reality, the Holy Alliance was a pact signed on September 26, 1815, by the Russian Tsar Alexander I, the Austrian Emperor Franz I, and the Prussian King Frederick William III, which had been drawn up by the first of the above-mentioned sovereigns. Later, other European leaders adhered to this agreement, with the exception of Pope Pius VII, the Prince Regent of England George Augustus Frederick (later crowned King George IV), and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mohammed II. It was an innocuous declaration in which the said monarchs promised each other fraternity and to treat their subjects paternally in accordance with Christian principles. Perhaps it was a rehearsal by the Russian Tsar to later realize a more effective international organization. The name was later applied to the alliances promoted by Metternich, which were in no way related to the pact devised by the Russian Tsar.
Thus, an army under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Angoulême, composed of ninety-five thousand French soldiers and Spanish supporters of absolutism, crossed the Pyrenees on April 7, 1823, while the Cortes fled to Seville. The denomination has its origin in the exhortation of King Louis XVIII, in which he invoked the "God of Saint Louis", as well as the sure disposition of "one hundred thousand Frenchmen" to preserve the Spanish royal absolutism. With hardly any resistance, with massive support from the clergy and the royalist masses, the Duke of Angoulême entered Madrid in May and arrived in Seville the following month.
The Cortes and Ferdinand VII himself, deprived of his royal prerogatives and at the mercy of them, then took refuge in Cadiz to end up capitulating in October of that year. The Duke of Angoulême maintained his presence in Spain, in support of the King, restored to the throne since October 1st, but he had to return to France due to the scandal throughout Europe for the bloody reprisals against the liberals. In September 1823 the last French troops left the Spanish territory, with which, the Absolutism headed by Ferdinand VII, returned to control Spain and the colonies that still remained, on October 1, 1823.
On the same date, Ferdinand VII from the French camp signed a new decree nullifying all acts of the constitutional government, unleashing a wave of assassinations and proscriptions that reached 100,000 people, thus reinitiating the most tyrannical regime Spain had ever known. While he lived, he always showed his determination not to recognize the independence of his colonies and dreamed of recovering them. Many conspiracies were generated to overthrow him and all failed. Ferdinand VII died in September 1833, perhaps oblivious, indifferent, impotent to prevent the actions that loomed over his kingdom from inside and outside Spain.
Meanwhile, the United States of America, as the thirteen colonies recently emancipated from Great Britain called themselves, emerged as an actor that showed a voracious appetite for rapid growth, and for this, it had a project, plans, and enlightened leaders, skilled politicians inflexible in their purposes. They knew how to attract France, Spain, and the United Kingdom to their own stage.
France had owned Louisiana since the beginning of the 17th century and Spain had owned Florida since the mid-16th century. Both were involved in the Seven Years' War, which ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763, by which France ceded to the United Kingdom the territory located east of the Mississippi River and to Spain the territory located west of the same river, both belonging to Louisiana. Likewise, Spain ceded to Great Britain the territory of Florida.
Although Spain later recovered Louisiana, it encountered many problems: it was dominated by a population of a different nationality, language, and religion, which also abhorred Spanish domination; however, its rulers, following Spain's anti-British policy, supported the cause of American Independence.
Napoleon's invasion of Spain returned Louisiana to French rule on November 30, 1803, and twenty days later handed it over to the Americans in exchange for 15 million dollars to finance the imperial project. The fate of Florida was not much different, despite the Treaty of Paris, Spain invaded it in 1781 and, two years later, officially took possession of its territory by a new treaty also concluded in Paris.
This started another conflict that would become part of the geopolitical map of the time, since the Americans interpreted that the cession to France also included West Florida, given the terms of the Treaty of San Ildefonso signed in 1800. On the other hand, the United States demanded that Spain relinquish the territory north of the 31st parallel.
The government of Florida, which had previously depended on Cuba, joined the government of Louisiana, whose governors attracted the indigenous tribes to oppose the U.S. influence. Trade was also channeled to the Gulf ports. With all this and with the help of its diplomats in America, Spain managed to maintain its rights until Minister Manuel Godoy abruptly ceded and the territory up to the 31st parallel was handed over to the United States for the creation of the new state of Mississippi.
A connoisseur and practitioner of the use of power and politics, the Count of Aranda, whose name was Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea y Giménez de Urrea (1718-1798), an eminent military man and advisor of State, issued his premonitory judgment on the emancipation of the English colonies in North America:
This federal republic was born a pygmy, so to speak, and needed the support and strength of two powers as powerful as France and Spain to achieve its independence. The day will come when it will be a giant, a terrible colossus in these regions.
It will then forget the benefits it has received and will think only of aggrandizing itself. The first step of this power when it has become great will be to seize the Floridas in order to dominate the Gulf of Mexico...
Although Florida remained under Spanish sovereignty until 1821, it was difficult to maintain order and to confront the conscious expansionist tendency of the United States materialized in the invasion of General Andrew Jackson and the diplomacy of John Quincy Adams. Earlier, a law of 1804, dictated by order of Thomas Jefferson, declared the coast of West Florida, between the Mississippi River and the Perdido River, as belonging to the United States. By the end of 1813, all of West Florida was de facto in the possession of the United States.
Without being at war with Spain, in 1818 Jackson invaded East Florida; a fact that earned him popular support and that of the government. It was President James Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams who, with the Adams-Onís Transcontinental Treaty of 1819, forced Spain to surrender what remained of its colonial territory to the south of North America in exchange for five million dollars not paid, but destined to pay American claims against Spain related to alleged infractions to the rules of maritime commerce to the detriment of American merchant ships. Most of the Spaniards living in the Floridas emigrated to Cuba and the Spanish footprint was eventually lost.
But things did not stop there, Thomas Jefferson said in a letter dated January 25, 1786 in Paris, addressed to a certain Stuart, later a conservative Democrat from Virginia that:
Our confederacy should be regarded as the nest from which all America, both North and South, is to be peopled. But let us beware of believing that it is in the interest of this great continent to expel the Spaniards at once. For the present, those countries are in the best of hands, and I only fear that these may prove too weak to hold them in subjection until our population progresses sufficiently to take them from them, part by part...
The watchword Jefferson set for Anglo-American foreign policy in continental matters was to see that the Spanish Empire in America did not succumb before its time. And he adds:
One of the fundamental purposes of the American statesmen was to secure, for the United States, its commercial supremacy on the Continent. Hence the struggle against partial rights and exclusive privileges, and hence also their insistence on both the principle of reciprocal utility and that of perfect equality. These would become the premises of continental diplomacy, and it was not in vain that when Mexico established the most favored nation clause for the benefit of Colombia, with the purpose of extending it to the other Hispanic republics of the continent, the English plenipotentiary, Mr. Henry George Ward, accepted it without major objections, while the plenipotentiary Joel R. Poinsett, by express instructions of his government, decisively rejected it.
Furthermore, in a letter dated October 24, 1823, from his retreat at Monticello, addressed by Jefferson to President Monroe, he mentions, among other things, that:
Our fundamental and first maxim must be: never to get mixed up in the entanglements of Europe; the second: never to allow European interference in the affairs of this side of the Atlantic [...] But we must first answer ourselves a question: Do we wish to add to our Confederation any or some of the Spanish provinces? For my part, I sincerely confess that I have always considered Cuba as the most important addition that could be made to our system of States. The control which, together with Florida, that island would give us over the Gulf of Mexico, and over the countries and isthmuses bordering it, as well as over those whose waters flow into it, would be the measure of our political well-being.... However, I do not hesitate to abandon my primitive desire with a view to future opportunities, and prefer their independence (that of the former Spanish colonies), on the basis of English peace and friendship, and not their annexation to us at the high cost of war and enmity with England.
Ideas that were later the marrow of the Monroe Doctrine: "Do we wish to add to our Confederation any or some of the Spanish provinces...?" This question had already been answered by Joel R. Poinsett, the astute American diplomat a year earlier, in the fall of 1822, when he wrote in his notes on Mexico:
The question of Cuba is highly important to our southern Atlantic states, and I care to add that every precaution should be taken to prevent the negro population from gaining ascendency in the Island [...] What I fear most, as being far more detrimental to our interests, is the occupation of the Island by some great maritime power. Cuba is not only the key to the Gulf of Mexico, but to the whole maritime frontier south of Savannah, and some of our highest interests, commercially and politically, are involved in its fate. We should find ourselves satisfied that it remains under the dependence of Spain or, in time, entirely independent of any foreign nation.
On the eve of U.S. President James Monroe's annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823, in which he set forth his famous doctrine, Anglo-American politicians, with Thomas Jefferson at their head, had concentrated on studying British Prime Minister George Canning's proposals for joint action by the United States and Great Britain on the Spanish-American question, but John Quincy Adams perceived a trap in this statement, for he foresaw the intention of obtaining from the United States a formal promise to take a position against the violent intervention of the Holy Alliance in Spain and South America, but especially against the acquisition by the United States of any part of the Spanish possessions in America. Adams refused to limit the scope of his Manifest Destiny, within which the appetites for Cuba and Texas stood out: "We have no intention of seizing either Texas or Cuba (Adams said in those days), but the inhabitants of either or both provinces may exercise their primary rights and apply for union with us, which they certainly could not do with Great Britain..."
These were, very succinctly stated, the prevailing circumstances in Mexico's geopolitical neighborhoods when it began its journey as an independent nation and which in one way or another would influence the national destiny. Spain was in the midst of a political crisis, plunged into civil war, bankrupt and suffering the process of emancipation of its American colonies; England, emerging as a victorious great power and master of the sea, began its global expansion; Napoleon's France, defeated and trying to recover under a monarchic regime similar to the one prior to its revolution, with very little chance of competing with its eternal rival; The United States emerged as a young power with a national project conceived and created by shrewd politicians who had a long-term vision and scope, with ambitious plans for expansion to the south and west; motivated and driven by their military victory over the English and diplomatic victory over the Spanish, which gave them their first new territories and gradually accumulated power to eradicate all European influence from this continent. Mexico was the target and its natural wealth the booty that the wolves would shamelessly dispute.
The leaders of Mexico's Independence, blinded by their internal disputes, were incapable of containing the threats that loomed over the young nation and forced it to sustain a two-front war for more than fifty years: the internal one, characterized by disorder, poverty, division and inertia; and the external one, shaped by the interests of the great powers determined to replace Spain as the center of imperial power and who knew how to take advantage of the vulnerabilities generated by the insecurity of a country that lacked a project and defined national interests. Mexico emerged from both conflicts stripped of its dignity, mutilated of its territory, and violated in its sovereignty and independence.
Timeline of the struggle for Mexico's Independence
In the days of Mexican Independence, it is worthwhile to review the history books and commemorate Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated every September 16. This is how the struggle for independence took place step by step, starting on September 16, 1810, and ending on September 28, 1821.
Context of New Spain in 1808
First, we have to go back to 1808. Although there are still two years to go before the fight that would begin with the Cry of Sorrows, we must understand the context.
In that year the North American and French revolutions began to be known. The colonies came up with the idea of liberal states, which implied a rejection of monarchies and the search for sovereignty over peoples.
The population of New Spain made up mostly of indigenous people (60 percent) and castes (22 percent), was beginning to feel discontent towards the crown.
Furthermore, in May of that year, King Ferdinand VII of Spain abdicated the crown in favor of Charles IV, who in turn resigned in favor of Napoleon.
This generated general discontent and a series of uprisings. There was even an attempted coup d'état by merchants after this announcement. This began to germinate the idea of conspiracies.
In the house of Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, literary gatherings were held, attended by Miguel Allende and Juan Aldama, as well as some priests such as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. There they planned a conspiracy for December, during the fair of San Juan de los Lagos.
September 13: Ignacio Garrido denounces the conspiracy plan in Querétaro.
September 14: Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez warns that they were discovered.
September 15: That night, Ignacio Allende intercepts the arrest warrant and goes to Dolores, where Miguel Hidalgo decides to take up arms.
September 16: The priest Miguel Hidalgo summons a mass at dawn since it was Sunday. Instead of offering Sunday service, he invites people to join him in the fight against bad government. It was there that the struggle for independence began to take shape.
September 21: Hidalgo is named Major General; Allende, Lieutenant General; and Juan Aldama, Marshal.
September 23: Viceroy Venegas arms army against Hidalgo's movement. It is called a royalist army.
October: The insurgent movement had already taken Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Valladolid, and Guadalajara. It seemed that they could triumph.
January to March: Confrontations between the Spanish army and the insurgent movement. The latter are defeated in several clashes, so the leaders flee to the north. For his part, José María Morelos continues to fight in the south.
March 21: Miguel Hidalgo and Ignacio Allende are captured by Ignacio Elizondo in the Norias. They go on to an ecclesiastical trial.
May 26th: Vicente Guerrero joins the fight. Spoiler: will be one of the few who survive to the end of this story.
June 26: Ignacio Allende, Ignacio Aldama, among others, are shot in Chihuahua.
July 30th: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla is shot and decapitated in Chihuahua.
October 14: The heads of Hidalgo, Allende, and Adama are shown in Guanajuato for the remaining insurgents to surrender. It didn't work for them.
In the absence of a legitimate king, the Spanish Cortes promulgated a Constitution establishing a Spanish constitutional monarchy.
It was about maintaining order and helping to make counterrevolution; however, citizens did not get the autonomy they wanted.
For his part, José María Morelos continued his struggle in the south, in which he was doing more or less well.
The insurgents continued to fight despite having a little army and few resources. With the help of Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero, they seized Chilpancingo, Tixtla, Chilapa, Taxco, Cuatla, among others.
September 14: José María Morelos y Pavón establishes a congress to exercise sovereignty. There he read "Sentimientos a la Nación" (Feelings of the Nation), where he declares a free America and is named Servant of the Nation.
October 22nd: The constitution written by Congress is promulgated.
February 18: The Supreme Congress removes Morelos from power and is forced to continue his struggle separately.
May 5: Fernando VII returns to the crown, dissolves the Cortes and annuls the Constitution of 1812 which sought a constitutional monarchy.
July 14: Morelos writes to U.S. President James Madison to recognize the independence of New Spain.
September 1: But he rather forbids purchases to aid the insurgent movement in New Spain.
November 5: Morelos is taken prisoner and faces trial.
December 22: Morelos is shot in San Cristóbal Ecatepec.
January - October: The insurgent movement continues, albeit weakened. It obtains no victory but resists.
November 16: Vicente Guerrero defeats the royalist army on Piaxtla hill.
January - July: The insurgent movement rises with the support of General Francisco Xavier Mina and Servando Teresa de Mier.
August 14: Teresa de Mier is captured.
October 27: Mina is captured and taken prisoner.
November 11: Mina is shot in Cerro Bellaco.
January to December: Remember that Guadalupe Victoria is still alive. The struggle for independence continues in the southeast of the still New Spain.
November 5: Vicente Guerrero is defeated in Agua Zarca. Fortunately, he is not captured.
December: Vicente Guerrero continues his fight. He continues his insurgent battle in the south.
March 8: Faced with the continuation of the war and Spain's economic crisis, King Ferdinand VII swears the 1812 Constitution he had annulled.
June 18: Parish elections are held in New Constitutional Spain.
October: The commander Agutín de Iturbide, who had fought from his beginnings against the insurgent movement, makes a turn of the screw and begins a plan to seek the independence of New Spain.
November 16: Iturbide goes out to fight against Vicente Guerrero, who is an obstacle.
January 10: Iturbide writes to Vicente Guerrero inviting him to surrender and offer him a pardon, as both seek independence.
January 20: Guerrero says no, but shows interest in achieving independence together.
10 February: Iturbide and Guerrero meet in Acatempan and make peace. It is known as the Abrazo de Acatempan.
February 24: Plan de Iguala is signed to declare New Spain an independent country.
With the passing of the months, several regions adhere to the Plan of Iguala and Iturbide creates the Army Trigarante to achieve independence. Everything looks good. Spain and its viceroyalty in America are in crisis and do not have the resources or the forces to continue the struggle.
September 21: The Army of the Trigger leaves for Mexico City.
September 23: Realist forces flee to Veracruz.
September 27: Trigarante Army enters Mexico City! Mexican independence consummated!
Source: National Institute of Historical Studies of the Revolutions of Mexico, Ministry of the Mexican Navy, Office of the Chief of Staff of the Navy, Naval History and Culture Unit