Monday, April 27, 2015

Independence as Counter-Revolution: Agustín Iturbide - The Man Who Would Be King

Walking through the streets of Mexico City's Historic Center, viewing its Spanish colonial palaces, I began to ask myself, "So what happened next in Mexico City? What happened when this Empire came to an end with Mexican Independence?" As it turns out, the answer  is not so simple.

For all intents and purposes, Spanish rule of New Spain came to an end on September 27, 1821, when the self-named Army of the Three Guarantees entered Mexico City under the leadership of Agustín de Iturbide in the wake of the defeat of Spanish royal forces and submission of the viceroy. It happened to be Iturbide's thirty-eighth birthday.

Agustín de Iturbide and other insurgents enter Mexico City in triumph,
September 27, 1821

The next day, Iturbide proclaimed the independence of the Mexican Empire, as New Spain was henceforth to be called, and settled himself in a palatial home, loaned to him by the Count of San Mateo Valparaíso. It still stands on Madero Street, now bearing the nickname Palace of Iturbide.

So called "Palace of Iturbide"
Now the Banamex Cultural Center

Photo: JRB
The Man Who Won Mexico's Independence
Iturbide was not a person one would foresee fighting for and winning Mexican Independence. Until the winter of 1821, some six months before he triumphantly entered Mexico City, Iturbide had been a key player in the royalist opposition to those who had begun the rebellion eleven years earlier, the priest, Miguel Hidalgo, the Spanish Army captain Ignacio Allende, and the priest turned warrior, José María Morelos. He was, in fact, the quintessential wealthy, well-connected Spanish criollo [Spanish born in New Spain] from a noble family, a loyalist and officer in the Royal Spanish Army.

Agustín Cosme Damián de Iturbide y Arámburu was born on September 27, 1783, in what was then Valladolid, now Morelia, the state capital of Michoacán. Iturbide's parents were members of the wealthy criollo class of Valladolid. His father, Joaquín de Iturbide, came from a family of the Basque gentry.

In his teens, being criollo, Iturbide entered the Spanish Royal Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the provincial regiment. He was known for his horsemanship.

Agustín de Iturbide
Portrait in "Palacio de Iturbide"
Photo: JRB
In 1805, when he was twenty-two, Iturbide married Ana María Josefa Ramona de Huarte y Muñiz. She was the daughter of a wealthy and powerful Spanish nobleman, Isidro de Huarte, governor of the district and a granddaughter of the Marquis of Altamira. With her dowry of 100,000 pesos, the couple bought a hacienda.

Taking Sides in Phase 1 of the Rebellion
The rebellion that began in September 1810 did not, at first, have the goal of independence from Spain. It was an effort by upper-class liberal criollos [Spanish born in New Spain], including the priest, Miguel Hidalgo, and Spanish Army captain Ignacio Allende, to overthrow the viceroy, who was seen as the source of abuses of criollos, mestizos [mixed Spanish-indigenous] and indios [indigenous], perverting the will of the king

The revolt was triggered by the crisis in legitimacy of the Spanish royalty. Napoleon's seizure, in 1808, of the Spanish King Charles IV and his son, Ferdinand VII, and placing his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne put in serious question the legitimacy of Spanish rule of New Spain. The rebellion was cast in the name of loyalty to the king and the Virgin of Guadalupe, God's special emissary to New Spain. Thus, there was an ambivalence, if not outright contradiction, at the very heart of the rebellion—a combination of liberal, democratic values with conservative, royalist loyalties.

At the outset, Hidalgo offered Iturbide the rank of general in the insurgent forces. Iturbide rejected the offer, since he repudiated the atrocities committed by the largely untrained insurgent army against Spanish civilians, choosing instead to fight for the royalist forces.

Iturbide fought in a number of the early battles against the insurgents. After the executions of Hidalgo and Allende in July 1811, he led a number of battles between 1813 and 1815 against the new leader of the rebellion, Morelos.

His persistence against the rebels was widely known, as well as his views against their liberal ideas. In his diary, he refers to the insurgents as "perverse," "bandits," and "sacrilegious." In a letter to the viceroy in 1814, he wrote of how he had 300 rebels (to whom he referred as excommunicates) executed to celebrate Good Friday. Iturbide was also criticized for his arbitrary treatment of civilians, in particular his jailing of the mothers, wives and children of known insurgents.

The Insurgency Becomes More Republican
Morelos initially won battles in the southwest. In September, 1813, in the city of Chilpancingo, now the capital of the state of Guerrero, he felt secure enough to convene a congress of representatives from provinces under his control. On November 6, the congress met and formally declared the Independendence of North America from Spain.

Nearly a year later, on October 22, 1814, in Apatzingán, Michoacán, Mexico's first constitution, the Constitutional Decree for the Liberty of Mexican America, was promulgated. It established a republican government, with a three-person executive and a representative congress. It was never implemented. Morelos was captured by royal forces in November 1815, imprisoned in the Ciudadela in Mexico City and executed on December 22, 1815.

Reversals of Fortune in New Spain and the Motherland
After Morelos's death, the force of the independence movement declined significantly. Isolated guerrilla bands carried out such fighting as there was. Guadalupe Victoria ended up abandoned by most of his troops and hiding in the jungle of Veracruz. Vicente Guerrero fought on in the southwest, where Morelos had won victories, in what is now the state named after him, and in neighboring regions.

While the insurgents' fortunes had been reversed in 1815, so had Iturbide's the following year. The viceroy relieved him of his command in response to accusations of a number of corrupt and cruel practices, including creating commercial monopolies in areas he controlled militarily, sacking private property and embezzling military funds. However, in 1817, the charges were withdrawn. Iturbide's supporters convinced the viceroy that he was needed to vanquish the last remaining rebel leaders. But Iturbide was not to forget the humiliation of his dismissal.

Meanwhile, in Spain, fortunes also changed. Just as Napoleon's intervention in Spain in 1808 and his taking King Ferdinand VII and his father, King Charles IV, hostage in France had triggered the initial insurgency of Hidalgo and Allende, further power struggles in Spain between royal and republican forces triggered the next stage of the insurgency in New Spain.

The uprising of Spanish regional juntas against Napoleon and his brother, Joseph, whom he placed on the Spanish throne, led to the writing of the republican Constitution of 1812, in Cadiz. When Ferdinand returned to Spain in 1814 following Napoleon´s defeat and exile to the Island of Elba, he was forced to accept a constitutional monarchy, but he then acted to retake power.

In the early months of 1820, however, the Riego Revolt forced Ferdinand to re-institute the constitutional monarchy. As a result, in New Spain there were serious concerns that the monarchy would be forced to abandon Spain once again. This led to the undermining of viceregal authority in Mexico City. Among the Spanish criollo nobility the idea arose that if New Spain became independent or autonomous, and if Ferdinand were deposed, he could become king of New Spain.

At this juncture, in December 1820, Viceroy Juan Ruiz de Apodaca gave Iturbide the task of eliminating Guerrero and his forces. However, Guerrero managed to deliver a number of serious reverses to Iturbide's troops, leading Iturbide to conclude that he might not be able to defeat the rebel forces.

Iturbide Switches Sides, Royalists and Republicans Join Forces Against Spain
While stationed in Iguala, in what is now the state of Guerrero, Iturbide decided to negotiate with Guerrero. He proposed the Plan of Iguala, containing three "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. If no prince wanted the position, a noble criollo in New Spain could be given the throne; all persons, regardless of race or class, would be citizens enjoying equal rights and privileges, and the Roman Catholic Church would retain its privileges and position as the official and exclusive religion of the land.

The Plan was signed by Iturbide and Guerrero on February 24, 1821. A new army, the Army of the Three Guarantees, composed of their joint forces, was then placed under Iturbide's command. The army was joined both by royalists, including Antonio López de Santa Anna and Anastasio Bustamante and by insurgents such as Victoria Guadalupe and Nicolás Bravo.

When the combined forces surrounded the outskirts of Mexico City and won the Battle of Azcapotzalco, on August 19, in what had been a pre-Hispanic town and is now a delegación of the city, the outcome became certain and the viceroy resigned. On August 24, representatives of the viceroy and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence.

Monument to the last battle, in Azcapotzalco, outside Mexico City,
August 19, 1821
Royalist forces made a last stand in the atrio
of the Church of the Holy Apostles Philip and James
Photo: JRB

Upon the Army's entrance into Mexico City, Iturbide was named President of a Provisional Governing Junta, which selected the five-person regency that would temporarily govern the newly independent Mexico. The Junta had thirty-six members with legislative powers until the convocation of a congress. Iturbide controlled the Junta, which was responsible for negotiating the offer of the throne of Mexico to a suitable European royal. Members of the republican insurgent movement were left out. 

While the Junta convened a constitutional congress to set up the new government with indirect representation, Iturbide declared that he would not be bound by that model. The ensuing divisiveness came to a head in February 1822, when Congress declared sovereignty for itself rather than granting it to a monarch.

In the meantime, Ferdinand VII, who had again regained the upper hand in Spain, rejected the offer of the Mexican throne, forbade any member of his family to accept the position, and the Spanish parliament rejected the Treaty of Córdoba.

On the night of the May 18, 1822, a demonstration led by the Regiment of Celaya, which Iturbide had commanded during the war, marched through the streets, demanding that their commander-in-chief accept the throne. The following day, the Congress conceded and declared Iturbide emperor of Mexico. He was crowned Emperor Agustín I in the Mexico City Cathedral on July 21, 1822.

Coronation of Agustín de Iturbide as
Emperor Agustín I

Iturbide as Emperor Agustín I
Re-created room of Iturbide's stay
in the Palacio
Photo: JRB

The Empire proved to be very short-lived. A number of military and political leaders soon turned against Agustín. A conspiracy developed to remove him from power and eliminate the Constitutional Empire. In response, on October 31, 1822, Iturbide dissolved Congress and arrested many of its former members.

In December, Santa Ana rose against Iturbide, pronouncing the Plan of Veracruz. Bravo and Guerrero joined him. After initial setbacks, the rebels' victory soon became apparent. On March 19, 1823, eight months after his coronation, Iturbide offered his abdication to a reconvened Congress. He and his family went into exile in Europe. In July 1824, he returned, thinking he would be welcomed. Instead, he was arrested, tried by a hastily convened jury and executed.

In 1833, the now President Santa Anna decided to rehabilitate Iturbide's memory, ordering that his remains be transferred to the capital with honors. However, it was not until 1838, during the presidency of Anastasio Bustamante, that this order was carried out. On October 27, 1839, Iturbide's remains were placed in an urn in the Chapel of San Felipe de Jesús in the Cathedral, where they remain. God and King, together.

Iturbide's remains are kept it the small casket
that sits in the nich at upper right

But the overthrow of Iturbide and his subsequent execution did not result in a clear victory for liberal republican forces over conservative authoritarian ones. Instead, over the next hundred years of Mexico's political history, the sequence of conservatives forming alliances with liberals in the struggle to establish a government, then the two splitting and entering into violent conflict was to be repeated numerous times. As we explore Mexico City, we will be keeping our eyes out for artifacts of those various battles. 

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