Monday, June 1, 2015

Emperor Agustin de Iturbide of Mexico

Emperor Agustin Iturbide
Mexico’s independence in 1821 came from the most unlikely source. For decades, fighters hardly fought crying for independence, equality, and the ideas of liberalism. Morelos and Hidalgo led rebellions that terrorized the Spanish colonial government in Mexico. Little did they knew, the one that led Mexico to their independence came from their ranks. Agustin de Iturbide a military officer who went against the ideals of liberalism of Morelos and Hidalgo but achieved what the latter individuals did not achieve.

Agustin de Iturbide, born on September 27, 1783, came from creole family in Michoacan, Mexico. Itrubide’s father emigrated to Michoacan from the Basque region of Spain. They owned and managed a huge hacienda that made their family well-off. The Iturbide family supported conservative ideals, strictly pious to the Catholic Church and extremely loyal to the Spanish Crown. Agustin de Iturbide entered school thanks to his family money. Nevertheless, the child proved to be a terrible student and left school to manage his father’s hacienda instead. At the age of 14, he took a new career by entering the Spanish army.

Spain fell to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808. Many Spanish colonies in the Americas formed juntas to decide on the future of their own respective colonies. In Mexico, many liberals wanted to form a junta and the Viceroy, Jose de Iturrigaray. Iturbide supported the deposition of the Iturrigaray by conservative peninsulares in the capital Mexico City. The peninsulares and conservatives tracked and quashed any conspiracy to establish a junta to decide on the faith of Mexico or the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1810, a conspiracy had been discovered in the province of Queretaro. The conspirators escaped to Dolores and began a revolt under the leadership of Fr. Miguel de Hidalgo. Hidalgo and his rebels attacked any peninsulares or what they called as gachupines and conservatives alike. Iturbide’s hacienda fell victim to the rage of angry creoles and natives for their support of conservatism. Agustin de Iturbide on the other hand prepared to fight Hidalgo’s forces in Mexico City. Eventually, Hidalgo’s revolt failed. However, some of Hidalgo’s followers continued the fight, the most prominent and strongest fought in Southern Mexico under the command of Jose Maria Morelos. The Viceroy sent Iturbide to assist in defeating Morelos’ forces, in which he succeeded to the delight of his superiors. His glorious moment came when he defeated Morelos in the Battle of Puranan. His forces captured and executed Jose Morelos in December 1815. In the course of the rebellion, Iturbide became a colonel and the position of commander of the Bajio Region.

After the Hidalgo and Morelos Rebellions, Iturbide became disillusioned by the prevailing order. Even with his good merit in battle, Iturbide felt disappointed and dismayed by the slow pace of his promotion, mostly because peninsular officials blocked it. He saw the prejudice of peninsular soldiers towards creole soldiers such as himself. In 1816, his dissatisfaction intensified further when his commanders removed him for his alleged corruption and abuse of power, such as torturing prisoners. As a result of his disgraceful exit in the army, Iturbide became a lose man in Mexico City, always drunk and frustrated.

Iturbide returned to the army in 1820 after his dismissal. Situation in Mexico continued to be chaotic. Even though Morelos and Hidalgo’s demise did not end the cry for independence by many natives and creoles. Some of them like Guadalupe Victoria and Vicente Guerrero continued to fight by using guerilla tactics for the ideals of Morelos and Hidalgo. The Spanish colonial authority had a difficult time in quelling such insurgency. And so in 1817, with the urging of some of Iturbide’s friends, the Viceroy Juan Ruiz Apodaca reinstated Iturbide and assigned him to command the army in crushing the revolt of Vicente Guerrero in Oaxaca. Under his command, his 2,500 men army marched to Oaxaca to confront Guerrero.

Iturbide turned, however, against his superiors. He still remembered the hardship and humiliation that the peninsular authorities had done to him. In addition, Iturbide and Guerrero had a stalemate in the battlefield. The military conditions convinced further that military solution would not end the rebellion. But what really changed Iturbide’s mind into negotiating with Guerrero was the political change that happened in Spain.

Liberals took power in Spain. In 1820, King Ferdinand VII lose to the liberals who made him sign the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz. It began a surge in liberal policy, which include the reduction of the power of the monarchy and of the church. For conservatives like Iturbide, the condition angered them. This led Iturbide to turn against the authority of the Viceroy.

The Plan de Iguala became the result of the negotiations between Iturbide and Guerrero. Completed on February 23, 1821 and proclaimed in Cocula, the Plan of Iguala had 24 articles. But the plan had three themes that became known as the Three Guarantees, which were: 1) Catholicism would remain the state religion and only religion of Mexico; 2) Mexico would be a constitutional monarchy under an Emperor; and 3) there would be equality between the peninsulares and Mexicans, which included the creoles. For Guerrero, the plan widely differed from the planned Mexico of Hidalgo and Morelos, where liberalism and the ideals of enlightenment reigned supreme. Nevertheless, the promise of equality and independence made them to agree in the plan. Liberal ideas could come in later, at least, Mexico would be independent. The plan called for the formation of a Sovereign Provisional Junta to govern Mexico as regent until a congress convened. It called for Mexico to solicit King Ferdinand VII for a prince to the throne of Mexico. If Ferdinand failed or refused, the Congress had the power to designate the Emperor. The Congress also had the power to write the new constitution of Mexico. Finally, caste system of Mexico finally would end.

 As the moderate tone of the plan attracted both liberals and conservative creoles alike. The maintenance of Catholicism as religion and getting a prince from Ferdinand VII as the new monarch of Mexico attracted many conservative creoles to support the plan. Liberals supported it for the abolition of caste system and ultimately the declaration of independence. Churchmen also agreed because church property and the dominance of Catholicism had been guaranteed by the plan. Only thing that Iturbide had to do was to capture the whole of Mexico.

Support for the Plan grew and attracted many rebel groups to join Iturbide. Guadalupe Victoria joined and added his territory of Puebla under Iturbide’s command. The main port of Veracruz had been besiege by rebels under the command of Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Finally, Iturbide captured a ship in Acapulco containing silver and used it to raise an army known as the Ejercito de las Tresgarantias or the Army of the Three Guarantees.

Mexico fell quickly to Iturbide. In July 1821, Iturbide had controlled over the whole Mexico except for few patches of loyalist garrisons and the capital, Mexico City. For his incapacity, Viceroy Apodaca had been deposed by his own troops. A new captain-general, Juan O’Donoju, arrived in Veracruz and he remained the highest in command in the Viceroyalty after Apodaca’s removal from office. Iturbide negotiated with O’Donoju for a somewhat autonomy for New Spain. The talks resulted for the signing of the Treaties of Cordoba. It guaranteed the contents of the Plan of Iguala and indicated that failure of having a European prince for a Mexican monarch would result for a congress to choose the Emperor. O’Donaju resigned his post and joined Iturbide in laying out the independence of Mexico.

Mexico declared independence on September 28, 1821. Spanish troops had left the capital as ordered by O’Donaju and the Treaties of Cordoba. On the 27th of September, Iturbide and his forces entered Mexico City. They formed a Junta composed of 12 members, seats equally distributed among conservatives and liberals. On the following day, they declared formally the independence of Mexico. They then sent agents to Europe to scout for a prince that would be there new Emperor.

Congress convened on February 1822. The search for a European prince failed. Now, Iturbide summoned representatives from the provinces for the Congress, which would serve as the legislature of Mexico. Because Ferdinand VII had failed to name an Emperor for Mexico, the Congress had power to choose Mexico’s monarch. Many in the army cried for Iturbide to be the new Emperor. The Congress had been unpopular to the army because of plans for the reduction of the size of it and lowering the amount of their salaries. In reaction, they saw their voice in for of Agustin de Iturbide. During a night in May, soldiers marched from their barracks to the house of Iturbide while shouting: Viva Agustin Primero (Long Live Agustin I)! In the following days, the Congress met to name the Emperor. The balconies of the hall had been filled with the supported of Iturbide. It pressured the Congress to proclaim Iturbide as the new Emperor. Iturbide accepted the duty and on July 21, with all the grandeur and pomp and circumstance of his title, Agustin de Iturbide became Emperor Agustin I in a coronation in the National Cathedral.

The Reign of Agustin I marked a new political and economic upheaval. His coronation drained further what was left in Mexico’s coffers. He wasted and squandered the money of his people for himself. Moreover, his corruption and incompetence led to zero recovery for the war-stricken economy of Mexico. His autocratic style of leadership brought him into conflict with the Congress, which then resulted for the body to attack him. Iturbide reacted violently by imposing press censorship and ordered the arrest of his opponents. He also began to lose support from the different sectors of society. Merchants and the church hated him for forcing them to lend money to the government to pay enormous debt, some of which went to his pocket. Natives and liberal despised him for not bringing in the promise of change. Although Mexico became independent, the society during the colonial era that caused them to cry for separation, strongly continued only this time under a new leadership. Congress fell to Iturbide on October 1822, when the Emperor dissolved them and replaced them with a junta to serve as the temporary legislature. In the street, calls for a republic sounded louder for each day passes in the reign of Iturbide.

Rebellion against Iturbide broke out in late 1822. Iturbide’s allies broke away and rebelled against him. It included Vicente Guerrero and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. They called for the establishment of a Republic and placed that idea to their Plan of Casa Mata. It called the creation of a new Congress, but in contradiction to most belief, it did not call for the abdication or death of the Emperor, rather it continued to respect his sovereignty. Nevertheless, people rallied behind the plan and rebel forces grew strong along with the demand for a Republic. By February 1823, Iturbide only controlled the capital. By March, he had no choice but to abdicate and on May, he left for exile to Europe in exchange for a huge pension.

Life in exile dissatisfied Iturbide tremendously. The promised pension never came. He anguish and desperate to return to Mexico and redeem his glory. In 1824, plans of autocratic governments in Europe, known as the Holy Alliance, to reestablish Spanish rule in the Americas reached the ears of Iturbide. Upon hearing the plot, he made assumptions that the people of Mexico cried for his return. And so, on May 1824, he made his voyage back to Mexico. Unknowingly to Iturbide, the Congress had proclaimed his as a traitor and once he step back to Mexico he would be condemned a traitor’s death. On July 14, 1824, Iturbide landed in Tamaulipas with a small entourage. Soldiers in the area arrested him, while the state council of Tamaulipas condemned him to death. On July 19, 1824, Iturbide faced a firing squad.

Agustin de Iturbide is an interesting figure in Mexican History. Unlike Hidalgo and Morelos, which many Mexicans respected, and fought for liberalism and independence, Mexico’s final break with Spain came from him, a conservative and in his leadership, autocratic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Iturbide gave Mexico its independence.

See also:
Bibliography:
Richmond, Douglas. "Iturbide, Agustin de." in Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico by Michael Werner. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.

Woods, Brett. "Mexican Revolution." in Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies, 1760 - 1815. Edited by Gregory Fremont-Barnes. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Conniff, Michael & Clayton, Lawrence. A History of Modern Latin America. Belmont, Califronia: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.

Kirkpatrick, F.A. Latin America: A Brief History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

Kirkwood, Burton. The History of Mexico. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2010.

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