Friday, June 5, 2015

Queretaro Conspiracy: The Root of the War of Independence

Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez
It was a conspiracy that for autonomy but later blew up into a major war for independence. A political movement aimed to change the political and social landscape of Mexico. The Queretaro Conspiracy proved to be the root of a decade long independence war and the synthesis of centuries-long discrimination and oppression.

The Queretaro Conspiracy in 1810 became the foundation of the Hidalgo Revolt that raged during in 1810 and up to 1811 and continued on to a decade long struggle for independence, ending in 1821. The conspiracy involved creoles in different spectrums of societies – business, government, military, and religion. They aimed for an autonomy and equal rights for Mexico and Mexicans, which include the creoles mostly.

The Queretaro Conspiracy came out from the political opportunity following the fall of Spain to Napoleon and centuries of oppression and mismanagement by Spain. Spain ruled Mexico as a colony after the conquest of Hernan Cortez over the Aztecs. Mexico became known as the Viceroyalty of New Mexico and it became Spain’s wealthiest colony in Americas. By the time of the conspiracy, Spain had already ruled Mexico for over three hundred years. During those period, the Spaniards imposed policies that impoverished the natives and discrimination flourished in this colonial society. Peninsulares or Spaniards born in Spain, also known as gachupines, ruled over Mexicans. Under them came the creoles, mestizos, natives, and African slaves. Creoles were Spaniards born in the colonies. Mestizos on the other hand were the result of the mingling a Spaniard and a native. And in the lowest spectrum of the colonial Mexican society were the natives and African slaves who worked tirelessly for the subsistence of their family and for their tremendous taxes and commitments to the government. For three centuries the natives suffered terribly in hands of Spain’s tutelage and in the abuses and excesses of the Peninsulares who saw them as lower class citizens.

Changed in the situation began in the first decade of 19th century. The American and French Revolution had spurred the ideas of age of Enlightenment with emphasis in liberalism, equality, and nationalism. These ideas spread across the world, including Mexico. It also gave rise to Napoleon Bonaparte who in 1808 conquered Spain and placed his brother Joseph as the new King. With the fall of the mother country, many principal cities in Spanish Americas formed juntas that decided on the fate of their respective colonies. The same happened in Mexico.

Political tensions, however, worsen in Mexico because of the desire of the creoles to establish a junta. In 1808, prominent and wealthy creoles, like the Corregidor of Queratero Miguel Dominguez, petitioned the viceroy to establish a junta. They gave a moderate if not conservative proposal to the Viceroy, Jose de Iturrigaray. They proposed that a junta to be created and headed by the viceroy to rule over Mexico on behalf of King Ferdinand VII. Also, the junta would be composed of representatives from principal cities within the viceroyalty. On the bottom line, the creoles saw the junta as a prerogative for the establishment of the autonomy of Mexico from Spain to improve the condition of Mexico. Meanwhile, Viceroy Iturrigaray welcomed the idea and wanted to form an assembly of representatives from across Mexico. The closeness of the Viceroy to the creoles alarmed the peninsulares. On the night of September 15 and 16, the peninsulares, led by a merchant named Gabriel de Yermo, deposed Iturrigaray with a coup. The peninsulares replaced Iturrigaray with Pedro de Garibay, who later they deposed again for being incompetent. They replaced Garibay with Francisco Javier de Lizana y Beaumont. Lizana acted as viceroy until 1810 before stepping down in favor of the audiencia.

The peninsulares action to foil the creoles proposal of the junta had racial as well as economic reasons. In racial terms, the peninsulares had the idea that European culture was superior, hence, being born in Spain meant being superior to any other race born outside Europe, even those who had European ancestry. But economic interest also drove the peninsulares to act against the creoles proposal of a junta. Most of the creoles who supported the proposal came from landowning elite. Much of the peninsulares, however, took their wealth from being merchants and flourished with the trade set up between Spain and Mexico. They saw the threat that once the creoles gain control of the government, it would result to autonomy, which either with or without, would push to alter trade policies and other economic relations between Mexico and Spain. Because of these reasons, the peninsulares deposed Iturrigaray. But deposition of Iturrigaray made creoles who wanted a junta and autonomy to go underground.

Conspiracies developed by the creoles who seek a junta and autonomy or at least reform for Mexico. In December 1809, the colonial authorities foiled a conspiracy in Valladolid (Morelia). The conspiracy had the main goal of creating a junta and establishing the autonomy of Mexico from Spain. They planned to achieve their goals through a massive uprising by local juntas in different cities and by natives. But Viceroy Lizana showed leniency towards the conspirators, which encourage more creoles in conspiring against the government and the gachupines.

Queretaro became the home of the next major conspiracy against the peninsulares and the Viceroyal government. Queretaro back then had developed into a booming mining and agricultural town. Wealth poured in along with social dissatisfaction. Peninsulares and creoles racial divide existed. Natives suffered land grabbing and abuses from wealthy gachupines. Even some creoles also fell victim to the land grabbing tactics of the gachupines. These social problems resulted to dissatisfaction and became a fertile ground for conspiracies.

The Queretaro Conspiracy followed the Valladolid Conspiracy. Some prominent creoles of Queretaro formulated the Queretaro Conspiracy. The conspiracy aimed similar to the Valladolid Conspiracy. Its main goal remained the establishing of a junta and the autonomy of Mexico. But later on, different plans within the Queretaro Conspiracy surfaced from a plan to establish simply a junta to a plot to establish a Mexican Empire with elector Prince. But a theme that remained also prominent remained the taking of the lands of the gachupines for the benefit of the natives and the creoles. The conspirators planned to achieve their goals through a revolution set on December 8, 1810.  Members plotted under the disguise of the Literary and Social Club of Queretaro. They also created cells in nearby cities of Celaya, San Miguel el Grande, Guanajuato, and the town of Dolores.

Members of the conspiracy came from different backgrounds. The most leading figure was the Corregidor of Queretaro, Miguel Dominguez, and his wife, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, famously called “La Corregidora.” As an official in the government, Miguel Dominguez saw the discrimination that creoles faced in the administrative hierarchy of the Viceroyalty and the corruption and abuses made by the gachupines. Pedro Antonio de Septien, a wealthy man due from his inheritance from his father and sat in the city council of Queretaro, joined the conspiracy. Military officers like Ignacio Allende and the brother Juan and Ignacio Aldama joined also the conspiracy. Other members included Mariano Abasolo, manuel Iturriaga, and Epigmenio Gonzales. Another important member of the conspiracy later on was the parish priest of the town of Dolores Fr. Miguel Hidalgo.  Eventually, Fr. Hidalgo’s parish would be the starting point of the war for independence.

The discovery of the Queretaro Conspiracy happened on September 1810, three months from the set date of the revolution. Authorities arrested some members like Manuel Iturriaga and Epigmenio Gonzales. On the 13th, they arrested Joesefa Ortiz de Dominguez. But before being caught, Dominguez sent a warning to Aldama and Allende about the government crackdown. The two then proceeded to the town of Dolores and warned Fr. Hidalgo about the danger of imprisonment and mostly likely, death.  Overnight they discussed how to proceed but in the end they decided to prematurely start the revolution that they planned. And on September 16, Fr. Hidalgo made the Grito de Dolores that started the Hidalgo Revolt and Mexico’s struggle for independence.

The Queretaro Conspiracy served as the root of the Hidalgo Revolt and the Mexican War of Independence. It was the result of the social problems and issues that had plague Mexico for centuries. Men and women in the conspiracy aimed to change the situation for the better. However, their discovery led to a revolt that sparked a decade long struggle for independence and change.

See also:
Bethell, Leslie (ed.). The Independence of Latin America. New York, New York: University of Cambridge Press, 1987.

Guedea, Virginia."Hidalgo Revolt." in Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico by Michael Werner. Chicago, Illinois: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001.

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

Tutino, John. From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750 - 1940. Chichester,  West Sussex: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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