History of Mexico

The Road to Independence

The beginning of the eighteenth century in Spain coincided with the crowning of Spain's first Bourbon king. Under the Habsburgs, Spain had been ruined by wars abroad and conflicts at home. The new Bourbon administration that assumed power in 1707 was determined to effect structural changes in Spain's government and the economy to centralize power in the monarch. The colonies also received increased attention, mainly in terms of their defense and the reorganization of their economies.

The Bourbon Reforms

During the reign of the third Bourbon king of Spain, Charles III (1759-88), the Bourbons introduced important reforms at home and in the colonies. To modernize Mexico, higher taxes and more direct military control seemed to be necessary; to effect these changes, the government reorganized the political structure of New Spain into twelve intendencias , each headed by an intendente under a single commandant general in Mexico City, who was independent of the viceroy and reported directly to the king.

The economic reforms were directed primarily at the mining and trade sectors. Miners were given fueros and were allowed to organize themselves into a guild. Commerce was liberalized by allowing most Spanish ports to trade with the colonies, thus destroying the old monopoly held by the merchants of the Spanish port of Cádiz.

The Bourbon reforms changed the character of New Spain by revising governmental and economic structures. The reforms also prompted renewed migration of Spaniards to the colonies to occupy newly created government and military positions. At the same time, commerce, both legal and illegal, was growing, and independent merchants were also welcomed. The new monied classes of miners and merchants were the real promoters of the successes of the reforms enacted by the Bourbons.

Early Discontent: Criollos and Clergy

Economic expansion and a certain degree of political relaxation in the 1700s gave rise to greater expectations of autonomy by the colonists, especially after the republican revolutions in the United States (1776), France (1789), and Haiti (1804). Social stratification in New Spain, marked by discrepancies between the rich and the poor and between criollos and peninsulares , however, worked to prevent the necessary social cohesion for a revolutionary undertaking, even though the tensions for a revolution continued to build. Peninsulares from all walks of life believed themselves superior to their American-born counterparts. In reaction to such discrimination, criollos showed pride in things that pertained to Mexico. Criollos considered themselves subjects of the Spanish crown, however, and also abided by the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. More important, criollos did not want an egalitarian society--privileges were fine as long as they benefited from them.

In Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. When French troops entered Madrid, the Habsburg king, Charles IV, abdicated, and Napoleon named his brother Joseph Bonaparte as the new king. Many Spanish patriots in unoccupied parts of Spain declared Ferdinand VII, son of Charles IV, as the new monarch. When the news of Charles IV's abdication reached New Spain, considerable turmoil arose over the question of whether Ferdinand VII or Joseph was the legitimate ruler of the colony. Hoping to be named king of a newly independent country, Viceroy José de Iturrigaray supported the criollos of New Spain when they proposed a junta to govern the colony. Peninsulares realized the danger of such an association between criollos and the administration and thus orchestrated a coup d'état in 1808 to defend their privileges and standing in colonial society. After the coup, Iturrigaray was replaced by a senile puppet Spaniard, Pedro Garibay, much to the despair of the criollos.

Mexico History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress