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.
Wars of Independence, 1810-21
The eleven-year period of civil war that marked the Mexican wars of independence was largely a byproduct of the crisis and breakdown of Spanish royal political authority throughout the American colonies. A successful independence movement in the United States had demonstrated the feasibility of a republican alternative to the European crown. For most politically articulate criollos, however, a strong cultural affinity with the mother country, a preference for stability and continuity, and alienation from Mexico's native and poor mestizo populations were significant disincentives to a radical break with the established order. Dissatisfaction with peninsular
administrative practices and anti-criollo discrimination at many levels of the colonial government and society were important foci of discontent, but beyond small pockets of radical conspirators, these grievances had not yet spawned a pronounced wave of proindependence criollo sentiment at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The French occupation of Spain and the overthrow of the Iturrigaray junta created a vacuum of legitimacy, as it was no longer clear that the ad hoc peninsular
administration represented any authority or interests other than its own. A revolt would no longer necessarily be a challenge to the paternal crown and the faith that it ostensibly defended, but would instead shake off the rule of the increasingly despised gachupines
, as the peninsulares
were derisively called. It was in this context that a radical criollo parish priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, was able to lead the first truly widespread insurrection for Mexican independence.
Data as of June 1996