Thursday, September 27, 2012

1810 or 1821?

Happy Mexican Independence Day.

I’ll bet you thought 15-16 September was The Day. And, for most Mexicans, it is.

But, for a small minority of Catholic and crypto-monarchist establishmentarians lighting candles in hidden catacombs, today is independence day.  27 September 1821 to be exact.

Earlier this month I saw a Mexican history magazine at Sanborn’s.  The lead story was the question of whether 1810 or 1821 is the proper date of Mexican independence.  There is a good case for the latter.

So, what is up?  Didn’t Miguel Hidalgo create Mexican independence out of thin air with his grito in 1810?  What about all those bells hanging on governmental balconies?

As we all know, Hidalgo may have started the ball rolling, but there was no independence in 1810.  His inexplicable aborted advance on Mexico City merely ended up with the heads of the independence leadership swinging in the wind on public display in Guanajuato.

True, another renegade warrior-priest, José Maria Morelos, picked up the pieces of the war against Spain.  Until he was executed in 1815.

Supporters of independence deserted the movement in droves and returned to Spanish fealty.  Vicente Guerrero tried to keep the movement alive as a guerrilla war.  But the odds of victory were minimal.

Until history offered up one of those opportunities that the mediocre usually miss.

In 1820, liberals in Spain created a government based on a constitutional monarchy.  There were concerns that Ferdinand VII may be forced to step down.

In one fell swoop, the monarchist forces in Mexico -- the church, the army the establishment -- were put in an awkward position.  To support Spain was to support liberalism  and to oppose monarchy.

Into the midst of these shifting loyalties stepped the man who was to give Mexico its independence.  Agustin de Iturbide was a general in Spain’s Mexican army.  Since 1810, he had ferociously fought the independence forces and was on his way to put Guerrero out of business, when his big chance arose.

Instead of fighting Guerrero, he met with him, talked Guerrero into joining Iturbide’s independence movement from a liberal Spain, and drafted what was to be known as the Three Guarantees.

The Roman Catholic faith would be established as the only faith of Mexico.  All social classes would be equal.  Mexico would be independent as a monarchy -- under an unnamed European royal.

There was something for everyone.  Monarchists.  The church. The conservatives.  The criollos -- who, first and foremost, sought social advancement and position.

But there was nothing for Hidalgo’s indians.  There would be independence, but no social revolution.

And it worked.  The Spanish viceroy signed on.  One day independence was a lost cause.  The next day it was a reality with the stroke of a pen.

Timed for his 38th birthday (27 September 1821), Iturbide entered Mexico City at the head of an armed force to thunderous applause as the father of his country.  Thus, the alternate date for independence.  To honor the man who made independence a reality.

Had the story ended there, 27 September would be a viable candidate to celebrate Mexico’s independence.  That is, if Iturbide had followed the example of George Washington by retiring to his farm.

Instead, when no European prince manned up to claim the Mexican crown, Iturbide decided to play Napoleon, and crowned himself as emperor in the cathedral of Mexico City.  All hail Agustin I.

It all came tumbling down within 10 months.  The Mexican elite tired of his incompetence as a monarch and booted him out of office into exile.  First in Italy.  And then in Britain.

But this was a man of action.  During one of Mexico’s many leadership crises, he returned to Tamaulipas in 1824.  He was cheered.  Then arrested.  Then executed.

His ashes are now on gaudy display in the Mexico City cathedral.  Instead of where it could have been -- with the other heroes in the Monument of Independence.

So, what are the odds for a date change?  Probably about the same as me being elected pope when Benedict vacates his popemobile.

Iburtide’s historical forces died in the Revolution.  And he is a bit of embarrassment to Mexicans who like their martyrs shot by Spaniards -- instead of other Mexicans.  Even PAN pays homage to the Hidalgo myth.

To Americans, the choice seems a bit silly.  After all, when America declared its independence, it was ours.  Right then.  We simply had to kick out the bothersome British -- who refused to leave despite our pretty language in the Declaration of Independence.

We do not celebrate the date we booted them out.  I doubt many Americans even know the month the Treaty of Paris was signed.  Let alone the date or year.  (It was 3 September 1783).

But we can give credit where credit is due.

Happy 190th birthday, General Iturbide.  And thank you for the very nice gift you gave to Mexico.  Sorry the relationship did not work out for you.


EricChaffee said...

Isn't it amazing that George Washington had the good grace to retire to his farm instead of assuming an emperorship? He had funded much of the revolutionary army for seven years. Surely he deserved repayment. Yet he bowed out. What a hero!

John Calypso said...

Not that they really need a reasons - we noted in the last day or so more than the usual amount of fireworks - so there must be some of the other date folks close by here ;-0

Appreciate the history lesson - good stuff!

Kim G said...

Thanks for the fascinating history lesson. I had no idea.

Just wished F happy "Día de Independencia" via text. I'm sure he knows all about what you just wrote, but he'll be surprised I know.

Thanks and saludos,

Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we did not recall the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but had long known that declaring independence is one thing, while actually having it quite another.

Andean said...

I must confess I have "heard" more history lessons by reading your blog, Steve, than in High School, just don't test me on them... please.
But it is interesting to read them.

jennifer rose said...

And don't forget that Iturbide was a Moreliano! However, Morelia sounds like a better place to live than Iturbidia. 

Mommy with Commuter Husband said...

Always enjoy the historian in you!

norm said...

I'm with the 1810 date, for no other reason than 1810 was the year that Latin America as a whole started the process of cutting the apron strings from Spain. New Spain was no more. 

Steve Cotton said...

You just gave me an idea for a typical Mexican solution -- celebrate both days.

Steve Cotton said...

I wished a Happy Independence Day to a Mexican friend who has been attending the concerts in Patzcuaro.  But he was already on to me.

Steve Cotton said...

And they will keep coming.

Steve Cotton said...

Iturbidia sounds like something that would result in cardiac arrest.

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks.  They are some of my favorite pieces to write.

Steve Cotton said...

And Latin America has Napoleon -- of all people -- to thank for it.

Steve Cotton said...

He spent his life developing Roman honor.  And he lived it well.

Andean said...

Really, no doubt.