The Story of Mexico/Chapter 24
Mexico could not always remain indifferent to the current of events in Spain. Changes which shook Europe to its uttermost limit raised a tempest whose waves broke with violence even on the remote shores of the province.
Spain, after Philip V., was governed by three of his sons in succession, the last of whom, Charles III., held the throne until 1788. He was a prince of excellent intentions and blameless morals, and through his ministers he brought the country to a degree of prosperity to which it was little accustomed since the days of Philip II.
His good works extended as far as Mexico, where he caused to be founded in the capital, the Academy of Fine Arts, still in existence. His memory in the days of the viceroys was preserved in New Spain as that of the greatest and wisest of monarchs. His son, Charles IV., succeeded him. It must not be forgotten that the Emperor Charles V. was Charles I. of Spain—fifth Charles only of those of Austria.
Charles IV., in no sense a relative of Charles V., being a Bourbon with instincts and traditions wholly different, was a weak and pitiful sovereign. During his reign came the French Revolution, following close upon the Declaration of Independence of the United States of North America, events which gave cause for reflection to all vassals of crowned heads, and especially to all colonized provinces remote from their heads. Yet Mexico remained loyal in spite of the petty tyranny of the viceroy sent from the court of Charles, Branciforte, an Italian adventurer of low bearing and reputation, who obtained his appointment through the interest of the royal favorite Godoy, "Prince of Peace." This viceroy requested permission to erect a statue of his royal master in the Plaza Mayor of the Mexican capital, nominally himself assuming the charges of the work, though nearly the whole expense finally came upon the city and private individuals. It is an equestrian statue cast in bronze. The king is dressed in classic style, wearing a laurel wreath, and in his hand he holds a raised sceptre. Thus a pretentious statue of a sovereign for whom they cared nothing was forced upon the Mexicans, while his predecessor, Charles III., was left without such honor.
In 1822 the statue was inclosed in a great wooden globe painted blue, so that the sight of a tyrant in his robes need not offend the new-born patriotism of the city. But such feelings have now passed away, and it stands in the plazuela for the observation of loyalist or rebel.
Charles had a son, Ferdinand, with whom, as is frequent in the history of crown princes, he could not agree. Thus when Napoleon Bonaparte, who, passing from conquest to conquest, turned his attention to Spain, both father and son sought the aid, or at least sympathy, of the great conqueror in their family quarrel. Accepting this pretext for intervention, Napoleon carried his armies into the peninsula in 1808. The king and court fled from Madrid, with the intention, very decided for a short time, of seeking refuge in Mexico. This project fell through. Charles abdicated in favor of his son, Prince Ferdinand, who became Ferdinand VII. But Napoleon wanted no Ferdinand VII., and made him renounce the crown. French troops took possession of the capital, and Joseph Bonaparte governed Spain under the title of king until 1813. But the Spanish people resisted the French invasion. Councils were assembled, assuming royal authority, to govern in the name of Ferdinand. This was the beginning of the Juntas which have since played so important a part in Spanish affairs at home and in her colonies.
We will not follow the matter in Spain further than to add that she was freed from the burden of the Bonapartes by the aid of the English in 1814. A year after, the power of Napoleon was at an end.
The Bourbon dynasty was restored in Spain, as well as in France, and Ferdinand VII. was reinstated, with limited powers, however, for in the course of this period of agitation the Spanish people had tasted the cup of independence, and the ancient arbitrary rule of monarch and favorite was no longer tolerated by them. The Marquis of Branciforte, no longer viceroy, declared himself in favor of Joseph Bonaparte, and emigrated to France. His Mexican property was confiscated later and handed over to the authorities.
Here we must leave Spain to fight her own battles.
In the beginning of the new century, Don José de Iturrigaray took possession of the vice-regal seat. He was a man of public spirit, and an excellent ruler. He greatly improved the highroad from Vera Cruz to the capital, built the Puente del Rey, since called the National Bridge, protected commerce, and encouraged home industry. He organized a militia, greatly developed the army, and showed himself devoted to the interests of his charge.
But the audiencia then existing, and many Spaniards, as soon as the news of Napoleon's invasion of Spain reached them, imagined that Iturrigaray, who had thus brought the army to an available condition, had conceived the idea of seizing Mexico, and assuming an independent crown for himself. Acting upon this idea, they rose in revolt, took possession of the palace and seized Iturrigaray and all his family, shutting him up in the fortress of San Juan de Uloa, until opportunity offered to send him back to Spain. An old marshal of the army, Garibay, was made viceroy in his place, but he ruled but a few months, when the central Junta of Spain ordered him superseded by the Archbishop of Mexico. Whatever were the rights of this question, the act of revolt set an example persistently followed in Mexico through the first half of this century. In this experience it was discovered how easy it was to overturn a government; the Mexicans, delighted with their success, wondered why they had never done it before. In this first case, it was the Spaniards, of pure blood, who took the matter into their own hands.
Revolt, independence, were in the air. The policy of Spain had been rigorous in the extreme. Enormous taxes oppressed the people, the colonists had no voice in the making of the laws, which were arbitrary; and their exaction depended on the cruelty or generosity of the reigning viceroy. These rulers, constantly changing, had no opportunity to incorporate themselves with the people. At the best, it was a rule of strangers, in which the individuality of the colony had no chance. Pure Spaniards alone constituted society in Mexico; those of mixed blood were regarded with contempt; while the Indians, native to the soil, counted for nothing.
It was inevitable, then, that revolutions in Mexico should follow those in the rest of the civilized world, but it was hard upon the public-spirited Iturrigaray that its first outburst should fall upon his head. Great agitation followed, and the Archbishop of Mexico had hard work to make good his title received from the Junta Central. He was superseded by the Regency established at home, and Don Francisco Venegas entered the capital as viceroy in 1810.