The Story of Mexico/Chapter 27

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XXVII.

YTURBIDE.

Calleja remained several months at the head of government and then returned to Spain, having taken vigorous measures to extinguish forever, as he thought, the flames of insurrection. In the last days of his administration he arrested and sent to a convent two women distinguished for their devotion to the cause of independence; one of them, Doña Josefa Dominguez, the wife of the man who began with Hidalgo the agitation of the subject.

Calleja returned to Spain, where he was made Conde de Calderon. He was cruel and despotic, and has left in Mexico a name much detested.

The struggle for independence continued in several parts of the country, but the Spanish government, with good troops and ample resources, either dispersed or routed the rebellious forces. Some of the chiefs of the insurrection abandoned the cause, accepting the indulgence offered them by the viceroy, while others retired to the mountains, like Pelayo in the early days of Spain, when the Moors swept over the Peninsula, to keep active for happier days the sacred fire of liberty.

The successor of Calleja, Apodaca, by his conciliatory and humane conduct, did much to tranquillize society near the capital, but ideas of independence were still working all over the country. Guerrero, who must be counted among the heroes of the movement, showed an unwearying activity in the campaign. Many times his forces were routed; many times they triumphed; neither success nor defeat made him waver. He was covered with wounds, but heeded them not; he was deaf to proposals of clemency from the royalists. In the mountains of the south, to which he retired, he kept up constant warfare upon the Spanish troops, and even set up a new national government. This he continued without falling into the hands of the royalists until 1820, when the course of Yturbide put a stop to a warfare which had lasted ten years and soaked in blood the soil of Anahuac.

The French had been driven from Spain in 1814, and Ferdinand VII. was again upon the throne, but there was a revolution in 1820, by which he was compelled to surrender much of the authority which he had taken upon himself in spite of his oaths and promises. He was obliged to convoke the Cortés, to change his ministers for liberals, to abolish the Inquisition, free the press, and re-establish the national militia.

Such events awoke again the demand for a liberal government in Mexico. It was then that an officer in the royalist army, a native Mexican, who had hitherto distinguished himself on that side, now changed his allegiance, and took up the cause of independence. The concessions forced on King Ferdinand were celebrated in Mexico on the 31st of May, 1820, the suppression of the Inquisition and the liberty of the press being subjects of great rejoicings. The independent party saw in these reforms an opportunity to avail themselves of the new element to realize their most ardent visions. A great division was produced among the resident Spaniards of the country, for while some of these declared in favor of the constitution, the greater part showed themselves hostile to it, still clinging to ideas of absolute power, and foreseeing that so great a political change would hasten the independence of Mexico.

Agustin de Yturbide was born in the city of Valladolid, not then re-named Morelia, on the 27th of September, 1783. His parents were of native Mexican blood, Joaquin de Yturbide, born in Pamplona, and Ana Arámburu.

He had entered a royalist regiment before he was sixteen years old, and until 1808 he showed himself a vigorous opponent of the liberal party, serving with his troops in different parts of the country, always signalizing himself by his valor, his activity, and his adroit combinations to bring about the defeat of the cause opposed to his own. Through the intervening grades he passed to be colonel, and held commands of importance at Guanajuato and Valladolid.

In the diversity of opinions of 1820, Yturbide was among those who accepted the idea of a complete separation for Mexico from the Peninsula. Just at that time the viceroy conferred upon him the grade of brigadier, and gave him command of a body of troops destined to operate against the insurgents of Guerrero in the south.

Yturbide left the capital in November, and a month later found himself confronted by an enemy of something like three thousand men. After several encounters unfavorable to his command, Yturbide entered into an active correspondence with the opposing chief, the result of which was an interview for friendly conference. Both generals found themselves in accord, for, to the surprise of Guerrero, his opponent revealed an ardent desire to proclaim independence. Guerrero, without personal ambition, willingly handed over the command to the renegade, who announced, on February 24th, the so-called "Plan of Iguala."

Three essential articles made up this proposal: (1) the preservation of the Roman Catholic Church, with the exclusion of other forms of religion; (2) the absolute independence of Mexico under the government of a moderate monarchy with some member of the reigning house of Spain upon the throne; and (3) the amicable union of Spaniards and Mexicans. These three clauses were called the "three guaranties." When the national Mexican flag was devised later, its colors represented these three articles of the national faith—white for religious purity, green for union, and red for independence. The army of Yturbide was known as the army of the three guaranties.

Upon this basis the contest was resumed. It found favor in many parts of Mexico, and the independent troops, with their chiefs, very generally gave in their adherence at once to the Plan of Iguala. As soon as the viceroy could recover from his surprise on waking up one day to find a brigadier of his own troops concerting a revolution, he issued manifestoes against the undertaking, and at once set about raising an army of six thousand men, which advanced but slowly to the field of action in the south, where the troops of the late brigadier had joined the insurgent forces. This gave time for the Independents to collect together the various forces of Bustamente and other chiefs of their way of thinking. Valladolid was compelled to capitulate for the third or fourth time in twenty years; afterwards Querétaro, and, finally, Puebla, which, besieged by the troops of Bravo and Herrera, surrendered to Yturbide, who made a triumphal entry into the city on the 2d of August, 1821. This was the first of the sieges which the City of the Angels has sustained, its position with regard to the capital exposing it to every ill wind that blows in that direction.

The viceroy, Apodaca, hearing of the rapid triumphs of the insurgents, adopted defensive measures. He established a permanent Junta of war, stopped the liberty of the press, and decreed the enforced enlistment of all men between sixteen and sixty. But desertions were constant, the public spirit was aroused against government, and except that the pure Spaniards were in favor of it, all social classes were decided to overthrow the old regime. Even the garrison of Mexico, losing faith in the viceroy, conspired against him. A meeting inspired by these discontented troops invaded the viceregal palace, and informed Apodaca that his charge was at an end. Francisco Novella, sub-inspector of artillery, was hastily set up into his place; the deposed viceroy left the capital next day with his family, and returned, with such haste as they could bring to pass, to Spain.

The sub-inspector of artillery went to bed in the palace of the royal viceroy; when he rose the next morning he found little or nothing to do. Like his deposed predecessor, he went on dictating measures, which nobody noticed, to check the revolution; but this had advanced too far for sub-inspectors to lay hands upon.

Not only the old insurgents came to the front, but the greater part of the chiefs of the royalists, Spanish as well as Mexican, declared for independence, Santa Anna, at Vera Cruz, among others. Yturbide placed himself at the head of all, and with such resources the campaign was swift and successful. Thus passed the month of July. On the 30th arrived at Vera Cruz a new viceroy, sent in advance, before insurrection was dreamed of at home, to replace Apodaca, the last governor ever sent from Spain, Juan O'Donojú, sixty-fourth viceroy since the coming of Mendoza.

He disembarked, took the oath of office before the governor of Vera Cruz, and assumed the position of governor and captain-general.

Yturbide hastened to meet him at Cordova on his way to the capital, and convinced him by the eloquence of his arguments and the proof of his power, visible in the ample number of troops within his control, that discretion was the better part of valor. The Treaty of Cordova, then and there settled between these two men, declared the independence of Mexico, with Ferdinand VII. or some other for its independent sovereign, establishing a Junta of government, to which O'Donojú stipulated to belong, provisional until a king should be found.

These things settled, Yturbide and O'Donojú, hand in hand, as Yturbide and Guerrero had come before, approached the capital. Sub-inspector Novella was summoned outside the city to a conference, and not unwillingly surrendered his brief authority to the two harmonious chieftains.

Yturbide paused at Toluca to collect all his forces and to draw in such Spanish troops as were now ready to accept him. On the 27th of September, his birthday, he made a triumphal entry into the capital with the army of the Independents, consisting of some sixteen thousand men, with sixty-eight pieces of artillery. They were received with immense enthusiasm, and great demonstrations of rejoicing signalized the end of Spanish domination, which had lasted three hundred years.

On the next day, the 28th of September, the provisional Junta met, and declared itself installed under the presidency of Yturbide. Its thirty-eight members accepted by oath the Plan of Iguala and the Treaty of Cordova, and further issued an Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire, subscribed to by all the Junta. A government was formed, called the Regency, composed of Don Agustin de Yturbide, president, and five other members, among them Don Juan O'Donojú. The latter died the next month, and thus ended his very brief career in Mexico; his place was taken by the Bishop of Puebla.

Thus was formed, at a stroke, the Mexican Empire, whose wide territory extended from Guatemala on the south, over lands now included in Texas, the two Californias, and New Mexico at the north.

Many Spaniards, disgusted with this turn of affairs, returned to Europe with their families. Others concluded to accept the situation, and remained to watch the course of events.

The new government set to work in good earnest to strengthen its foundations and extend its influence. The province of Chiapas, on the Pacific coast, declared its emancipation from Spain, and of its own accord withdrew from Guatemala and incorporated itself with Mexico. It still remains a Mexican state. Guatemala also declared its wish to join the Mexican Empire, and the Guatemalian representatives accordingly took their seats in the first Mexican Congress; but the next year this province concluded to become an independent nation on its own account, and took itself away from the empire.

The solemn installation of this second Mexican Congress took place in February, 1822, Its first act was to interfere with the proceedings of the Regency. Ill-feeling, produced by want of harmony, increased daily, forming parties which strongly adhered either to one side or the other. Of these, the original Independents, and such Spaniards as sincerely desired the fulfilment of the Plan of Iguala, by which a Spanish prince was to be chosen their ruler, manifested more and more their disapproval of the President of the Regency; while the other party, composed of the army, the clergy, and some Spaniards, had already accepted the idea of elevating Yturbide to a throne.

A ferment of discordant opinions, conflicting interests, and personal ambitions arose, in the midst of which came the news, naturally to be expected, that the Cortés of Spain declared null and void the Treaty of Cordova, concerted by Yturbide and O'Donojú.

This gave Yturbide his opportunity. On the night of the 18th of May, a movement was begun by a sergeant of one of the regiments, echoed immediately by various garrison corps, proclaiming Yturbide Emperor. The leader modestly referred these applicants to the decision of Congress, and this body, the next day, with soldiers all around, in the highest state of impatient excitement, declared, by a vote of sixty-seven against a minority of fifteen, the Emperor, under the title of Agustin I.

Thus by rapid steps had Yturbide climbed from the position of a simple soldier without rank to the throne of the Montezumas. Wholly different from Morelos, he cannot be called a patriot in the highest sense. Probably his motive from the very beginning was personal ambition, in which loyalty to a king or to a cause had no part. He too, doubtless, had watched the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, at that time a dangerous light shining in the eyes of all men. Yet it must not be forgotten that if Yturbide worked for himself, he yet achieved, at the same time, the independence of his country. His throne was an unsteady one, but the dais erected for it to rest upon became the solid platform of liberty.

Agustin I. took the oath of office before the Mexican Congress, which proceeded to pass decrees establishing the succession to the throne, the titles and forms of address to be held toward the members of the imperial family, as well as their endowments, corresponding to their rank, details which turned out to be of no permanent value.

On the 21st of July, Yturbide and his wife were anointed and crowned in the Cathedral, with all the solemnities and forms which have been observed in Europe on such occasions for centuries.

But the Emperor was not firmly established upon his throne. As soon as they had recovered from their fright and surprise, many of the deputies, who had voted unwillingly with the majority, began to impede the course of Yturbide. All parties who had any reason for discontent made common cause against the Emperor. Signs of dissatisfaction reached Yturbide, who invited the struggle by dissolving Congress. In place of this assembly he established a Junta more under his own control; and, rid of the troublesome Congress, proceeded to issue edicts, and make forced loans to carry on his empire.

Suddenly, on the 6th of December, the Republic was proclaimed at Vera Cruz. Yturbide happened to be in Puebla at the time. He hastened to Mexico, and sent a division of troops to Vera Cruz to defend his title and put down the insurrection.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was at the head of this movement, a general in the Spanish army, who had lately come into the views of the revolutionists. At Vera Cruz a plan was formed called the Casa Mata, approved of by Bravo, Guerrero, and other generals, which, in substance, proclaimed the deposition of Yturbide; everywhere it was accepted by the generals of armies throughout the country, so that, by the end of a month, Yturbide found himself alone in the city of Mexico. Unwilling to light the fires of civil war, he acknowledged himself vanquished, and abdicated, retiring from the capital with his family. Congress closed in behind him, pronounced the whole episode of the Empire a work of violence and force, so that the hereditary succession was null. Yturbide was declared banished from the country, while, at the same time, a life annuity was voted to him of $25,000 in recognition of his services to the nation.

Thus disappeared, as suddenly as it had risen, the phantom of a second Empire in the realm of the Aztecs.

Yturbide left the country with his family upon an English vessel bound for Leghorn. A few months later he wrote from London to the home government, warning them of European schemes to restore Spanish rule in Mexico, and offering his services to his country should such an attempt be made.

The ruling powers were afraid of a popular revulsion in his favor, and regarded it as altogether safest to keep him at a distance. The reply of Congress to this letter was to pass a decree declaring Yturbide a traitor to his country, as such to be put to death whenever he should return to Mexico. TSOM D301 Panorama of Puebla.pngPANORAMA OF PUEBLA.

Wholly in ignorance of this decree, and sanguine of the good effect his letter might produce, the unsuspecting ex-Emperor did return to Mexico with the intention of fulfilling his offer of usefulness—it may be in the hope of a return to favor. On the 14th of July, 1824, Yturbide, with all his family, arrived at the little port of Soto la Marina in an English sailing-vessel. He was recognized by the general of the troops of Tamaulipas, the state in which he was, and disembarked. A few moments afterwards an official presented himself, with hesitation, saying it was his duty to inform him that he must prepare to die, in conformity with the decree issued against him in the month of April.

In vain Yturbide protested he was utterly ignorant of the decree. He was taken to Padilla, where the Congress of the state of Tamaulipas was summoned to an extraordinary session to deliberate upon his case. A hot discussion resulted in the decision that Yturbide must be shot, and without the slightest delay this decree was executed close to the church in the streets of Padilla.

His last words were: "Mexicans! in the very moment of my execution I recommend to you the love of our country and devotion to our holy religion, that thus we shall be led to glory. I die because I came to help you. I die gladly, because I die among you. I die with honor, not as a traitor. I leave no stain of treason to my children. No. I am not a traitor!"

It is impossible not to pity the hard fate of Yturbide and his violent death. He was not a traitor to his country in the worst sense of the term, and deserves the title less than many another of his contemporaries who have met a milder judgment. Although he turned the government into an Empire for the sake of his own personal ambition, he had in his short career as Emperor done it no harm; on the other hand, he resigned quietly for the sake of peace. Doubtless a little delay would have averted the tragedy, as those who wished him out of the way were well aware. His life might have promoted the future welfare of his country; his death certainly produced no good result. Too many hands were grasping at the prize he had coveted for his to be missed when it was forcibly beaten off.

He was personally brave and active, handsome, fond of display, and full of vanity, which caused him to delight in the splendor of state. He was at the height of his ambition when he was proclaimed Emperor, the horses taken from his carriage, and the crowd, drawing him along the streets, shouting vivas for the new Emperor. He forgot, at a time when it is easiest to forget, how cheap are such manifestations of enthusiasm from an easily excited and mobile population. He forgot that as he had conspired against others, others in their turn not only could, but would, seek to pull him down.

Whatever his faults or failings, it is nevertheless true that his act freed the country from the control of Spain. This is fully recognized in his birthplace, Morelia, where the house of his birth bears the inscription:

"LIBERTADOR DE MEXICO."